Matthew 9:36 records that when Jesus went on a preaching tour through Galilee, he found the people he met to be “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Most commentators agree that Matthew’s phrasing, “like sheep without a shepherd,” was a deliberate allusion to similar phrasing in Numbers 27:16-17 (“May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”), 1 Kings 22:17, (“Then Micaiah answered, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd…’”), and Zechariah 10:2 (“The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.”).

In all three of these passages, the people of Israel (“sheep”) are found in to be a state of danger and distress that comes from either an absence of godly leadership (“shepherd”), or a corruption of authority placed in leaders. Eduard Schweizer explains, “The image suggests a flock that is tormented and almost totally exhausted, or is at least being led astray and neglected by careless shepherds.”

“Matthew 9:36 thus also implies,” Bible historian Craig Keener says, “that those charged with shepherding Israel, its leaders, were failing.” And theologians John Walvoord and Roy Zuck add, “Like sheep bothered by wolves, lying down and unable to help themselves, and having no shepherd to guide and protect them, the people were maligned by the religious leaders, helpless before them, and wandering about with no spiritual guidance.”

By connecting Israel’s current circumstance with Old Testament warnings about “sheep without a shepherd,” Matthew gave tragic commentary on the religious leaders of his day—yet also offered hope for change in the person of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd.

 

Works Cited:

[BKB, 201; GNM, 233-234, BBC, 72; BKC, 41]

 

ΩΩΩ

About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

Reader Appeal: Pastors, Bible teachers Genre: Commentary FBSN Rating: B+   It seems strange that asking a theologian to write a Bible commentary would be considered, well, strange. But in the “academic silo” world we live in, the fact is that theologians don’t typically write commentaries. Professors of biblical studies write commentaries, while theologians write, […]

Reader Appeal: Bible teachers, students, Bible Study Nerds Genre: Christian History FBSN Rating: B   Dr. Bryan Litfin is a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He also holds a Ph.D. in the field of ancient church history and a master’s degree in historical theology. So, you know, he’s a big ol’ […]

Reader Appeal: Pastors, Teachers, Seminary Students Genre: Commentary FBSN Rating: A   The risk with Christian history and theology is that voices from our shared past are often drowned out by the voices of today’s popular thought leaders and megachurch pastors. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with listening to modern theologians. It’s just that sometimes […]

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” It’s interesting that John asked an academic question, recorded in Matthew 11:3, and Jesus responded with a legal answer (Matthew 11:4-6). John’s question really only required a yes-or-no reply, but instead of giving that simple solution, Jesus convened an impromptu, informal […]