Shepherd [N] [S]

a word naturally of frequent occurence in Scripture. Sometimes the word "pastor" is used instead ( Jeremiah 2:8 ; 3:15 ; 10:21 ; 12:10 ; 17:16 ). This word is used figuratively to represent the relation of rulers to their subjects and of God to his people ( Psalms 23:1 ; 80:1 ; Isaiah 40:11 ; 44:28 ; Jeremiah 25:34 Jeremiah 25:35 ; Nahum 3:18 ; John 10:11 John 10:14 ; Hebrews 13:20 ; 1 Peter 2:25 ; 5:4 ).

The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. "In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see 1 Samuel 17:34 ).", Deane's David.

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Shepherd". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .
Shepherd. [N] [E]

In a nomadic state of society every man, from the sheikh down to the slave, is more or less a shepherd. The progenitors of the Jews in the patriarchal age were nomads, and their history is rich in scenes of pastoral life. The occupation of tending the flocks was undertaken,not only by the sons of wealthy chiefs, ( Genesis 30:29 ) ff.; Genesis37:12 ff., but even by their daughters. ( Genesis 29:6 Genesis 29:8 ; Exodus 2:10 ) The Egyptian captivity did march to implant a love of settled abode, and consequently we find the tribes which still retained a taste for shepherd life selecting their own quarters apart from their brethren in the transjordanic district. ( Numbers 32:1 ) ff. Thenceforward in Palestine proper the shepherd held a subordinate position. The office of the eastern shepherd, as described in the Bible, was attended with much hardship, and even danger. He was exposed to the extremes of heat and cold, ( Genesis 31:40 ) his food frequently consisted of the precarious supplies afforded by nature, such as the fruit of the "sycamore" or Egyptian fig, ( Amos 7:14 ) the "husks" of the carob tree, ( Luke 15:16 ) and perchance the locusts and wild honey which supported the Baptist, ( Matthew 3:4 ) he had to encounter the attacks of wild beasts, occasionally of the larger species, such as lions, nerves, panthers and bears, ( 1 Samuel 17:34 ; Isaiah 31:4 ; Jeremiah 5:6 ; Amos 5:12 ) nor was he free from the risk of robbers or predators hordes. ( Genesis 31:39 ) To meet these various foes the shepherds equipment consisted of the following articles: a mantle, made probably of sheep skin with the fleece on, which he turned inside out in cold weather, as implied in the comparison in ( Jeremiah 43:12 ) (cf. Juv. xiv. 187.); a scrip or wallet, containing a small amount of food ( 1 Samuel 17:40 ) a sling, which is still the favorite weapon of the Bedouin shepherd, ( 1 Samuel 17:40 ) and lastly, a which served the double purpose of a weapon against foes and a crook for the management of the flock. ( 1 Samuel 17:40 ; Psalms 23:4 ; Zechariah 11:7 ) If the shepherd was at a distance from his home, he was provided with a light tent, ( Solomon 1:8 ; Jeremiah 35:7 ) the removal of which was easily effected. ( Isaiah 38:12 ) In certain localities, moreover, towers were erected for the double purpose of spying an enemy at a distance and of protecting the flock; such towers were erected by Uzziah and Jotham, ( 2 Chronicles 26:10 ; 27:4 ) while their existence in earlier times is testified by the name Migdal-edar ( Genesis 35:21 ) Authorized Version "a tower of Edar;" ( Micah 4:8 ) Authorized Version "tower of the flock." The routine of the shepherds duties appears to have been as follows: In the morning he led forth his flock from the fold ( John 10:4 ) which he did by going before them and calling to them, as is still usual in the East; arrived at the pasturage he watched the flock with the assistance of dogs, ( Job 30:1 ) and should any sheep stray, he had to search for it until he found it, ( Ezekiel 34:12 ; Luke 15:4 ) he supplied them with water, either at a running stream or at troughs attached to wells, ( Genesis 29:7 ; 30:38 ; Exodus 2:16 ; Psalms 23:2 ) at evening he brought them back to the fold, and reckoned them to see that none were missing, by passing them "under the rod" as they entered the door of the enclosure ( Leviticus 27:32 ; Ezekiel 20:37 ) checking each sheep, as it passed, by a motion of the hand, ( Jeremiah 33:13 ) and, finally, he watched the entrance of the fold throughout the night, acting as porter. ( John 10:3 ) [See Sheepfold, under SHEEP] The shepherds office thus required great watchfulness, particularly by night. ( Luke 2:8 ) cf. Nahu 3:18 It also required tenderness toward the young and feeble, ( Isaiah 40:11 ) particularly in driving them to and from the pasturage. ( Genesis 33:13 ) In large establishments there are various grades of shepherds, the highest being styled "rulers," ( Genesis 47:6 ) or "chief shepherds," ( 1 Peter 5:4 ) in a royal household the title of abbir "mighty," was bestowed on the person who held the post. ( 1 Samuel 21:7 ) [SHEEP]

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Shepherd'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.


shep'-erd (ro`eh, ro`i; poimen, "a feeder"):

The sheep owner frequently tends the flocks himself (Genesis 4:4; 30:40; compare Ezekiel 34:12), but more often he delegates the work to his children (Genesis 29:9; 1 Samuel 16:19; 17:15) or relatives (Genesis 31:6). In such cases the sheep have good care because the keepers have a personal interest in the well-being of the animals, but when they are attended by a hireling (1 Samuel 17:20) the flocks may be neglected or abused (Isaiah 56:10,11; Ezekiel 34:8,10; Zechariah 11:15,17; John 10:12). The chief care of the shepherd is to see that the sheep find plenty to eat and drink. The flocks are not fed in pens or folds, but, summer and winter, must depend upon foraging for their sustenance (Psalms 23:2). In the winter of 1910-11 an unprecedented storm ravaged Northern Syria. It was accompanied by a snowfall of more than 3 ft., which covered the ground for weeks. During that time, hundreds of thousands of sheep and goats perished, not so much from the cold as from the fact that they could get no food. Goats hunt out the best feeding-grounds, but sheep are more helpless and have to be led to their food (compare Numbers 27:16,17); nor do they possess the instinct of many other animals for finding their way home (compare Ezekiel 34:6-8). Flocks should be watered at least once a day. Where there are springs or streams this is an easy matter. Frequently the nearest water is hours away. One needs to travel in the dry places in Syria or Palestine, and then enter the watered valleys like those in Edom where the flocks are constantly being led for water, to appreciate the Psalmist's words, "He leadcth me beside still waters." Sometimes water can be obtained by digging shallow wells (Genesis 26:18-22,25,32). The shepherd frequently carries with him a pail from which the sheep can drink when the water is not accessible to them. On the mountain tops the melting snows supply the needed water. In other districts it is drawn from deep wells (Genesis 29:2; John 4:6). The usual time for watering is at noon, at which time the flocks are led to the watering-places (Genesis 29:2,3). After drinking, the animals lie down or huddle together in the shade of a rock while the shepherd sleeps. At the first sound of his call, which is usually a peculiar guttural sound, hard to imitate, the flock follow off to new feeding-grounds. Even should two shepherds call their flocks at the same time and the sheep be intermingled, they never mistake their own master's voice (John 10:3-5).

The shepherd's equipment is a simple one. His chief garment is a cloak woven from wool or made from sheepskins. This is sleeveless, and so made that it hangs like a cloak on his shoulders. When he sleeps he curls up under it, head and all. During the summer a lighter, short-sleeved `aba or coat is worn. He carries a staff or club (see STAFF), and a characteristic attitude is to make a rest for his arms by placing his staff on his shoulders against the back of his neck. When an especially productive spot is found, the shepherd may pass the time, while the animals are grazing, by playing on his pipe (Judges 5:16). He sometimes carries a sling (qela`) of goat's hair (1 Samuel 17:40). His chief belongings are kept in a skin pouch or bag (keli) (1 Samuel 17:40). This bag is usually a whole tawed skin turned wrong side out, with the legs tied up and the neck forming the opening. He is usually aided in the keeping and the defending of the sheep by a dog (Job 30:1). In Syria the Kurdish dogs make the best protectors of the sheep, as, unlike the cowardly city dogs, they are fearless and will drive away the wild beasts. The shepherd is often called upon to aid the dogs in defending the sheep (Genesis 31:39; 1 Samuel 17:34,35; Isaiah 31:4; Jeremiah 5:6; Amos 3:12).


The frequent use of the word "shepherd" to indicate a spiritual overseer is familiar to Bible readers (Psalms 23:1; 80:1; Ecclesiastes 12:11; Isaiah 40:4; 63:14; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24; John 21:15-17; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:1-4). We still use the term "pastor," literally, "a shepherd." Leaders in temporal affairs were also called shepherds (Genesis 47:17 margin; Isaiah 44:28; 63:11). "Sheep without a shepherd" typified individuals or nations who had forgotten Yahweh (Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 18:16; Ezekiel 34:5,8; Zechariah 10:2; Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34).

Jesus is spoken of as the good shepherd (John 10:14); chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4); great shepherd (Hebrews 13:20); the one shepherd (John 10:16). "He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young" (Isaiah 40:11) is a picture drawn from pastoral life of Yahweh's care over His children. A strong sympathy for helpless animals, though sometimes misdirected, is a marked characteristic of the people of Bible lands. The birth of offspring in a flock often occurs far off on the mountain side. The shepherd solicitously guards the mother during her helpless moments and picks up the lamb and carries it to the fold. For the few days, until it is able to walk, he may carry it in his arms or in the loose folds of his coat above his girdle.

See also SHEEP.

James A. Patch

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SHEPHERD'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.