The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The people of God were always known as the flock, and God himself was known as the Shepherd. Just as we find it in the familiar Psalm 23, this imagery was very common. It was God who led His people like a flock of sheep. At times, stubbornly, they would stray away from Him, but like a loving Shepherd, He would consistently guide them back to himself.
This imagery was ingrained in the Jewish people. The first family on earth had included a shepherd, Abel. Moses, the one who had received the law of God, was a shepherd for forty years in Midian. David, the greatest king of Judah, was a shepherd for most of his youth. Shepherding found a very special place in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.
When Jesus chose the image of Shepherd, He was not speaking to a group of people that were unfamiliar with the idea. Each town would have several shepherds that would have their own flocks of sheep. Often, even in the middle of each town was a walled-in area called a “fold” where the shepherds would corral the sheep at night for safety. Perhaps as Jesus taught that day, He stood close to a flock of sheep or a pointed at a fold where the sheep were being corralled for the evening. No matter the setting, the point he made was incredibly clear.
“I am the Shepherd.” He was the one who had come to tend to the sheep. There had been those who were hirelings who had disregarded the health and life of the ones they were supposed to care for. Now, Jesus had come to graciously guide and direct. To love and lead where those before him had failed. What was this a reference to? What was He talking about?
John 10 follows on the heels of the story of the blind man who had been healed and then mistreated by the religious system of the day. Instead of shepherding and loving the flock of God, the Sanhedrin had abused and mistreated them. Now, Jesus had come. Those that had been chosen to be His sheep would know Him, and would follow after Him. Notice the words that are used, “My sheep hear my voice, and they know me.” This exact thing had just been acted out in the streets of Jerusalem where one without sight could only recognize the true Shepherd by His voice. Jesus had come to do what the religious leaders never did - love and care for His flock. Instead of viewing the flock as something to serve Himself, Jesus saw His role as Shepherd to love and sacrificially lead the flock. He truly was the Good Shepherd where all others had failed.
Food for Thought: Read John 10:16. When Jesus is speaking of the fold, He is speaking of the Jewish religion. What do you think He is speaking of when He says that there are other sheep that are His that are “not of this fold”?