A shepherd may be referred to as one who leads, herds, guards, and tends sheep. A good shepherd is very protective of the flock which he has been entrusted to care for, and if necessary, in the act of caring for his fold, will give his life. Therefore, sheep are completely dependent on their shepherd for provision, guidance, and protection.
The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 100:3 to “Know (ye) that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Sheep are figurative of believers who follow their Shepherd. Jesus Christ is our Divine Shepherd and we are the sheep of His pasture. He provides for, guides, and protects us in the same manner as a shepherd cares for the sheep of his fold. In referring to the purpose and mission of the Divine Shepherd in each of our daily lives the late President James E. Faust, former Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught:
The Divine Shepherd has a message of hope, strength, and deliverance for all. If there were no night, we would not appreciate the day, nor could we see the stars and the vastness of the heavens. We must partake of the bitter with the sweet. There is a divine purpose in the adversities we encounter every day. They prepare, they purge, they purify, and thus they bless. (James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire“, Ensign, May 1979)
In the Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ), Nephi, the founding king and prophet of ancient inhabitants known as the Nephites taught:
And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture (1 Nephi 22:25).
Nephi also taught:
And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth (1 Nephi 13:41).
In describing the Lord as a shepherd, David wrote out of his own personal experiences from his early years of caring for sheep. Amidst the world, the Church is a sheepfold, exposed to deceivers and persecutors. The Divine Shepherd of the sheep knows all that are His individually by name, guards them by His providence, guides them by His Spirit and Word, and goes before them in the same way as Eastern shepherds go before their sheep, to set them in the way of His steps.
As ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints help to care for the sheep of the Divine Shepherd’s fold by tending to their spiritual needs and concerns through their Church callings and other acts of unselfish service. As they do so, the Spirit of Christ sets before them an open door.
His sheep know Him as: (1) the Good Shepherd – “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11); (2) the Great Shepherd – “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20,21); and (3) the Chief Shepherd – “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4). With this knowledge and understanding that He is the only True Shepherd and “he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (see John 10:1), the sheep of His fold will see their Shepherd, and be cautious and shy away from strangers who would attempt to draw them away from the fold.
Most Christians are familiar with the 23rd Psalm. The Psalm does not necessarily focus on the animal like qualities of sheep, but rather on the discipleship qualities of those who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. When a person recognizes the voice of the Divine Shepherd he should be willing to follow Him. When he allows Christ, his Shepherd, to lead and guide him, he will find peace, contentment, and safety for his soul. However, if he chooses to ignore the Shepherd’s voice and wander away from the fold, he will have no one to blame but himself when he falls into the snares of those who seek to destroy him.
Because of the subtle uncertainties of life, each of us should be willing to follow the Divine Shepherd who offers us eternal confidence. Even if we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil: for our Shepherd is with us; His rod and His staff give us great comfort. (see Psalm 23:4). It is He alone who is able to walk us through the valley and bring us safely to the other side. Christ, the Divine Shepherd and Host, promises to guide and protect us through life and to bring us safely home to live in His presence forever (see Psalm 23:5, 6). He gives us the blessed assurance, “Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:44).
In the Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ), Alma the Younger,a prophet and “chief judge” of the Nephites, as recorded in Alma 5:59-60, exhorted:
For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him. And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.