There was a good reason why the illustration of a shepherd with his sheep was used so often in biblical times. The people of that time were familiar with that trade. However we might not know why sheep need a shepherd. Couldn’t we be like ants? They don’t have a leader. The work diligently and they survive. But God knew our hearts. He knew how easily we can go astray. That is why God chose to compare us with sheep. Then I spent time researching sheep. And this is a summary of what I learned:
Lost – can totally easily be lost. Even when they are just a block away. They do not have a sense for direction. They do not have an instinct for finding their way back home. Sheep knows the place they are born in and their own pasture. A sheep always sleep in the same shade. He will sleep in his own fold. If a sheep is taken away from it familiar surroundings it is completely disoriented. The sheep will walk around in circles. The are prone to confusions and unrest. Even panic.
Water: – Sheep cannot drink dirty water. Too cold or too hot water makes them sick too. They cannot drink from moving water, they will lose their balance in moving water and fall in. And they cannot swim. It also makes them afraid. They do not have the ability to smell water like the deer. They always go to the same water supply. If they were starving and there was water in another place close by they wouldn’t know it. They would die of thirst even while being a short walk away from the source of water.
Food: – Sheep doesn’t have the capacity to find new pasture land by themselves. They will just eat all the green of the pasture and keep grazing and then end up eating stubbles and dirt. They do not know how to taste the difference between oats, grass, and toxic weeds. They just munch away.
Dirt: – Sheep might be the dirtiest animals on earth. Their skin produces lanolin and that is greasy and conserve the dirt. Because of their tick wool and this grease all dirt stick to them. And they do not have the capacity to clean themselves like cats lick or horses use their tail.
WET – If their pasture is too wet they will develop foot rot.
Fight: – Sheep cannot fight. They are defenseless. They can’t kick and they can’t bite. They can’t scratch. They are helpless and defenceless if the shepherd wasn’t there to take care of them.
Self-perseverance: Sheep lack the self-perseverance instinct. They will not fight for their life. Some sheep when they fall on their back wills stay there and never get up! Until it dies.
Left alone, they will die. The Shepherd is the key to their life. Being a shepherd is a very, very challenging thing and it is a messy, dirty job. When Jesus, saw the disoriented, confused spiritually hungry, lost crowd, He said of them in Matthew 9:36 “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” And everybody understood what that meant because sheep without a shepherd are hopeless and helpless and lost. It is very, very easy to lead sheep astray. At this point I have a much better idea of who it is that God want me to have oversight over! And also I have my “job description” in Verse 2 and 3 of 1 Peter 5.
1 Peter 5:2-3 (ESV)
2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.