What do you picture when I say, “sheep”? Do you picture Shrek, the sheep who escaped
shearing for seven years, while lost in the remote outlands of New Zealand? Do you picture a
small white, four-legged woolly animal with a black face? Or do you picture a Bighorn sheep
with his majestic horns curving back over his ears in a defiant display of power? Sheep are a
humble and interesting creature.
In middle school I raised sheep as a 4-H project. My herd had eleven sheep. I would call them
and they would come running to me. The dominant ewe was Felicia. Wherever Felicia went,
the others were sure to follow. She was strong-willed and smart—a natural leader. My ram
was Rambo, of course. We are talking about the ‘80s here. During that time, I learned so much
from my sheep. I learned how to trim their feet because the ground in NW Georgia isn’t rocky
enough to keep their hooves from turning under and covering their little pads. I learned about
wool and lanolin. I learned how to tube feed an undernourished lamb whose mother wasn’t
taking good care of her.
Routinely I sat up all night nursing lambs back to health or making the trek down to the barn to
make sure they were okay in the frigid cold. I also learned the hard reality of animal husbandry,
on our farm, when I would take my lambs to the sale after bottle feeding them to strong
healthy adolescence. These were vital lessons I still use today on our cattle ranch and the
lessons my kidlets are learning too.
As an adult thinking back on those fond memories, I have often wondered how sheep ever
survived without humans. My sheep were as helpless as, well, lambs. They depended on me
for everything. They watched for me to come to the barn. They would literally eat out of my
hands. Just how would an animal so dependent ever survive in the wild?
There are wild sheep. How did they make the leap from climbing mountain ranges to this little
animal that can’t live without having its wool sheared, its feet clipped, and regular worming? I
have read several articles on this. They all point to evolution. They talk about how the over
10,000 breeds of sheep all came from a wild sheep about 8,000-10,000 years ago from Europe
or Asia. But my Bible says, “’Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:
livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’
And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to
their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God
saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:24-25). Our fluffy, docile sheep friends were made according
to human need by God’s design. They have been changed through selective breeding, but
sheep as we know them came on the scene the same day wild sheep did—the sixth day. God
made them with you and me in mind.
Our beloved Ovis Aries have provided a great service to humans. Their wool has been used
since 3500 BC. Their milk and meat have sustained people groups in harsh conditions since,
well the first time humans wandered off to harsh conditions! Sheep can live on little forage and
less water. They are easily adapted to cooler, more mountainous places making them very
versatile. Sheep can produce from one to three lambs in a season making them able to grow
herd numbers easily. By contrast cows typically have one calf per season.
I can’t think of another created thing that paints a better picture of the character of God than
the humble sheep. In fact, a quick Google search will reveal that sheep are mentioned over 500
times in the Bible. The raising of sheep was the job of choice in much of the Bible-- prophets, a
king, and the first folks to receive Jesus’ baby announcement. God chose the Jewish nation to
reveal Himself to the world, and what better profession to couple with the Arc of the Covenant
than herding sheep? The Psalmist says, “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will
praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (Psalm 79:13).
Sheep are dependent creatures completely vulnerable and helpless without a good shepherd.
They require a lot of work from their shepherds. There are times the sheep wander off or get
themselves in a tough spot or hurt. The shepherds have to be constantly aware of their flock.
Sheep have incredible memories and can memorize the faces and voices of their shepherds.
They do not trust someone whose voice or face they do not recognize. Jesus even says, “The
watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by
name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them,
and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in
fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (John 10:3-
When you picture a sheep, consider drawing to mind the little ones in your own flock—your
lambs (children), or even the face in your mirror. Sheep not only have physically sustained
humanity throughout the millennia, but they serve, perhaps a greater purpose, as a reminder of
the type of relationship we are to have with our Good Shepherd. He’s the One who tends His
flock by giving us green pastures, helping us find our way back when we’ve wandered off,
mending us when we’re hurt, and protecting us from the enemy of our souls. Our job is to
know our Good Shepherd’s voice and follow where He leads trusting Him as we go.