The Shepherd’s Purpose is Love

Elisabeth Elliot once told a story about visiting a farm in Northern Wales.  One morning, Elisabeth stood at a window 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.

Elisabeth moved to the pens and watched as John grabbed the horns of each ram and threw the animal into a deep antiseptic bath. 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 them by the horns with a rod, and dunked them back in, holding down their nose, eyes, and ears for a few seconds below the liquid. 

Elisabeth Elliot 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 lambs from attracting parasites. It is an act that only “kept” sheep can experience.  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. Though in retrospect, we find that we learn something about God’s character we didn’t understand before.   

In the Old Testament, we read about Job who lost all of his wealth, his children die, and he suffered from boils all over his body.  In the midst of his groaning, God hushes Job’s complaints by teaching Job about his character, power, and wisdom. Job then covers his mouth and says, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but But now my eyes see You. ”

Likewise, Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, refuse to bow to the King’s statue. For their rebellion, the Ruler sends them to a fiery furnace heated seven times above its regular level.  However, when the king peers inside the kiln, he sees the men are alive. The king then notices not three men walking around—but four. He and Daniel’s friends learned that day, that not only was God capable of saving the men, but he also went into the fire with them.

Likewise, Daniel is a faithful servant of God who prayed three times a day. Daniel found favor with the King and garnered a promotion. However, before the leader could elevate Daniel’s position, the wicked Commissioners told the King that Daniel did not bow to his statue, and continued to worship God.   For his rebellion, the Monarch must honor his decree and throw Daniel into the Lions’ den.  Nevertheless, when Daniel entered the cave, he found an angel who sealed the Lions’ mouth and saved his life.   

Furthermore, Joseph found favor in his father’s eyes, because Jacob loved Joseph’s mother more than he loved his other wife, Leah. When Jacob lavished attention on the young boy, his brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. Poor Joseph suffered many years in jail for the false accusation of rape. He also does someone a favor and is forgotten and never repaid for his kindness. However, through his entire ordeal, God blesses Joseph and reunites him with his family. It is then that Joseph understands that “What his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good,” for he not only saves the nation from famine, he kept his own family from death.

In the New Testament, we see Paul, who from his time of conversion 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., etc.  But 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, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Emphasis mine).

At last, we learn that Paul, and all the heroes mentioned above, discovered that despite the circumstances, sufferings, pain, and hardships, God still loved them.   

We all can look back at our trials, and see God allows hardships for our good.  Situations may not turn out as we liked, and we may even have scars from our journey, but in the end, we can acknowledge that God’s character, and, his love for us never changes.