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Words: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: Lebanon, by John Zundel (b. Dec. 10, 1815; d. July ___, 1882)
Note: As well as being a clergyman, Bonar has been called “the prince of Scottish hymn writers” for his great contribution to our hymnody. This 1843 hymn often takes its name from the opening line. But in researching dozens of hymn books, I found that it has had many different names over the years: Lost but Found; The Wanderer; Wandering Sheep; No More a Wandering Sheep, and more.
Sheep have been valued for their wool and meat, and even for their milk, for thousands of years. They can be domesticated, but their nature and habits require them to be carefully tended and protected.
Other than rams in breeding season, sheep tend to be docile and non-aggressive. One author describes them as “dumb, directionless, and defenseless.” But that is an overstatement. The sheep’s main defense against predators is to keep together with other sheep. If one animal somehow gets separated from the others it will become highly distressed.
On the other hand, the sheep’s tendency to want to stick with the others can get these animals in trouble. If one moves away from the flock, others want to follow, even if it’s a bad idea. It’s reported that, a decade ago, a flock of sheep in Turkey followed one of their number who tried to leap across a deep ravine, and four hundred fell to the rocks below and died.
Words such as sheep, lambs, flock, and shepherd are found more than six hundred times in the Bible. This is understandable since the culture then was predominantly agrarian. Also, in Old Testament times, Israel’s sacrificial system required many animals for the offerings God had ordained.
Of particular interest to us here is the fact that the Bible frequently compares human beings to sheep–a comparison that’s not complimentary in some ways. Perhaps we would prefer being likened to more noble animals such as lions or eagles. That imagery is used as well. But more often we are pictured as sheep in desperate need of the right shepherd.
In chapter 34 of Ezekiel the prophet delivers a scathing message from the Lord, condemning self-serving spiritual leaders in Israel as false and faithless shepherds of the people. As a result of their evil ways, many were wandering from the truth and being destroyed. In contrast, the Lord Jesus Christ is presented in Scripture as the “good shepherd,” willing to give His life for the good of the sheep (Jn. 10:11).
The Lord is not only the Shepherd we need, but He also willingly became God’s sacrificial Lamb, dying to pay our debt of sin. “John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (Jn. 1:29). It was a prophecy pointing forward to His death on the cross.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).
To those who have put their faith in Christ as Saviour, Peter writes, “You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (I Pet. 2:25).
Horatius Bonar wrote a hymn about that nearly two hundred years ago, but it still has a message for our time.
CH-1) I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold;
I did not love my Shepherd’s voice,
I would not be controlled.
I was a wayward child,
I did not love my home;
I did not love my Father’s voice,
I loved afar to roam.
CH-4) Jesus my Shepherd is:
’Twas He that loved my soul;
’Twas He that washed me in His blood,
’Twas He that made me whole.
’Twas He that sought the lost,
That found the wand’ring sheep,
’Twas He that brought me to the fold,
’Tis He that still doth keep.”
The final stanza is a testimony of the formerly lost one, now found, and filled with love for the Good Shepherd.
CH-5) No more a wandering sheep,
I love to be controlled;
I love my tender Shepherd’s voice,
I love the peaceful fold.
No more a wayward child,
I seek no more to roam;
I love my heavenly Father’s voice,
I love, I love His home!
1) In what areas of your life, or attitudes of heart, are you most prone to wander?
2) What has the Good Shepherd used to bring you back and keep you safe?