“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. John 10:1 - 6 (ESV)
Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations in all of history. It is believed to have its beginnings around 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor. For many societies shepherding was important to the health of the economy.
Shepherds were largely nomadic people and lived solitary lives removed from society. The job of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine was very difficult. “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.”
This background is given as it will help you understand better the context of this passage. Jesus talks about the work and love of a shepherd for his flock.
The chapter begins with Jesus saying, “Truly, truly” or some versions say “I tell you the truth, he who does not enter the sheepfold…” The sheepfold is the part of a home that has an uncovered but walled in area where the stables stood. This is where the shepherd would keep his flock and they would stay there at night, providing they were close to home. There was a normal door the shepherd would use to enter and exit which was guarded.
Anyone/anything who would attempt to enter the sheepfold by any other means than the door was there to steal, kill or harm the sheep. They would be entering illegally into an area with intent to harm and steal the sheep. The only person allowed to enter through the door is the shepherd with the sheep. At the door a gatekeeper is present, and he knows the shepherd and gives him access. The sheep belong to the shepherd and follow him because they know and trust he will watch over them, lead them and keep them safe. He is their master and they are devoted to him.
No matter how large the fold, the shepherd knows the names of each sheep and he calls them by their names. He has a close personal relationship and investment with his flock. The shepherd calls them, leads them and brings them out to pasture and water. He goes before the sheep to find green pastures for the sheep to eat and to find watering holes for the sheep to drink from. He keeps watch over the flock so nothing or no one can harm them. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and they know he cares for them and he is committed to keeping them safe. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice and they will not follow a stranger. It doesn’t matter if the stranger knows their names they still will not follow. They don’t know the voice nor trust him. Jesus uses this figure of speech or metaphor and he confuses the religious leaders as they listen, and this confusion shows their spiritual blindness.
Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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