We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. – Psalm 100:14 NKJV
“I am the Good Shepherd.” – Jesus, as quoted in Philippians 4:13 NIV
Sheep are mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times, more than any other animal. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as sheep were important to the agricultural life of the Hebrews.
But sheep are also used symbolically to refer to God’s people. Have you ever wondered why?
First of all, sheep are natural followers. Their instinct is to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to wander off, the rest of the flock usually follows. Unlike other animals, they are led, not driven. That’s why the shepherd goes before them. If the shepherd were to go behind them, the flock would scatter.
Second, sheep are sociable creatures, living in flocks, staying together while grazing. There’s safety in numbers, as predators are less likely to pounce on a group than one solitary, wayward sheep. However, sheep are known to wander from the fold and have no sense of direction when they get lost (sounds like me). When cornered, their instinct is to flee, not fight. Indeed, they don’t have the equipment to fight—no sharp teeth or hooves, for example—and they can’t run very fast. So a lone sheep separated from the flock is a sheep in trouble.
Third, sheep can easily become downcast, and if not tended to right away, can die quickly or become dinner for a predator. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, former shepherd turned lay pastor Phillip Keller describes what it means when a sheep is downcast: “This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. (It is not strong enough.) . . . It is so essential for the shepherd to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet.”
Sheep are easily frightened and will stampede, which can lead to them piling up against each other and smothering. Sheep will not drink from running water, so the shepherd must find still waters for them to drink from. They never walk in a straight line (me again) and are the only animals that need care 24/7. And, unlike horses and dogs (and probably more like cats), they’re not trainable.
But sheep have good traits, too. Their excellent senses, for instance. They recognize and remember faces and their own shepherd’s voice. At night several flocks could be housed together in one pen, but when morning comes, all the shepherd has to do to separate his flock from the rest is to call out to his sheep, and they will follow him out of the pen.
The shepherd’s job is to protect and defend his sheep, seek those that wander away. He must know
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And he never leaves his sheep alone. His abiding presence is their safety, their security, and their salvation.
Does any of this sound familiar?
We are the sheep of God’s pasture. He will take care of each of us as a good shepherd takes care of his sheep.
Thank you, Father, for watching over and taking care of a dumb sheep like me. Amen.
Special-Tea: Read John 10:1–18; Psalm 23