Spotted baby

Holding a lamb

Purebred and crossbred
Spring lambs

Bedouin shepherds
Bedouin shepherds

Green, green grass
Green pastures

Young boy
Young boy with sheep

 Kazakh shepherds
Kazakh shepherds

 Lamb and goat
Lamb and goat

 


    The Lord is my Shepherd

    Sheep are mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times, more than any other animal. The prominence of sheep in the Bible grows out of two realities. Sheep were important to the nomads and agricultural life of the Hebrews and similiar peoples. Secondly, sheep are used throughout the Bible to symbolically refer to God's people.


    Biblical shepherds

    Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel also brought an offering -- fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. (Genesis 4:3-4)

    The very first shepherd was Abel. He was also humanity's first murder victim, slain by his brother Cain. Abraham and Moses were shepherds. King David was the best known shepherd of Bible history. He wrote the beloved Psalm 23. Shepherds were the first people to see the newborn Jesus Christ. The Prophet Mohammed worked as a shepherd when he was 8 years old.


    A close relationship


    My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

    The Bible describes close relationships between shepherds and their flocks. The sheep recognize the voice of the shepherd. They follow him (or her). The shepherd protects his flock and would give his life for them.

    It is known that animals can instantly recognize the voice of a familiar trusted person. Sheep have excellent memories for faces. They remember their handler. They also remember people who inflict abuse upon them.


    Break a leg?
    There is a commonly-held belief that shepherds in Biblical times would break the legs of lambs that constantly wandered away. According to the "story," the shepherd would then set the broken leg and carry the lamb on his shoulders until the leg healed, after which time the lamb would remain by the shepherd's side for the rest of its life. While there is no way to know for certain what Biblical shepherds did, there is no such story in the Bible, and to do so would be cruel and impractical.


    The Lamb of God
    Christians traditionally refer to Jesus as the "Lamb of God." Many Christians serve lamb as part of their Easter dinner. In many homes, a lamb-shaped cake decorates the table. Many Eastern Orthdox Christians hang pictures of the Easter lamb in their homes.


    Sacrificial lamb

    Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:1-18)

    Abraham's sacrifice
    It is well-known to Muslims, Jews, and Christians that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. He was willing to do so, but God gave him a sheep (ram) to sacrifice instead of his son Christians and Jews believe that the life of Isaac was saved, while Muslims believe that it was Ismael that was nearly sacrificed on the alter. Jews and Arabs trace their heritage to Isaac and Ismael, respectively.

    Festival of Sacrifice
    In commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God, a religious festival is celebrated by Muslims worldwide. The festival is called Eid al-Adha. Its English translation is "Festival of Sacrifice." Eid is the arabic word for Festival. As a symbol of Abraham's sacrifice, Muslims (who are able) sacrifice a sheep (or other domestic animal). The sheep have to meet certain age requirements (at least one year of age) and quality standards (unblemished). The meat is shared with family and friends and distributed to the poor.

    Aqeeqah (aqiqah)
    The Muslim "equivalent" to Christian Baptism is aqeeqah, which occurs 7 days after the birth of a child. Aqeeqah includes shaving the baby's head and naming the baby. As a symbol of thanksgiving for the gift of a child from God, a sacrifice is performed. Two sheep which resemble each other, are to be sacrificed for a boy and one for a girl. The meat is shared with family, friends, and the poor.


    Spotted sheep

    So that very day, Laban went out and formed a flock for Jacob. He took from his herds all the male goats that were ringed and spotted. He also included the females that were speckled and spotted with any white patches, and all of the black sheep.
    (Genesis 30:35)

    Jacob sheep were named for the Biblical story of Jacob who selected spotted sheep for his flock. It tells how Jacob took every speckled and spotted sheep as his own from Laban's flock. Some claim that Jacobs of today descend directly from the sheep raised by Jacob, that traveled from Palestine to Egypt and to Spain via the coast of North Africa and Morocco.


    Separating the sheep from the goats

    He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:33)

    With regards to "judgement day," sheep and goats are used as metaphors in the Bible. Sheep are the followers of Christ, while goats chose not to follow Christ. The parable is based on the differences in behavior between sheep and goats. Sheep are gentle, quiet, innocent animals. They do not give their shepherds a lot of problems. They are easily led. Sheep are grazers, unlike the goat, which likes to browse. Goats are rebellious. In the Bible, goats are sometimes used to symbolize evil.


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Last updated 18-Apr-2013
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