1. Who is the first shepherd mentioned in the Bible?
Abel is the first Shepherd mentioned in the Bible. His name appears only 5 times in the Old Testament, (Genesis 4:2, 4, 8, 9 and 25). The name Abel is mentioned only 4 times in the New Testament, (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51, Hebrews 11:4 and 12:24). This makes a total of 9 times in the entire 66 books of the Bible. Abel was also the first casualty of sibling rivalry. He was the first murdered person recorded in the Bible.
2. What was the shepherd’s importance to his community?
Referring to the biblical story, the shepherd was an indispensable part of the existence of the community in which he/she lived. It was the shepherd’s responsibility to care for the sheep and goats that belonged to his /her individual family, or as in most cases, the entire community. Most communities in the early part of the Scripture consisted of a few families living together with division of responsibility among all of the residence.
The shepherd was to safeguard the flock. It was important that the sheep and the goats be guarded and defended. They were the source of the essentials that the inhabitants of the community needed for survival. The animals provided wool, milk, cheese, meat, and income. These were the principle products that every family and community needed.
The shepherd was expected to defend the flock, even at the cost of his/her own life. The animals were of value and hard to replace. The shepherd’s importance was absolutely unquestioned in the societal framework of his/her community.
3. Why has the shepherd almost disappeared from modern history?
The shepherd’s importance in biblical terms began to wane with Solomon’s completion of the great Temple of God. With the establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem there came a system of ritual and rules governing worship and attendance. In order for the worshiper to be presentable to God they were to observe cleanliness laws, dietary laws, and ritual laws. The shepherd dwelling and the hinterlands in the wildernesses of the day found it next to impossible to meet these requirements of the religious hierarchy. So with time, their social standing deteriorated and they became simply a necessary part, but not an honored and revered part of the community any longer.
As communities developed populations grew more foodstuffs were taken into consideration and became a part of the dietary aspects of the community at large.
Sheep and goats remained important to the economy of the community. But with the introduction of cattle came a challenge to their domination as the most important source of food and income for the family or community.
As the world has moved from the agrarian posture of earlier centuries, it has become more mobile, more electronic and more concentrated in large communities. All of these aspects have played their role in reducing our awareness and appreciation of the shepherd.
One might say that the hoe used by the farmer to get his ground prepared for planting no longer held the same significance after the introduction of fuel powered tractors and machinery. Today’s world reflects upon the shepherd in a more nostalgic than appreciative manner.