Last night, my husband and I were watching the AKC dog show. I'm always amazed at the many different varieties that exist. The dogs are beautiful and I'm amazed that the judges can see so many beautiful dogs and make a choice. This year, I felt the judge made a wise decision in picking a terrier as "Best in Show."
Although I enjoyed watching all of the dogs, the working class group really caught my attention and started me thinking. That's the class that contains the sheep herding dogs such as collies and sheepdogs. I started thinking about the differences between the way sheep are herded in western countries and the way they are herded in the Middle East.
I think it's interesting that in the west, dogs such as the German Shepherd are called shepherds, while in the Middle East, people are called shepherds. Last year, I saw a demonstration of border collies herding sheep. It was fascinating to watch. The dog runs behind the sheep barking to make them move forward. If he wants them to turn in a particular direction, he'll go to the opposite side and force them in the direction he wants them to go.
This method is called driving the sheep. The dog by running and barking controls the sheep and they will run in the direction that he drives them to go. This method is based on fear and intimidation being used to manipulate behavior.
In the Middle East, the shepherd spends the entire day with the sheep and sometimes will actually sleep with them when the weather is warm or if there is a need to protect them from a predator. Herding the sheep is done differently. When the shepherd wants to move them, he will start walking and the sheep will follow him. I've never been to the Middle East but I've heard people who have described seeing a shepherd walking followed by his flock of sheep.
Since sheep herding can be a lonely profession, shepherds will sometimes gather to eat together or to just have conversation. When that happens, the sheep from the various flocks will mingle together so that they become one large flock. When one of the shepherds decides to leave, he whistles or makes a sound and then starts walking. His sheep have been listening for his voice and will separate themselves from the other sheep and start following him when they hear his call. They know his voice and will not follow another shepherd who may also be calling.
When herding is done with the aid of a dog, the sheep owner and the dog develop a close bond. They work as a team to move the sheep. The owner gives his directions to the dog and the dog then follows through by moving the sheep. The dog actually becomes a go-between or an intermediary between the sheep and the owner since the sheep do not receive their instructions directly from the owner but instead receive them from the dog. As a result, no type of relationship develops between the owner and his sheep.
There also is no real relationship between the dog and the sheep because how can anyone relate to someone who uses fear and intimidation to get their way. It doesn't work with people and it doesn't work with sheep.
Sheep in the Middle East, however, develop a strong bond with their shepherd because they know and trust him. He's always there to make sure they are fed and cared for. If predators are nearby, they are comforted by his presence. Since he has proven his love and care, they trust him and choose to follow wherever he leads without being coerced. No go-between is needed since he himself leads and cares for his flock.
This is a beautiful picture of the way our Shepherd leads us. He does it through the means of relationship and there is no need for Him to use fear or intimidation. It's a love relationship from start to finish and we choose to follow because he has proven His love for us. Like the sheep, we listen for His voice and follow Him when we hear Him call. Over time, our spiritual ears grow sensitive to His voice and we are not so easily deceived to follow a different voice.
There is no need for a go-between because He said that He Himself would lead His flock. (Ezekial 34:11-16 and John 10:1-6) We don't need a man who is really just another sheep to lead us and tell us what Father is saying. Jesus, our Shepherd, is well able to communicate with His sheep and He can and does enable us to recognize His voice.
I love how the Middle Eastern shepherd walks in front leading his sheep. What a beautiful picture of peace and serenity as the sheep walk peacefully along instead of running as they are being chased by a barking dog. This speaks to me of the rest we have in Christ as we follow after Him instead of the chaotic running that passes for Christianity in today's church.
This life in Christ is meant to be a walk of peace and contentment as we follow after our good Shepherd. Instead of fear and intimidation, it's a life based on relationship with a loving Shepherd who has already laid down His life for us. (John 10:11)