Bleating of the Sheep

Bleating of the Sheep

By Pat Knight

Historically, God’s chosen people displayed a chronic disobedience pattern. Nearly as soon as God communicated a new decree, the Israelites either ignored or blatantly disobeyed His command. Few people took God seriously; fewer still took His laws seriously. The punishment for breaking God’s laws was particularly severe: disease, plagues, capture by enemy forces, and sometimes immediate death. Yet the grave consequences were not sufficient to motivate the Israelites to consistently obey their God.

The prophet, Samuel, relayed God’s instructions to King Saul: “‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’” (1 Samuel 15:3). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, named after Esau’s grandson, Amalek. The directions were simple in terms of clarity. King Saul understood explicitly.

God’s edict may seem excessively harsh punishment to us, but God and the Israelites knew the Amalekite people to be ruthless, merciless, and savage. They were predatory, attacking the Israelites during their wilderness walk. From the rear of the traveling camp, the Amalekites stalked and killed the weak and the elderly as they traveled from Egypt. Their treatment of Israel was spontaneous and vicious, causing Moses centuries earlier to prophesy:  “‘When you were weak and worn out, they {Amalekites} met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you a rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!’” (Deuteronomy 25: 18-19).

God had been generously patient with the Amalekites, giving them over five hundred years to change their barbaric ways. Our heavenly Father is the supreme judge, adjudicating wrong and evil. He does not forget!

With thousands of soldiers, King Saul staged an ambush for the Amalekites. Saul was given the opportunity to demonstrate his allegiance to the Lord by obeying the assigned task of eliminating the Amalekite tribe. Instead of wiping out all life, “Saul and the army spared Agag {the Amalekite king), and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good;. These they were unwilling to destroy completely but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:9).

God then spoke to the prophet, Samuel, expressing His sorrow that He had ever made Saul king of His people, for Saul refused to follow God’s instructions, relying on his own instincts and greed instead. When Samuel traveled to confront King Saul, he discovered the king had set up a monument in his own honor. From disobedience to false image worshipping, King Saul was puffed up with self-importance. Yet even before Samuel questioned him, Saul offered, “‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions’” (1 Samuel 15:13). Saul actually believed his actions were justified, but sinning against God is neither wise nor justified.

Samuel retorted, “What then is this bleating of the sheep I hear?
What is this lowing of the cattle I hear?”

1 Samuel 15:14

Saul shifted responsibility, blaming the soldiers for sparing the best animals to use as temple sacrifices for the Lord. Samuel then replied, “‘Enough!’

I can envision the prophet abruptly gesturing with his hand protesting Saul’s weak excuses. Samuel asked King Saul, “‘Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord? (vs. 19). Saul actually felt merit in completing his assigned military orders from God. It appears the details of God’s commands were irrelevant as long as Saul met his own selfish needs. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Our Lord values humility, repentance, and grief for sin. Saul’s heart was full of pride. Chief among the seven things God hates the most is pride, followed next in line by a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16-19). Saul had employed both of the shameful priorities, masterfully disguising his rebellion and disobedience. Samuel replied with this rebuttal to Saul’s actions: “‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’” (1 Samuel 15:22). God removed His Spirit from Saul, dethroned him as king of Israel, and anointed another king in his place.

Upon self-examination, do we discover ourselves to be as shrewd as Saul, crafting insidious excuses for disobeying God? What personal justification do we use when God confronts us with our sin? We have ready access to all of God’s commands in His Living Word, through which He speaks to us. God commands that we love Him and others more highly than ourselves, discouraging our selfish motives.

It is possible that fear of reprisal prevents us from sinning on a regular basis, but we occasionally fall into temptation that is hard to resist. That is when our obedient devotion and love of God is paramount to  empower us to follow His words and His will. He has shown you. O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is the most compelling principle of behavior, defining a right relationship of men with Almighty God.

Our Lord loves us beyond measure, demonstrated by the gift of His Son, who died to set us free, creating a sovereign relationship that bridges between finite man and the infinite God. With God’s overwhelming love and attention to every detail in our lives, why would we even consider disobeying Him with the intention of indulging in self-desires? Why do we settle for second best when God is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us?” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

We cannot come to God without faith in Him; faith leads to obedience. We want to please our Savior by serving Him. It grieves our Lord when we wander outside the boundaries He has established for us. “‘You are my friends if you do what I command. I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’” (John 15:14-15). It is astounding that human friendship with Almighty God is even possible, deeming it imperative that we not react to His gracious gift with apathy or scorn exhibited by disobedience.

Instead of reacting like King Saul, blaming others for rebellion against God’s commands, let us take personal responsibility for sin, redirecting our energy to serve our Savior as His friends and fellow workers, seeking to consistently pursue His righteousness and faithfulness.

Obedience to God is palpable evidence of our faith. God considers our personal submission to His will so expressive of our love for Him that He accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. What assurance!

Complimented By Sheep

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Complimented By Sheep

By Patricia Knight

In the ancient Near East, Israeli people were known as nomadic herdsmen; the barren plains were dotted with sheep. Israel was dependent upon sheep for its livelihood: wool for warm coats, leather for tents, their milk and meat for sustenance, and live animals for temple sacrifices and offerings. Both Jacob and Job were wealthy patriarchs, their prosperity determined by the size of their livestock herds.  Jacob was “exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks of sheep and goats” (Genesis 30:43). Job “owned seven thousand sheep” (Job 1:3).

Sheep are mentioned more frequently than any other animal in the Bible. It seems natural, then, that so many narratives and parables in God’s Word use illustrations of shepherds and sheep. Kings in Old Testament times were often referred to as shepherd-leaders of their people. Jesus is our Great Shepherd.‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep’” (John 10:14-15). How miraculous that Jesus describes our shepherd-sheep relationship in terms He shares with His heavenly Father!

Jesus’ role extends beyond that of our shepherd; He is also our Shepherd-King, our salvation, security, and strength. We recognize His voice and respond with obedience. “Know that the Lord is God. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

The shepherd invests his life in the care of his flock. Such timid, docile animals are content to remain in the presence of their shepherd, as Christians thrive in the nearness of their Lord. The New Testament church was compared to a sheepfold and Jesus to the shepherd who protected the gate of the fold. The sheepfold is an enclosure where sheep gather in a flock at night. The shepherd sleeps at the entrance, the door or the gate of the fold, positioning his body between the defenseless sheep and nocturnal predators, scavengers, or thieves

Jesus is our door; nothing threatens us without it first alerting Him to danger. He is a living gate of the sheepfold, protecting us, His sheep. Jesus said, “‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture’” (John 10:9). In Jesus there is safety. We have the freedom to rest and have all of our needs supplied by the Great Shepherd, our Lord and Savior.

Israeli shepherds led their sheep rather than driving them. Their sheep responded to their own shepherd’s voice, and the shepherd knew each animal in his flock. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 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 10:3b; 4b-5).

Sheep are dumb, but curious animals. If a sheep wanders from his sheepfold, it is unable to find its way back. The shepherd must keep a keen eye on each member of the flock. Frequently an animal that roams gets entangled in briers, helpless to move; it may get mired in a water hole, or it may stumble over a cliff, lying injured below. The shepherd leaves the flock to search for one lost lamb. When he locates it, he tenderly wraps the frightened lamb in his coat and carries it to safety on his shoulders. Our Shepherd rescues us in a similar manner. “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12), the place of safety.

Sheep don’t seek isolation, but are social animals and prefer to live in a flock for safety and warmth. If one animal meanders from the fold, without his shepherd to follow, the lamb’s sense of direction is confused and it is quickly lost. As long as the shepherd is within hearing distance, sheep will bed down, comfortable and protected. Our Great Shepherd offers confidence, protection, and provision for us. “‘I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will build up the injured and strengthen the weak. I will shepherd the flock with justice’” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).

Sheep refuse to drink stagnant water, and are frightened by rushing or turbulent rivers, preferring to drink from tranquil streams. If there is no accessible water nearby, the shepherd patiently transports water in a pail to hydrate his flock.

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Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at the well about Living Water. “‘Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:14). Jesus gives spiritual life by means of Living Water, as from a fresh water spring or a mountain stream, bubbling purity that refreshes and revives. Jesus, our Living Water, provides eternal life, producing rest and refreshment along life’s journey, the only antidote for quenching spiritual thirst.

We are created with free wills, but we frequently neglect to use our intelligence wisely, making bad choices, creating consequences like a wandering, lost lamb. Jesus, our Shepherd-King, promises to lead, to strengthen, and to rescue us from danger. He gave His own life as a sacrifice to redeem the sins of the spiritually lost. Those who know Jesus respond to His voice and to His leadership. “‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one’” (John 10:27-30, NLT).

Sheep symbolize the relationship with their shepherd that the Great Shepherd desires with us. Sheep are ideal models of submission; followers, not leaders, obedient to one shepherd, reacting to his call, comfortable in his presence. They depend upon their shepherd for food, for protection, and for treating their injuries. Jesus admonishes us to follow Him with similar dependency and trust.

Being compared to sheep may offend human pride, but Jesus himself designed the appropriate analogy. Like lambs, do we follow our Great Shepherd as if our lives depend upon His leadership? Let us humbly recall the numerous occasions on which our Shepherd-Lord rescued us from prickly brier patches of temptation and thorny thickets of sin. “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd, the Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). Perhaps being compared to sheep is a spiritual compliment after all!