We all know the verse (Psalm 23). Over and over again God compares himself to a shepherd to give us a picture of how He loves us.
Yet we learn early on in the bible that this profession is not highly thought of.
Genesis 43:32 “They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians.”
This was before Moses, before the long documented rivalry (sometimes brotherhood) of the two nations. This was before Israel was even a nation. So why did they refuse to eat with them? Hebrews were shepherds.
Genesis 46:33 & 34 “When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”
There’s that word ‘detestable’ again. Why did the Egyptians think it was so bad? Lots of people have opinions on this, and not many agree on why. I think the Egyptians were simply grossed out. Anyone on a ranch or farm knows that tending to animals is dirty, smelly, laborious work. Joseph’s brothers probably smelled a bit. Think about it. Sweat, animal poo, the lack of indoor plumbing at thier disposal.
So knowing how Egyptians felt, Joseph wisely advises his family to tell the Pharaoh what they do for a living. And they are allowed to settle in a fertile land separately and quietly.
God knows we sheep are a lot of work. Still he meets us where we are. Smelly and unclean, and he takes us by still waters to freshen us up. Thank you God for serving in a less than glamorous way. And forgive us when we think we we’re above any similar task. Amen.