In a recent conversation I was reminded of a humorous news story that broke a year or so ago. In Turkey, some shepherds had taken a break to eat breakfast and had left their flock unattended, though they were not far away. One of the sheep ran and jumped off a nearby cliff to his death. Then another one followed . . . and another . . . and so on. The stunned Turkish shepherds watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the cliff in the same spot. In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a massive pile of white wool. The 1,000 plus sheep that jumped later were saved as the pile grew higher and the fall more cushioned.
The humor I found in this story turned to sadness as I thought of the effect that such a loss would have on this destitute community. These sheep were their livelihood. The economic impact of this tragedy for these families would be equivalent to the loss of a year’s wages in America.
The account in the gospels of the demoniac whose unclean spirits Jesus released into a large herd of pigs also came to mind. After the demons entered the swine, the herd rushed toward the sea, tumbled down a cliff, and drowned. About 2,000 pigs died that day. This was also a major economic catastrophe to that Gerasene community, as evidenced by their response to Jesus: “They began to implore Jesus to leave their region” (Mk. 5:17). But my thought was this: Pigs have to be possessed by demons to foolishly run off a cliff to their death; sheep just need to be left alone and they will meet the same fate. My conclusion: Sheep are dumber than swine.
And it is sheep that the Bible repeatedly compares God’s people to. Let that give you a “self-esteem” boost. Actually, God doesn’t compare us to sheep because of our low IQ’s as though humans were actually no smarter than pigs. We have been uniquely created in the image of God and are highly intelligent beings so far as creatures go. But God does use sheep as a metaphor for us because of the neediness sheep have for their shepherd. Left alone they are helpless and lost. Sheep need shepherds. They need protection from wolves. They need to be led to green pastures and fresh water. They need to be protected from sickness, parasites, and injuries. They are dependent creatures, completely in need of their shepherd’s guidance and care.
Who is our shepherd, but the Lord Himself (Ps. 23; John 10)? Being one of God’s sheep does not mean that we turn our brains off, “letting go and letting God.” No, as human “sheep” we must faithfully follow our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We must be quick to respond to the nudging of His rod and the guidance of His staff. We must drink from the deep springs of truth He leads us to which are in His Word. We must keep ourselves in the sphere of His protection—“Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). We must stay close to the flock, the church, and not wander away in selfish independence or curious investigation.
“We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3b). This special relationship we have with the Lord carries a great responsibility and a great promise. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). May each of us joyfully submit to the guidance of and find comfort in the care of our Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and of His under-shepherds in this local flock.