In Palestine there was in each village, and this had gone on for centuries, in each village located as the common property of the village in the center somewhere, a common sheepfold. And all of the shepherds in that village who would have their sheep out grazing on the hillside would at night lead their sheep into the sheepfold. There was a man who was hired to care for the sheepfold during the night and he was called the porter. And all the sheep would be led into the fold and they would spend the night there while the shepherd went home. The porter’s job was to shut the door and to be in front of the door on guard lest animals or thieves and robbers would come to steal or slaughter the sheep.
Now when they would bring their sheep in, something very, very beautifully symbolic happened. The shepherd would come to town with his sheep to the little village, he would come to the entrance to the large sheepfold which would house all the sheep. You say, “Didn’t they get mixed up?” No, because they all knew their own name when their master spoke, and we’ll see that in a moment. But nevertheless, the shepherd would bring all of his sheep up to the door, then he would take his rod, a long rod, all shepherds had a rod, and he would put it down over the door very low so that the sheep could not get under it. And he would stop the sheep and he would check over the whole body of the sheep to make sure there was no hurt or no injury. And if the sheep was fine, he would lift the rod and the sheep would pass under the rod. He did that with every sheep every night.
You say, “Why is that important?” Just this, in the Old Testament, Ezekiel chapter 20 verse 37, don’t look it up, just listen to this thought, beautiful thought. God says through Ezekiel, “Some day I’m going to gather Israel and I’m going to bring Israel into the Kingdom,” right? And he said this, verse 37 says, “Israel will pass under the rod into a secure place.” That’s not a rod of judgment, friends, that means that before Israel ever enters the Kingdom, the great Shepherd of Israel is going to stop every sheep and check and make sure there’s no scratch, no hurt, no injury. You see, that’s the care that God has for His own.
And so, the shepherd would check his sheep and he became familiar with them. And the porter would accept the sheep, lock the gate. The shepherd would go home. In the morning the different shepherds would come to get their sheep. And the shepherd would speak to the porter and the sheep would perk up, they recognize their shepherd’s voice. And then he would call them by name and they would follow him and they would go back out to pasture.
Now, you see, only the shepherd could get in through the door. The porter wouldn’t let a thief and a robber in, only the shepherd could get in through the door. And so the thieves and the robbers, in order to get the sheep, would have to climb the wall. See that? Look at verse 10, “He that entereth not by the door to the sheepfold but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” They couldn’t get in the door because the porter wouldn’t let them in. And so they would have to climb the walls to get in to steal the sheep. But the shepherd would go in the door and the thieves would have to climb over the wall in order to get the sheep that he wanted to steal. Very often they would slaughter the sheep right in the sheepfold to keep the sheep from making noise. And they would throw the dead sheep over the wall if the porter happened to be asleep.