The shepherd is one of the most prominent vocations and imageries in the Bible. The Old Testament term comes from the verb rā-āh, which means “to pasture” or “to tend to a flock” (BDB). The Greek equivalent is poimēn, which occurs 18 times in the New Testament. A shepherd’s main duty is thus to care for a flock of sheep.

There are slight differences in shepherding during biblical times compared with modern practices. Sheep were not kept in confined and fenced-up areas, but were instead allowed to wander. However, sheep are highly un-intelligent creatures who do not know how to look after themselves. They are thus dependent on their shepherd for feeding, protection, shelter and tending to injuries as they wander. “Shepherds were thus guides, protec-tors and constant companions of sheep. They were also figures of authori-ty and leadership to the animals under their care.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery)

God as Shepherd

God is often depicted as the Shepherd of His people. The most loved de-scription of the Divine Shepherd is Psalm 23. It is most appropriate that the psalm was written by David, who was a shepherd boy in his youth. Yet, here is the shepherd-king acknowledging that he is nothing but a sheep of the Divine Shepherd! This LORD is also the Shepherd of all who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 23 describes how the LORD functions as the Divine Shepherd:

  • As the Divine Shepherd, He feeds and guides us (Ps. 23:2). He does this by giving us His Word, which is our infallible and inerrant guide in life. He also gives us the Holy Spirit who illumines us and leads us into all truth.
  • As the Divine Shepherd, He restores us (Ps. 23:3). He chastises us when we go astray. He admonishes, rebukes and corrects us by His Word. This is the divine “sugar-cane” of the LORD. (Timothy Tow)
  • As the Divine Shepherd, He defends us (Ps. 23:4). He guards us from the attacks of the Evil One, and grants us the victory in Christ. Thus, we have no need to fear.
  • As the Divine Shepherd, He prospers us as we do His will (Ps. 23:5). This is despite those who oppose us for our stand in Christ. There is always provision to do the LORD’s will.
  • As the Divine Shepherd, He will never forsake us (Ps. 23:6). He is not the hireling who abandons the sheep, but will care for His sheep till eternity.

The Lord Jesus is also called the Good Shepherd in John 10, for He is none other than the Son of God. As the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for His sheep, so that His sheep may have eternal life. What a wonder-ful Shepherd we have in Christ Jesus!

Leaders as Shepherds

Leaders are often described as shepherds in the Bible. Moses and Aaron are early examples of such leaders (Psalm 77:20). Joshua was called to guide the people thereafter so that “the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” (Numhers 27:17). David, the writer of Psalm 23, was himself called a shepherd – “He chose David also his serv-ant, and took him from the sheepfolds: 71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inher-itance. 72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.” (Psalm 78:70-72)

In the New Testament period, pastors and elders are called to be the under -shepherds of the LORD, where they are expected to oversee the flock and feed the church of God (Acts 20:28). However, they must take heed not to exploit the flock, nor lord over the congregation. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:3-4).

Let the under-shepherds of the Lord remember God’s Word through Paul in Acts 20:28-35:

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. 34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to sup-port the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:28-35)


How we praise God that He is our Wonderful Shepherd! He not only re-deems us, but also feeds, guides, protects and prospers us. He is also the example par excellence for the under-shepherds whom He calls to oversee His flock. Let us all continue to serve faithfully under the name of our Shepherd! Amen.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew