The Character of God as Agriculturalist Pt 2: Keeping the Sheep

The fact that we are described as sheep, the people of His pasture, and that Yeshua (Jesus) referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd reveals a wealth of information about His character that goes well beyond the obvious.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, Pruning the Branches, we need to step out of our citified point of view and into an agrarian mindset.  It isn’t enough to theorize about what it means to be a sheep or a shepherd, we have to know — because our King used that real world situation to describe Himself and by extension, us.

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I grew up around sheep, our property backed onto a farm so I grew up around sheep, goats, chickens, and lots and lots of apple trees from the time I was ten until I left for college.  Some of the fondest memories of my life were those spent being out in the fields with the sheep.  I love the way they smell, the way they sound, I love mimicking their bleats, I love the smell of alfalfa and hay.  I laugh when they all face the same direction because a storm is coming, and I greatly miss the time I spent pretending like I was a farm girl instead of just a neighbor girl.  But I don’t miss Baby Boy, the ram, he was nasty and hard-headed, literally.

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Like my viticulture class in college, being around those sheep trained me to understand some things about Messiah’s parables, as well as many of the words of the prophets.  And so sometimes, speaking about the Bible with people who don’t understand sheep can be frustrating, and even ridiculous at times.

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I have been told by Pastors that sheep belong in barns (as a euphemism for churches), but sheep aren’t barn animals — they are grazing animals who spend all year outside.  They have super thick, watertight wool coats that were designed to protect them from the elements. Chickens need shelter from the elements, but not sheep.  Sheep weren’t designed to be confined to a building, but to live out in the world under the protection of the shepherd.  As long as the sheep are where the shepherd wants them to be, they are safe.

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I have been told that sheep need to be fed hay and alfalfa, provided by the shepherd — but sheep were designed to eat living food and drink living (running) water.  They can eat hay and alfalfa, and they can drink from a trough, but it isn’t optimal.  It is the shepherd’s job to pay attention to the conditions of the land and guide his flock to new pastures when the old has been depleted.  But no shepherd would feed his flock dead food all year, and on top of that, when the shepherd leads his flock to a field they have their choice of what to eat.  The shepherd does not tell the sheep which blades of grass to eat, but simply leads them to a place where they can eat what they need, keep moving, grow to maturity and be satisfied.

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Shepherds, true shepherds, are mindful of their flock, they serve their flock, they put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of the flock.  They fight off wolves, and lions, and thieves — never would a shepherd send out one of the sheep against such a beast.  Shepherds endure cold and heat for the sake of the flock.  They focus on whether the sheep have enough to eat, rather than on their own comforts. It is the shepherd’s job to promote peace within the flock, and that is done with a steady hand and a calm voice unless the situation is dire. A shepherd does not spend his time in silence, but reassuring the sheep with the sound of his voice, be it singing or speaking.  The sheep know the sound of his voice and will not listen to anyone else.  The sheep in modern days can even discern the sound of his individual truck!  It’s true!

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There is so much more I could say about sheep and the shepherd, but I want to focus on what I have shared already.

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You can discern a lot about ministers by how well they represent, or misrepresent, the character of the Good Shepherd.  Are they spending their time looking for good pasture where Yeshua’s flock can feed at their own pace?  Or are they focusing on their own needs?  Or are they trying to control the eating habits of Yeshua’s flock down to individual blades of grass, having to approve of each one personally?  Is the shepherd serving the flock or is the flock serving the shepherd?  Are they protecting the sheep from actual wolves or preemptively going after the sheep who are being a bit more troublesome and labeling them as wolves?  Do they see the flock as Yeshua’s or their own?  When blood is spilled, does it belong to the shepherd or to the flock?

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Are they allowing the sheep to dine on living food and living water, or are they dishing out dead, pre-approved portions?  Are they confining the sheep to a barn, and refusing to let them outside?  Do they even acknowledge the sheep in other fields as sheep?

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Yeshua told the story about the shepherd who left the 99 to go after the one lost lamb.  I look at that and see that the Good Shepherd knows how to trust the 99 to the Father, and doesn’t have to micro-manage their spiritual lives.  Good shepherds can spot the one in danger and go after them to bring them into the fold, because that lost lamb is safe with the other sheep.    Good shepherds aren’t worried that the 99 will bolt while they are gone because their focus is on the lost.  It is enough for a good shepherd to guide the way and allow the sheep to follow, He knows that if they are following, that it is okay if they don’t make a straight line there, as long as they end up in the right place.

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So much of shepherding is simply about leaving the sheep alone if they are where they are supposed to be.  It is the job of the shepherd to be on guard, to be vigilant, so that the sheep can grow and thrive, and yet calm, so they can rest.  To be a shepherd is to be all about the sheep, and yet to also leave them alone, all the while watching over them. It is to know the difference between normal bleating, and fearful bleating, and pained bleating.  It is about knowing the times and the seasons, and guiding the flock accordingly.  It isn’t always so serious, and yet it is deadly serious.

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Hired men look at the sheep and see wages — they also see dinner.  A hired man is thinking about whether he could get away with picking off one of the noisier sheep and blaming it on a wolf.  A hired man has his eyes on doing as little as he can, while getting paid as much as he can. A hired man isn’t going to care nearly as much if the sheep have over-eaten a field if he’s comfortable there.  A hired man won’t listen with the same ear and won’t talk in the same tone — because the sheep aren’t his and don’t even belong to his master, just to his employer.  And in the cold he’d be a whole lot happier keeping them in a barn eating dead food, than guiding them somewhere where they could get what they need.

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Shepherding is about the sheep.  And in the Kingdom, we have hired men who see God as their employer and God’s sheep as a means to an end, as well as under-shepherds who see God as their Master and who haven’t lost sight of the fact that they are still nothing but sheep themselves.

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And we dare never forget that we are simply sheep.

 

 

 

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