shep'-erd (ro`eh, ro`i; poimen, "a feeder"): The sheep owner frequently tends the flocks himself (Gen 4:4; 30:40; compare Ezek 34:12), but more often he delegates the work to his children (Gen 29:9; 1 Sam 16:19; 17:15) or relatives (Gen 31:6). In such cases the sheep have good care because the keepers have a personal interest in the well-being of the animals, but when they are attended by a hireling (1 Sam 17:20) the flocks may be neglected or abused (Isa 56:10,11; Ezek 34:8,10; Zec 11:15,17; Jn 10:12). The chief care of the shepherd is to see that the sheep find plenty to eat and drink. The flocks are not fed in pens or folds, but, summer and winter, must depend upon foraging for their sustenance (Ps 23:2). In the winter of 1910-11 an unprecedented storm ravaged Northern Syria. It was accompanied by a snowfall of more than 3 ft., which covered the ground for weeks. During that time, hundreds of thousands of sheep and goats perished, not so much from the cold as from the fact that they could get no food. Goats hunt out the best feeding-grounds, but sheep are more helpless and have to be led to their food (compare Nu 27:16,17); nor do they possess the instinct of many other animals for finding their way home (compare Ezek 34:6-8). Flocks should be watered at least once a day. Where there are springs or streams this is an easy matter. Frequently the nearest water is hours away. One needs to travel in the dry places in Syria or Israel, and then enter the watered valleys like those in Edom where the flocks are constantly being led for water, to appreciate the Psalmist's words, "He leadcth me beside still waters." Sometimes water can be obtained by digging shallow wells (Gen 26:18-22,25,32). The shepherd frequently carries with him a pail from which the sheep can drink when the water is not accessible to them. On the mountain tops the melting snows supply the needed water. In other districts it is drawn from deep wells (Gen 29:2; Jn 4:6). The usual time for watering is at noon, at which time the flocks are led to the watering-places (Gen 29:2,3). After drinking, the animals lie down or huddle together in the shade of a rock while the shepherd sleeps. At the first sound of his call, which is usually a peculiar guttural sound, hard to imitate, the flock follow off to new feeding-grounds. Even should two shepherds call their flocks at the same time and the sheep be intermingled, they never mistake their own master's voice (Jn 10:3-5).
The shepherd's equipment is a simple one. His chief garment is a cloak woven from wool or made from sheepskins. This is sleeveless, and so made that it hangs like a cloak on his shoulders. When he sleeps he curls up under it, head and all. During the summer a lighter, short-sleeved `aba or coat is worn. He carries a staff or club (see STAFF), and a characteristic attitude is to make a rest for his arms by placing his staff on his shoulders against the back of his neck. When an especially productive spot is found, the shepherd may pass the time, while the animals are grazing, by playing on his pipe (Jdg 5:16). He sometimes carries a sling (qela`) of goat's hair (1 Sam 17:40). His chief belongings are kept in a skin pouch or bag (keli) (1 Sam 17:40). This bag is usually a whole tawed skin turned wrong side out, with the legs tied up and the neck forming the opening. He is usually aided in the keeping and the defending of the sheep by a dog (Job 30:1). In Syria the Kurdish dogs make the best protectors of the sheep, as, unlike the cowardly city dogs, they are fearless and will drive away the wild beasts. The shepherd is often called upon to aid the dogs in defending the sheep (Gen 31:39; 1 Sam 17:34,35; Isa 31:4; Jer 5:6; Am 3:12).
The frequent use of the word "shepherd" to indicate a spiritual overseer is familiar to Bible readers (Ps 23:1; 80:1; Eccl 12:11; Isa 40:4; 63:14; Jer 31:10; Ezek 34:23; 37:24; Jn 21:15-17; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 5:1-4). We still use the term "pastor," literally, "a shepherd." Leaders in temporal affairs were also called shepherds (Gen 47:17 margin; Isa 44:28; 63:11). "Sheep without a shepherd" typified individuals or nations who had forgotten Yahweh (Nu 27:17; 1 Ki 22:17; 2 Ch 18:16; Ezek 34:5,8; Zec 10:2; Mt 9:36; Mk 6:34).
Jesus is spoken of as the good shepherd (Jn 10:14); chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4); great shepherd (Heb 13:20); the one shepherd (Jn 10:16). "He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young" (Isa 40:11) is a picture drawn from pastoral life of Yahweh's care over His children. A strong sympathy for helpless animals, though sometimes misdirected, is a marked characteristic of the people of Bible lands. The birth of offspring in a flock often occurs far off on the mountain side. The shepherd solicitously guards the mother during her helpless moments and picks up the lamb and carries it to the fold. For the few days, until it is able to walk, he may carry it in his arms or in the loose folds of his coat above his girdle.
See also SHEEP.
James A. Patch