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Sheep, Lamb, Goat


Sheep rearing had been a traditional occupation of people is clear from the story of Abel and Cain where Abel was a shepherd and Cain a farmer (Gen 4:3-4). Since Abel’s sacrifice of sheep was pleasing to God, people used to sacrifice sheep along with other animals to appease God (Ex 20:24; Lev 9:2-4; 12:6). Sheep rearing is for meat and wool.

The Bible speaks of sheep, lamb, ewe, ram, and goat. Though they are of the same animal family, they are different. The lamb is a young sheep less than one year of age. Ewe is an adult female sheep and ram is an adult male sheep. Goat is a different from sheep because of its variation in physical appearance and behavior.


The Bible compares the relationship between God and Israel as a shepherd and sheep. God cares Israel like a shepherd who owns, loves, and takes diligent care of his sheep. David sang, “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me” (Ps 23:1-4). The Lord led Israel “like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Ps 77:21). “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care” (Isa 40:11). The sheep is helpless without a shepherd because they need guidance to find pastor and protection from enemies.


Jeremiah presented Israel as a “lost sheep” misled by their shepherds (Jer 50:6). Ezekiel spoke of the selfish shepherds of Israel. Hence, God promised that He himself would rescue his sheep: “I will search for my sheep myself, and I will look after them” (Ezek 34:11). Jesus, the Son of God, came as a shepherd to his sheep, Israel (John 10:11-16).


Jesus compared himself and his followers as shepherd and sheep. He presented himself as a good shepherd who takes care of his sheep, risking his life (Jn 10:1-18). He is the gate for the sheep (Jn 10:7) that leads to their salvation (Jn 10:9). “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me” (Jn 10:14).

The “good,” here stands for the shepherd’s commitment for the sheep distinct from normal shepherds. Jesus exemplifies the goodness of a shepherd by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11, 15). A typical example is David. When King Saul asked David on his ability to attack the giant Goliath, he said: “Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would chase after it, attack it, and snatch the prey from its mouth. If it attacked me, I would seize it by the throat, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both a lion and a bear” (1 Sam 17:34-36).

Jesus proved his quality as a good shepherd by laying his life for us (1 Jn 3:16; Jn 15:13). Jesus said that the Son of man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Unlike an accidental death of a shepherd while fighting with the enemy of the sheep, Jesus came to rescue us with his death. It was a willful and voluntary decision of Jesus and his Father for the sake of God’s sheep. His death was the substitute sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and a replacement of the imperfect animal sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem.


Sheep may wander away from the flock. Jesus came is search of the lost sheep (Mt 18:12-14). He voluntarily sacrificed his life for the salvation of humanity. “We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth” (Isa 53:6-7).

Jesus used the term sheep for his disciples and wolf for the persecutors of the church. When Jesus commissioned the twelve, he said: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16; Lk 10:3).


On the judgement day, the Son of Man all assemble all the nations before him. “And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Mt 25:32-33). The parable is based on the difference in nature of the sheep and goat. The sheep symbolize the obedient followers of Jesus. They are by nature gentle, loving, and obedient animals that respect the guidance of the shepherd. The goats are independent and aggressive. They stand for the disobedient people.


Let us remind ourselves that we are the sheep Jesus rescued from the snares of Satan. Like a sheep we have to remain with the shepherd and the flock. If we go astray from the church, independent like the goats, we might fall again. Our goal in life must be to lead a life according to Jesus’ teaching and be at his right hand on the last day of judgement.


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