Thursday, November 19, 2009

Among The Flock...

Margaret Feinberg is the author of Scouting The Divine: My Search For God In Wine, Wool & Wild Honey. I heard Margaret interviewed at the Catalyst Conference as she described her experiences alongside Lynne, a shepherdess, which she details in her book. I have since read Scouting The Divine and would highly recommend it to you. The following is a recent post by Margaret that I think you'll enjoy.

I honestly don’t know why sheep are the most common animal mentioned in Scripture, but I have a hunch that it’s no accident. Though sheep are not specifically mentioned in the account of Creation, God made these animals as a valuable source of food and clothing. Because of their usefulness, disagreements soon followed. From Abel to Abraham and Rachel to King David, we see many men and women caring for flocks. They are a normal part of life in the ancient agrarian society and often became crucial to a family’s—and even an entire village’s—survival.

Many of the prophets, including Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Nahum, and Zechariah use shepherd imagery. Even Amos, one of the most offbeat guys in the Bible, was a shepherd turned prophet. Waiting for the Messiah, the people eagerly anticipated the one who would “shepherd” Israel. This promised one was Jesus, the Son of God, the Good Shepherd.

With more than 600 references to sheep and shepherds and flocks throughout Scripture, it raises the question: Shouldn't we get to know more about these woolly creatures? The Scriptures are just so much more alive when you see these woolly creatures in their context.

Throughout my time with the shepherdess, Lynne, I was amazed by just how much sheep know their shepherd. The sheep responded to Lynne’s presence, her movements, her voice. Sheep are simply wired to know their shepherd.

Gary Burge, a Wheaton professor, tells one of the most remarkable stories that I've ever heard relating to this principle. He describes how Israeli soldiers visited a poor village outside of Bethlehem after a Palestinian uprising and demanded that the people pay the taxes they owed. They refused.

The officer in charge gathered up all the animals of the village—primarily sheep and goats—and placed them into a huge pen. A poor woman approached the officer in charge begging him to release her animals. Because the poor woman’s husband had been imprisoned, her sheep were all she had.

The officer laughed at her request. How could she possibly find her dozen sheep in a pen of more than one thousand animals?

The woman challenged the officer. If she could find her animals, could she keep them?

Intrigued, the soldier agreed.

The woman invited her ten-year-old son to stand before the pen. He pulled out a flute and began to play a simple tune. As he walked through the fenced in area, a dozen sheep gathered behind him following him all the way home.

The officer and soldiers were impressed. They broke into applause, shut the gate and then announced that no one else could use the trick to get their sheep back.

Why did the sheep follow the boy? Because they knew he was their shepherd. And they knew he was a good shepherd. The sheep were not only familiar with his voice, they knew the very tunes he played on his flute—songs he had played in the fields many times before.

That portrait of a sheep knowing its shepherd so well gives me hope that I, too, can know God intimately and live in response not only to God’s voice but the melodies He places on my heart.