"No Shepherd"

or, The last request of Moses, the man of God.

The twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Numbers contains what may be termed the last request of Moses, the man of God, which not only shows his submission to Jehovah's sovereign will, but also seems to savour of that love of which God Himself is the source, and which makes channels for itself to flow into the hearts of His people.

Moses was released from the service of God before the Israelites crossed the Jordan on their way to the promised land; and the One that gave him his release was the One to whom he appealed at the time with a heart burdened with desire for the welfare of His people, for whom he made the following request:

"And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying, Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd." (vv. 15-17.)

It would have been difficult for Moses to give a stronger proof of his affection for the people of God than that which is conveyed in this prayer; and the readiness with which it was responded to on the part of God was an evidence of His goodwill towards one that had sufficient interest in His people to make their future happiness his chief concern - even at the time when he himself was about to be set aside. His concern for them was so great that he could not die in peace, and leave them in the wilderness unprovided for, "as sheep which have no shepherd."

"And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight; … And Moses did as the Lord commanded him." (vv. 18-22.)

The request of Moses is in perfect keeping with the purpose of God, with which also the blessing of His people is intimately connected; therefore, in making request for the latter, he showed his regard for the former by asking God to raise up a man that would both lead them out, and bring them in; and he not only looked for power to be exercised in their behalf to this end, but requested of God that the personal presence of their leader might be known in the midst of His people by going out before them, and by going in before them.

Abel is the first keeper of sheep mentioned in scripture. Moses also, after he fled to Midian, followed the same occupation, for he "kept the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law." He was thus trained for his future mission; for, while he was so engaged, the Lord appeared to him, and sent him back into Egypt as His messenger to Pharaoh, and to become the leader and shepherd of His people in their exodus from the land of their bondage, and in their journey through the wilderness.

A servant of God, who has recently been called home, made a distinction between "the fish-net" and "the sheepfold," pointing out that the increase of the former comes from without, like the work of the evangelist, as the result of preaching "the gospel to every creature," and that of the latter comes from within, and is connected, in figure, with predestination and the purposes of God. The evangelist proclaims the glad news, "Whosoever will, let him come," and rejoices over his converts, in harmony with the mind of heaven; and those who have the welfare of the saints at heart rejoice also, while tracing every bit of blessing to its source in God, and looking upon each saved soul added to the assembly by the Lord as the Father's gift to the Son, "before the foundation of the world." (Eph. 1:4.)

The servants of God should have no divided interests. Each receives his commission from the same source. One is sent to find the sheep, and another to feed them; others, like Moses, may be called to do a little of both,. and each one will be rewarded according to his faithfulness. We may learn, however, from the example of Moses, what are the leading characteristics of a faithful shepherd. Failure there may be, and surely was, in his case; but love there must be, whether the saints appreciate it, or whether there is no response, as was seen in the case of the Israelites, and also in the case of the Corinthians towards the apostle Paul, compelling him to say, "The more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved." (2 Cor. 12:15.)

A true shepherd lives for his sheep, studies their comfort, suffers in serving them, and seeks by every means to shield them from ill. If this be true in ordinary life, it is much more so with respect to the faithful shepherd of God's sheep. And beautiful it is to see the devotedness of men like Moses and the apostle Paul, who faced the worst of dangers, and even death itself, in order to serve and deliver the objects of their love. All this, we well know, is attributable to the grace of God. And the request of Moses, with respect to His people, was but a feeble reflection of what was in the mind of God respecting them, and was used of Him as a means of giving us to know how tenderly He cared for His people. He not only showed His regard to His servant's desire by raising up Joshua to take his place, and to go before His people, but also sent One whose interest in the sheep is equal to His own, and whose love for them far exceeded that of any under-shepherd however devoted.

Alas! alas! the very thing which Moses dreaded befell the sheep; not that God had ceased to regard His servant's request, but because He could not pass over the sinful practices, in a later day, of their shepherd, King Ahab. Hence the solemn prediction, which was uttered by the faithful prophet Micaiah in the ears of the king, was fulfilled: "Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd." (2 Chron. 18:16.) And in the book of Ezekiel we find that God had a controversy with both the shepherds and the sheep. While exposing their sins, He threatens them with judgment, and then tells out His compassion towards the feeble remnant of the flock, in the most touching manner possible, saying, "Because there was no shepherd, neither did My shepherds search for My flock. … therefore will I save My flock … And I will set up one shepherd over them … even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd." (Ezek. 34:8, 22, 23.)

There was but one way for the fulfilment of this promise, and the accomplishment of God's purpose in respect to His people - either they, or their sins, must be put away. But rather than do the former, He devised means for the accomplishment of the latter, by sending His own Son, of whom David is a type, and who is spoken of in the New Testament as "the Good Shepherd" who gave His life for the sheep," as "the Great Shepherd" who took it up in resurrection, and also as "the Chief Shepherd" who will soon appear, and will then reward His faithful servants with "a crown of glory that fadeth not away."

If we turn to Matthew's gospel for a moment, we shall find the Shepherd-King viewing His poor sheep as they surround Him, and the very way He speaks of them shows how strikingly their condition answered to the description of the prophet Micaiah. "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." (Matt. 9:36.) The Lord had come to fulfil Ezekiel's prophecy: - "Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out." He found them where Ahab left them, and came to bring them back to God, not only those who were Jews, but Gentiles also, forming "one flock," with "one Shepherd." "And when He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him: for they know His voice." (John 10:4.)

Much as there is to admire in Moses as an under-shepherd, and great as his attachment was to the sheep of the house of Israel, and that of the apostle Peter was towards the lambs and sheep of the flock of Christ, as soon as the Good Shepherd appears on the scene, we see the perfection of that which is shadowed forth in His servants.

"We'll sing of the Shepherd that died,
That died for the sake of the flock,
Whose love to the utmost was tried,
And firmly endured as a rock."

There is but one Person in the whole universe to whom the foregoing lines can be applied, and He was the only One that could be fully trusted by the Father - first to find the sheep, and then to feed them. It is of Him we read, "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isaiah 40:11.) And after finding His sheep - some from amongst the Jews, and others from amongst the Gentiles - He forms them into one flock, takes His place at the head of it, and claims the honour which is due to Him, of being "the Good Shepherd" who gave His life for them all. After leading them out, He commences the wilderness journey with the determination of bringing them in, not to a place of rest below, but to the Father's house on high. At the commencement of their wilderness journey, the sheep were favoured with the personal presence of the Good Shepherd, who went out before them and went in before them until the time of His departure arrived. Then He addressed the Father on their behalf, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name: My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd." (Ezek. 34:8, 22, 23.)

The most devoted under-shepherd that ever lived could not claim to have equal interest with the Father in the sheep. The Father had trusted the Good Shepherd to bring back the wandering sheep for He was trustworthy, and He could fully rely on His Father to care for them during His absence. And since that time the sheep have had numberless proofs of the Father's tender solicitude, which reminds them how worthy He is of all their trust.

We have seen the regard which God had to the request of His servant Moses, in His raising up a Joshua to lead His people into the Canaan rest; and the regard the Father had for the request of His Son, in His sending the Comforter both to abide personally with the sheep, and to minister all needed blessing to their souls. The mournful expression, therefore, "No shepherd," could never more apply to the sheep, for henceforth they should know no want. (Ps. 23:1.)

It is to those that have turned from God, and have not returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, that the expression, "No shepherd," applies. And should the eye of any wandering soul rest on the closing remarks of this paper respecting the Good Shepherd and His sheep, let him be assured that the same heart to which He binds His own sheep is yearning to bless him by bringing him back to Himself. More than this, he may be privileged to hear Him saying today, what he may not hear tomorrow, or again for ever, "I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved," etc. (John 10:9.)

H. H.