SHEEP OF THE BIBLE
Perhaps the most striking characteristic of sheep is that which the Lord describes in John. Speaking of the shepherd, He says:
The sheep hear his voice, and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice; and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers. (John 10:3–5)
The Lord spoke of Himself and His Church, in language and imagery that were familiar to His disciples. The shepherds of the East give a name to each member of their flocks, which the sheep soon learn, and to which they instantly respond.
In the dry season many shepherds with their flocks meet at regular times around the wells. The flocks mingle at the troughs, drinking. But when all are satisfied, the shepherds move off in different directions, calling their sheep, which immediately follow, everyone its own shepherd, with scarcely the possibility of a mistake. In regard to their drinking, it is worthy of notice that sheep need very little water. When the herbage is juicy, and especially when the morning dew is abundant, sheep want no other water for weeks together. But when fed upon hay, or in the hot season in Eastern countries, when the herbage is dry, they need frequent watering.
It is not uncommon in our country for single lambs to receive names and be petted, when they become models of trustful obedience toward their master, but remain timid towards a stranger. Our sheep, however, rarely have a shepherd’s care, being confined by walls and fences. Instead of a shepherd, they attach themselves to one of their own number, who acts as their leader, and whom they follow as trustfully as they would their master. With neither shepherd nor leader, they are distracted, and scatter in every direction. It is a peculiarity of sheep that while they are so easily led by one whom they know, they are driven with difficulty. They huddle together as if frightened, and the more they are pressed, the more frightened they seem; but if the leaders start forward, the flock follows.
Another noteworthy trait is their memory of kindness. They never forget a little present of salt or grain, or a kind act of protection from danger; every benefit they repay with affection, confidently expecting renewals of it. Sheep are remarkable also for their mutual affection. They love to feed with their heads close together, two or three of them frequently keeping their heads so close as to seem like parts of one animal. The sudden start of a single member of a flock affects the whole, as if they were connected by nerves of mutual affection. When accidentally separated from its companions, the cries of a sheep or lamb, as it runs anxiously about, are piteous. Affection for their shepherd is stronger than their mutual love. Him they will follow away from their friends, and, I believe, even from their young. Their affection for their young, also, is stronger than their love for one another. The sounds of affection which a mother sheep makes over her little lamb are of the tenderest kind. A human mother can hardly express more tender feeling.
Another characteristic of sheep is patience. When a sheep is caught by the shearer, at first there is a short struggle, until she finds that she is firmly held and cannot get away. Then she gives up entirely. Even if she is hurt, she shows neither resentment nor resistance; she is, in the hands of the shearer, perfectly resigned and patient.
Upon the wool of sheep we depend for warm clothing more than upon all other materials together. Fine, soft, long, with a useful faculty for matting or felting into a compact texture, it grows thick and heavy, and is retained by the sheep until it is a great burden to herself, evidently for the use of man.
All that she is, the sheep gives in our service: her wool, her milk, her skin, her flesh, and even her bones and entrails; not a particle is useless. As is the case also with goats and cows, it is not what she does that we value, but what she is. And she is continually busy in making herself valuable, and multiplying herself or increasing her own growth for the benefit of others. Lambs have always been regarded as emblems of Innocence; and, indeed, their active, pretty sports and gambols are nothing but sports of innocence. But the innocence of which they are forms is not the dead harmlessness of a log, nor the slow helplessness of a snail; it is helpless and dependent indeed, but it has great need and strong desire for help; and its necessity and dependence are equaled by its trustful love for him who supplies its wants.
An innocence closely resembling that of lambs we find in little children. Active dependence and loving trust are as evident in them as in lambs. Even a lamb-like fright at the call of a stranger is conspicuous in children when they first learn to distinguish their parents from other persons; and also a helpless terror when driven by harsh parents or nurses. And, again, their resignation and patience in time of sickness, or in the care of parents who are firm as well as kind, are as marked as the same qualities in sheep and lambs. Among mature men and women in active life we do not see much of childlike innocence. But when, through misfortune, sickness, and the discouragement of the natural desires and efforts, they become sensible of their helplessness and dependence, if they are wise they turn from self to the Lord, and then receive a perception of His loving care which produces in them grateful content with trust in His Providence, and a willingness to be led wholly by Him.
These characteristics exist naturally and externally in children, but internally and spiritually in men who thus love the Lord. The Lord says that all must become like little children
before they can enter the kingdom of Heaven; and those who are preparing for Heaven He calls His sheep and His lambs. To them He is parents and shepherd. He is parents, because they who are in this state have laid aside in some degree their own life, and manifestly are living from a new life that He gives. He is shepherd, because they perceive His guidance in the walks of every day, and find, in following Him, wisdom and uses and delights which give satisfaction and expansion to their souls.
These affections love the Lord more than all things else; they leave all that belongs to them and seems pleasant to them, if they hear Him call; they trust in Him through every trial, content to feel His care protecting them, fearful only when He is absent; they are frankly innocent, because their whole heart is open to the Lord, and cannot help rejoicing in His Presence. They are not cumbered about much serving; for what need is there, when they see all wants supplied by the Lord? Their own love for Him, which is to them the highest good, they will increase and multiply and communicate to others in every way they can.
Love of every kind, from the delight there is in it, has a desire to multiply itself and a perception of the means of increase. It has also affection for cherishing the truth which it perceives, until it brings forth new states of love and delight, which it rejoices over and perfects with truth of its own life. These affections are male and female. The affection for multiplying the love, with perception of the truth by which it may be multiplied, is male; and the affection for cherishing this truth and the new delights which it produces, is female.1 In the Scriptures, where animals of various kinds are often mentioned, always with exact knowledge of their correspondence, these interior qualities are carefully distinguished: Lambs are always used as representatives of innocent delight in loving the Lord; Rams are mentioned as forms of perception of truth from love to the Lord, by which that love may be multiplied; and ewes as representatives of that gentlest mutual love by which the beginnings of love to the Lord are cherished and sustained.
The wool of sheep, which is the clothing in which we see them, is the outward expression of love to the Lord and mutual love, consisting of trustful and charitable thoughts, and of continuous, kindly reverent manners. In a cold, selfish atmosphere, if we think selfish things, or merely intellectual truth, the cold will penetrate, and discourage and dissipate neighborly affection; but if we persist in thinking, speaking, and acting in the forms of innocence and charity, our life, thus clothed and protected, may be preserved unharmed.
In the Jewish Church the burnt offerings and sacrifices were most frequently of lambs. There was no true knowledge of the Lord with them, and consequently no true worship of Him. But their offerings and sacrifices were representatives of true worship. They never felt the Lord’s Love, but the fire on their altar was a representative of it. They had no innocent delight in loving the Lord and receiving His Love; but they had lambs which represented this delight; and the offering of lambs upon the fire of the altar represented the union of the Lord’s Love with innocent love for Him, in man. (Lambs: celestial innocence. Sheep: mutual love. Rams, truth of celestial love. Arcana Coelestia #3994.)
It was this meaning, and this was all, that the Lord and the angels loved in the Jewish offerings. Because there was not in the world, at the close of the Jewish Church, any of the celestial love that is represented by lambs, lest all knowledge of the Divine Love should cease, and the possibility of heavenly life from it should perish forever, it was necessary for the Lord to form for Himself a Divine Humanity by which His Love should be received with perfect innocence, and manifested to men. The inmost principle of that Humanity was Divine Human Love for the Love of God; and when that Human Love prevailed through the whole of His Human nature, it was glorified by union with the Divine Love; and in Him the meaning of the burnt offering of a lamb upon the fire of the altar was perfectly fulfilled.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875