Churches as God’s Flock, Following the Shepherd’s Voice (Part 1)

By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology

interiorAnother significant biblical image which has major implications for the church today is that of the shepherd and the sheepfold.

We will explore this imagery in four parts.  In Part 1, we will look at how Yahweh Himself shepherded Israel in comparison to Israel’s rulers.  In Part 2, we will explore how Yahweh has called to and led His sheep using His voice.  In Part 3, we will consider Jesus as the messianic Shepherd predicted in the Old Testament.  Finally, in Part 4, we will look at what this all means for church structures today.

Yahweh as the Shepherd of His People

The people of Yahweh are the flock/sheep of His pasture (Psalm 79:13; 95:6-7; 100:3; Ezekiel 34:30-31; compare 2 Samuel 24:17; 1 Chronicles 21:17; Micah 2:12).

Consequently, Yahweh:

  • leads them beside still/restful waters and causes them to lay down in green pastures, meeting their every physical need (Psalm 23:1-2; compare Psalm 34:9-10; 80:1; Ezekiel 34:13-15; Deuteronomy 2:7; 8:2-4; 32:10, 12-14; Exodus 15:25-26; Hosea 11:3-4; Luke 12:22-32; Matthew 6:25-32);
  • leads them in right paths, paths that are straight and easy, to give them rest and security from enemies (Psalm 23:1-3; Isaiah 63:11-14; compare Psalm 25:8-10; 95:7-11; 121:3-4, 7-8; 1 Kings 8:56; Proverbs 2:6-9; 4:10-14; Isaiah 26:7-8; Numbers 9:15-23);
  • protects them from evil with His rod and staff so that they can stand before their enemies with no fear (Psalm 23:4-5; compare Genesis 49:23-24; Exodus 14:15-18; 23:20-21; Isaiah 10:24-27; Psalm 31:19-20; 78:52-53; 91:9-10);
  • disciplines them and gives them words of wisdom as painful prods to motivate responsible living under the sun (Deuteronomy 4:36; Ecclesiastes 12:11; compare Proverbs 2:5-6);
  • carries them as the strength of His people (Psalm 28:8-9; compare Isaiah 40:11; 46:3-4; 63:9; Deuteronomy 1:30-31; 32:9-11; Exodus 19:4);
  • makes His presence known by coming forth to deliver His people with dazzling displays of His mighty power just like He did in the exodus from Egypt (Psalm 50:2-6, 14-15; 80:1-3; 94:1-2; compare Deuteronomy 33:1-2; Psalm 78:42-54; Isaiah 40:10-11);
  • gently leads and directs those of His people with young (Isaiah 40:11; compare Deuteronomy 33:2-3; Exodus 15:13);
  • seeks out the lost sheep of Israel (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16);
  • bandages the injured and strengthens the weak (Ezekiel 34:16); and
  • shepherds individuals like Jacob throughout their whole life (Genesis 48:15).

Responsibilities of Yahweh’s Flock

In response to their divine Shepherd, Yahweh’s flock need to:

  • obey the voice of Yahweh and not rebel against His commandment, to serve Yahweh with all their heart (Exodus 15:25-26; 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 13:4, 17-18; 26:13-19; 27:9-10; 28:1-2; 30:19-20; 1 Samuel 12:12-15, 20-25; Jeremiah 7:23-26; 11:3-5; compare Psalm 95:7; 107:11; 138:4);
  • trust Yahweh to be present with them, protecting them with His rod and staff (Psalm 23:4-6; compare Psalm 22:8-11; 37:3, 32-33, 39-40; 40:4-5; 62:5-8; 91:2-6; 139:7-12; Isaiah 41:8-10; Exodus 33:12-16; Joshua 1:5; Deuteronomy 1:26-33; 3:28-29; 31:23; 1 Samuel 17:40, 43);
  • shun the whoredom of idolatry and remain faithful to Yahweh (Hosea 4:15-19; compare Psalm 77:52-58; Jeremiah 7:9-10, 16-20, 30-31);
  • listen to Yahweh’s voice for His commands to guide all aspects of their lives as their covenantal commitment, rather than devising their own acts of worship and service in order to follow their own self-serving, stubborn wills instead (Jeremiah 7:21-24; compare Hosea 6:4-6; Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-27; 2 Kings 17:7-23; Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46-49); and
  • know Yahweh’s ways, not going astray in their hearts (Psalm 81:11-16; 95:8-10; compare Deuteronomy 5:32-33; 10:12; 30:16; Jeremiah 7:23-26; Psalm 32:8-9).

The Good Shepherds of Israel

Yahweh appointed a number of specially chosen under-shepherds to help shepherd His flock, Israel, under His hand:

  • Moses and Aaron, men of the Holy Spirit, noting in particular the authority expressed through Moses’ staff (Psalm 77:20; Isaiah 63:11-14; Exodus 4:1-5, 17; compare 1 Samuel 12:8; Exodus 4:10-17);
  • Joshua in whom was the Spirit of God, who led Israel out and brought them back in with some of Moses’ authority (Numbers 27: 15-21);
  • various judges like Gideon, Deborah/Barak, Jephthah, Samson and Samuel, who were either prophets/prophetesses or upon whom the Spirit of God rested (2 Samuel 7:7; 1 Chronicles 17:6; Judges 4:4-8; 6:33-35; 11:29-33; 14:5-6; 1 Samuel 3:19-20; compare 1 Samuel 12:9-11);
  • Saul, in whom was the Spirit of Yahweh initially, but through Saul’s disobedience, the Spirit departed (1 Samuel 10:5-6, 10-13, 20-24; 16:14);
  • David who shepherded God’s inheritance with an upright heart, and guided them with his skilful hand, upon whom Spirit of Yahweh rushed, and remained throughout his life (2 Samuel 5:1-2; Psalm 78:70-72; 1 Chronicles 11:1-3; 1 Samuel 16:11-13); and
  • Jeremiah who, as a prophet appointed from the womb, didn’t run away from being Yahweh’s under-shepherd despite persecution (Jeremiah 1:4-10; 17:16).

Note especially Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-6 where King Cyrus of Media-Persia was raised up as Yahweh’s anointed under-shepherd, even though Cyrus didn’t personally know Yahweh, to fulfil the one special purpose of facilitating the Israelite return from exile (see also 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11; 3:7; 4:3).the_church_body_400_clr_8912

The Bad Shepherds of Israel

The later under-shepherds of God’s flock (namely the various royal dynasties of Judah and Israel along with their ruling class/elders, priests and prophets), however, transgressed against Yahweh, abusing His delegated authority over the sheep, destroying His vineyard (Jeremiah 2:8; 12:10-11), because they:

  • were stupid, failing to inquire of Yahweh, with their lazy prophets/watchmen being blind and unable to provide warning like useless dogs unable to bark, thereby leading Yahweh’s flock astray (Jeremiah 10:19-21; 50:6; Isaiah 56:9-11; compare Zechariah 10:2);
  • turned to their own way, each to his own gain, satisfying unbridled appetites/desire and indulging themselves to excess with strong drink (Isaiah 56:11-12; compare Daniel 5);
  • became predators themselves, feeding on the sheep, clothing themselves in wool, and slaughtering the fat lambs, rather than feeding and tending to the sheep, especially when they entered into foreign alliances which were costly and detrimental to the general populace of Israel and Judah in order to protect their own affluence (Ezekiel 34:1-3, 8; Zechariah 11:4-17);
  • failed to strengthen the weak, bandage the injured, heal the sick, seek the lost, and fetch back the strays (Ezekiel 34:4, 8; Zechariah 11:4-17);
  • ruled over and mistreated them with harshness and ruthless force (Ezekiel 34:4); and
  • destroyed Yahweh’s sheep by not only failing to attend to their needs, but by driving them away, scattering them to become food for the wild beasts (Jeremiah 23:1-2; 50:6-7; Ezekiel 34:4-6, 8; compare Isaiah 56:9-11).

Yahweh’s Judgment of the Sheep

Because God’s people Israel, like sheep, have gone astray, each turning to his/her own way (Isaiah 53:6; 95:7, 10; compare Psalm 119:65-72, 169-176; Deuteronomy 12:8), failing to listen to/heed Yahweh’s voice (Jeremiah 3:13, 25; 7:21-26; 9:12-16; 11:6-8; 22:21-22; 32:23; 40:1-3; 44:20-23; Daniel 9:8-12; compare Numbers 14:21-23; Deuteronomy 8:19-20; 9:23-24; Joshua 5:6; Judges 2:20; 6:7-10; 1 Samuel 15:18-19; 28:18; 2 Kings 18:11-12; Psalm 81:11; 28:15, 45, 62), Yahweh:

  • raised up many foolish, God-rejecting under-shepherds (kings) from the time Israel was divided into two kingdoms under Rehoboam and Jeroboam up to the day Jerusalem was destroyed, under-shepherds who didn’t care about Yahweh’s flock (Zechariah 11:4, 10-14; compare 1 Kings 12:1-24);
  • doomed His faithless sheep to be slaughtered at the hands of the sheep-traders (i.e. neighbouring foreign nations), into whose hands Israel/Judah’s shepherds (royal dynasties) had sold them without pity (Zechariah 11:4-6, 9; compare Psalm 44:9-14, 22; 49:12-14; 74:1-8; Jeremiah 12:1-4; 50:7, 17);
  • destroyed the fat and strong sheep among His flock (i.e. the whole non-royal ruling class across Judah like elders and administrative officials) who ate and drank the best pasture and water, and trod down what remains, muddying the rest of the water, whilst thrusting out the weak to scatter them abroad (Ezekiel 34:16-22);
  • drove away their shepherds into captivity, shaming and confounding them as sheep without shepherds because of their evil, because they persistently disobeyed Yahweh’s voice (Jeremiah 22:21-22; compare Lamentations 5:1-16); and
  • raised up a particular foolish under-shepherd (foreign ruler) after the exile of Israel and Judah who also failed to care for the sheep and devoured the fat ones, tearing off their hooves like lions (Zechariah 11:4, 15-16).

Yahweh’s Judgment of the Bad Shepherds

Yahweh will be against and punish/judge with woe those who failed to care for the sheep of His pasture (Jeremiah 23:1-2; Ezekiel 34:10; Zechariah 10:3):

  • putting a stop to the predatory shepherds feeding themselves on the sheep, rescuing the sheep from their mouths, terminating their privileges as under-shepherds (Ezekiel 34:9-10);
  • lifting up the skirt of Jerusalem (symbolising Israel’s ruling class) over her face to expose her shame like a humiliated woman raped by her conquerors during war (Jeremiah 13:20-27; compare Jeremiah 8:1-3; 52:1-11, 24-27; 2 Kings 25:1-7, 18-21; Lamentations 5:11; note Isaiah 47:1-3 concerning Babylon); and
  • maiming the foolish shepherd (foreign post-exilic ruler) who didn’t care about Yahweh’s flock doomed to slaughter in such a way that he is unable to shepherd sheep again (Zechariah 11:16-17).

Nonetheless, once again, judgment is not the last word, for Israel will again in their latter days return to Yahweh and seek Him wholeheartedly, and in His mercy hear and obey His voice (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; 30:1-10; compare Zechariah 6:15).

In Part 2, we will examine in more detail just how Yahweh has shepherded His flock using His voice.

To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available for download here.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.

Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell.  He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life.  In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide.  He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.

Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.

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