Allow me to take you through a quick exercise. Pay attention to what image pops into your mind when you hear this next word. Are you ready? Alright, here’s the word…
What pictures came into your mind? Most likely, the images you saw were characterized by themes of gentleness, care, nurture, and comfort. If that’s what popped into your head, that’s ok! No, it is actually very good! The Bible does see the shepherd as a guy who knows, loves, cares for, nurtures his sheep (see Psalm 23 & John 10). This is a glorious truth that Christians need to believe and practice with all their heart. Fathers, the shepherds of their families, are called to be gentle and caring. Pastors, shepherds of their churches, ought to know, love, and nurture their people. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is kind, loving, gentle, and nurturing and we are the blessed sheep of His pasture. But that is not all the shepherd is…
In our emphasis on the gentle and caring aspects of the Shepherd’s work, we often neglect other very important aspects of the shepherd’s calling: his strong and fierce protection of his sheep. Alastair Roberts takes up a brush and paints for us a much forgotten aspect of a shepherd’s work.
The most common biblical picture of the leader is the shepherd. However, the biblical vision of the shepherd is quite different from ours. The biblical shepherd is, like our conception of the shepherd, a figure who is gentle, nurturing, and protective of the flock. However, a large proportion of the biblical images of the shepherd focus upon the shepherd as a figure of conflict and violence, someone who protects the sheep by killing wolves, bears, and lions, who fights off thieves, bandits, and rival shepherds, who lays down his life for the flock. The shepherd is clearly called to act out of love, but this love is far from a generic niceness. Rather, because the shepherd loves the sheep, he gives the wolves no quarter. Attacking wolves is the loving thing to do. The sheep are comforted by the rod with which the shepherd drives off or destroys enemies, like God brought the land of Egypt to its knees using the rods of the shepherds Moses and Aaron.
In short, the Shepherd indeed has a staff to lead, guide, and care for His sheep, but He also holds a rod to beat, drive off, and kill anything that threatens the sheep of His pasture. Let us never forget that our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is not only our caregiver and nurturer, but He is also our fierce protector. He has a staff and a rod. He not only uses His hands to feed and carry us, but he uses them also to break the necks of those who seek our harm.
May God grant His church pastors (i.e. shepherds) who take seriously their responsibility to protect their churches; may we gain shepherds who aggressively protect their flocks. Shepherds who take seriously the charge of Paul to, “So guard…God’s people” (Acts 20:28). May we have fathers who not only provide for the good of their children, but also actively protect them from all that threatens their welfare. Rid us of cowardly, passive, and irresponsible shepherds who let their sheep be massacred by whomever or whatever comes along. When wolves arrive, may the shepherds arise. God give us fierce shepherds like Jesus.