“I’m about to place a shepherd in the land. He will not take care of those that are dying. He will not search for the young. He will not heal those that have broken their legs or support those that can still stand. But he will eat the meat of the fat animals and tear off their hoofs. “How horrible it will be for the foolish shepherd who abandoned the sheep. A sword will strike his arm and his right eye. His arm will be completely withered. His right eye will be completely blind.” Zechariah 11:6-7
The sheep in the Bible is always used as a symbolic animal of a believer in Jesus Christ. As a young believer I was told that they would be a few sheep which would wander away and would also lead the others astray. Such sheep are called “black sheep”. I was told that there is always a few in a church.
I was told by good meaning teachers, there are 2 ways to deal with such sheep. No. 1 shoot the sheep that leads others astray and No. 2 break the leg of the sheep. As such, I was warned not to be a sheep that lead people away from the assembly.
For years I grew up with the notion that God will shoot me or break my legs.
One day I saw a documentary about shepherding in Israel. I realize these few things:
a) The goats and the shepherds are always shepherd together. They are generally one flock. However, it is the goats that are always leading the flock away. Even the sheep. The goats are always difficult to control. The sheep however are different; they actually recognize the shepherd’s voice. The goats don’t. Hence they always have a tendency to go elsewhere.
b) Sheep is the most precious commodity to the shepherd. The sheep is an animal of great value. Its price depends on how perfect the sheep is. The sheep must be free from defect. This is because a sheep is used for sacrifice. The shepherd would hence commit financial suicide to break the legs of a sheep in the Jewish setting. Sheep in Israel is used for sacrifice. A lamb with broken legs is useless. No value. In Israel, no sheep with defect can be sacrifice.
Jesus says that on the sheep does not lead others astray. The sheep is led by the Master’s voice. The sheep knows his voice. It is His voice that leads it back. It is the goat that leads others astray. That is why the Great Shepherd said one day God will set the sheep on the right and the goats on the left. The nature of the sheep is to be concerned with the Master’s voice. The nature of the goat is its own voice. That is why the sheep has no idea what it did for the Master where as the goat boasts about what it did in the presence of the Master. When did we feed you against when did we not feed you?
This brings much as much comfort to me as much as warning. It tells me if I am always leading people astray from the flock and I glory in “my righteous deeds”, I may be a goat. However, one must not miss a VERY IMPORTANT point, the parable clearly teaches the way the goats lead people away from the flock is to concentrate on their self righteousness. That is why the grace gospel is so important. It tells me I need to have the nature of a sheep. A sheep is basically a grown lamb. The lamb is a symbol of Jesus. It simply means Jesus must be grown into me and in me. I must carry the nature of Jesus. It means if I am to serve, it is Jesus serving not me. There is no me. Just Jesus.
Let me come to my second point, Jesus will never break my legs or inflict me with disease or pain. To preach that is as insane as a shepherd breaking a sheep’s leg. To quote an ancient Chinese proverb “Breaking your rice bowl”. He loves me, he leads me to quiet waters, he comforts me with his staff and rod. His staff stands against the wolves. His rod reels me back to his bosom. Jesus however is the good Shepherd he will never allow his sheep to die in his place. He laid down his life for his sheep.
When we read about the shepherd who would break and not heal a sheep’s legs, we wonder who is God referring to? He is called the worthless shepherd in the next verse. He is not the good Shepherd. This is a note to myself, when I share the Gospel, I believe I must paint a proper picture of the right Shepherd. I do fear there are many who are telling us to follow the “useless” shepherd referred to is Zechariah.
Here we note that a good Shepherd is one who will always heal, care and restore. Am I one? Are you one?