The Shepherd’s Purpose is Love

Elisabeth Elliot once told a story about visiting a farm in Northern Wales. While there, she stood and watched a dog named Mack chase sheep down a hill. Mack nipped and barked at the herd of lambs and kept them in line while his master, John, used his horse to nudge a flock of rams back towards the valley.

She witnessed John grab each ram’s horns and throw them into a deep antiseptic bath at the pens. As the ewes raced to escape, Mack bit their faces, forcing them to stay in the liquid. The poor flock struggled and fought to get out, but to no avail. John then pushed the herd towards a narrow channel. If the Rams tried to escape, John hooked their horns with a rod and dunked them back in the bath, holding down their nose, eyes, and ears for a few seconds below the liquid. 

Elisabeth wished there was a way to explain to the rams that what they underwent was for their benefit. “An explanation would be too lofty for them to understand, and the shepherd they had grown to trust required only their submission,” she said.

Sheep dipping is a common practice that prevents kept lambs from attracting parasites. The ewes who wander the fields and roam mountaintops on their own—without a shepherd, suffer attacks from vermin and eventually fall ill and die.

It’s not hard to see the correlation with the Christian life. Sometimes we feel like we will drown in our sorrows, and sometimes we blame God for our suffering. Yet, hindsight shows us that we have learned something about Christ’s character, which we didn’t see before.  

In the Old Testament, we learn about many of God’s faithful servants who undergo severe trials, and yet they continue to yield to God’s will. We read about Job, who lost all his children, wealth, and health. Amid Job’s groaning, God hushes his complaints and charges Job with statements about his Sovereignty. “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (Job 40:2 ESV).

Likewise, Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, refuse to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The Ruler sends them to a fiery furnace heated seven times above its average temperature for their rebellion. However, when the king looks inside the kiln, he finds four men walking around—not three. He and Daniel’s friends learned that day that not only was God capable of saving lives, but he also accompanied them into their trial.

Furthermore, we learn of Joseph’s brothers, who sell him into slavery. Joseph suffered many years in jail for the false accusations. Through the years, Joseph gains the respect of his guardians but continues to live in the dungeons for years. Joseph later reunites with his family, understanding that “What his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good,” to save Israel.

In the New Testament, we see Paul, who received thirty-nine lashes multiple times. He is stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, forced into hard labor, starved, and chained to a guard 24 hours a day, etc. Then in Romans 8:38-39, Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB)

At last, we learn that God still loved them in their suffering, pain, and hardships. Situations may not turn out as we liked, and we may even have scars from our journey. Still, in the end, we can acknowledge that God’s character and love for us never change.