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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Twenty-Seventh (Sheep and Goats)

I overheard someone talking about goats the other day and it got me thinking. As you read through scripture, you'll find over 100 verses in the NKJV that reference goats. Many of them are in reference to them being used as an offering. There are almost 200 references to sheep in the NKJV. These were animals common back then, and as a result many people likely knew a lot more about them than most people do today.

If you've heard many sermons, you've probably become most familiar with the sheep. With the Lord as our shepherd (Psalm 23), we like to focus on the animal that is used to represent us. It is equally necessary to understand the goats, and we'll see why.

First, you may recognize that in today's vernacular the use of the term "sheep" is generally used in a derogatory manner. It's used to describe people that are fooled into believing whatever a person, group of people, or institution says. They go along with propaganda, and may even blindly push that propaganda on anyone that disagrees with it.

As soon as you start talking about scripture, the term "sheep" is used in a positive light. This comes from the many references to Yeshua being a shepherd and His people being His sheep. He looked with compassion on the people He taught and preached to because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). This was prophesied long before Yeshua arrived (Zechariah 10:2), and this prophecy is one of the many that pointed to Yeshua as the Messiah (Zechariah 10:3).

This was a common metaphor used for Israel (Numbers 27:15-17), and Yeshua referenced one of the instances right before His death (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27, Zechariah 13:7). We know the term is used in a negative way now, but what are the actual characteristics of sheep and why would they be used to reference YHWH's people? On the positive side, they're very social and bond closely to each other. Their flock movements help to protect individual sheep from predators.

Sheep are also smart, despite how they are portrayed today. They recognize food calls, can problem solve, learn their names, and even be trained similar to a dog. The most interesting thing to me is they even have the ability to recognize other sheep faces and people's faces for up to two years. So it seems sheep don't deserve the bad rap they're getting these days!

They do have some negative traits, like easily getting stressed and panicked when separated from the flock. However, this flaw is actually a natural way to keep sheep together for their own protection. Ewes, or female sheep, also have been known to steal lambs and even reject their own lambs. Interestingly, much of this behavior is associated with the shape and coloration of the lamb's head. They've done experiments with changing the coloration of other body parts like the tail and it does not have the same effect.

How about goats, though? They have to be way different for them to represent two different types of people, right? Well, let's first look at their behavior and then we'll see how different they really are when used metaphorically.

You may be surprised to know that goats have more in common with sheep behavior-wise than not. They also are very social animals and should not be kept in isolation for any length of time. This isolation causes stress in goats the same way it causes stress in sheep. Sheep and goats also have similar intelligence levels, so one is not necessarily smarter than the other.

Goats are more aggressive and inquisitive than sheep, however. They like to explore and interact with their environment, and they also have a tendency to be stubborn. I guess there's a saying that a shepherd protects sheep from their surroundings while a goatherd protects the surroundings from the goats. I hadn't heard this saying before, but it makes sense given each of these animals' personalities.

So, to study the metaphorical application of these animals we're going to look in Matthew, the only gospel that records this particular parable (Matthew 25:31-46). As always, you must take everything in context, so what is the context of this parable? You may recognize this chapter as being the follow on to Yeshua prophesying the end to His disciples (Matthew 24).

He closes with a warning to be ready at any time for His return and then rolls right into a series of parables. The first of these is the ten virgins, and to put it as plainly as possible He starts out by saying "at that time..." So, it is clear that over these parables Yeshua presents a set of lessons that chronologically align with the prophecy of the end that He just finished telling the disciples.

The virgins represent the waiting until His return (Matthew 25:1-13), the talents represent His rewarding upon His return (Matthew 25:14-30), and the sheep and goats represent His judgment upon His return (Matthew 25:31-46). Reading through the sheep and goats parable you may miss that Yeshua specifies these animals are in one herd: His. The shepherd is over both the sheep and the goats, meaning these are both followers of Him as opposed to the sheep being His followers and the goats being people of the world, for example.

So, as we can see in this case the sheep and goats have more in common than not, just like actual sheep and goats. The test for separating these two groups is pretty simple. One group, the sheep, took care of those in need, while the other group, the goats, did not. And what is the result of these actions?

For those that took care of the needy, they receive the gift of inheritance of the kingdom that was prepared for them. For those that did not take care of the needy there is a pretty sobering consequence. Keep in mind, these goats are those that claimed they were His and, based on their questioning, were surprised to find out they would not be given the same inheritance. Same as the sheep, they had no idea those needy that they neglected were representations of Yeshua, let alone that neglecting them would be counted against them.

Neither their surprise nor their belief in their salvation was sufficient to keep them from the judgment they ultimately received. Despite not knowing that they would be judged for not helping, and despite being confident that they would be given eternal life, their judgment was still fire. This is one of those parables that instills that fear of YHWH that's written of so many times in scripture.

Now, if you read the Greek version you'll see a description of an eternal fire, whereas if you read the Hebrew version it specifically states the fire of Gei-Hinnom, which is also referenced in Old Testament scripture. Both versions describe this as being prepared for Satan and his messengers. This is the place we've looked at before, which is also referenced in the Hebrew version of Revelation and is usually translated to Hades (Hell) in the Greek version.

Regardless of what it's called, this place is not a place you want to end up. It is the final separation from YHWH and is the end of whoever ends up there (people-wise. Angels seem to have everlasting torment there instead - Revelation 20:10). Don't think you can act your way into the kingdom, though. We know YHWH looks on the heart, not on how we seem from the outside (1 Samuel 16:7), so taking care of the needy needs to come from the inside. And the only way that happens is if we walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16) and give ourselves over to Yeshua living in us (Galatians 5:20).

Shabbat shalom and God bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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