This one occurred at the Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem, which is not the location of Jesus' birth. But it is a cave similar to many in the area in which animals would've been stabled. In fact it is similar to many that shepherds would use to fold their sheep at night.
While sitting in this cave we were taught by our Palestinian guide about what a Good Shepherd Christ was. It was an amazing presentation to which the spirit testified to our whole group. I'd like to tell you about it. (Caution - long post)
The Good Shepherd
To begin, a shepherd has certain tools that he uses to do his job. He carries a sack to hold his food, a slingshot to kill small animals, a rod (much like a police stick) to defend his flock from robbers or animals and a staff (with a crook on the end) to use as a walking stick and for correcting wayward sheep.
A Good Shepherd knows the names of his sheep and they know the sound of his voice. At days end several shepherds will gather their flocks together. A cave, like the one we were at, is walled off with stones and brush to create a small opening that only the sheep can pass thru. All the sheep are driven into the cave as the shepherd counts off his flock at the door. The shepherds watch over their flock, through the night, outside under the stars. In the morning the shepherds will stand by the door and call for their sheep and only their sheep will heed the call and come.
Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the
door of the sheep. (John 10:7)
A Good Shepherd will lead his flock to where there are green fields and still water. Sheep are unable to locate new green fields once one has been depleted of its grass. Sheep are unable to locate a source of water by instinct. They must be led. Also, sheep will not drink from a fast moving stream or a stagnant water source. A Good Shepherd will know where to continually move his flock to keep them nourished. Also, a sheep will not lie down unless they feel completely safe.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green
pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalms 23:1-2)
A Good Shepherd will use his staff to teach his sheep. Sometimes a wayward lamb will think he knows the best way to go to find food. As the lamb goes astray, the shepherd will use the staff to smack the lamb on the head to show the lamb he is in trouble. The shepherd will then bring the lamb back into the fold. If the same lamb goes astray again, he will smack him another time with the staff to correct his behavior and bring him back. The third time that the little lamb goes astray the Good Shepherd will use his staff to break the lamb's leg. The shepherd will bind and care for the broken limb and then carry the lamb around his neck until it heals. The Good Shepherd shows the lamb its dependence on the shepherd and the need to heed his direction.
Finally, I thought it was interesting that shepherds were not well looked upon at the time of Christ. They were, after all, hirelings. The wealthy who owned the flocks hired the shepherds to care for the animals. If a bandit or wild animal went after the sheep, sometimes the shepherds would desert the flock having no long term interest in their survival. But a Good Shepherd would lay down his life for his flock.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
I know this has been a little long, and over the past few weeks I have researched even more about sheep and what their tendencies are. The use of sheep and shepherding as symbols for us and Christ is quite appropriate. What a fond memory I have of this place and what a boost for my personal testimony!
Bob and Carol inside the cave at the Shepherd's Field where we heard the great testimony from our guide.
This is the outside of the cave having been walled up over the years to become a place to visit. But back in the day, it would've been walled up with natural materials anyway to serve as a animal shelter.