(13) The Shepherd of Israel
Reading: John 10
heart of this chapter is in verse eleven: "I am
the good shepherd". Let us put alongside of that
the following passages of Scripture:
"Thou leddest thy people like a flock, by the
hand of Moses and Aaron" (Psalm 77:20).
led forth his own people like sheep, and guided them in
the wilderness like a flock" (Psalm 78:52).
heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the
which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the
church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. I
know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter
in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your
own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to
draw away the disciples after them" (Acts
the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the
great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of the eternal
covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every
good thing to do his will" (Hebrews
have the flock spoken of, both in the Old Testament and
in the New. There need be no argument about the fact that
the Lord looked upon Israel of old as His sheep. The
nations were judged by God because of their treatment of
His sheep: they destroyed and scattered them. God was
very angry with the fake shepherds in Israel because they
failed to fulfil their trust to the sheep. There is more,
as we have seen, in the Psalms about Israel as the Lord's
our meditation on this matter by speaking about the Lord
as the owner of the sheep. That is the great point which
governs this whole matter. The sheep belong to the Lord.
They are His, and His ownership of them is emphasized
everywhere. The sheep exist for the Shepherd, and the
Shepherd exists for the sheep. The love of God for Israel
as His sheep is to be noted everywhere. They were "the
people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand" (Psalm
95:7). The love of God for the old Israel was a
very wonderful thing. What care He showed for His sheep
in the wilderness! How, as a Shepherd, He provided water
and pasture for them, even in a desert. How angry He was
when anyone touched His sheep! Touch one of His sheep and
you touch the Lord! The Lord claimed the ownership of His
sheep, and because He owned them and they were His sheep,
everything He did was because of that.
days we are seeing how God, on the one side, had to
forsake Israel. The God who had so loved Israel, had been
so jealous for them, had done everything that He could
for them, had at last to accept their repudiation of Him
as their Shepherd.
that? It was not like God! It seems to be such a
contradiction of Him. He would never, never do that if He
could possibly avoid it. He had said: "I have
loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah
31:3). It was a terrible thing for God to have to forsake
Israel, but He HAD to do it. And today Israel is
in that condition - no longer God's flock, as in old
time. Those sheep are scattered over all the world,
without a shepherd.
that come about? Simply for this one reason: Israel's
fatal sin was their repudiation of God as their one
Shepherd. They turned to other gods and made them their
shepherds. They followed their voices, and repudiated the
sole ownership of the Lord. That great chapter, Isaiah
53, shows their attitude toward the Shepherd. A word
rises out of that chapter: "All we like
sheep have gone astray", and it goes on to show
how Israel treated God's provided Shepherd.
impressive to note that the Apostle Paul quotes this very
thing in his Letter to the Romans: "But they did
not all hearken to the glad tidings. For Isaiah saith,
Lord, who hath believed our report?" (Romans
10:16). Israel refused to believe the message of
the prophets, and that message was all about God as the
Shepherd and Israel as the sheep. And the prophet says:
'This is why they turned away from Jehovah... "All
we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every
one to his own way" (Isaiah 6:6)... Away
from the way of the Lord to their own way.' And their own
way was to choose shepherds other than the Lord.
also impressive to notice that in Psalm 95:7, where
the verse begins: "We are the people of
his pasture, and the sheep of his hand", it goes
on with this strange word: "Today, Oh, that ye
would hear his voice! Harden not your heart".
"We are the... sheep of his hand" - but the
sheep can have very hard hearts and refuse to hear the
Shepherd's voice. So to His sheep of old He said:
"Today, Oh... harden not your heart".
know that that very word is quoted at least three times
in the Letter to the Hebrews? "Today if
ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews
3:7,8). So it was hardness of heart, refusal to
hear His voice, that lost Israel their Shepherd. Paul
says in the Letter to the Romans: "I would
not, brethren, have you ignorant... that a hardening in
part hath befallen Israel" (Romans 11:25), and
you have only to read this chapter, John 10, to see the
hard heart of Israel. It is a terrible thing!
look at it! Jesus has been speaking of Himself as the
good Shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep. He has
said: "I give unto them eternal life; and they
shall never perish" (verse 28). There are
all these wonderful things about Himself as their
Shepherd and about His sheep - and do you notice what
happened? "There arose a division again
among the Jews because of these words.
And many of them said, He hath a devil" ...
"I am the good shepherd... I lay down my life for
the sheep I came that they may have life... I give
unto them eternal life; and they shall never
perish." He has said all these wonderful and
beautiful things and the Jews said: "He hath a
you understand why God had to cast them off? 'We have
hardened our hearts. We have turned every one to our own
way. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have gone
away from the Shepherd because of self-will. in other
words, we have said: "We will not that
this man reign over us" (Luke 19:14).'
the Jewish background of this chapter. You can feel the
atmosphere of antagonism, and you can feel how they hated
Him. Presently they will take counsel that they may kill
Him. He was right when He called them wolves who would
destroy the sheep!
came right into that atmosphere and said: 'I am the good
Shepherd, and I am going to lead My flock out of this. I
am going to take them out of this setting and out of this
false flock.' And so He leads the nucleus of His new
flock and gives unto them eternal life. He begins with a
nucleus out of the old. A dividing work takes place.
not read all that the Jews said because I wanted to keep
it until now: "There arose a division again among
the Jews because of these words. And many of them
said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
Others said, These are not the sayings of one
possessed with a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the
the Lord Jesus is getting some other sheep. There are
those out of the old flock who are inclined toward Him.
They are the new beginning, the new Israel, and He says:
'I will lead them out, right out of that whole setting'.
see that nucleus on the Day of Pentecost, beginning with
twelve - then one hundred and twenty - then more than
five hundred brethren at once - then three thousand - and
then five thousand. There is the new flock.
here is Jesus building upon the Old Testament principle.
If He cannot take the Old Testament sheep, He will take
up the principle of shepherd and sheep and will carry it
over into His new Israel of this dispensation.
position is quite clear, is it not? You have it there
quite plainly. One Israel is being put aside and another
Israel is being put in its place. The earthly is going,
the heavenly is coming in to take its place, and this
heavenly Israel becomes the new flock under the Shepherd.
to note some of the marks of these true sheep. Jesus says
in this chapter: "I know mine own",
and there are certain marks by which He knows His own
sheep. If you have any doubt as to whether you are one of
the Lord's sheep, you can prove it, and the Lord Himself
knows by these marks.
know, shepherds put a mark on their own sheep. It may be
a red mark, or a blue one, but on their sheep they put
their own mark. Jesus is saying here: 'I know My sheep
because there are marks on them.' What are these marks?
first one is this: "My sheep hear my
know, this is an illustration of a great truth. The
Gospels are but illustrations of great truths. If you go
on into the rest of the New Testament you will read a
great deal about spiritual intelligence and about
spiritual understanding, and about having 'an ear to hear
what the Spirit saith'. You have that seven times at the
beginning of the Book of the Revelation - "He
that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit
saith" (Revelation 2:7, etc.). Of course, that
is not our outward ear. The Lord's sheep have an inward
ear given to them, that is, a faculty of spiritual
intelligence and an ability to hear what no one else can
hear. It was to that that the Lord was referring - 'My
sheep know when I speak. They have an ear for Me and are
always listening for My voice. They hear My voice.'
truly born again child of God is given this faculty of
spiritual hearing. That is why, in the early days of your
Christian life, you say: 'The Lord seems to be saying
something to me. He seems to be saying that I ought not
to talk as I do, that I ought not to dress as I have been
dressing, and that I ought not to go to the places to
which I used to go, and many other things like that.' The
Lord seems to be saying something to us. He is speaking
in the heart, and as we go on in the Christian life that
becomes the governing thing in our lives. We seek to hear
what the Lord has to say to us, and when we hear His
voice a crisis arises. Are we going back to the way of
the old Israel? Or are we going to hear that voice and
the message of the Letter to the Hebrews: 'Do not go back
on to that old ground. Today if ye shall HEAR HIS VOICE,
harden not your hearts as the old Israel did.' It is a
very wonderful thing to see people who are obeying His
voice! Other people do not have to tell them these
things. They are a poor kind of Christian who have to be
told all the time what they should do and what they
should not do. The true sheep hear His voice and they
follow Him. It is something that comes out of the heart -
they have heard Him speaking in the heart.
course, is the whole of that New Testament subject of
spiritual understanding, and you and I, as Christians,
are supposed to have that faculty.
speaking earlier about Nicodemus. He was a ruler of the
Jews and a great man in Israel. He had a high position
and a great education, and yet he had not the first idea
of spiritual things. Jesus had to say to him: "If
I told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall
ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?" (John
3:12). Nicodemus could not see beyond the natural to the
spiritual. When Jesus said 'You must be born again', he
could not see beyond the natural, and said: "How
can a man be born when he is old?'' (John 3:4). He
had no spiritual intelligence. He was like a little
child, although a great teacher in Israel.
I have a
little grand-daughter about four years of age. She went
to Sunday School and when she came home she said to her
mother: 'Mother, will you get out for me all my baby toys
which we put away?' Her mother said: 'Why do you want
your baby toys out again?' 'Oh,' she said, 'my teacher
says I must be born again!'
that is a little child and you might expect that of her,
but here is the great big grown-up Nicodemus and he is no
better than that! You might expect more of him, but you
do not get it. Spiritual intelligence belongs to the born
again ones, and we are given that gift with our new
birth. We have a whole new set of faculties, to hear, to
see, to feel, and so on. And I repeat that it is about
that very thing that the New Testament speaks when
spiritual understanding is mentioned. That is what Jesus
meant when He said: "My sheep hear my
mark of these sheep is: "My sheep...
words are simple, but they have a very deep meaning. They
mean that His sheep never have to be driven, never have
to be compelled to go His way. His sheep follow Him in a
voluntary, spontaneous way. The Lord never has to say (or
ought never to have to say) to His sheep: 'You MUST go
this way.' The Lord is going a certain way and His sheep
see which way He is going and follow Him.
course, in the western world, it is just the other way
round where sheep are concerned. Sheep have to be driven,
but it is not like that in the East, and Jesus takes the
principle of government from the East. He says: 'I don't
drive My sheep. I never have to get behind them and force
them to go on. I never have to send a dog after them to
get them going. My sheep hear My voice and they follow
Me.' It is a spontaneous movement of the heart to go
after the Lord.
apply the law. These are the marks of the Lord's sheep.
Are you one of His sheep? Do you really hear Him speaking
in your heart? Do you listen for His voice? Do you seek
to have your life guided by that voice of the Spirit
within speaking to you through the Word of God, through
the circumstances of your life, through your sorrows? The
Lord always has something to say to us. There are very
few things which happen to the Lord's sheep which do not
have some meaning. It is for us to seek to know what it
is the Lord is saying to us. The government of the life
of the Lord's sheep is by hearing His voice. Do you know
anything about that? And what about this spontaneous
response to the Lord? Is yours a heart that readily goes
after the Lord? Is it one that has only to know that the
Lord wants something and it responds with a hearty 'Yes,
the bond between us, the Lord's sheep, and Him, the
Shepherd? It is the same bond that existed between the
old Israel, with whom the Lord had so much difficulty,
and the Lord. This same principle of His ownership is
taken over. That which unites us with the Lord is the
realization that we belong to Him, that He is absolute
owner of our lives. To quote another Scripture: "Ye
are not your own; for ye were bought with a price" (I
Corinthians 6:19,20), and we have the mark of the Lord
put upon us, which is the seal of His ownership. Paul
tells us that the seal is the Holy Spirit - "Ye
were sealed with the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians
1:13). When you look at a seal you know to whom the
object belongs. It says: 'This is the property of a
certain person.' The Lord gives us His Spirit as the seal
that we belong to Him.
sheep the Apostle Paul was! He said: "Let no man
trouble me (that is, try to draw me away): for I
bear branded on my body the marks of Jesus" (Galatians
6:17) ... 'The marks of Jesus mean that I belong
to Him.' He said on the ship when he was travelling to
Rome: "There stood by me this night an
angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve" (Acts
27:23). The true sheep of the Lord Jesus are never
ashamed to say: 'I belong to the Lord Jesus. He owns my
life and everything that I have. I am completely
committed to Him.' That is a true sheep!
these are the marks of the Lord's new Israel. And you can
now understand why we have these words which have been
the key to our meditation: "Wherefore, holy
brethren, companions of a heavenly calling... companions
of Christ" (Hebrews 3:1,14). There is a kind of
companionship between this Shepherd and His sheep. They
are not just animals, they are friends. There is a
wonderful friendship between the Lord Jesus and His own
- "Companions of a heavenly calling".