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Sheep

Learning From the Lizard
Bible Animal Object Lessons
Follow The Leader

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. ... I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak ... I will feed them with justice (Ezekiel 34:11, 15-16 NRSV).

More than any other animal the word sheep or words that refer to sheep are used over 500 times in the Bible. Sheep are the most important animal in the Bible, and the main measure of prosperity. They were a medium of exchange. One reference (2 Kings 8:4) tells that the King of Moab paid 100,000 lambs and the same number of rams as tribute to the King of Israel.

Sheep were central to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament Jewish community. The Passover was first established in Egypt, so that the death angel sent to kill the first born would pass over any home marked with the blood of a lamb (Exodus 12:21-28). Later Jesus fits into this powerful symbolism as, "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

Being the most valuable and available animals to sacrifice, sheep were sometimes sacrificed in great numbers. First Kings 8:63 states that 120,000 sheep were sacrificed at the time of the dedication of the Temple.

Besides being a major food supply the milk of sheep could be used for drinking, cheese, and butter. Wool was the major material for clothing. Wool was the major tent making material. Rams' skins dyed red were used as the covering for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:5).

Perhaps the most cherished passage of scripture in the whole Bible, Psalm 23, is a reminder of how the personal care of sheep was a part of everyday life. That passage and the Parable of the Sheep, as told by Jesus in John 10, remind us of the wonderful relation God wants with all humanity. He gives us individual attention; he calls us by name; when needed he will carry us in his arms; and he is willing to give his life for the sheep. Instead of driving the sheep, the shepherd would lead them, and they would follow. For the night a place of protection is found and if needed the shepherd himself served as a gate or door, lying down at the opening where they entered, so they would not stray and no enemy could enter in to destroy them.

Sheep are known to be animals that can easily stray and get lost. Grazing with heads down, they may stray away from the herd. In this way also they are typical of humanity. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way ..." (Isaiah 53:6 NRSV). Other passages talk about the shepherd going in search of the one lost sheep.

Lessons From The Sheep
Follow the leader. The Good Shepherd goes before us. He calls us by name. We need to be able to say, "Where he leads me I will follow." The path is not always easy, but even in the valley of the shadow of death, he is with us!

Be as a shepherd for others. The verse from Ezekiel at the beginning of this meditation speaks of God as a shepherd caring for all needs. We need to join our Lord in helping, healing, and seeking the lost.

Prayer
Dear Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd. You lead us in the paths of righteousness, you deliver us from evil, and you search for us when we go astray. Continue to be our Good Shepherd we pray. When those around us are living and acting like lost sheep, give us the strength and courage to find you as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Help us to guide them to you.

Forgive us for those times when we have gone astray. Thank you for being willing to welcome us back into the fold of your love and care. We pray in the name of the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins and the sins of the whole world. Amen.

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