The shepherd is the first profession mentioned in the Bible (Gen 4:2). Sheep are utterly dependent upon their shepherd to lead them to pastures (they eat grasses), provide them with water, and protect them from danger. “Sheep” and “flocks” are mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, using twelve different Hebrew words and four Greek words. They are the most prominent animal mentioned in Scripture.
Sheep and Shepherds
A Lost Sheep
For centuries sheep have been an important part of life in Israel, providing local inhabitants with wool, milk, and meat. They were a key part of sacrificial offerings at the temple and tabernacle, and in the Bible were frequently compared to men, illustrating their dependency and helplessness. Luke 15:4 (KJV) “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”
A Scattered Flock
Ezekiel 34:12 (LEB) “Just like the caring of a shepherd for his herd on the day when he is in the midst of his scattered flock, thus I will look after my flock, and I will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on the day of storm and stress.”
Deuteronomy 15:19 (LEB) “Every firstling male that is born of your herd and of your flock you shall consecrate to Yahweh your God; you shall not do work with the firstling of your ox, and you shall not shear the firstling of your flock.”
Sins Like Wool
Isaiah 1:18 (LEB) “‘Come now, and let us argue,’ says Yahweh. ‘Even though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white like snow; even though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’”
Wool is shorn at the end of the summer. Domestic sheep can have up to twice the number of follicles as wild sheep and replenish their wool more quickly. 1 Samuel 25:2 (LEB) “Now there was a man in Maon, whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich and owned three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. Now the shearing of his sheep was taking place in Carmel.”
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For historical images of shepherds, see Life in the Holy Land. Also see our pages on Psalm 23.
Shepherd life; the care of sheep and goats (Ancient Hebrew Research Center). This page features some excerpts from Fred H. Wight’s Manners and Customs of Bible Lands regarding the life of a shepherd.
Do Good Shepherds Break the Legs of Sheep Who Wander? (The Messianic Prophecy Bible Project). Here’s an article examining the biblical significance of shepherds and debunking a popular myth.
Shepherd’s Status (Eternal Perspective Ministries). Randy Alcorn offers an examination of how shepherds have been historically viewed by their societies.
The Life of a Modern Day Shepherd in the Middle East (Deidox Films). This is a beautifully produced 5-minute video recording the perspective of a modern shepherd.