The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

The shepherd’s responsibilities and liabilities

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It is not, perhaps, a locus classicus for the pastoral office, but Genesis 31.36-42 certainly gives us some impression of the liabilities and responsibilities of the shepherd as understood by the men who used that phrase of their protectors and rulers. Perhaps a similar picture begins to emerge in 1 Samuel 17.34-36, where David tells Saul that “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” So, are there any incidental lessons to learn from Jacob’s defence?

Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me?

Shepherding is a thing in which there is much scope for wickedness and all manner of abuses with regard to the flock and the One whom we serve. There are many trespasses and sins to which a shepherd may be prone.

Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both!

It is possible nevertheless to live with that necessary degree of blamelessness (1Tim 3.2) which commends one’s God and one’s service to him and to his flock, and a shepherd is entitled to prove his faithfulness should occasion require it.

These twenty years I have been with you;

Shepherding is often a long-term investment. It is not a matter to be quickly taken up nor a duty to be swiftly and lightly relinquished.

your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young,

There is a tenderness required of the shepherd, a care for the weakest and neediest of the flocks.

and I have not eaten the rams of your flock.

The shepherd does not take advantage of his position, either defrauding the owner or abusing his privileges.

That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you;

There are beasts, and they rip into the flock. There are wolves, lions, and bears with which the shepherd must contend. Sometimes they get through.

I bore the loss of it.

The shepherd takes responsibility for his charges. Their blood is on his hands if he is neglectful or careless in his duties.

You required it from my hand,

The shepherd is accountable to the one who commits the flock into his hand. The shepherd must give an account for the manner in which he has discharged his duty.

whether stolen by day or stolen by night.

There are predators and thieves who lurk in every place, waiting to strike out of light or out of darkness. The shepherd must be constantly on guard.

There I was!

Talk about “incarnational ministry”! This faithful shepherd is among his flock, not sitting comfortably at a safe distance but sharing their experience and feeding, protecting and nurturing them wherever they may be. He is with them in the truest sense.

In the day the drought consumed me,

The days are long and hot, and the shepherd is worn down by the labour of them.

and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes.

The nights are long and cold, and the shepherd is wearied by his constant endeavours as he keeps watch over the flock. He gives up a degree of necessary rest in order to discharge his responsibilities.

Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.

What a mercy that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Great Shepherd in whose footsteps we follow and whose flock we tend, is more faithful than Laban ever was: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1Pt 5.2-4).

Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”

Here is the hope and consolation of every true shepherd. There may be no rewards on earth. There may be little to show for his years of affliction and labour, but – if God be with him – there is a reward to come: he does not walk away empty-handed if, in dependence upon God’s grace, he has faithfully discharged his responsibility. He may have nothing in the present age, but he is rich in the age to come.

Seeing all this, should we not be the more thankful for that Great Shepherd of the sheep who in his life and by his death has secured the everlasting good of the flock of God’s pasture, and who will see the labour of his soul and be satisfied?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 17 June 2011 at 12:59

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