In this study I have been examining the meaning of the word, Shepherd, and its Function from a Hebraic perspective.
I have been looking at what does a Shepherd do as opposed to what a Shepherd is.
We looked at the meaning of the Hebrew word Ro’eh (Shepherd) and discovered that there were both male and female Ro’eh in the Hebrew Scriptures. Rachel was indeed a Shepherd and carried out the Function of a Shepherd by watering and feeding her father’s sheep. It was while she was tending her father’s sheep that Jacob found her. Jacob was already a shepherd and together these two shepherds produced the most beautiful Shepherd, Joseph.
Joseph held a special title, Ro’eh et, The Shepherd. I also mentioned Jesus’s own classification of Himself as The Good Shepherd. There is one other title given to Jesus Christ in Hebrews 13:20, The Great Shepherd. So, we have varying degrees of Shepherds in the Scriptures.
I would like to point out here that Shepherding is a calling and is not related to salvation. Salvation is a gift from God and Shepherding is what we do with that gift. There is no doubt that watering and feeding God’s sheep is our highest calling. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times and three times Jesus called him to “Feed His Sheep.” “If you love me, FEED my Sheep.” The act of loving God is FEEDING His Sheep. Love for God is not verbal, it is a demonstration and an act of self-sacrifice for the good of others (John 10:11; John 21:15-17).
The Hebrew word Ro’eh is what we refer to as Pastor in English. I was ordained as a Pastor when I was in my early twenties by the late Pastor Les Garrett. And I remember having a conversation with a guy I was witnessing to and I told him I was a Pastor. He looked puzzled and then asked me what type of spaghetti I was making. He thought I was making pasta for a living 😊.
The word Pastor has nothing to do with making spaghetti, it stems directly from the Hebrew word Ro’eh (Shepherd). In the Christian New Testament, Ro’eh is translated as the Greek word, Poimen. Poimen is translated seventeen times as Shepherd and one time as Pastor in Ephesians 4:11. And, the word Pastor has stuck, like pasta sticks! And I am sorry to say in the process the Function of the Ancient Shepherd has been lost in translation. I believe that is in part due to the way our religious texts have been translated and transliterated.
It is my opinion that some attempts have been made to downplay the role of woman as Shepherds both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. However, I do believe we can see the significance of female shepherds in the early churches in Paul’s salutations. Just one example would be Phobe. Phobe (female) is a servant according to Romans 16:1. Yet, Tychicus (male) is a faithful minister (Colossians 4:7) as is Paul and other males. But it is the same Greek word, Diakonos that is used in all these instances. It means to minister as a Shepherd, Teacher or Deacon.
I remain baffled as to why the translators decided to downplay some ministries or interpret Poimen seventeen times as Shepherd and once as Pastor. Whatever the reasons, the word is here to stay, and it is used extensively to describe the workings of a Shepherd, although as I have mentioned it has lost some of its meaning.
If we use people as a metaphor for sheep or vice versa as the Bible does. Then many churches today are in grave danger when they have an open-door policy, “That’s the door if you don’t like it you can leave, if you want to come back, the door is open”. My friend be careful of this open-door policy, if a sheep goes out and gets taken by a wolf, the sheep’s life will be required at your hand.
In the beginning of this series I used Jacob and Rachel as an examples of Shepherds. Jacob knew what was at stake ─ Jacob knew his wife had to love sheep, so when he saw Rachel looking after sheep, he must have thought, wow! She will do simply fine. The fact that she was beautiful as the scripture’s states, was just a bonus.
Eventually Jacob and Rachel came together and produced a wonderful Shepherd by the name of Joseph, and what a shepherd, he was! Joseph not only watered and fed his father’s sheep, but he also watered and fed (human) sheep. He fed a whole nation! Joseph was the quintessential Shepherd. He was a type of The Messiah, Joseph, was the turning point for the Israelites, without him they would have perished. Both Jews and Christians appreciate the Messianic qualities of Joseph but differ in their Messianic expectations.
The next Shepherd after Joseph was Moses, God called Moses while he was watching his fathers-in-law’s sheep. He was hired in a sense, they were not his sheep. Although the real sheep that Moses would lead (also as a hired shepherd) was the sheep of Israel, human sheep.
Here is a question for you:
Did God visit every one of these shepherds while they were sleeping?
The answer is emphatically “No”. It was while they were working, busy, looking after sheep, that is when they had an encounter with God. They were the most lowly, humble people imaginable when God visited them. He knew if they could take care of real sheep then they could take care of people.
Remember those Egyptians (those proud Egyptians, they thought they were gods) they were producers of wheat, they were not shepherds. They would not even eat with shepherds. Like the Egyptians we also have a distorted idea of Shepherding. I hope that by the time I am finished this series you will see Shepherding (what we now know as Pastoring) in a hugely different light.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about Pastors, and in the past I had some strange ideas about the whole concept of Pastoring. When I was ordained as a Pastor this is what I believed about being a Pastor.
Firstly: Pastors got to speak, if you were not a Pastor, the likelihood of speaking in Church was extremely limited. So, Prophets had to become Pastors, Evangelists had to become Pastors, even Apostles had to become Pastors! You may note that I never mentioned Teachers, that is because when you study The Shepherd you will find that Teaching is very much part of Shepherding. They are the one and the same thing.
A Shepherd holds in his hand a powerful tool by which he leads, that tool is The Staff. The Staff speaks of authority, guidance for the sheep, but it also means to Teach. In Hebrew, the word teach means to point, those who teach point the way. The Shepherd also points the way, always leading the sheep to greener pastures and away from danger. The Shepherd and the staff go hand in hand. You cannot separate the shepherd from the staff. He is not a Shepherd if he does not have his Staff.
In the Biblical Hebrew to Shepherd (Pastor) and to Teach is the same thing:
Look at these pictograph symbols below. Pictograph symbols preceded the Hebrew script. You will discover that God is also a Shepherd! The pictograph symbol (Lamed) has the Shepherds Staff. Together with the Ox Head which speaks of Chief, Leader, Strength and makes up God’s name. This is Psalm 23 in pictograph. Elohim also has the (Lamed) which was later written differently.
If you take Shepherding out of the Hebrew context then they mean two different things Shepherding meaning like being a Pastor and teaching means like being a Teacher. Now I know every scripture you are going to throw at me, the fivefold ministry and did not Paul say Pastors and Teachers? I am not going to argue with you, you can believe that they are two different ministries, but I believe they are one and the same. That is based on a comprehensive study of both the Hebrew and the Greek.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Paul neglects to mention Pastors, only Teachers as Church Ministries. The Didache, which is an ancient document, the closest document we have other than the New Testament, fails to mention Shepherds (Pastors) only Teachers. I remain convinced they are one and the same thing, because of my understanding of The Staff.
If we accept that they are two different ministries, then please explain to me what a Pastor does? And please do not tell me that Pastors are administrators and run churches.
Pastors are Shepherding-Teachers who lead the sheep by teaching and by example. If Jesus said to Peter “Feed my sheep” did He not intend that Peter teach them, when he said that? Jesus’s sheep were His followers, He wanted Peter to feed them by teaching them (giving them spiritual food). There are only two kinds of food, two kinds of shepherds and two kinds of staff’s, physical and spiritual, there are no others.
Secondly: Pastors got a wage, while you are going off doing whatever you felt God has called you to do, the church payed your wages. Nothing wrong with receiving wages, a labourer is worthy of his hire (hired people get a wage) but it is wrong to have a church and get a wage while the pastor is off doing other things, other ministries. You will understand exactly what I mean by this, if you have ever had a Pastor who is never there, because he/she is an Evangelist.
Thirdly: I believed that if you were a Pastor you were in opposition to the people, the people were rebellious, they were your enemies in a sense, it was an “Us against them mentality”. That is what I had seen, that is what I had learnt and that is what I believed. Warped? YES! I was warped in my thinking when I was ordained as a Pastor.
In reality, it is the complete opposite, the Shepherd is the only real friend the Sheep has. It is one of the closest bonds in the Scriptures. The staff of the shepherd not only means to teach, but it also yokes and binds (creates bonds) between the Shepherd and the Sheep. When the shepherd wraps his big hook around the sheep and draws it close to him, he is bonding with it. He is yoking himself to it.
A good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. A good shepherd will place himself/herself between the sheep and the predator. This is not people, people are not your enemy, although the enemy can use people, the real enemies of the sheep are the wolves, lions, bears, the Goliath’s, who have the potential to consume the sheep. The enemy is a whole distinct species. Dealing with people is a whole other issue and does not fit into this teaching that I am doing right now.
Based on what I believed about Pastoring it is not surprising then, that I found Pasturing difficult and could not continue in that role. I believe I was a good Pastor, despite my early age but found the entire process a bit daunting, because I did not understand what exactly it was, I was supposed to be doing. Nobody bothered to explain it to me.
Unlike the simplicity of ancient concepts, we have become preoccupied with titles. the Hebrew language is not concerned with titles, hierarchy, roles, positions, these are all Greek and Roman concepts. Ancient Hebrew does not care if you are an Executive Pastor, a Senior Pastor, a Junior Pastor, a Part-time Pastor, whatever that is. How about, a New Peoples Pastor, a Life Group Pastor, an Entertainment Pastor, or a Pastor in charge of Ablutions and Kitchens. You may very well laugh, but they exist!
If you ever get to do a course in Human Resources Management. You will discover some really weird job titles, and yet, they sound so impressive! Giving people fancy job titles, often means they have to work harder, longer hours, for the same or less money 😊. It is a con.
Once you receive your new title, you will work sixty hours a week instead of forty for little gain and you will be on call 24/7. And you will not be able to turn your phone off. The Christian Church has fallen into the similar patterns.
The Lord says, “I change not”! The job description for God’s people is still the same, as they were at the beginning. The job description for a Shepherd has not changed since Abel. We do not change with the world, we do not conform to the world. We are different! Jeremiah 10:2 Do not learn to go the WAY of the Nations.
God is up-front, He is not some HR Manager trying to give you an inflated title. He is not going to make up some ridiculous position to impress you, a Shepherd is a Shepherd, an Executive Shepherd is I do not know what? Is it a Shepherd in charge of other Shepherds who are Shepherding sheep? Are we talking about a hierarchy of Sheep, or a hierarchy of Shepherds? It is a contradictory term.
The Hebrew language is only concerned with FUNCTION: What is the FUNCTION of the Shepherd? That is explained in the meaning of the Hebrew word, Ro’eh.
I want to finish off this series with two images I created to describe how I see God’s concept of Shepherding and our concept of Shepherding. As they say a picture speaks a thousand words. The Church has become hierarchical, instead of a functioning body, one member has risen to the top of the pile.
In today’s churches the sheep are in their thousands, thousands of churches with thousands of people. The Staff is no longer an appropriate tool, not for thousands of sheep. For that you must go to the sheep farmers and see what they do. They let the dogs out. Sometimes when you are in church you feel like the dogs are after you. You are not being watched you are being herded. The Staff had been replaced with the cattle prod!
At the start of this series, I mentioned the enemy hates Shepherds and has a habit of killing them. That is exactly what happened to the first Shepherd, Abel. Cain slew Abel, and the first Shepherd was dead. God said to Cain, “Where is Abel?”. Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Well, Cain you were your brother’s keeper. What in fact Cain was saying to God? I do not keep sheep (watching) I am busy, working tilling the ground.
Are we also our brother’s keeper and does that make us all Shepherds?
I do not care if you have the title of Pastor, or you have a Church, being a Shepherd is so much more than that. Being a Shepherd is watching out for God’s Sheep. Remember God has the Shepherd’s Staff in His name. And, Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Nourish the flock, do not consume the best sheep like Joseph’s brothers did. Be like the good shepherds, Abel, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, Moses, Jesus Christ and the ultimate Shepherd, Father God. Remember it is not archaic or condescending to consider yourself a Shepherd according to its Function from an Ancient Near East perspective, because God still does.
God Bless You!