Shepherding stands with farming as one of the two great occupations of the people of the Bible. Sheep have been tied to the pastoral economy and theology of the people of Israel since its inception. Sheep were vital to the peoples of the Bible because of the products they produced: meat, wool, and skins.
Sheep as a metaphor for the children of God
Due to their strong flocking instinct and failure to act independently of one another, sheep have been branded “stupid” from time to time. But sheep are not stupid. Their only protection from predators is to band together and follow the sheep in front of them. If a predator is threatening the flock, this is not the time to act independently. This can be a great protection to the flock, but also very dangerous. If the sheep in the lead is moving in the wrong direction, those following will meet the same fate. There are examples of sheep following each other right off a cliff to their deaths. 1 This may seem strange to us, but how different are we from sheep really? It has been suggested that our culture is going off a moral cliff, to our detriment.
Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd in this allegory. At night the sheep are put into a sheepfold to protect them from predators, and there is only one way to get in or out. That is through the gate, or the door of the sheepfold. Jesus is the door – in other words, he is the only way for the sheep to find pasture. He does want the sheep to find pasture:
I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:9-10 emphasis added).
In other words, Jesus wants us to have the goodness that life has to offer. He wants teenagers to have good friends, wonderful life experiences, enough to eat, and a loving home life. When the time is right, he wants young people to fall in love, get married, and have joy in forming families of their own. This is all part of the program. He wants us to find pasture, and to have it more abundantly.
John 10:14-15 emphasize the fact that Jesus has an intimate, personal and mutual relationship with his sheep. He is not an absentee master. His view of his sheep is one of deep and profound love. He is involved in our lives – when we succeed, he cheers us on. When we stumble and fall, he is always there to pick us up. “How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long” (Jacob 6:4). It is so good to know that he is on our side, and that he will do all he can for us to help us achieve our divine potential (Jacob 5:47).
Elder Bruce C. Hafen expressed this sentiment in this way:
In his dream of the tree of life, Lehi found himself in a dark and dreary wasteland and saw others surrounded by a great mist of darkness. The pathway home from this darkness was the way to the tree of life—the same tree, I suppose, as the one from which Adam and Eve were barred until they, too, had walked the trail Lehi took. The path was marked by the iron rod, the word of God. (See 1 Ne. 8:7–30.) Holding fast to this rod in the mists of darkness, we, as did Lehi, grope and move our way homeward. As we do, we are likely to find that the cold rod of iron will begin to feel in our hands as the warm, firm, loving hand of him who literally pulls us along the way. We find that hand strong enough to rescue us, warm enough to tell us that home is not far away; and we summon our deepest resources to reciprocate, until we are again “at one” in the arms of the Lord.
It is so important for us to be on the Lord’s side. But we should never forget that the Lord is also on our side. 2
No Man Taketh it From Me
A point of doctrine we emphasized in class was the fact that no one took the life of Jesus. He voluntarily gave his life into the hands of his accusers. There were many times when the people sought to take him, in order that they might take his life, but Jesus escaped these efforts (John 8:59, 10:39). He said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).
Jesus followed the command of his father to lay down his life. He could have lived forever. If Jesus was subject unto death as other mortals and would have died eventually anyway, then he really would not have been giving up his life in the fullest sense of the word. He would only have been giving up time. 3 However, since he did not have to die, because he inherited the ability to live forever from his father, when he laid down his life as a ransom for us he did indeed give up his life to pay the debt of sin and satisfy the demands of justice, securing our eternal salvation.
1. S. Michael Wilcox, Don’t Leap with the Sheep, Deseret Book, 2001, p. 68-69.
2. Bruce C. Hafen, Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Ensign, April 1990.
3. Robert J. Mathews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews, Deseret Book, 1999, p. 522.