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Shepherds, sheep and sheepfolds

Bible overview
Life in Bible times. Shepherds and their flocks.
Contributed by David Padfield
Story also available on our translated websites: Spanish, Polish, Hindi
Sheep were a very important part of life in Bible times and the word ‘sheep’ appears over 500 times in the Bible. Job had 14,000 sheep. Moses received over 600,000 sheep when he defeated the Midianites, and at the dedication of the Temple in the time of King Solomon 120,000 sheep and goats were sacrificed. – Slide 1
Fat-tailed sheep were the breed most valued (Exodus 29:22). Its tail, which can weigh 15-20 lbs, was considered prime eating. – Slide 2
Sheep were very dependent on their shepherd for protection and leading them to good pasture and fresh water. A sheep without a shepherd was in grave danger (Numbers 27:17). – Slide 3
Shepherds would carry a rod, often made of oak wood, sometimes with nails driven into it, to protect their sheep from wild animals (1 Samuel 17:34-36). A shepherd might need to deter wolves, lions, bears, panthers and thieves from attacking his flock. – Slide 4
Shepherds also carried a staff, a stick of 5-6ft in length, often with a crook at the end. – Slide 5
The staff was used to guide sheep or hook them out of danger. Psalm 23 talks about a shepherd’s rod and staff being a source of comfort to the sheep. – Slide 6
Ezekiel talks about the custom of sheep passing under a shepherd’s rod as he counted them (Ezekiel 20:37). The tenth sheep passing under the rod was tithed for sacrifice (Leviticus 27:22). – Slide 7
Shepherds sometimes carried slings made of two pieces of sinew and a leather pouch to hold a stone. These were used to hurl stones at predators. David the shepherd boy is famed for bringing down Goliath with a stone hurled from his sling. Shepherds often wiled away time by playing a flute. David learnt to play the harp while looking after his father’s sheep. – Slide 8
In the springtime in Israel there is plenty of green pasture, and sheep graze near the shepherd’s home. After the grain harvest, once the poor had gleaned the fields, sheep could feed in them. – Slide 9
When this is exhausted, the sheep are led to fresh pastures (Psalm 79:13). As the hot weather arrives the grass turns to hay. – Slide 10
In the late autumn and winter, if the shepherd cannot find pasture, he has to feed the sheep himself. (Isaiah 4011, Micah 7:14). Sometimes shepherds cut down leafy branches for their flocks. – Slide 11
It was very important to find water for the sheep. Shepherds led their flocks to flowing water that did not flow so quick as to agitate the sheep (Psalm 23:2). – Slide 12
When these watering places dried up, wells were used (Genesis 29:37). – Slide 13
When travelling, a temporary sheepfold was built of thorn bushes or bowers (Ezekiel 34:14). – Slide 14
At other times sheep were put into caves or enclosures made of wood, fencing or stones. – Slide 15
More permanent sheepfolds were built on the sunny side of valleys where there is protection from cold winds. These had stone walls, 4-5ft high and one entrance guarded by the shepherd. Thorns were often put on the top of walls to deter wild animals. Jesus referred to such a sheepfold and to thieves and robbers climbing over the wall (John 10:1-3). – Slide 16
Several flocks could share a pasture or sheepfold. The sheep however knew the voice of their shepherd and would follow him when he called (John 10:4-5). Scattered sheep could be gathered by the call of the shepherd (Ezekiel 34: 12-13). – Slide 17
Shepherds in the Middle East do not drive their sheep but lead them and they follow. A helper may follow on behind the flock to help stragglers (John 10:4). – Slide 18
Shepherds knew their sheep by name (John 10:3). – Slide 19
Shepherds with over 150 sheep often hired others to help them but ‘hirelings’ were not known for caring for the sheep so well (John 10:12). – Slide 20
Jesus told a parable about a good shepherd who went searching for one of his sheep that was lost. – Slide 21
Sheep were valued for many products they produced. Wool was used to make many garments. Isaiah compares sins forgiven to the whiteness of wool (Isaiah 1:18). – Slide 22
Sheepskins were used to make warm coats. Sometimes the skin was tanned to make leather. Sheep’s meat, boiled or roasted, was eaten and sheep’s milk used for yogurt and cheese. – Slide 23
Sheep were used as a sacrifice for sin. A young male lamb was used as a thanksgiving offering or atonement for sin. The offering of an unblemished Passover lamb was the most important religious act of the year. – Slide 24
A ram’s horn was of great value and used to carry liquids or made into trumpets called ‘shofars’. – Slide 25
Rams’ horns were blown when Joshua took Jericho (Joshua 6:4) and were used to announce the start of the Sabbath and other events. – Slide 26
Slide 27