The case of a man who is fighting to keep his pet sheep, and is likely to go backrupt over it, in Greater Dandenong City Council, Melbourne, Australia raised a question: what is so special in the man-sheep relationship? Is it in fact deeper and stronger than the man -dog relationship? So what does the Bible say? It says a lot.
When all of the animals were created, they were brought to Adam for Adam to name. By doing this he could relate to them. Yet none, not even the dog, were a “help suitable” to him. Many of them could help him, but none had the ability to be part of him. They all came in pairs, yet Adam wasn't part of a pair. Eve was made to be Adam's help.
The whole incident shows that there would be a relationship between mankind and animals. There is nothing said about Adam naming the plants. They were brought forward for the purpose of seeking among them “help” for Adam.
What about the dog?
A little is said of the dog to set a context. Though it might be useful, it was not highly regarded by God.
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Deu 23:18)
The Philstine Goliath revealed a cultural undertsanding of the dog man relationship if his day,
And the Philistine said unto David, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?” (1Sa 17:43)
The wicked are said to go about a city and like dogs bark and howl in the evening (Psa 59). The dog is known if provoked to bite,
He that passes by, and meddles with strife belonging not to him, is like one that takes a dog by the ears. (Proverbs 26:17)
Whereas dogs were for eating the waste meat of dead unclean beasts (Exodus 22:31), the flesh of the wicked (2 kings 9:10) and the crumbs under the table (Mark 7:28), the sheep was a clean animal. The sheep is kosher.
The very first reference to any specific animal in the Bible (other than the serpent) – is to sheep. Abel, the righteous, was a keeper of sheep, a shepherd. He brought the firstborn of his flock, as the most precious thing given to him by God, to be given in obedient sacrifice to God.
Abraham's first posessession was sheep (Gen 12:16). Jacob served Laban 20 years as a shepherd. Jacob's defence shows the care for the sheep that this work required,
This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto you; I bare the loss of it; of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. (Gen 31:38-40)
Now the case in Dandenong, Australia is about whether a sheep may be a pet or not. The authorites allege that the sheep in question is 'livestock', and not a pet.
There is in the Bible, God's direct words via a prophet for a family's special relationship with a hand reared sheep.
And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him,
“There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.”
David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. (2Sam 12:1-6)
The rich man had “live stock” the poor man and his family had a “pet” who was one of the family. Note in God's parable how the sheep ate at the table with the children. By contrast, in Christ's parable, the dogs eat the crumbs left over under the table. The ewe lamb “grew up”, so it was no longer a 'lamb' but a sheep, and like a daughter. This is no less than the direct word of God,and it explains a very special relationship, unique to female hand-reared sheep.
David was himself a shepherd. Because he understood the relationship, and because he had taken on a bear and a lion to defend a lamb... he saw red! David had found the strength from a deep love to deliver a lamb and save it alive from lion, while being unarmed.
David said unto Saul, “Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. (1Sa 17:34-35)
He so understood this relationship, that he wrote in a national song for his people that they are all sheep!
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, (Psalm 95:7)
The characteristic of sheep is that they hear the shepherd's voice.
There is something very special in the relationship to the the hand reared pet sheep.
The pet sheep can be a help on the farm, leading the flock towards you when you need them, but they can be a hindrance too if you are trying to move the sheep away from you!
But the most powerful lesson we might learn from the Bible in this modern world where we might never actually touch a sheep, let alone know a shepherd or experience what it is to care for sheep, is what we can lern from Jesus (Y'shua)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. (John 10:1-5)
And the depth of it is rather amazing as the relationship between shepherd and the sheep is deep and strong.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling flees, because he is an hireling, and cares not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:11-17)
We know King David as a young shepherd so loved his sheep that without thinking of his life he took on a lion and a bear, and by so doing saved the life of the lambs! Jesus is his many times great grandson and it is no exaggeration, as the whole parable leans on the fact that everyone knew then that good shepherds, stay up late, get up early, watch at night and risk their lives for their sheep!
Paul calls Christ, “that great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb 13:20)
When Jesus was to leave the earth, he passed on a responsibility,
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)
Therefore Peter wrote,
For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (1Peter 2:25)
The kind of caring that the relationship brings out is rather special,
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. (Mat 18:11-13)
For more We like Sheep