One of my favorite Biblical descriptions of a pastor is shepherd, an analogy that Scripture frequently uses. For instance, Ezekiel 34 pictures those caring for a “flock of people” as shepherds. Consider the following passage and notice the imagery:
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock” (Ezekiel 34:1-8).
Certainly the correlation between this Old Testament account of the shepherd and the responsibility of the New Testament pastor is evident.
In the next few paragraphs, I will consider the concept of shepherding God’s flock. In calling a man to pastor, God gives to that man a daunting task. He expects His pastors to “undertake” for His sheep. In the middle of the passage above, God explains that the shepherd is responsible to lead and guide his sheep. The passage also indicates that if the shepherd does not do his job properly, “beasts” enter and ravage God’s flock. When this happens, God places the blame on the shepherd.
Additionally, this passage provides a descriptive word picture in verse 4, detailing the responsibilities placed on the shepherd:
1. Strengthening the diseased
2. Healing the sick
3. Binding broken limbs
4. Rescuing those driven away
5. Seeking those that are lost
6. Avoiding force and cruelty in the correction of the flock
This is a convicting verse for a pastor. Many sheep come into our church fold that are diseased, have broken bones or limbs, are sickly, or need rescued. The shepherd needs to attend to these needs. As an undershepherd, are you caring for the flock as God commands?
One of the specific jobs in the pastoral ministry is to help wayward sheep get back into the fold. Many examples in the Scriptures provide guidance on this. I would like to consider one of these instances—David’s sin and restoration. Most readers are familiar with the account of the sinful choice of adultery that David made, as well as the consequences that followed. There is one interesting aspect of this story that some may not be familiar with, and that is the time frame in which the events of the story unfolded. Consider a quick rundown of the events, beginning with David’s actual sin:
1. Day 1 – The act of adultery
2. The revelation by Bathsheba that she was expecting a child – 2-3 weeks later
3. The betrayal of Uriah – 2nd month
4. Uriah’s death – 2nd month
5. The confrontation by Nathan the prophet – 8th month
6. The child’s death – 8th month
7. The repentance of David – 8th month
This timing may not be exact, but comparing all Scriptural references to this account makes this timing feasible. As you can see, a lot of time transpired between David’s act of sin and his repentance, which was initiated by the confrontation with the prophet Nathan. Many times we think that if there is not immediate confession and repentance, then there is no hope. The Bible seems to indicate that the pathway of returning to God is not an easy path, and that the work of God in plowing up the hard ground that is in a person’s heart often takes time. When we read the two Psalms that David wrote after God dealt with his heart, we can find some great truths to help us in ministering to our flock.
“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah” (Psalm 32:3-4).
In these verses, we see that David was trying to keep this sin “under wraps” and did not want to talk about the situation. As a shepherd knows, this “covering” is normal behavior for people in sin. They want to hide the sin and do not like when the shepherd points out the problem to them. The passage seems to indicate that David’s health was affected, making him miserable. So, a shepherd in tune with God will notice this change in countenance among his sheep and may understand that God is making His child miserable until he deals with his sin. In David’s case, he persisted in his miserable condition for some time.
In the next verse, we see that the time of blessing and refreshing in David’s life was turned into a drought. Most who have experienced a drought know that it does not occur overnight. About a year ago, I was able to visit Yosemite National Park in California. I talked with a number of folks there who said that they had been experiencing a three-year drought. My wife and I noticed the dryness in the fields and the barrenness in the fruit farms in that area of California. This seems to be the idea conveyed in David’s words. He had experienced a drought of God’s refreshment and presence, and he was dry and shriveled up spiritually.
As a pastor, you may have some sheep in your fold who will get involved in sin, and they will not want to talk about it or deal with it. You will start noticing dryness in their spiritual life and in their walk with the Lord. This dryness and misery may last for some time, just as it did in David’s life. Trust God that He will not leave His child to remain in this state. God may, however, want to use the “dryness” to bring this sheep to the place of utter failure and misery. It is our job as a shepherd to be there and offer them the pathway to restoration.
“I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him” (Psalm 32:5-6).
We now see how a shepherd can help his sheep back into the fold. In these verses, there is an acknowledgment of sin. A repentant man or woman is willing to turn and face the sin that has either been purposely overlooked or left in a place that is not often visited. The sinner will find that God’s arms are always open to the penitent. The Heavenly Father is in His abode waiting for His prodigal to return. The New Testament prodigal returned with a similar mind-set as David expresses here. When he came to the father saying that he was no longer worthy to be called his servant, the father threw his arms around him and welcomed him back into the fold. This is what a penitent person can always find with Christ. He will find that God’s mercy is extended to all who genuinely turn from their sin.
In verse 6, it seems that David is referencing the great flood during Noah’s time. It may indicate that one can pass a point of restoration. There is great debate on this idea; but I have seen some folks refuse to come to God in a penitent fashion, and the doors seem to close on them as in the story of Noah and the ark.
I pray that this has stirred the heart of some pastor who is wandering in his purpose as an undershepherd of the flock of God. One of our tasks is to be in the work of restoration. This is time-consuming and can lead one into precarious situations and into some of the inclement weather that the wayward sheep has gotten himself into. The shepherd must be courageous enough to weather these storms. May God help us as shepherds of God’s flock to be in the rescuing business.