In an article I recently wrote, I came across this comment by Frederick W. Robertson regarding the relationship of shepherds and their sheep. It seems worth posting.
Beneath the burning skies and the clear starry night of Palestine there grows up between the shepherd and his flock an union of attachment and tenderness. It is the country where at any moment sheep are liable to be swept away by some mountain-torrent, or carried off by hill-robbers, or torn by wolves. At any moment their protector may have to save them by personal hazard…. Every hour of the shepherd’s life is at risk. Sometimes for the sake of an armful of grass in the parched summer days, he must climb precipices almost perpendicular, and stand on a narrow ledge of rock where the wild goat will scarcely venture. Pitiless showers, driving snows, long hours of thirst—all this he must endure, if the flock is to be kept at all.
And thus there grows up between the man and the dumb creatures he protects, a kind of friendship. For this is, after all, the true school in which love is taught—dangers mutually shared and hardships borne together; these are the things which make generous friendship—risk cheerfully encountered for another’s sake…. Alone in those vast solitudes, with no human being near, the shepherd and the sheep feel a life in common. Differences disappear, the vast interval between the man and the brute: the single point of union is felt strongly. One is the love of the protector: the other the love of the grateful life: and so between lives so distant there is woven by night and day, by summer suns and winter frosts, a living network of sympathy. The greater and the less mingle their lives together: they feel each other. “The shepherd knows his sheep, and is known of them.”
[Frederick W. Robertson, Sermons Preached at Brighton (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1873), 405-06.]