Then he [Jacob] blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm–may he bless these boys.” -Genesis 48:15
Abraham was a shepherd. His son Isaac was a shepherd. Isaac’s son Jacob was a shepherd. In this passage, Jacob’s dying words to his grandsons referred to the Angel of the Lord, who protected him, as his shepherd. Yet, he and his descendants wound up in Egypt for 400 years (see Chapter 4).
Why would a shepherd lead his followers into bondage? How could this be God’s will? To answer these questions, we will look at why Jacob needed guidance from his Shepherd, then at sheep to see why we, like sheep, still need a shepherd today, who leads in and out of bondage.
Jacob needed guidance after he was forced to leave home to escape his brother’s wrath. Isaac favored Jacob’s twin brother Esau, while their mother Rebekah favored Jacob. This favoritism caused division in the family. Jacob deceived Esau into selling his birthright, and then, with Rebekah’s help, deceived his father into giving him the blessing belonging to firstborn Esau.
Jacob Encounters God at the Lowest Point in His Life
When Esau found out and threatened Jacob’s life, Isaac and Rebekah both commanded Jacob not to marry the local Canaanite women as Esau had done, but to flee to Haran to the house of his Uncle Laban, Rebekah’s brother.
At a certain place on his trip, Jacob slept with a rock for his pillow. He dreamed of a stairway from earth to heaven and angels ascending and descending upon it. At the top he saw the Lord, who spoke to him:
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:13-15
The Lord reassured Jacob of his guidance and confirmed to him the same blessings He gave to Abraham and Isaac. Plus, he promised to someday lead him back home.
Jacob’s first order of business was to find a Godly wife. When he arrived in Haran, the first person he met was his wife-to-be.
“We’re from Haran,” some local shepherds told Jacob.
“Do you know Laban? He’s my uncle?”
“Yes, we know him, and here comes Rachel, his daughter.”
Rachel, a shepherdess, becomes Jacob’s wife with Leah
When Rachel, a shepherdess, brought her sheep for water, Jacob kissed her and wept out loud. He told Rachel his story, and she ran to tell her father. Laban accepted Jacob as his own flesh and blood.
Jacob excelled as a shepherd as he worked seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. On the wedding night, Laban switched the older sister Leah for Rachel, so Jacob worked another seven years to pay for Rachel. However, Laban did allow Jacob to take Rachel in marriage at the beginning of those seven years.
Jacob becomes father of twelve sons who were shepherds
Between Leah and her maid and Rachel and her maid, Jacob became the father of twelve sons and one daughter. Rachel was the mother of the two youngest-Joseph and Benjamin. After Joseph was born, Jacob knew it was time to take his large family and return home.
Laban did not want to let them go. He knew God was blessing him because of Jacob. He tried to outwit Jacob from increasing his flocks, which he hoped would keep him from leaving. Instead, the Lord guided Jacob with wisdom so that his flocks prospered greater in strength and number than Laban’s livestock.
When Laban’s attitude changed toward Jacob, the Lord told him, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
Jacob was more than ready to leave. After the twenty years Jacob worked for wages, Laban had changed them ten times, and unless God had been with Jacob, he would have been empty-handed now. Fearful that Laban would steal his daughters and grandchildren, Jacob took his family and animals and escaped at night.
Laban pursued Jacob and his family, but the Lord, in a dream, warned him not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. The two men made a covenant and set up a pillar and a heap of stones to signify that neither would cross over to do harm to the other. Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren and said his goodbyes.
Jacob returned home to Isaac and a surprisingly tearful reunion with his brother Esau. Later, Isaac died at 180 years of age, and Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin.
Joseph, number eleven son, is sold into slavery by his brothers
However . . . Jacob favored Rachel’s sons. Out of his brother’s jealousy, seventeen-year-old Joseph was sold into slavery. Despite being a slave, at the age of thirty, Joseph became a ruler in Egypt. This was in fulfillment of a dream God had given him that placed him in a position to be the deliverer of his people. He organized the storage of grain for seven years and distributed it for the next seven years of famine. God prepared him to do this through another dream.
Jacob Knew God as His Shepherd Only at the End of His Life
Because of the famine, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for grain. They had to go through Joseph to buy food, but they did not recognize him; however, Joseph knew them and eventually revealed himself. After a very emotional reunion with his brothers, Joseph called for his father and brothers to come to Egypt, with all the families, sheep and other livestock.
Convinced Joseph was still alive and wanted to see him, Jacob agreed to go to Egypt. But he must have been apprehensive.
“Jacob, Jacob,” God spoke to Jacob in a vision at night.
“‘Here I am,’ he replied.
“‘I am God, the God of your father,’ he said, ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes'” (Gen. 46:2-4).
Joseph’s whole family found favor with the Pharaoh and, because they were shepherds, he gave them the best of the land in Goshen where they could feed their flocks.
Jacob’s dying words (see Gen. 48:15) of blessing to Joseph’s sons reveal that Jehovah-Rohi had been his shepherd, guiding him and delivering him from all harm. Jacob prophesied to his son Judah that from his line would come the Lion of Judah-Jesus Christ (see Rev. 5:5). Before he died, Jacob knew God was birthing a nation to whom the Messiah-the true spiritual Deliverer- would be born.
Jacob knew God fully as his Shepherd only after his reunion with Joseph, when his life was almost at its end. Therefore, it is imperative we learn about sheep and shepherding–that we, like sheep, are guided by our Shepherd. Only then will we gain the full comforting impact of Jehovah-Rohi’s guiding influence in our life’s journey, hopefully, long before our own life on this earth is ended.
REASONS SHEEP NEED A SHEPHERD
Sheep Need a Shepherd Because They Are Not Very Smart
Sheep can eat the wrong food (poisonous plants), and drink bad water. “Their flock mentality makes herding easy at times, and at other times, nearly impossible. When one restless sheep moves, the whole flock can move. When one old ewe sinks to the ground to chew her cud, the others follow.”10 On July 7, 2005, 450 sheep in Turkey jumped to their death because one sheep leapt over a cliff. The Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 other sheep followed. Those who jumped last were saved as the pile rose higher and higher and the fall grew more cushioned. The estimated loss to the shepherds who owned the sheep was $100,000.2
Like sheep, we require a shepherd. “You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezek. 34:31). God himself tells us that as people we are mere sheep. How can we, in comparison to Almighty God ever think we do not need a shepherd every minute of every day? We are His property, and very valuable to Him. He tells us, “. . . I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Sheep Need a Shepherd Because They Require 24-Hour Supervision
The shepherd can have no other vocation. He is responsible for his flock’s total welfare–their food, water, health, and safety. “Sleeping with one eye open and both ears open, he listens for the bleats, the bells, and the dogs that would warn of any danger or restlessness among his flock”3
One eight-year old boy (a precious lamb) did not know these words that describe God: omnipresent (present in all places at all times), omniscient (knowing all things), or omnipotent (having unlimited power or authority). But speaking of our Lord (our Shepherd), he explained them beautifully as he wrote:
His dad (God) appreciated everything he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important. You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time. You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God.
1. Don Baker, The Way of the Shepherd, (Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon, 1987) “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”
2. “450 Sheep Jump to Deaths in Turkey,” www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-07/09/ content_458724.htm, (accessed February 6, 2006).
3. Baker, The Way of the Shepherd, “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”