In the Middle East, shepherds often build a common sheep pen for their town. All the shepherds in the village would keep their sheep together in this pen overnight. They would build a wall to keep the sheep from wandering away and to keep wolves and other predators from attacking them. A watchman would guard the gate or door to the pen so that only shepherds could enter. This discouraged thieves.
When a shepherd was ready to feed his sheep, he would go into the pen and call them by name. A shepherd had an intimate relationship with his sheep. In some cases they would be as close to them as a pet is to us. So the sheep recognized the voice of the man who cared for them. When he called them by name, they would follow. The shepherd would take them to good, green pastures and nice, quiet waters. He would keep them from wandering off and would treat any wounds, binding them up. He would protect them from wild animals, often doing battle with them, as King David describes what he did as a young shepherd. True shepherds would risk their lives to save their sheep.
Kings often compared themselves to shepherds. They liked to be seen as caring for them and keeping them safe. They expected their subjects to willingly follow everywhere they wanted them to go.
In the Bible, God tells us He is our Shepherd. He will feed them, gather their lambs in his arms and hold them close to his heart. (Isaiah 40:11) Most of all, in Jesus, God is our Good Shepherd. He leads us with his word, guides us and protects us from evil. Like a good shepherd, he laid down his life for the sheep. He died so that we might be saved. On the last day of our life, he will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death safely home to dwell in his house forever. (Psalm 23)
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