Shepherding in the 21st Century

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While present-day Israel looks very different, in many regards, from first century Israel, there is still one practice that has changed little over the millennia. Shepherding is still common in the region and witnessing a shepherd interact with his flock is something that can change your perspective when you read the stories of sheep and shepherds in scripture.

Sheep are mentions approximately 750 times in the Bible (1). Jesus refers to people as sheep and Himself as the “Good Shepherd” in John 10. There is a lot of emphases placed on the relationship between the shepherd and his flock. Even today you can witness that relationship: they listen to his voice; he protects them from harm; he is responsible for leading them to food and water; they follow him. This visual parallel is a powerful one and is one that an audience in first-century Israel would have been very familiar with, but has been lost to time and distance to people living in North America and Europe. 

“Seeing sheep up-close is an amazing experience for a student of the Bible,” said Barry Britnell, a host, and researcher for Appian Media. “You really get a sense of the relationship between the animal and the shepherd when you’re standing in a field watching them graze and migrate across an open area just by listening to the sound of the shepherd’s voice.”

In Genesis 4:2, the Bible mentions shepherding, of being a “keeper of sheep,” as one of the earliest professions. It was also the humble occupation that Samuel found king David working at when he anointed him king of Israel; most certainly a foreshadowing of the great shepherd that would come through the line of David and save the world from sin. 

Sheep are valuable to modern Israel for much the same reasons they were from creation. They are sheared for their wool, which is made into textiles and used for garments of all types. Scripture speaks about sheep shearing in numerous passages including 1 Samuel 25 where David is talking about Nabal and his servants “shearing his sheep in Carmel.”

In addition to its wool, a sheep is valuable for its milk products and for meat, as the animal was considered to be a clean animal to the Jews (2). Arguably the most famous use of sheep, or more accurately the lamb, is as a perfect sacrifice which was made on behalf of the sins of God’s people. When you think of a shepherd naming his sheep and them following him, you can start to imagine the emotional attachment that a shepherd would have for his sheep. That attachment doesn’t even come close to describing the relationship God has with His Son when He willingly gave Him up as a sacrifice on the cross. 

Click here to watch video clips of sheep grazing on our website and watch Following the Messiah: Episode 1 to see more about this beautiful concept of a shepherd with his sheep.  

     1. Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible by JJ Packer & MC Tenney pg 227 & 228

     2. Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible by JJ Packer & MC Tenney pg 227 & 228