In a recent blog post, Richard Beck drew his reader's attention to Matthew 9.38 where Jesus makes the remark about having a large harvest but few workers. Beck makes some great points to which I readily agree:
"The text doesn't say he has compassion on them because they are sinners in the hands of an angry God, destined for eternal hellfire. The crowds were lost--they were directionless, like sheep without a shepherd--but they weren't lost as the fire and brimstone evangelists tend to frame it, as standing under the judgment of a wrathful God."
The divine pronouncement concerning messianic verification was fundamentally in Deut 18, the Prophet like Moses. With that passage in Matthew's worldview and messianic paradigm, I can hardly imagine that his nuance was a mistake:
"Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 'May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.'" Num 27:15-17.
Jesus saw the people and had compassion because they were “harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, just as Moses had compassion on them in numerous instances. Matthew desired to emphasis that Jesus was like Moses in his compassion for the people. There is seemingly little doubt that Numbers 27 is where Matthew wanted to take his audience.