In Part Two of this series on The Good Shepherd, I discuss more about Joseph and the term given to him in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Ro’eh et (The Shepherd). This is because Joseph inherently had the heart of a Shepherd, something that set him apart from his brothers. For that, his brothers threw him in the Pit and tried to kill him. Genesis Rabba expounds on Joseph’s ordeal a bit more than the Hebrew Scriptures does.
To better understand the ancient concept of Shepherding, I also make references to ancient shepherding contracts. Such as ones discovered in The Mari Documents, unearthed in the Tel Hariri desert. I also divided Shepherds into categories such as Owner/Operator, Family Business and Hired-Shepherd to better appreciate responsibility and accountability at every level.
Jesus referred to himself as The Good Shepherd, and stated he did not lose any sheep, except one, so the scripture could be fulfilled. Jesus in turn left the responsibility for caring for his followers to his disciples and those that came after them. I likened those that labour in the Kingdom, God’s business as being like Hired-Shepherds. Which should conclude in Part Three with a better understanding of the function of Shepherds (Pastors) in the New Testament.
Please see The Good Shepherd Part One for the first part of this series.
I taught this series on The Good Shepherd in a Church in 2014. I decided to re-visit the series because I think the message is still a good one and still relevant to us today. I hope you enjoy and learn something new from these notes on The Good Shepherd.
For this study, I have divided Shepherds into three categories:
I apologise beforehand for using business terminology. My experience lies in business, so it is only natural that I resort to understanding the function of a Shepherd from a business perspective.
I have called these categories:
The Owner Operator (Shepherd)
The Family Business (Shepherd)
The Owner/Operator Shepherd:
The Owner-Operator Shepherd looks after their own sheep. This type of Shepherd is accountable for the sheep. Every sheep is an asset to the Shepherd. The Shepherd sells the dairy, the wool, the meat. If the Shepherd losers one sheep, he loses money. It is no different to being an owner operator in any other business. No business owner wants to lose money!
Father God falls into this category. He owns all things, and He can do whatever He pleases with everything that He owns. He is The Chief Shepherd.
The Family Business:
Sounds a bit like the Mafia, I know. But there is no Cousin Vinnie, in this business. The son (scripturally speaking, usually the youngest) like David, I also mentioned Rachel in Part One, is left to manage the father’s assets. I will include Joseph in this, and you say … “Ahh, but Joseph was not the youngest, Benjamin was”. The Jewish people consider Joseph to be the youngest son of Jacob and not Benjamin. There was a lot of problems with the Tribe of Benjamin. His mother called him Ben-Oni (son of my pain). His father changed it and called him (son of my strength). If your name is your identity, then Benjamin had a bit of an identity crises. What is Benjamin, pain, or strength? Benjamin was also one of the smaller, more mixed-up tribes, in the history of Israel.
The JPS Torah Series is the most highly acclaimed Jewish commentary since the turn of the century. Eighty- and ninety-year-old Jewish Scholars will be using the JPS in their studies. In JPS, Joseph is the youngest because he was the last one born in Paddam-aram. Paddam-aram was like Jacob’s Egypt, it was where he completed his time of servitude to Laban. He finally got his promotion and received his wages. It is where he became a man in his own right and got to step out of everybody else’s shadow. Benjamin was born whilst journeying, hence Benjamin’s story is a little different.
In the family business, the son is shepherding for his father, the son is now accountable. Remember Jesus said, “He will leave the ninety-nine sheep and go find the one that is missing” (Luke 15:4). Jesus knew the rules! He said in John 17:12 (This was His prayer) While I was with them in the world; I kept them in your NAME; those that YOU gave me I kept; none of them is lost, except the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Jesus took His role of Shepherding very seriously. Unlike Jesus, I will have to stand before God one day and confess that I have lost a lot of God’s Sheep over the years.
Now that we understand the role the youngest son plays in the family business, let us look at Joseph again. All the sons of Jacob were Shepherds, they were all working together, Joseph was hanging out with Dan and Naphtali, who were the sons of Bilhah (Rachel’s maid). Something went wrong and Joseph brought his father a bad report. Could it be that his brothers were mistreating the sheep? Could it be that they were not being particularly good shepherds?
Christians and Jews differ in their understanding of the book of Genesis. Christians believe every word is written as God gave it. Jews on the other hand are fully aware that Genesis is a compilation of many other texts, such as Genesis Rabba, Jubilees (Little Genesis), Talmud, Enoch, and others. To glean a bit more about Joseph, I was curious to find out what Genesis Rabba had to say about him. It says that Joseph became proud and haughty, and confirming my suspicion it mentioned that Joseph had caught his brothers slaughtering and eating some of the best sheep. This in fact was the accusation (bad report) Joseph brought to his father.
The Hebrew word for Shepherd is Ro’eh but when it refers to Joseph in this Genesis story it uses the word Ro’eh ET. A Variation of Ro’eh. It is more like in this instance, Joseph was lording it over (JPS Torah Series) his brothers, telling them how to do their job. Acting a bit like ‘The Shepherd’. This made his brothers angry and they arose and conspired to kill him. The word (ET) in this instance means The Shepherd. By referring to Joseph as The Shepherd, he is differentiated from being just another Ro’eh.
Was the drama that was unfolding because Joseph had inherent qualities of a Shepherd or was, he just being a bit of a pain? I do not think that Joseph was a pain, he just understood his purpose at an early age. Let us take a quick look at Joseph.
- In Jewish literature Joseph is the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel.
- He was born to older parents, (Jacob was about ninety years old, when Joseph was born).
- His mother died when he was a teenager.
- He was taken into slavery when he was seventeen and he became separated from his family.
- Joseph was a Dreamer in the sense that God was communicating to him in dreams.
- Joseph had to grow up fast. Remember when the brothers were sitting around, during the famine, they did not know what to do. By then, Joseph was running a country. Joseph’s brothers were terribly cruel to him, and they made him suffer. For what? For being a better shepherd than they were? For having dreams, for predicting the future.
I have been told by an Orthodox Jew who visited a pit like the one Joseph was put into. He said there is an enormously powerful echo in the area and that noise carried through in waves and you could hear it miles away. Joseph’s screams would have been terrible to hear. He would have cried out to his brothers to save him from the pit and they did not. They showed no mercy! Again, Genesis Rabba states that the pit was infested with snakes and scorpions. That Joseph was stripped of his garments and left in the pit for three days before he was sold to the Ishmaelites.
In the end Joseph was grateful for his ordeal because he was able to save many people through the things he suffered.
For me, this recalls the suffering of Jesus. Because of the things He suffered, He also was able to save many people.
Many things impress me about the life of Joseph. None more so than Joseph’s ability to make decisions. He made decisions about Potiphar’s wife, he decided to interpret dreams, and he made decisions as to how to get himself out of prison. Then he made decisions as to how to manage the worst famine the land had ever seen. We learn to make decisions by making decisions. We learn to make good decisions, by making lots and lots of decisions. Decision making is not a ‘stab in the dark’, it is a calculated process.
In the end, I believe Joseph, was Ro’eh ET because he inherently had the heart of a Shepherd and he was trying to impress upon his brothers to be better Shepherds. For that he paid the ultimate price.
The Hired-Servant (Shepherd):
The third category I have put shepherds into concerns us more than the other two. The last category is called the Hired Shepherd (the employee).
If the Owner/Operator cannot operate his business for any reason, and he has no son, or his Rachel has left, then he needs to hire someone.
That person is called a “Hired-Shepherd”. A Hired-Shepherd is on a wage (that is us, we are hired). The Hired-Shepherd must answer to his Lord and Master and explain to Him why a sheep has gone missing. He will have to pay compensation to his Lord and Master. (“You broke it you bought it”).
In ancient documents called the Mari documents (found in Tel Hariri, on the banks of the Euphrates), we get a particularly good understanding of the sorts of expectations that existed between owner and hired shepherd.
The Mari documents were excavated in 1933 -1938. Over twenty-thousand cuneiform documents were found. Most of them are from about 1800 BC. About 3800 years ago, that is close to the time of The Patriarchs. The Mari documents also contain names like, Sarah, Terah, Abram, Laban. They worshiped a moon-god (nanna). The symbol for this god was the crescent moon. In ancient times the sun was (male) moon (female) stars (children). The Mari documents speak of male and female prophets who prophesied and there is evidence that the Kings sought out these prophets to receive guidance.
I am not suggesting they were a group of Hebrews. But a lot of what they lived out in their daily lives correspond to the lives of the Hebrews and is confirmed in the Bible.
Please see an example of a contract that was discovered amongst these Mari documents. It was translated by Israel Finkelstein and published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society 88(1968):30-36.
If you are thinking that Workplace Agreements are a modern-day concept then, think again.
The hired shepherd received a portion of the newborn animals. 92 ewes, 20 rams, 22 breeding lambs, 24 spring lambs, 33 she goats, 4 male goats, 27 kids, total 158 sheep, 64 goats, which Sinshamuh entrusted to Dada the Shepherd. Dada assumes liability therefore and will replace any lost animals. Should Nidnatum Dada’s Shepherd-boy absent himself, he will bear responsibility for any subsequent losses. Dada will also have to pay five kor of barley. It was signed by three witnesses in Samuiluna year one, fourth month, sixteenth day.
If there was a breach of contract compensation had to be paid, by Dada (hired shepherd) and by Nidnatum Dada’s shepherd boy.
In the book of Job 7:1-3. It says “Is there not a time of hard service for man on the earth? Are not his days like the days of a hired man? Like a servant who earnestly desires the shade, and like a hired servant who eagerly looks for his wages. So, I have allotted months of futility and wearisome nights have been appointed to me.”
Hired-Shepherds, they are not our sheep! Watch how you treat God’s sheep – it is not our business, but we must treat it like it is. We are responsible and accountable. If something goes wrong, we will be asked to “Please explain?”.
There is a saying: ” If it happened on your watch, you fix it”. You broke it you brought it!
This brings me to the close of Part Two of my teaching on The Good Shepherd.
We need to take shepherding very seriously. By the time I am finished this teaching you will be left with no doubt as to what shepherding is.
- The number one occupation of God’s people was that of a Shepherd.
- There were both male and female shepherds.
- Joseph was more than a shepherd, he was The Shepherd (Ro’eh ET)!
- I divided shepherds into three categories (Owner/Operator), Family Business and Hired-Shepherd.
- Jesus, fell into the category of Family Business (The Son) and he was careful not to lose any sheep. He knew the rules. He has the title as The Good Shepherd (special title for the Son).
- We fall into the category of Hired-Shepherd, the penalties for losing sheep are severe for us.
Hands up all those who want to be Shepherds.
In Hebrews 13:17 the Apostle Paul says, obey those that watch over you; the Greek means, obey those that are sleepless over you. Shepherding means being sleepless. Jacob said to Laban, Gen 31:40 the drought consumed me by day and the frost by night. My sleep departed from my eyes. Jacob was sleepless over Laban’s sheep, that is why he was so successful. Good shepherds watch the sheep, care for the sheep, and protect the sheep. The word watch also means to give account, not just an account about yourself (yes, that too), but also an account for others.
I want to finish off now with a bit more about Joseph. Joseph had a dream, in the dream he was binding sheaves. A shepherd binding sheaves! You cannot understand this until you read some more from the Mari documents.
One of the Mari tablets says: that Shepherds were also required to bring in the harvest. Most of the time they were watching sheep, while watching sheep they also had to bring in the harvest. The best shepherds got to do this. When Joseph said to his brothers, “I will bind sheaves”, he became a problem for them. Because what he was saying is “I’m going to rise to fame”. Harvesters were greater than Shepherds.
Rather than encourage and allow him to rise to the top, instead they conspired to kill him.
In the next session I will speak more about the function of a Shepherd and how it relates to the Christian New Testament.
Thank you for reading and God Bless You.
The YouTube video for …
The Good Shepherd — Part Two