OT Shepherds: Overview

23 May

Two figures in Israel’s history who hold more significance than any others are Moses and David. Moses, who led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and oversaw their reception of the law, spent some 40 years shepherding flocks. David, Israel’s king ‘after God’s own heart,’ was out in the fields shepherding when the prophet Samuel came calling to anoint a future King.

It is significant that two such prominent leaders in Israel’s history, who oversaw such important events in the life of Israel as the exodus and the establishment of a kingdom, spent significant periods of time shepherding flocks, in a sense training for the responsibility of leading God’s people. It is thanks, in part, to the backgrounds of these two men that shepherding and leadership came to be so synonymous with one another in the Old Testament. In the second book of Samuel, when God is recorded as commissioning David, He introduces the two tasks as one and the same, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and will become their ruler” (2 Sam 5:2).

Furthermore, when Ezekiel prophecies in chastisement of Israel’s leadership, it is their ‘shepherding skills’ which are attacked. “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” (Ezek 34:2).

More notable though than these poor leaders or giants in the history of Israel is the regular reference to God Himself as a Shepherd. The first such instance is found in Genesis when Jacob, a literal shepherd, looks back on his life as he blesses his sons and refers to God as the one, “Who has always been my shepherd, all the days of my life” (Gen 48:15).

Later, in arguably the Old Testaments most famous text, David not only names God as his shepherd, but describes the ways in which He has acted as such, feeding and leading, providing and protecting. The rod and staff which God is described as using are the tools of the shepherd (Ps 23).

Finally, there is the promise of the shepherd to come. The prophecies of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel look forward to this shepherd, God’s shepherd, who would lead God’s people in a way which had thus far eluded the bad shepherds of Israel’s history. In Jeremiah’s prophecy the shepherd is described as feeding Israel, “with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:15).

Ezekiel 34 has more to say on this promised shepherd and in so doing becomes a land mark chapter on the shepherd motif by drawing together the threads of Israel’s leaders being shepherds, albeit very bad ones, God providing a Shepherd and God Himself being that shepherd, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ezek 34:15).

So it is with anticipation that the shepherd metaphor continues into the New Testament. Expecting God to continue to care for His people as a shepherd cares for his flock and to provide a good shepherd, one to watch over them, protect them and to lead them.

***This post is taken from a fuller paper written on the topic of the Shepherd Motif and Church Leadership. To view the whole paper, in which references appear and a complete bibliography, is given please click here.***

2 Responses to “OT Shepherds: Overview”


  1. The ‘Shepherd Motif’ outside of the use of ‘Shepherd’ « saintbeagle - 25/05/2011

    […] I’ve highlighted the last two days the uses of the ‘Shepherd Motif’ in both the Old and the New testaments. Yet the shepherd motif runs deeper still. Two further metaphors continue […]

  2. Shepherds, Jesus, Church Leaders and Eternal Relevance « saintbeagle - 27/05/2011

    […] throughout Old and New, in fulfilment in Christ and perpetuation in the early church, by direct reference to elders […]

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