About Sheep and Goats: Lessons from the Farm
Becoming a goat farmer
In 1972, I had the privilege and the blessing of living on my brother´s goat farm for 3 years. Being born and raised and having lived all of my life in cities, I hardly could tell the difference between a carrot top and a potato leaf.
The Lord had his reasons to let me take a detour at that point in my life which I was to understand years later. I had strayed away from the Lord, the Bible and the church after graduating from college in the US and was about to experience the unpleasant and painful discipline of my loving Heavenly Father which, as all of us former backsliders know, is for our own good and in the end brings a harvest of righteousness.
Looking back at the hardships, it feels a little bit like the episode of Jacob working for his uncle Laban. The rewards were not material but the lessons learned, the perspectives and insights gained from the simple life of a shepherd, animal husband, gardener, cheese maker, and all the farm functions and activities taking place around the seasons proved to be an invaluable help in my own and others’ spiritual growth.
Having a melancholy nature prone to enjoying solitude and meditating, observing nature, animals and people have always been one of my favorite pastimes.
So the farm environment was ideal and conducive to my perpetuating the family tradition of farming and raising animals, since my French ancestors on my father´s side were farmers in Southern France until they immigrated to Algeria.
When I came to the farm, we had a small herd of goats which grew to a good size of 40 after 2 years of selecting the best milk producers from the kids born on the farm. My brother and I did everything manually, from milking 20 goats each, morning and evening, to making the cheeses in the special air humidity and temperature-controlled room whose environment requirements left very little tolerance for errors.
Since we had a lot of additional pasture land that could be rented out to other farmers, we had an agreement with the owner of the land to barter some of the grazing pastures for about 20 of his ewes in exchange for some lambs born the following years.
As it happened, most of the births were female twins; so pretty soon we had a sheep herd of our own without any effort on our part, since most of the time in the summer they stayed out at night during the good weather. We would bring them into the barn to provide shelter during a storm, examine them for injuries or disease, or to fleece them.
I loved my goats. I knew each of them by name since they had to be registered with their pedigree in the official registry. When I called them in the evening, they would come in a single file and knew which one of the 2 doors were theirs, because the newborns needed to be separated from the mother to be fed separately.
No need to count them; their strong personality was so distinct that I would know which ones were straggling behind, and I would go get them.
Nothing to do with hair color
However, there was one ugly all black goat (the other ones were brown Alpine goats with a black stripe on their back). She was part of the original motley herd that my brother bought initially.
My brother and his wife kept her because they felt sorry for her. They were using their emotions and did not want to see that, if they kept her, she would ruin their struggling business that was sustaining 7 persons.
Let me explain how bad that goat was! She did not give any milk at all, completely dry and worthless as far as belonging to a milk farm. She would eat the others´ fodder and then lay down on the top of the hay to prevent the other ones, even the small ones, from eating. She was also soiling the clean hay.
But that´s just the beginning. My brother had kept her 2 years tolerating that kind of behavior because of his compassion for animals. Our goats were grazing within the perimeters of their fenced pasture. One of their favorite foods were tree leaves that they would reach, resting their front hooves on the fence. But then, having eaten all the available leaves, the nameless ugly goat would jump the fence first. She was the leader of the pack. I don´t know what attracted the buck – she didn´t smell like Chanel #5 – but he would follow her. And since all the other goats followed him as the alpha billy, soon the whole herd was across the fence in the neighbor´s tree nursery eating the saplings ready for sale.
So the neighbor would come and complain with a bill for damages in his hand.
After a few convincing arguments, my brother finally gave in to my plea and let me kill the goat. Since we wanted to get something out of her after all that nuisance, I roasted her with spices to at least give her a chance to redeem herself in death.
To our great disappointment, her meat was hard and tasteless and ruined our dinner.
That´s how bad she was!
The other goats were a delight to take care of. They were bounding with energy, funny and mischievous, with an endearing personality, especially the little ones who were so affectionate. One of them thought she was my dog or a sheep and kept hanging around with me when the other ones were spread out grazing in the pasture.
When I came aboard, there were few grazing fenced fields. Since we did everything by hand, it took a long time to complete one pasture. After 2 years, we had finally finished a good number of fences so we could rotate and give the grass time to grow till we allowed more animals in.
Don´t get hung up on personality
You might wonder where this is leading to and what it has to do with the spiritual life.
As I mentioned before, goats are full of life and fun to be around; they know how to attract attention and bring a smile with their antics. They are very personable and charming.
By contrast sheep are kind of dull, boring, with not a whole lot of striking personality. They rarely venture out on their own, although some of them are known to stray due to some weakness or when their fleece gets soggy and heavy or entangled in a fence or shrubbery. They are, for the most part, docile and submissive animals in need of a shepherd; they feel safe and secure in a group, sharing the grass and lying down while ruminating.
In the morning when I led the goats out to graze before they had their own pasture, I observed that the sheep were huddled together in one spot and that they did not move from that one spot before having eaten all the grass down to the ground closest to them.
By contrast, the goats would start munching on one spot and then move on, literally running to get there first, to another spot in any direction without any sense of a herd moving together. In the process, they were soiling the grass for the sheep and complaining with loud bleating that they were ready to enjoy another pasture. If we were a little too slow, they would jump the fence and go their own way. No respect for rules, limits or letting others enjoy their meals, and no sense of gratitude but complaining and letting you know their impatience by their demanding tone of voice.
By the way, goats bleat differently than sheep; they say something resembling a self-centered meeee, meeee instead of a cry for help to our Father, Ba, Ba – which would be baby talk from the Hebrew – Abba, Father as in English Dada for Dad, or in Portuguese Papai for Pai.
Oh, the things you can learn on a farm!
Back into the sheep flock
A few years later when the Lord helped me to reintegrate the flock, I started observing people in church; and some comparisons started emerging that reminded me of the behavior I had witnessed on my brother´s farm among the sheep and the goats.
I know that we are not to judge people lest we be judged by the same standards we judge by, and that our salvation does not depend on what we do but on our trust in the Lord Jesus’ finished work for us, and that we are kept and sanctified by his grace through faith until the day of redemption of our bodies.
However, the word tells us to be wise and prudent, observe our surroundings and take action when necessary.
A lot is being said and written about wolves in sheep´s clothing, false teachers and false prophets, but little is mentioned about sheep and goats.
We know that a judgment will be held and sentence executed between sheep and goats after the tribulation (Matthew 25:31-46).
One thing struck me as evidenced by what I observed on the ground. The sheep in the judgment were not aware of the recipient of their good and benevolent actions. They did that because they had the heart of a sheep. They fed on the Word of God. They rested and meditated on it day and night (Psalm 1); they gave out of what they had received by faith and putting their love into actions without expectation of return. What can one expect of a prisoner, or of a hungry man? They gave food and garment, which is what the sheep does with its meat and wool.
This is the mark of a sheep who is so connected with his Shepherd that he is most of the time unaware. He consequently, doesn´t take the credit and the glory that it is he, himself that is the origin of what he says and does – he acts naturally with the supernatural power of God working through him, his will, and his purpose. How many times have you said or done something to another person and have heard them ask, “How did you know that´s what I needed to hear or the help that I needed?” You didn´t know, but the Holy Spirit knew and used you when you were obedient and abiding in Him.
On the other hand, the goats were oblivious of the good they withheld because it was not profitable to them.
I also noticed that the sheep huddled together and weren´t too preoccupied with the goats doing their antics. My brother and I were in charge, and we had to find a solution as caretakers. That tells you a lot about a great number of so-called pastors nowadays who don´t know if they are tending sheep or goats. Pasture hopping is a game that happens when the goats get bored or are not satisfied with the food and spoil it for everybody else, although you can also train a sheep to jump a fence with enough practice and enticement.
We have to ask if the leader himself, or to be more up to date, herself, is a goat in disguise. It is also possible that some goats, whether they be leaders or followers, don´t even know that they are goats because of Satan’s deception.
The sheep are thorough and careful in their eating and wait until the Shepherd gives them a command to go and lead to another pasture, not knowing what to expect but trusting that He will take care of them.
A characteristic of false prophets and false teachers is that their teachings and revelations do not benefit anyone. Instead they seduce and blind their followers to the pernicious errors of their ways; they lead them to abandon the way of truth and righteousness and follow after other gods and doctrines of demons.
Like that useless, tasteless, destructive goat, they are following their master the goat-head-shaped androgynous hybrid god, named Baphomet of the free masons, who likes to disguise himself as an angel of light to destroy as many as he can with his illusionist tricks and his snake-oil charlatan salesmanship.
Discerning by the Word
We can learn how to recognize and identify bad shepherds, false prophets and false teachers because the Lord has given us ample instruction in his word concerning them.
Jeremiah 23 speaks of the Lord Jesus our Good Shepherd, the bad shepherds, and the false prophets in Israel. Their characteristic features and the way they promote themselves and their agenda can be applied to the church environment today.
Note the prominence of the word as opposed to the worthlessness of straw. “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord. ‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
“Therefore,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me.. Yes,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ declares the Lord. ‘They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,’ declares the Lord.”
Just as there are tares among the wheat, and as a good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, and you cannot gather grapes on a thorn bush, we can see that it is an exercise in futility to expect a goat to act like a sheep.
We can ask the question: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
Then, knowing the answer, what are we to do? Look it up in Paul´s epistles giving instructions on what to do with people who distort the Word of God, who sow discord among the sheep, who act more like goats than sheep.
Don´t be naïve and credulous. Check everything in the word and see if it is in line with what the Scriptures declare. Talk to somebody more knowledgeable that you trust, a bible teacher that believes in the inerrancy of the Scriptures and teaches from the whole counsel of God, prophecy included, and believes in the soon return of Christ as prophesied by the OT prophets, Christ himself and the Apostles.
Keep your eyes and ears opened; feed yourself with the good grain instead of chaff and straw. Don´t spend a lot of money on charismatic apostolic movement conferences in the hope of receiving an impartation, a fresh anointing from somebody who tells you he has the latest authoritative revelation from a spirit (who happens to be lying and unholy).
Follow the advice of Isaiah 55:1-3: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” (KJV)
Guard your heart, for out of it flow the issues of life. Stay in close connection with the people you know you can trust who love the Lord and produce good fruit, helping you grow in knowledge and wisdom and a closer communion with the Lord. Hang around, huddle and share with sheep!
Remember, goats don´t like to hang around sheep; they are too impatient. That seems to explain why some “sheep” are always looking for the latest dazzling firework and groovy (showing my age!) worship and praise music that will give them warm fuzzies, hypnotize and anesthetize them against the demands of denying ourselves, carrying our cross, and following Jesus our Good Shepherd wherever he leads us, his sheep. So usually they leave and go somewhere else.
Conversely, if you find yourself in a congregation whose majority appear to be goats, then you might have to move to a herd of sheep, which is harder to find these days. If you are a sheep, you might get a check in your spirit that you are not in the right place, and that, if you stay there too long, your soul will shrivel and your spirit will starve on this kind of diet of pop-rock Christian musical entertainment and very little spiritual food from the lack of a steady expository preaching and teaching of the word.
The only remedy for a goat is to be transformed into a sheep by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, convicting him/her to repent and receive Christ for forgiveness by his sufficient grace through faith, be born again of the Spirit, believing that Christ died for their sins and was resurrected to give them the free gift of eternal life.
I have been blessed to sit under the leadership and teaching of some pastors/teachers that had a heart of a shepherd and a love for their congregation. It was such a joy, and it gave me a sense of family fellowship, working together, serving the Lord and each other, functioning as a body, fulfilling the purpose for which we were created anew through the new birth. I remember them with a heart full of love and gratitude for their dedication and abnegation (self-denial) in their service.
I am thankful to the Lord that we met and walked together part of the way. They helped me grow; and by their example, modeled what it is to be a caring, impartial, patient, wise, authentic, hardworking, selfless, conscientious student of the word; and a persistent, fearless person representing faithfully our Lord to the congregation entrusted to them, and a testimony to the world around them.
If you have such a pastor, you are blessed with an under-shepherd after God´s own heart.
Then this exhortation from Paul in Hebrews 13:17-20 is for us, and together we can say “Amen” to the encouragement of the benediction:
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden; for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
You can also read a story from the farm in 2 parts HERE.