Sheep were a common animal in biblical times, as they still are today. They are defenceless and are normally pictured as placid, innocent creatures that are easily lead astray and without a shepherd, they are relatively helpless and vulnerable to attack (Isa 53:7). We are likened to sheep, because we have wandered from God’s pathway yet valuable and the cause of rejoicing when brought back into a place of security and protection (Isa 53:6; Mt 18:12-14; 1 Pet 2:25). We are also vulnerable to deception and easily attacked by unscrupulous false prophets (who are called wolves in sheep’s clothing), who do not have the sheep’s best interest at heart, instead take advantage of the sheep’s innocence (Mt 7:15, 9:36; 1 Pet 5:8). Hence the need to be in close relationship with Christ the good Shepherd besides ensuring all teaching and advice measures up with the Bible (Isa 40:11; Jn 10:11; Act 17:11).

Sheep were used in the first sacrifices offered to God (Gen 4:2-4). Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life for the ‘sheep’, which refers to us – lost humanity (Jn 1:29, 10:15). He called Himself the Good Shepherd for this reason David, in the best-loved Psalm, states “The Lord is my shepherd who takes care of all my needs” (Ps 23:1-6).

In Bible times there was greater relationship between the dependent animals and their caregiver who stayed close to them as there were no fences, only enclosures used at night to protect from wild predators. We, as His sheep, should clearly recognise His voice of guidance, correction and comfort, while following implies commitment and

Do I humbly listen for and obey                                              His voice?

obedience (Jn 10:3-5,14,27).  Do I know the Holy Spirit’s voice and follow Jesus closely?

The image of a sheep is also applied to human beings in other passages. Jesus instructed Peter to “feed my lambs…take care of my sheep” and also said He had “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” to rescue, referring to the non-Jewish Gentiles (Jn 10:16, 11:51,52, 21:15-17).  Christ sent out His followers as ‘sheep amongst wolves’ stating that persecution and hardship would come but He would always be with, and assist them, for He had already overcome the world (Mt 10:16-19, 28:19,20; Jn 16:33). Finally, at the end of this age, there will be a sorting of the sheep from the goats – the Christians destined to everlasting life, the unbelievers to everlasting punishment (Dan 12:2; Mt 25:31-34,41).

See also: follow/follower, hearing God's voice, lamb, protection, shepherd.

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