Sheep Need a Shepherd Because:
They are Creatures of Habit
Today’s lesson brings us to Joshua’s story. We’ve already seen how Jacob, as a shepherd working with his father-in-law, worked with Laban for twenty years before he moved on. In that regard, he was like sheep. If Laban had been easy to work for, Jacob could have become a creature of habit and stayed there his whole life, but that was not God’s plan.
Phillip Keller grew up in East Africa where he made his livelihood as a sheep owner and sheep rancher. In his classic book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, he describes the way of sheep, “If left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites. Many of the world’s finest sheep ranges have been ruined beyond repair by over-grazing, poor management and indifferent or ignorant sheep owners.” 13
“Because of the behavior of sheep and their preference for certain favored spots, these well-worn areas become quickly infested with parasites of all kinds. In a short time a whole flock can thus become infected with worms, nematodes and scab. The final upshot is that both land and owner are ruined while the sheep become thin, wasted and sickly.”14 Therefore:
Sheep Must Be Kept On the Move
Sheep cannot be allowed to stay on the same ground too long. Keller says, “There must be a pre-determined plan of action, a deliberate, planned rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of sound management . . . . No other single aspect of the ranch operations commanded more of my careful attention than this moving of the sheep. It literally dominated all my decisions . . . . The success I enjoyed in sheep ranching must be attributed to this care in managing my flock.”15
The moving of the sheep can be from every day to every week. Depending upon the lay of the land, some shepherds set up a base camp and fan out from it in wide circles in a clover leaf pattern, covering new pasture every day. That allows them to return to camp at night.16 Other shepherds may need to lead their flocks through valleys in order to get to the high country.
“The annual trek through the valley is the only way for the sheep to escape the barren, dry ground that has been parched by the summer sun or abused by overgrazing. The valley is the only way of escape from the relentless heat of the lowlands.”17 The valley is a place of danger and fear to the sheep. They are most vulnerable here to their predators, but the valley grows the richest, most nourishing grass beside clear water streams. It is the only way to those who choose to follow the Shepherd to the high country.
“The Lord is my shepherd . . . .” (Ps. 23:1). He is. He can do no less than to guide. It is who He is.
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). Paths of righteousness are always on the move, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will . . .” (Eph. 1:11). This plan is his best plan for our lives that we have to choose to follow to the high country. Other paths are always available that take little effort to follow.
If we are following Jehovah-Rohi and not straying, we will be growing spiritually. “On the move” is mentally and spiritually, not necessarily physically-but many times, that too. He is the Good Shepherd. He leads only in good ways that lead to good outcomes even though it may not seem that way at the time. His ways bring glory to only Him (not us) in the final analysis.
It is in the valley that my Shepherd “leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23: 2-4). Every threat becomes only a fearful shadow of the real thing, and the threat of death never becomes a reality before its time.
From Jacob to Moses to Joshua & Caleb
Jacob’s descendants, living in the lush land of Goshen, did not understand that the valley is the only way to the high country. After exactly 430 years, over ten generations, they most likely lost sight of the big picture, and some probably did not even know of God’s promise to Jacob, that He guided them to Egypt and would guide them back home with he leadership of Moses and Joshua.
Meanwhile, their journey meant bondage before getting back.
A new pharaoh grew fearful of the Israelites because, despite their bondage, they were growing in greater numbers than the Egyptians. He did not know about Joseph who was now deceased.
He ordered the slaughter of all baby boys. Moses’ mother hid him in a basket in the river Nile, saving his life when he was a baby. The daughter of Pharaoh found him and raised him as her own. When Moses learned he was an Israelite and ran from Egypt, after killing the Egyptian, he learned shepherding from his father-in-law in the backside of the desert.
After one oppressive pharaoh died and another took his place, the Israelites groaned in their slavery, crying for help. “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Exod. 3:7). God saw their affliction and heard their misery.
Meanwhile, Moses saw the burning bush and turned aside to see the sight. God spoke to him, “I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . .” (Exod. 3:8).
“I see your future purposes and designs, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Caleb & You”
In other words, God could have said to Moses, “I will do this through you, my shepherd. As their Great Shepherd, Jehovah-Rohi, I have had it all prearranged. I had a plan from the very beginning for your life and theirs. I see your future purposes and designs. I told Jacob to go with his sons to Egypt. If I’d allowed them to stay in Canaan, their descendants would have intermarried with the idolatrous people then in the land. I’ve had to have a pure nation, one with unity of purpose and one strong enough to take possession of the high country I am now bringing you to. And from this nation will be born The Deliverer, My Son.”
This is the background to the greatest deliverance in all history. It is also the background to the saddest mass suicide of all time–when the older generation of approximately six-hundred thousand men (not counting women and children)18 chose to die in the wilderness (see Exod. 12:36). They witnessed God open the Red Sea for them to walk over on dry land. Yet, they refused to believe God would help them take possession of His best plan for their lives.
They chose to go in circles, retracing their familiar steps around the same mountain for forty years, rather than reaching forth into the unknown. The Good Shepherd knew them, but they chose to not know Him. Only Joshua and Caleb knew their God when they came to the Jordan River’s edge, as they shepherded the younger generation across.
How did they get across? When they finally got to Jordan what did they do? Joshua records his words of faith, “Come near; listen to the words of the Lord your God . . . . Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will surely drive out from before you the Canaanites . . . .” (Josh. 3:9-10 Amplified).
They stopped. For three whole days, they prepared themselves for a holy purpose. They listened to God’s Word. When they came to the brink of the waters . . . they stood still. Surely Joshua reminded the people not to depend upon how they felt, but on God’s promise to bring them in. He reminded them how God continually led them in the wilderness: God’s presence was visibly with them in a cloud by day that shielded them from the hot sun and in a pillar of fire by night to show the way. Joshua demonstrated lessons in faith, and that they could depend upon the Lord to be with them now as He had been in the past-twenty-four hours a day.
And now, he would teach them how to follow the Lord, and that they could depend upon the Shepherd, Jehovah-Rohi, to guide them continually through fears of the unknown. He taught them to trust God to do His work through them to take possession of the Promised Land–His best plan for their lives–given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now, to us.
Please go HERE: MAKE IT PERSONAL – JEHOVAH ROHI
18. This is the number who left Egypt. After 40 years, Bible commentaries estimate the total people to be about two million.