“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11 (New American Standard Version)
I had a chance to look at the stars a few nights back. I was reminded of how vigilant a shepherd has to be during the night watches. Predators prowl the shadows and the sheep are probably more vulnerable during the dark hours than during the day when the shepherd has a full range of vision and can more easily see trouble coming. I imagine the wee hours just before sunrise were the most difficult for a shepherd. He may have slept lightly but always had to be ready for possible attacks and to instantly respond in defense of his flock.
I love that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. He said a hireling would have no devotion for the flock and would turn tail and run at the first sign of danger, allowing the sheep to be mauled by predatory beasts of the field. The good shepherd jumps to the defense of the sheep and intercedes in their defense to the point he is willing to lay down his life to protect them. David faced this kind of defense as he mentioned to King Saul he had killed both a lion and a bear that came to hurt his flock (1st Samuel 17:34). The dangers a shepherd faces are not worrying about where the wood is coming from to cook his supper.
Throughout the dark nights I have always taken comfort knowing the Good Shepherd is near with His rod and staff at the ready. His rod symbolizes His Authority and protection while His staff tells me of His continuing love and direction of my life. Even during the days I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death I have taken comfort knowing He is with me. When He says “Lo, I am with you always” that includes the night watches when I am most vulnerable. He is always vigilant for me and after the sun rises He anoints my head with oil. Care, devotion and protection; He is a good shepherd in the truest sense.