In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd of the people of God, including the Gentiles. While shepherds were a mainstay of the time, with sheep providing essential wool for clothing and meat for eating. In fact, shepherds were a huge part of Israel’s history. Let’s look at a few shepherds who God used to prepare the way for Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Abel was the first shepherd ever recorded. He tended the flocks while his brother, Cain, farmed. It was known of Abel that he offered God the firstborn and fatty sheep from his flock. God considered this offering to be pleasing, and accepted it over Cain’s offering. This angered Cain and his anger drove him to kill his brother, earning lifetime punishment from God. Abel sets the stage for the Good Shepherd offering the good sacrifice which is pleasing to God. (Genesis 4)
Abraham, born Abram, is most well known as the father of the nation of Israel. He traveled far and wide, filled with faith in God to lead him and his children to the land they would one day call home. God promised to multiply his offspring so that they would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. This offspring which God promised was not only speaking of his physical offspring, but the spiritual offspring who would come after the Good Shepherd went to gather them into the fold. (Genesis 22)
Moses, the one who God chose to use to liberate his people from Egyptian captivity, spent much of his adult life shepherding. He was in face tending to his sheep when God appeared to him in a burning bush to call him to action for his people. Moses, after initial reluctance, followed God into obedience and liberated God’s people from their slavery to Egypt. He foretold in his writings of a prophet God would send, the Good Shepherd, and this Good Shepherd freed God’s people from their slavery to sin. (Exodus 3)
David was the second king of Israel after it had been established as a sovereign nation. Prior to his rise to nobility, David tended to sheep as his brothers went off to war with the Philistines. During his tending of the sheep, David developed his musical talent in singing over the sheep to calm them, and grew in faith in God as God empowered him to protect the sheep from all predators imaginable. David went on to write most of the Psalms, and had a profound ability to praise God through song and lyric. He also served as a warrior king, defending and securing the nation of Israel against many threats for years to come. Like the Good Shepherd, David served as a mighty protector over God’s people. (1 Samuel 16)
The last shepherds to examine are those who were not named in scripture; these shepherds are the ones to whom the angels appeared and announced the birth of Jesus. They were faithfully tending their flocks at night, when an overwhelming and awe-inspiring host of angels appeared and sang of the glory of the arrived king. They immediately began to run to meet him and proceeded to tell all they encountered of the Good Shepherd’s arrival.(Luke 2)
This is just a brief look at the way God has used shepherds to point to the coming of Jesus throughout scripture. Many of these men showed attributes which we would see perfected in Jesus, and even foretold of his coming.