Here’s a bit of scriptural trivia for you: Sheep are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible, more than any other animal. This should probably come as no surprise given the agricultural and pastoralist culture of the early Hebrews and other peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Sheep, and the shepherds that tend them, were readily accessible as images and metaphors, given their ubiquity in and importance to society. Ironically, while sheep were an important source of income, the job of shepherd was among the lowliest of occupations. In scripture, God’s people are routinely described as sheep. A commentary on this offers the following explanation (which may or may not make sense to you, but we’ll get to that in a minute …):
First of all, sheep are one of the few animals that do not have a defense system. Sheep are helpless without a shepherd … Second, sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action … A third reason human beings are compared to sheep in the Bible is that sheep are prone to wander away from the flock …
By the way, the title for this week’s discussion is taken from Isaiah 53:6 — “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way …” Jesus is, of course, the Good Shepherd who brings us back into the fold.
Meanwhile, if you’ve spent any time immersed even superficially in internet culture, you are probably also familiar with the phrase “Wake up sheeple!” It’s an insult tossed around when you want to call out a group or individual for “following a person or ideology without knowing why they’re following said person or ideology.” While the word “sheeple” has apparently been around since at least the mid-1940s, it was only recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as “people who are docile, compliant, or easily influenced.”
So let’s talk about this metaphor. Are “all we like sheep” or not? Are we helpless without someone to guide us, prone to wandering off into danger if left to our own devices, or gullibly following the leader regardless of how silly that is? Are we, in fact, sheeple, blindly following with really knowing why? And if so, why is that? Do we need a shepherd, and if so, who or what ought that be? Or can we “wake up” on our own? Finally, given how far removed our lives are from the agricultural/herding society for whom the imagery of sheep and shepherds easily resonates, how would you modernize the metaphor so that it makes sense today?
Join us for the conversation this evening beginning at 7pm at 313 Pizza Bar in downtown Lake Orion. We’ll discuss this, and probably a lot more.