Shepherds in the Bible

This word appears frequently in Scripture.

Sheep herd keepers

The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Israel were very burdensome.

“In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back.

In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs.

At night, he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labors always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see 1 Samuel 17:34).” —Deane’s David

Rachel “was a shepherdess” (Genesis 29:9) prior to becoming Jacob’s wife.

Figurative shepherds

The word shepherd is sometimes used figuratively to represent the relation of rulers (whether good or bad) to their subjects (Isaiah 40:11; 44:28; Jeremiah 25:34-35; Nahum 3:18).

God is the shepherd of his people.

Yahweh is my shepherd,
I shall not want. —Psalm 23:1 LSB

O Shepherd of Israel, give ear,
You who guide Joseph like a flock;
You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth! —Psalm 80:1 LSB

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. —John 10:11 LSB / similar: John 10:14

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. —1 Peter 2:25 LSB

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus, equip you in every good thing to do His will… —Hebrews 13:20-21 LSB excerpt

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. —1 Peter 5:4 LSB

The Chief Shepherd calls upon elders and overseers in the Church to be under-shepherds of his people.

See the Christian archaeological video which describes ancient shepherds: On the Prophets & Kings of Israel (“The Lord is My Shepherd—Negev,” part of the Faith Lessons video series). “The Old Testament portrayal of God as shepherd has been lost in our culture. Rediscover the key to hearing the voice of God that guides us to fulfilled lives.”

Hebrew and Greek words


רָעָה (a verb) —transliteration: ra'ah —meaning: to pasture, to tend, a keeper, to graze —occurrences: 164 times in Scripture (1st appearance: Genesis 4:2 “Abel was a keeper of flocks” / Last appearance: Revelation 7:17 “for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd…”

רֹעִי (a verb) —transliteration: roi —meaning: shepherd —occurrences: 11

Hebrew: מִרְעִית (a noun) —transliteration: marith —meaning: a pasturing, pasturage for feeding a flock —occurrences: 10 (e.g., Jeremiah 23:1 “the sheep of my pasture”)


ποιμήν (a noun) —transliteration: poimén —meaning: a shepherd; in relation to shepherding people: the feeder, protector, and ruler (sometimes translated as “pastor,” e.g., Ephesians 4:11 NASB) —occurrences: 18

ἀρχιποίμην —transliteration: archipoimén —meaning: chief shepherd —occurrences: 1 (1 Peter 5:4)

ποιμαίνω (a verb) —transliteration: poimainó —meaning: to act as a shepherd (to tend—including guarding and guiding; to herd); hence to rule or to govern —occurrences: 11

More information

Article Version: October 12, 2021