The first sacrifice to God in the Bible was the firstling of Abel’s flock of sheep. The firstling of a sheep was holy unto the Lord and not even to be sheared. In Old Testament times, if a sheep were stolen and killed, the owner was to be reimbursed four sheep; if the stolen sheep was found alive, the owner was to be reimbursed double.
David was a shepherd to the sheep of his father’s field. He never left them alone— always calling in a replacement if he had to leave. Later, when he became a shepherd to the people, he considered them as he had his father’s sheep; caring for them, loving them, and protecting them. Against the Lord’s will, he sinned by numbering the people and he Lord sent an angel to destroy the people.
“And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem.” (I Chr 21:16, KJV).
As a true pastor of the flock in his care, “David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? Even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, O Lord my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.” (I Chr 21:17).
David quickly confessed his sin and prayed for God not to let the sheep in his care suffer for his own sin.
Psalms is full of symbolic usage of the sheep as God’s people: given like sheep appointed for meat (Psa 44:11); counted as sheep for the slaughter (Psa 44:22); like sheep they are laid in the grave (Psa 49:14); sheep of the pasture (Psa 74:1); people going forth like sheep being led in the wilderness (Psa 78:52); people and sheep giving thanks forever (Psa 79:13); people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psa 95:7); and feeling like a lost sheep gone astray asking God to come find him. (119:176).
Although hollow-horned like the goat, the hearts of Christians use that space for Christ. Just as God sees the goats’ emptiness; He also looks at His sheep and sees His Son’s presence. The sheep is the emblem of the Christian. In Old Testament times, sheep were clean and edible because they chewed the cud and had cloven hooves. So too are we sheep in Christ’s sheepfold as we “chew the cud” and meditate on His Word. We also are “cloven-footed” as we live in this world, but our hearts long for Heaven. We too are divided as we go through this life. While we love and are loved in this world, we are always aware that our life is but a moment—everlasting joy, peace, and love waits.
Wolves may surround us, threaten us, and even devour these earthly bodies; but Christ will be waiting — arms open wide. Christ spoke of giving Peter the key to Heaven. When we give someone a copy of God’s Holy Word or tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ (our Precious Lord and Savior), we are giving them their own key to Heaven. They must then make the choice to use the key to open their own heart to Christ — who is knocking, calling to them. The door is open while here on earth. When we get to Heaven, we will not have to stand in line, wait, or knock at the door; Jesus will be waiting — rejoicing to welcome us Home. He will lead us around by the hand as we meet all of the folk we have read about in the Scriptures--our fellow sheep.
Sheep came in different colors in the Old Testament, just as they do today. I am a speckled or freckled sheep now, blotted with my daily sins; but when I go to my Lord in prayer and repentance, I am washed clean (white as snow) in the blood of Christ.
Numerous warnings are present in the Bible to pastors who lead the flock astray or allow them to be scattered.
“Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord.” (Jer 23:1)
When we the sheep are confused about earthly shepherds, we must turn to our heavenly Shepherd for guidance and protection. He promised, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” (John 10:14).
We are the Lord’s sheep, “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today if ye will hear his voice.” (Psa 95:7).