Jesus the Good Shepherd and a whole host of hireling shepherds

Jesus the Good Shepherd and a whole host of hireling shepherds

According to Wikipedia: “The Hireling Shepherd (1851) is a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. It represents a shepherd neglecting his flock in favour of an attractive country girl to whom he shows a death’s-head hawkmoth. The meaning of the image has been much debated.”

I am a lover of William Holman Hunt’s art, which often has deep religious / spiritual significance. My particular favourites are “The Scapegoat” and “Light of the World”. But it is “The Hireling Shepherd” that is the theme of this blog, along with shepherds and sheep, and Jesus, as the Good Shepherd.

The Bible says a lot about shepherds, often related to leaders, spiritual and temporal, and to sheep, the shepherds oversee, who suffer if their leaders are bad / foolish (hireling) shepherds and thrive if good and righteous. In our ten part, “The life and times of David – the good, the bad and the ugly” series, in Part 10 “David and God” we considered David whose most well-known Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd …”) is based on his knowledge of God and his experience as a shepherd. David, despite his many faults, was an example of a good shepherd and, since he was a man after God’s own heart, that is why God blessed him.

11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. John 10:11-18 

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah all looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and in different ways it included likening him to a shepherd. We see the New Testament fulfillment, notably in John 10 when Jesus declared “I am the good shepherd” and when He condemned the hireling shepherds. The OT also reflected on bad shepherds among both spiritual and temporal leaders and in one instance, in the case of Cyrus the Great, a non-believer, the leader of the Persian empire, as “my shepherd”.

4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. 5 And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. 7 Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;8 As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; 9 Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; 10 Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. 11 For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. 23 And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. 24 And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it. Ezekiel 34
And he (Micaiah) said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd 1 Kings 22:17.  He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young Isaiah 40:11. That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid Isaiah 44:28. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones Zechariah 13:7. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered Mark 14:27. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant Hebrews 13:20     

It is worth noting that the first time shepherds and sheep were likened to people in our Bible searches was when the prophet Micaiah warned King Ahab of the consequences if he were to lead his people into battle. As with many of my blogs, the things I read about in the Bible, see happening in the world as a “watchman on the wall” and reflect on concerning my own life’s experience and what I see to be the needs of the hour, it is these that often provide a trigger to my writing, as is the case here.

As a young person, I was moved by this “sheep without a shepherd” text and as a result I was resolved to respond to the need and be one of the labourers in the harvest field: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” Matthew 9:37. To my shame, I have let Him down. These days, I am not well recognised by most humans, including keen Christians, as one who is a spiritual shepherd and, now I am a retiree, by most secular entities, as a temporal shepherd, but having suffered from a lack of good shepherds (although I take full responsibility for my own disobedience) and seeing (Christians and non) suffer due to such lack, I see a huge need and I can make a difference and encourage others to do so. While there are many in leadership positions in Christian circles, arguably few can be regarded as good (under) shepherds. The world is led by hireling shepherds and is a major reason it is in a mess we are now seeing. Humanly speaking, I can do little to change the world, or the church come to that, but I know the One who can. My job is to be faithful to Him and introduce folk to the Good Shepherd, and let Him do the rest.

I am drawn to Paul’s parting words to a group of elders, that still rings true to today. I am also drawn to a hymn that back in the day inspired me on the shepherd route. We sung it in church today!


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