Sheep are really rather silly! They jump over imaginary obstacles, panic easily, and mindlessly follow the first sheep that makes a break for it.
They really are followers.
A tame hand-reared (poddy) lamb or sheep can be used to lead the rest of the flock to the sheep dip or the shearing shed. Just call the poddy to yourself and the rest of the sheep come along too. More commonly, a good sheep dog or two can round up the flock and move them to where they need to go.
There are all sorts of sheep breeds: Suffolk (lovely black faces and legs, snow white wool); Corriedale (the sofa-beds of the sheep world. They don’t have the best meat or wool, but provide both. They are also make excellent mothers); and Merinos (extremely fine wool and prized leather).
Merinos can also be highly neglectful mothers. In Autumn, the ewes wander off in the afternoon sunshine, grazing. They forget the lambs who had lain down by their sides and fallen asleep in the warm sun. Frequently, the lambs wake but cannot find their mothers before night falls. Unlike most other sheep breeds, the ewes do not bother to return to their lambs until the morning. Meanwhile, the lambs freeze to death overnight because their mothers don’t find them in time. It is a sorry sight to see a little lamb bleating desperately for its mother and getting no reply. It is heartbreaking to find a snap-frozen white lamb lying folded in the green grass, or yet, lying cold and still against a motorbike engine as if huddled against a foster mother.
I would always choose to farm Corriedales, rather than Merinos.
During tenancy on a rural property, I rescued many Merino lambs. The owner farmer was sanguine about any losses. His family had raised the occasional poddy, and they figured that the strong ones would live and the weak ones would die. For them, this was actually quite a sound breeding selection process.
However, I found out something important quite by accident. I had already been used to keeping lambs overnight in the laundry-bathroom with an oil column heater. Each lamb would have its bottle (a special lamb teat attached to a glass bottle filled with lamb formula milk). I always put down newspaper – there aren’t any such things as lamb nappies! The next morning I would take any surviving lamb out into the sunshine to be reunited with its mother. Those that didn’t survive I would advise the farmer about.
One night, having numerous lambs to look after, I put down towels for the lambs to cozy up to. The very weakest ones I spoke to softly and gave a lengthy cuddle, as they were unlikely to survive the night. The next morning, I went early and somewhat heavy-hearted to the laundry. There were only two losses – the biggest and strongest lambs.
The dead lambs were the ones whom I had not cuddled in case their mothers smelled me on them and rejected them.
From that time forward, I always spoke lovingly to each and every lamb. I never lost another one again. One extremely weakened lamb, whom the farmer assured me could not possibly live, I wrapped in multiple towels and lay down next to me overnight. Yes, the lamb did survive. And no, I didn’t tell the farmer that I had taken a lamb to bed with me! Perhaps I should have.
It’s a cliché, but love really can be the vital difference between life and death. How can we “mother” our own “lambs” lovingly? What if our own families were more “Merino” than “Corriedale” in their parenting?
Jesus is the ultimate shepherd. He doesn’t just provide us with the bare necessities of life so that only the strong survive. As He said,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
John 10:11; NIV [emphasis mine]
Not only is He an example, but He actively cares for and tends us, those that have young. He doesn’t harry us and nip at us. He’s not interested in driving us along at great pace until we are exhausted.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young.”
Isaiah 40:11; New International version [emphasis mine]
And how does He lead us that have young?–by training us to hear His voice.
God’s Word is Christ-centred throughout. Nevertheless, it is illuminating to read Jesus’ direct words, particularly about Himself. “Red letter” bibles showing Jesus’ words make them easier to study. They make it easier to learn how to get where we need to go without taking detours around imaginary problems, without panicking, and without blindly following others. We know we can be confident that we are following Jesus, because we have become accustomed to His Word.
When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. John 10:4; NIV [emphasis mine]
And when we are cold, or hungry, or in danger, our Shepherd will gather us and care for us, much more than any earthly farmer ever would or could!
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