When you drive through the Napa Valley, there is almost always a winery in sight. Definitely vineyards! And when you drive the New Zealand countryside, the same can be said about sheep. Years ago, I went on a trip Down Under. I had the unique experience of spending a night and day at a farm-stay (real, working sheep ranch B&B). It was “heaps” of fun, to borrow a Kiwi word, and very interesting.
Throughout the Bible, Jesus is referred to as the Good Shepherd and his people are the flock. From Genesis 48:15 to Revelation 7:17, this comparison is made. So naturally it was quite interesting to be on a sheep ranch and learn firsthand about shepherds and their sheep.
After a good night’s sleep, I set out with Murray, the sheep farmer, and his dog, Jazz. It was fascinating to see Jazz do his job. He moved around so quickly, keeping the sheep headed in the right direction. I learned that sheep are very, very fast. No person could hope to catch one in an open field. That’s where Jazz comes in. Sheep dogs are faster! Some dogs will even run across the sheep’s backs to get to the other side of the flock quicker.
I helped Murray and Jazz split a flock of sheep apart based on their age – old and young. The sheep were corralled and pushed down a single-file shoot. Murray worked a gate back and forth at the end of the shoot, separating them. He farms sheep for both wool and meat. Murray was selling the older sheep. So before that took place they needed to be sheared.
Shearing sheep has been described as one of the most physically demanding jobs known to man. This is when I learned firsthand that sheep are incredibly strong. The only real way to control them is to get them over on their backs. You use your legs to help hold them. Fortunately, Murray did most of the shearing. I sheared a couple of sheep with his help. The record for a person shearing sheep is 600 in one day!
I learned some things about sheep … They’re not the brightest of animals. They seem to just follow the crowd. Sound familiar? Sheep also have a tendency to get lost. Sometimes they go right through or over the fence, then don’t know how to get back inside. Sheep scare really easily. Simply walking past them can cause an all-out sprint to the other side of the “paddock” (Kiwi pasture).
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My first experience with a real-life shepherd was a great and interesting one. I learned plenty! The role of the shepherd is crucial to the well being of the flock. Sheep need a shepherd to look after them.
In Biblical times, there were no sheep dogs. No easy sheep herding with the benefit of Jazz. Shepherds walked ahead, calling the sheep to follow. The only thing that would make them come was a familiar voice.
God is speaking to us in a world spinning out of control. In John 10:11-12, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.”
Jesus cares about us so much! He is there to help and protect us when the devil attacks. He is our owner because he created us. Yet he gives us freedom of choice. Everyone chooses whether to love him or not.
I’m so glad for the wonderful 23rd Psalm which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd … ”