Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Be Sheep?

I spent many months in the wilderness of Northern Colorado one summer and discovered the silent nature of wild animals.  I was surprised to learn that they are more attached to curiosity than fear, especially when they are truly, wild animals.  I once had a bull moose come right up next to me within just a few feet. This is when I felt fear, and not curiosity.  If I could be any animal, it would be a moose I reckon.  They are big, fast, and fearless. They have very few predators that are crazy enough to consider them a food source, and they eat about 50 lbs of vegetation a day, necessary to maintain a 6 foot tall, 1,200 pound frame.  They are called the great wanderer, traveling all of their lives in the wild - never calling one particular grove, home. Of all the 138 animals mentioned in the bible (Moose is not one of them), I wondered the other day why our Creator would liken us to ordinary, defenseless little sheep, instead of something powerful with a more commanding presence. That seems to be our nature at times. In doing some research, I came to the conclusion of why we are compared to being like sheep.  It has everything to do...with the shepherd.


 As I unfold these facts about sheep, keep in mind how accurate and deliberate the Word of God is - every comparison and every symbolism, perfect in its meaning. When you put all of the pieces together, we see how God's use of sheep in the bible is absolutely there for good reason; for His perfect reasons. With over 500 mentions of sheep in the bible, it outnumbers any other animal by a long-shot, as well as the words praise, pray, believe and heaven. In an odd coincidence, what is the word that is used more than the term sheep in the bible?   The next one on the list coming it at 530?  Christ.

Sheep will not pasture or graze unless other sheep are visibly present. They are the most naturally herding animal known to exist, and they are the easiest to herd. They are a completely defenseless animal; individually.  The single defense they have is flocking together in a large group for protection. The only real protection they have from their most dominant and feared predator the wolf, is the shepherd himself.  Without a shepherd, sheep will follow the first sheep that moves away from the flock, whether it is a good idea or not. This instinct to follow and flock is so strong that in 2006, 400 sheep died after falling over a ravine in Turkey, as they were following a stray. No shepherd was present. Sheep do not like to walk in water, or move through any narrow openings - they must be compelled and motivated to do so. Any sheep that is isolated from the flock will begin to show signs of illness and agitation; naturally. A shepherd can easily identify the individual sheep within the herd that are the most vulnerable and ill in health by this trait:  It will be the last one to enter into the pen, or the first one to stray. Weird? Not really. Like I said - Our God is calculated, and deliberate.

Here are a few more facts that biologists have discovered about sheep that will really drive this message home:  Sheep avoid the darkness and shadows, and are naturally drawn to light. They will be still when it is dark, and will only move when it is dark outside, by hearing the voice of their shepherd. Shepherds must use a quiet and calm tone when guiding the flock, as loud and sudden noises cause a stress releasing hormone that makes them difficult to manage. When sheep become sick, they are easy to spot - the sick sheep are the ones that stray and stop eating...always. The healthiest sheep?  These are the ones that eat the most. Seriously, you just cannot make this up. When sheep are on their back, just like a turtle, they cannot get up, and will need the shepherd to pick them up. Why even have shepherds for sheep, and not cattle or pigs or chickens?  This is where it gets heavy:  No sheep in the pasture will be healthy and graze properly without a shepherd present...they require this guardianship  in order to stay together, and they must stay together in order to eat properly.  Sheep are the ONLY animal in existence that naturally need a leader that is not of their own kind in order to survive in the wild. Sheep were created, to have a shepherd. No shepherd...no sheep. Wow.

I find this all kind of oddly comforting, knowing how accurate and relevant it is now, that our Lord sees us as sheep.  His sheep. This is exactly what we are to Him.  We cannot live, eat or flock together, without our Lord - the Good Shepherd (John 10:14)  He existed before we were created, and we were created, for Him.  Without our shepherd, we do not live. With The Shepherd in our life guiding us, we come together hearing His calm and reassuring voice that guides us in the dark. We follow our Shepherd because we know His voice. (John 10:3-5)  When a lost sheep is returned to the flock, the sheep comes back to good health once again (Matthew 18:12) Above all, let us dwell upon where our Shepherd is leading us. John 10:7 and 9 tells us: "...Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep...whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture." 

Our lives before Christ may have found us with the spirit of a lion and the tongue of a serpent.  I am thankful by the grace and power of my Lord Jesus Christ - that I have been blessed with the life of a sheep, by the heart of The Lamb.