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sheep Summary and Overview

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sheep in Easton's Bible Dictionary

are of different varieties. Probably the flocks of Abraham and Isaac were of the wild species found still in the mountain regions of Persia and Kurdistan. After the Exodus, and as a result of intercourse with surrounding nations, other species were no doubt introduced into the herds of the people of Israel. They are frequently mentioned in Scripture. The care of a shepherd over his flock is referred to as illustrating God's care over his people (Ps. 23:1, 2; 74:1; 77:20; Isa. 40:11; 53:6; John 10:1-5, 7-16). "The sheep of Israel are longer in the head than ours, and have tails from 5 inches broad at the narrowest part to 15 inches at the widest, the weight being in proportion, and ranging generally from 10 to 14 lbs., but sometimes extending to 30 lbs. The tails are indeed huge masses of fat" (Geikie's Holy Land, etc.). The tail was no doubt the "rump" so frequently referred to in the Levitical sacrifices (Ex. 29:22; Lev. 3:9; 7:3; 9:19). Sheep-shearing was generally an occasion of great festivity (Gen. 31:19; 38:12, 13; 1 Sam. 25:4-8, 36; 2 Sam. 13:23-28).

sheep in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Sheep were an important part of the possessions of the ancient Hebrews and of eastern nations generally. The first mention of sheep occurs in #Ge 4:2| They were used in the sacrificial offering,as, both the adult animal, #Ex 20:24| and the lamb. See #Ex 29:28; Le 9:3; 12:6| Sheep and lambs formed an important article of food. #1Sa 25:18| The wool was used as clothing. #Le 13:47| "Rams skins dyed red" were used as a covering for the tabernacle. #Ex 25:5| Sheep and lambs were sometimes paid as tribute. #2Ki 3:4| It is very striking to notice the immense numbers of sheep that were reared in Israel in biblical times. (Chardin says he saw a clan of Turcoman shepherds whose flock consisted of 3,000,000 sheep and goats, besides 400,000 Feasts of carriage, as horses, asses and camels.) Sheep-sheering is alluded to #Ge 31:19| Sheepdogs were employed in biblical times. #Job 30:1| Shepherds in Israel and the East generally go before their flocks, which they induce to follow by calling to them, comp. #Joh 10:4; Ps 77:20; 80:1| though they also drive them. #Ge 33:13| The following quotation from Hartley's "Researches in Greece and the Levant," p. 321, is strikingly illustrative of the allusions in #Joh 10:1-16| "Having had my attention directed last night to the words in #Joh 10:3| I asked my man if it was usual in Greece to give names to the sheep. He informed me that it was, and that the sheep obeyed the shepherd when he called them by their names. This morning I had an opportunity of verifying the truth of this remark. Passing by a flock of sheep I asked the shepherd the same question which I had put to the servant, and he gave me the same answer. I then had him call one of his sheep. He did so, and it instantly left its pasturage and its companions and ran up to the hands of the shepherd with signs of pleasure and with a prompt obedience which I had never before observed in any other animal. It is also true in this country that a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him. The shepherd told me that many of his sheep were still wild, that they had not yet learned their names, but that by teaching them they would all learn them." The common sheer, of Syria and Israel are the broad-tailed. As the sheep is an emblem of meekness, patience and submission, it is expressly mentioned as typifying these qualities in the person of our blessed Lord. #Isa 53:7; Ac 8:32| etc. The relation that exists between Christ, "the chief Shepherd," and his members is beautifully compared to that which in the East is so strikingly exhibited by the shepherds to their flocks [SHEPHERD]

sheep in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

SHEEP, SHEPHERD, SHEEP'FOLD sheep is mentioned about five hundred times in the Bible, and seems likely to have been the first animal domesticated by man. Gen 4:4, The sheep anciently kept by the Israelites were probably of the broad-tailed variety, in which the tail is a mass of delicate fat sometimes weighing 14 pounds, or even more. Ex 29:22; Lev 3:9, Rev 1:11. Sheep often constituted the chief wealth of a man in patriarchal times; and hence, with the Jews, the care of sheep was among the earliest and most respectable employments, Gen 4:2; Ex 3:1; Job 42:12; 1 Sam 16:11, though it was odious to the Egyptians.
The office of chief shepherd, Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 5:4, is often mentioned by heathen writers. It was an office of great trust and responsibility, as well as of distinguished honor. 2 Kgs 3:4. Chardin saw a clan of Turcoman shepherds whose flocks consisted of 400,000 beasts of carriage, such as camels, horses, oxen, cows, and asses, and 3,000,000 of sheep and goats. Dr. Shaw confirms his statement.
Eastern Sheepfold. The shepherd or "sheep-master" was constantly with his flocks by night and by day, to number, gather, feed, conduct, and guard them, Gen 31:39; Luke 2:8, and was often attended with a despised dog. Job 30:1. His care of the sheep was constant and tender, and his control over them very great. Isa 40:11; John 10:1-16. Rev. John Hartley, a missionary in Greece, tells us that he was once passing by a flock of sheep, and, having heard it said they would obey the shepherd's voice, he asked him to call one of his sheep, which instantly left its pasturage and approached the hand of the shepherd with a prompt obedience which he never saw in any other animal. It is also universally true in that country that a stranger they will not follow. They flee from him, for they know not the voice of a stranger. It is said that the shepherds of Judaea gave each lamb a distinct name, and that they instantly obeyed the voice of the shepherd, coming and going daily at his call. An ancient Jewish writer, born and educated in Egypt, states that the sheep, in the season of shearing, would run to the shepherd at his call, and, stooping a little, put themselves into his hands to be shorn and stand quietly until he had done. The docility, timidity, and liability to wander (all which are among the characteristics of this animal) are often figuratively employed by the sacred writers, as 2 Chr 18:16; Ps 119:176; Isa 11:6; Isa 53:6-7; Mic 5:8; Matt 9:36.
In the O.T. the word "shepherd" is used figuratively for Jehovah, Ps 80:1; Jer 31:10; and for kings, Eze 34:10; but in the N.T. it denotes Christ, John 10:11, etc.; Heb 13:20:1 Pet 5:4, and also those teachers who presided in the synagogues. This use of the word gave rise to the application of the word "shepherd" or "pastor," in modern times, to ministers of the gospel, and those under their spiritual care are called the "fold" or "flock." It was the business of the shepherd to count the sheep daily, perhaps oftener, and he was accountable for any that were missing. Gen 31:38-39; Ex 22:12-13; Lev 27:32; Jer 33:13. See Rod.
Sometimes a lamb was taken into the tent and brought up like a dog. 2 Sam 12:3. It is common in Armenia to see shepherds carrying in their bosoms the lambs of the flock they are tending. They are too feeble to roam with their dams, and nothing evinces more tenderness and care than gently leading such as are with young, or such as have young lambs to which they give suck. Isa 40:11. Two of our American missionaries tell us that while travelling in Armenia they passed several shepherds, probably from the neighboring villages, carrying in their bosoms the lambs of the flocks they tended. The same scene had already frequently interested them by presenting the source of the beautiful imagery of the prophet. It is exhibited only at one season of the year, when lambs are frequently brought forth during the day at a distance from the fold. The newcomers, being too weak to follow the flock in its rovings after grass, are carried in the bosom of the shepherd, and not unfrequently they so multiply as to fill his arms before night. They are then taken to the fold, and guarded there ; until sufficiently strong to ramble with their dams. One of these enclosures presents an amusing scene when the sheep return anxiously bleating in the evening from their day's pasture, and scores of hungry young ones are conducted by shepherds' boys each to its own mother.
The time of shearing was a season of great festivity. 1 Sam 25:7-8, 1 Sam 25:11; 2 Sam 13:23. The flock was collected in an uncovered enclosure called a "sheep fold" or "sheepcote." Num 32:16; 2 Sam 7:8; Jer 23:3; Zeph 2:6; John 10:16. Here their legs were tied together, and the "shearing-bouse," 2 Kgs 10:12, 2 Kgs 10:14, literally means the "tie-house." They were never housed at any season of the year. A watch-house was often erected in the vicinity of the flocks, from which the approach of danger could be easily descried. This is called the "tower of the flock." Mic 4:8. The wool of the sheep was probably made into cloth, Lev 13:47; Deut 22:11, by women. Prov 31:13. It formed part of the tribute paid by the Moabites to Israel, 2 Kgs 3:4, and was a common article of merchandise. Eze 27:18. Ewes' milk was an important part of daily food. Deut 32:14; 1 Cor 9:7. The flesh of sheep and lambs was eaten. 1 Sam 25:18; 1 Kgs 1:19; 1 Kgs 4:23; Ps 44:11. If Josh 6:4 is correctly rendered, as probably it is not, rams' horns were made into trumpets. Sheep-skins were used as a covering for the tabernacle, Ex 25:5, and the poor clothed themselves in them. Heb 11:37. The sheep was especially the animal of sacrifice, and there were few offerings required in which the lamb or the ram was not admissible. As an animal symbolical of innocence and purity, the sheep was well fitted for this use. With reference to his sacrificial mission, as well as to his meekness, patience, and submission, Christ is often called "the Lamb," "the Lamb of God," "the Lamb slain." John 1:29, Eze 23:36; Rev 13:8; Rev 22:1, Acts 22:3.

sheep in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Genesis 4:2. Abounded in the pastures of Israel. Shepherds go before them and call them by name to follow (John 10:4; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 80:1). The ordinary sheep are the broad tailed sheep, and the Ovis aries, like our own except that the tail is longer and thicker, and the ears larger; called bedoween. Centuries B.C. Aristotle mentions Syrian sheep with tails a cubit wide. The fat tail is referred to in Leviticus 3:9; Leviticus 7:3. The Syrian cooks use the mass of fat instead of the rancid Arab butter. The sheep symbolizes meekness, patience, gentleness, and submission (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32). (See LAMB.) Tsown means sheep"; ayil, the full-grown "ram," used for the male of other ruminants also; rachel, the adult "ewe"; kebes (masculine), kibsah (feminine), the half grown lamb; seh, "sheep" or paschal "lamb"; char, "young ram"; taleh, "sucking lamb"; 'atod (Genesis 31 "ram") means "he-goat"; imrin, "lambs for sacrifice." The sheep never existed in a wild state, but was created expressly for man, and so was selected from the first for sacrifice. The image is frequent in Scripture: Jehovah the Shepherd, His people the flock (Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 23:1-2; Ezekiel 34). Sinners are the straying sheep whom the Good Shepherd came to save (Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 50:6; Luke 15:4-6; John 10:8; John 10:11). False teachers are thieves and wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). None can pluck His sheep from His hand and the Father's (John 10:27-29).