By Laura Moore
“I just want to be a sheep, ba, ba, ba, ba…”—remember that song? It’s stuck in my head every time we mention the Sadducees—“because they’re so sad-you-see.” But I don’t have to want to be a sheep. I already am one.
Jesus chooses His analogies intentionally—comparing believers in Him to sheep is apt. Sheep lack intelligence, often wander, cannot do much for themselves, get themselves into trouble, are vulnerable—they need a lot of help. I identify with that. It’s like God made sheep to need a shepherd.
Jan Wolner talked in class about one of her experiences with sheep, and I just love the story. She and her family tried to coax a small herd of sheep over to see them at the fence of their pasture. The sheep would not budge no matter how hard they tried. Then a man walked right up to them and said something apparently familiar to the sheep, and they followed him immediately. It illustrates John 10:4 perfectly: “When He puts forth all His own, He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow Him because they know His voice.” Believers will know the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Palestinian shepherds of Jesus’ day also did exactly what it says in verse four: they go ahead of their sheep and beckon them to follow. Elsewhere in the world they practice sheep-herding where the sheep are driven aggressively from behind by a barking dog. You can imagine which scene is more peaceful, calm, and restful. I am so grateful my Shepherd is out in front, meeting the troubles of life head on, protecting me, and calling me to follow only where He leads. The opposite image evokes fear, uncertainty, doubt, confusion, and turmoil—like if a barking dog is chasing you from behind. Especially if you’re a small-minded sheep!
I loved the characteristics of the Shepherd that we listed together in the morning class. I hope you find some time to mediate on His knowable voice that calls to us as He leads, saves, sacrifices, holds, and guards us.
Verses 27-29 reiterate that His sheep hear His voice, He knows them, and they follow Him with the backing of a double-emphasis and secure promise:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
When a statement is repeated two or more times in Scripture, it is for emphasis and a call to attention. So here Jesus says He has a firm grip on His sheep, which would have been enough because He has full authority as the owner of the sheep. But because sheep are sheep—forgetful and doubting—He backs His promise with the added power of His Father.
If you take a look at Blue Letter Bible, you can quickly see the original meaning behind these words because sometimes the English translation fails to convey the depth that the author intended. “Snatch” in verse 28 means “to seize, pluck, carry off, catch away” which calls to mind the violent and abrupt Babylonian captivity of the Jews. “Hand” is God’s “help; might in creating, upholding, and preserving the universe; controlling the destinies of men.” In verse 29, “snatch” and “hand” are repeated in the context of the Father, but “no one is able” and “is greater than all” have been added. “Able” is the Greek word dynamai, which means, “power, strength; capable by permission, law, ability, resources.” These word studies deepen my understanding of Jesus’ powerful promises, illuminating them in a whole new light. NO ONE has been given permission or ability to carry me out of His pasture because BOTH the Father and Son have their impenetrable grip on me which is simultaneously sustaining the entire universe and directing the course of human history. Of course, the “Father is greater than all!” Can you imagine anything more stable and secure?
Like I said at the beginning, “I just want to be a sheep.” I rejoice that I am His sheep because My Shepherd has me in His pasture, and He will never let me go. No not ever. God always keeps His promises. Faithful and True is His name.