Mercy Hill

Meditations on leadership through shepherding model: Ezekiel 34

Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. — Martin Heidegger

Being followers is not a bad thing, but who are we following? — David Philips

Ezekiel’s description of the false shepherds translates all too well into the 21st century, as large corporations extract resources from powerless people and regions, leaving them worse off than before. — Reta Halteman Finger



Video introductions to the book of Ezekiel:

Article on styles of leadership:

Articles about shepherding in Palestine in contemporary times:


SHEPHERD LEADERS (excerpt)— (full article:

What is the difference between leadership and shepherd leadership? According to, “leadership is the position of function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group.” While a shepherd “is a person who protects, guides or watches over a person or group of people,” i.e., a protector, guardian, defender, keeper.
Then, what is the definition and role of a shepherd leader, and why is such a distinction important?
Shepherds of leadership are pundits expected to create positive change, to protect the core while simultaneously fueling advancement. They are expected to guide and nourish opportunity. They nurture and docent their flock who follow and pave the path, fueling the mission’s light ahead as the shepherd leads from behind. Shepherds fuel the flock’s resolve and personal engine of determination with their own righteous kinetic service to others.
The jetstream of frustration for any organization, for any home life, is leadership absent of heart, empathy, creativity — absent of plan. In fact, the very best shepherds of business opportunities are heralded by the happiness of their team. This manifests in the language of victories, team spirit, productivity and results under the wide umbrella of the art of the possible

Verse on Libyan Shepherds (excerpt) Virgil
Now, shall my verse pursue the Libyan nomads,
Their pastures, huts, their scattered settlements?
Their flocks will often, day and night for a month,
Roam and graze the empty tracts and find
No shelter in the vast expanse of land.
This African shepherd takes his world along,
His household, weapons, dog, his bow and arrows,
Much like the Roman soldier fierce in arms
Who marches forth, unfairly burdened down
By all his field equipment, and arrives
Ahead of time, to catch the foe off guard.


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work … begins:
…To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
— Howard Thurman


For the Shepherd Who Is Also the Path the Sun Makes in Daytime (excerpt) Komal Mathew
… A good shepherd angles a lion’s eye, traps gazelles
in dry fields, copies a cheetah’s spots one leg at a time.
A good shepherd does not give you stones
when you ask for toast, does not ask you to work
without a burning bush—but owns a gate, uses a gate, pulls
the weeds and leaves the wheat on an altar of choices.
A good shepherd is a prince of peace when terror finds its full echo,
a creator in the wild where a predator, providentially, becomes prey.



Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd. ― Rumi

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty. — Abraham Lincoln

Shepherds lift their heads, not to gaze at a new light but to hear angels.  ― Richelle E. Goodrich
The seaman tells stories of winds, the ploughman of bulls; the soldier details his wounds, the shepherd his sheep. — Laurence J. Peter

… we’re lazy when it comes to doing things that are good for us; we also want someone to follow – someone to go first, for them to take the risks thereby smoothing our path; a sort of guarantee that we won’t stumble. Ironically, we also want to be followed in some way; we are both sheep and shepherd. ― Renée Paule
There was a shepherd the other day … who had in his eyes that reminiscence of horizons which makes the eyes of shepherds and of mountaineers different from the eyes of other men. ― Hilaire Belloc
I don’t want to get too philosophical, but in a sense, you’re given this gift, this sort of creative force in you, and I think everyone has it, and it’s completely unique to you. And you as a person have a little bit of a responsibility as its shepherd if you choose to incorporate that into your life. — Ze Frank
Too many leaders act as if the sheep… their people… are there for the benefit of the shepherd, not that the shepherd has responsibility for the sheep. — Ken Blanchard

It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them. — attributed to Tiberius
Compassion is a Shepherd, Always tending his herd. — Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

A true shepherd leads the way. He does not merely point the way. — Leonard Ravenhill
Shepherds know many mysterious languages; they speak the language of sheep and dogs, language of stars and skies, flowers and herbs. — Mehmet Murat Ildan


FACTS ABOUT SHEEP — LiveScience (full article:

Sheep are related to antelopes, cattle, muskoxen and goats. All of these mammals are even-toed ungulates — their hooves are cloven, or split into two toes. They are also ruminants — their stomachs have multiple chambers to aid digestion. Most sheep have large, curling horns that are made of keratin — the same stuff as fingernails.
     Most people are familiar with sheep as wooly farm animals that say “Baa.” But the domestic sheep is just one species of sheep. There are also five (or six, depending on the source) species of wild sheep…
    … Habitat

Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated, and they are raised all over the world. Wild sheep also live throughout the world — in the Middle East, Asia, Central Europe and North America — mostly in mountainous areas. Bighorn sheep live in the Rocky Mountain region of North America. Desert bighorn sheep live in Death Valley, California, as well as Nevada, Texas and northern Mexico. They can live on desert mountains as high as 4,000 feet (1,200 m). Urials can live even higher up. They are found in Asia and the Middle East on grassy terrains with elevations of up to 19,690 feet (6,000 m), according to the ADW.  Habits

Sheep are social, but usually only with their own gender. Males have their own herds called bachelor herds. These herds usually contain five to 50 rams at one time. The females live in nursery herds. Nursery herds can have five to 100 members that include adult females and their young. 

Male sheep fight for dominance in their group. Some ram each other at speeds up to 20 mph (32 kph), according to National Geographic (opens in new tab). Dominance is gained when one male submits. This process can take hours. Diet

Sheep are herbivores, which means their diet does not include meat. They typically eat seeds, grass and plants. Like all ruminants, they have multi-chambered stomachs that are adapted to ferment cellulose before digestion, according to the ADW. To completely digest their food, sheep will regurgitate their food into their mouths, rechew and swallow. This regurgitated food is called cud.

Some sheep don’t need much water. The desert bighorn sheep, for example, gets most of its water from eating plants, according to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Offspring

Male sheep fight for the right to mate with the females and the strongest is usually the only one allowed to mate. Mating season, called the rut, happens in the autumn. After mating, female sheep have a gestation period of around five months. They usually give birth to one or two offspring at a time in the spring. 

Baby sheep are called lambs. Lambs can walk just minutes after they are born, though they are often dependent on their mothers for the first four to six months of their lives. They are weaned around four to six month and become sexually mature around one and a half to five years, depending on species and gender. For example, the male argali sheep doesn’t become sexually mature until age 5, while the female becomes sexually mature at age 1 or 2, according to the ADW.

Sheep are part of the Bovidae family, which includes antelopes, cattle and goats. Sheep usually can be identified from their similar looking cousins by their horns. Goats typically have straight horns and sheep have rounded horns. Also, male goats have beards while male sheep do not.

Here is the taxonomy of sheep, according to ITIS: 

Kingdom: Animalia Subkingdom: Bilateria Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Infraphylum: Gnathostomata Superclass: Tetrapoda Class: Mammalia Subclass: Theria Infraclass: Eutheria Order: Artiodactyla Family: Bovidae Subfamily: Caprinae Genus: Ovis Species: 

  • Ovis ammon (argalis), with nine subspecies
  • Ovis aries (domestic sheep, mouflon, red sheep, feral sheep), with nine subspecies, including urials
  • Ovis canadensis (bighorn sheep), with seven subspecies
  • Ovis dalli (Dall’s sheep, Fannin’s sheep, Stone’s sheep), with two subspecies
  • Ovis nivicola (snow sheep), with four subspecies

Other facts

If a sheep rolls over onto its back, it may not be able to get up without assistance, according to the Sheep101 website. A fallen sheep is called a “cast” sheep. They can become distressed and die within a short period of time if they are not rolled back into a normal position. When back on their feet, they may need supported for a few minutes to ensure they are steady. It happens mostly with pregnant ewes and short, stocky sheep with full fleeces. 

Most sheep’s milk produced worldwide is made into cheese, such as feta, ricotta, pecorino, Romano and Roquefort.

The most famous sheep is probably Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned. She was born in Scotland in 1996, gave birth to six lambs, and died in 2003 after developing a lung infection. She was stuffed and put on display at the Royal Museum of Scotland. (Fun fact: Dolly was named for country singer Dolly Parton.)

Each winter, a sheep’s set of horns gets a growth ring. By counting the rings, scientist can tell the age of a male sheep.

According to The Phrase Finder, the term “black sheep” to refer to a disreputable or disgraced member of a family may have derived from the notion that black fleeces could not be dyed and were therefore less valuable than white fleece. It may also be due to a bad translation of the Bible in 1535. 

Other resources



If sheep do not have the constant care of a shepherd, they will go the wrong way, unaware of the dangers at hand. They have been known to nibble themselves right off the side of a mountain….. And so, because sheep are sheep, they need shepherds to care for them. The welfare of sheep depends solely upon the care they get from their shepherd. Therefore, the better the shepherd, the healthier the sheep. — Kay Arthur I am like the sick sheep that strays from the rest of the flock. Unless the Good Shepherd takes me on His shoulders and carries me back to His fold, my steps will falter, and in the very effort of rising, my feet will give way. — St. Jerome

The metaphor of the king as the shepherd of his people goes back to ancient Egypt. Perhaps the use of this particular convention is due to the fact that, being stupid, affectionate, gregarious, and easily stampeded, the societies formed by sheep are most like human ones. — Northrop Frye

Experience has taught me that the Shepherd is far more willing to show His sheep the path than the sheep are to follow. He is endlessly merciful, patient, tender, and loving. If we, His stupid and wayward sheep, really want to be led, we will without fail be led. Of that I am sure. — Elisabeth Elliot



    “Shepherd” is an ancient leadership term. It had already been in widespread use for more than two thousand years by the time the New Testament was written. Across the Ancient Near East it was a common term for gods and kings. Throughout history it has borne two broad, often overlapping meanings, authority and care. The Old Testament carries the term’s rich history into the historical and prophetic books. The New Testament uses both meanings in the Gospels, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation.
     THE ANCIENT SHEPHERD KINGS: The ancient kings of Mesopotamia use shepherd terminology as a metaphor for their sovereign authority. Lugi-zaggissi (ca. 2500 B.C.) described himself as being “born for shepherding. Shushin (ca. 2030 B.C.) was “the king whom the god Enlil, in his heart, has elected to be the shepherd of the country and of the four corners of the world. Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) called himself a shepherd
    Orientalists have documented images of Pharaoh and of the god Osiris holding a shepherd’s crook, the Ancient Near Eastern king’s visible symbol of power and authority. So too in Egypt, the shepherd’s crook symbolized Pharaoh’s divine authority.  The motif’s appearance in the Egyptian pantheon suggests a powerful metaphor that transcended cultural and social barriers in the ANE (Ancient Near East).
    ISRAEL’S DAVIDIC SHEPHERD KINGS: David, the shepherd, was summoned from his flocks and anointed king.  A humble shepherd, he was known to be “a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.”  When Israel’s twelve tribes formed one kingdom the shepherd king motif was invoked to solemnize their covenant with David.
    To be king was to be the shepherd. Calling David “the shepherd of God’s people” was tantamount to calling him Israel’s king.The prophets used the shepherd motif to castigate kings, princes and governing officials. The promise that God would regather his scattered flock and re-establish the kingdom, with David as king, draws upon this ancient metaphor.
    In that day “they will walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statues.” They will enjoy everlasting peace for the LORD “will make a covenant of peace with them.” They live in peace because “David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.”
    Many of the prophetic passages that use the shepherd king motif were promises about the messiah. Some of these prophecies referred to his identity, some to his service, and many to the nature of his kingdom. The tight prophetic link between the shepherd king and the messiah become gloriously clear in Jesus Christ.
     Conclusion: The shepherd motif predates the New Testament by several thousand years. It has a rich association with the governing power and authority of kings. This is widely attested throughout the Middle East and in the Greek city states.

     When we approach the New Testament, especially from our vantage point almost 2,000 years after the final chapter was penned, we must take care not to automatically associate the term “pastor” with images related to animal husbandry. — Bud Brown, full article:

Christianity has found a useful symbol in the image of the shepherd. Our word “pastor” is from the Latin meaning “shepherd” and it is within common language of the Church to speak of this relationship between a pastor and his congregation as the relationship between a shepherd and his flock. Beyond this the church as a whole recognizes the image of the Good Shepherd, that is as Jesus Christ as King of the Church, it’s ultimate leader…
      Nearly as far back as written history goes, there exists the motif of kings as Shepherds. It was used in ancient Mesopotamia as far back as 3000BC, the area of the world out of which Abraham was called. The Egyptian Pharaohs used a shepherd staff or crook as one of their royal symbols and the prophets of Israel and Judah used the metaphor repeatedly….
     In the world of the ancient Near East, this was an obvious metaphor. The pastoral industry, the raising of sheep and goats, was a backbone of society. From these animals the necessities of life were produced: meat, milk and resulting dairy products, clothing from their wool and eventual leather, their horns were used as trumpets or containers to carry things like oil, and sheep were a means to barter or trade with. Sheep were even taken as taxes in organized society, for example 100 sheep a day were provided by the citizens of Israel for King Solomon’s household and government… And sheep were a central sacrificial animal as outlined by the Biblical Mosaic Law.  
    The image of kings and leaders as shepherds in the ancient near east may also be seen with a bit of irony, due to the sometimes-stigmatized profession that it was. Shepherds were often viewed as uncivilized. Always dwelling outside, away from cities, away from protection. They were necessary but not glamourous. The symbol however, likely derived from the special relationship that developed between sheep and their shepherd, including the sheep’s ultimate trust of the shepherd and their obedience to his or her voice. Sending a protective, nurturing message to help solidify a king’s power.
    Biblically, the image of the Good Shepherd is taken on by Christ Himself. — Corie Bobechko, full article:

And, like sheep, when someone or something comes along and finally makes us feel safe and loved and worthy and feeling like maybe we are finally going in the right direction, we follow them… And man, do we choose some lousy shepherds. .
…I have allowed myself to be shepherded by my addictions, and broken institutions, and the so called “wellness” industry, and the angriest voices on twitter – all while thinking I am for sure just following my own individual thoughts and desires.
    But this week I realized that not one single shepherd-shaped wolf that I have followed, has ever actually fulfilled my wants and desires, they have only ever increased them…
    Wolves and lesser shepherds will always suggest that we should look, feel, and act a certain way that is always just out of reach no matter how much we strive. And any past success serves only as an accusation against our current efforts. They set before us an unwinnable game. And in it there is no rest….
    So, here is a way to spot the difference between the wolves and the good shepherd–The shepherd never holds auditions. The Shepherd never mentions the quality of sheep they demand. The shepherd never bases their protection and love and concern for their sheep on how the sheep look or feel or behave or achieve…that’s never mentioned as a basis for belonging to the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Those are just things wolves create as a basis for belonging because grace is just too offensive.  Grace is just too hard to take since on some level, we think that if it’s free it must be worthless.
    So, yeah…There are no auditions. Nothing to earn. No extra credit in God’s flock. Which also means that there is no basis for comparison.  Nothing to envy in others. Nothing to prove. Even to ourselves
    In the good shepherd’s keeping, striving is replaced by relaxing. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

God is not a celestial prison warden jangling the keys
on a bunch of lifers–he’s a shepherd seeking for sheep,
a woman searching for coins,
a father waiting for his son. — Clarence Jordan

Jesus obviously drew shepherd allegories from his scriptures as well as from local sheepherding practices. — Reta Halteman Finger

We have seen that Ezekiel was a priest (1:3) whom God called to be prophet to His people of the Babylonian captivity. With the siege of Jerusalem ended, the Temple plundered, and the walls and city of Jerusalem in piles of rubble, the attention of God’s prophet now turned to the failure of the religious leaders of Israel… Ezekiel 34 is an indictment of the “shepherds of Israel” (the religious leaders), for their self-righteous, ungracious spirit…. The shepherds (pastors) of Israel were self-centered consumers. They had put their interests above the needs of the people.  — Rev Travis D. Smith

God is never on the sidelines of His children’s lives. He goes before them. He leads them, guides them, protects and saves them. — Monica Johnson

Worshipping the Lord means giving Him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that He alone truly guides our lives; worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before Him that He is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history. — Pope Francis

As we follow Jesus more closely, others, who cannot see Jesus yet, will follow us – they will recognize His voice in us and in our actions. — David Philips

The Lord IS my shepherd. Not was, not may be, nor will be. . . is my shepherd on Sunday, is on Monday, and is through every day of the week; is in January, is in December, and every month of the year, is at home, and is in China; is in peace, and is in war; in abundance, and in penury. — Hudson Taylor

When we are fearful and worried all the time, we are living as if we don’t believe that we have a strong and able Shepherd who is tenderhearted toward us, who only leads us to good places, who protects us and lovingly watches over us. — Joseph Prince

You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need. — Max Lucado

God has entrusted us with his most precious treasure – people. He asks us to shepherd and mold them into strong disciples, with brave faith and good character. — John Ortberg

And if the line between pasture and wilderness wasn’t clearly drawn, neither was it safely fenced, which meant that the shepherd not only had to worry about sheep wandering off but about wild animals snatching them in the dark—not to mention bandits. … had to be prepared to fight them off—that’s what that staff was for … the shepherd’s staff was a tool and a weapon. It could be used to block a sheep’s path into danger or to prod it to safety; and it could be used to beat off an attacking wolf—or an attacking human. A shepherd had to be continuously alert, always ready both to care kindly for his sheep and to do battle with enemies. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” not because the shepherd looks so comfortable leaning on them, but because they show that he’s ready to defend us. — David Walbert

A writer spent time with a shepherd on the Texas plains. One night, the shepherd built a fire, and the sheep gathered close. Around midnight, a coyote howled in the distance, followed by another coyote from the opposite direction. The fearful sheep began bleating.
    The shepherd tossed logs onto the fire. As flames shot up, the writer looked out and saw 4,000 tiny lights—the fire reflected in the eyes of 2,000 sheep. With enemies all around, the sheep looked only toward the shepherd. Why? They trusted him. — Stephen Rummage

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