Sheep were an important part of the possessions of the ancient Hebrews and of eastern nations generally. The first mention of sheep occurs in (Genesis 4:2) They were used in the sacrificial offering, as, both the adult animal, (Exodus 20:24) and the lamb. See (Exodus 29:28; Leviticus 9:3; 12:6) Sheep and lambs formed an important article of food. (1 Samuel 25:18) The wool was used as clothing. (Leviticus 13:47) "Rams skins dyed red" were used as a covering for the tabernacle. (Exodus 25:5) Sheep and lambs were sometimes paid as tribute. (2 Kings 3:4) It is very striking to notice the immense numbers of sheep that were reared in Palestine 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 (Genesis 31:19) Sheepdogs were employed in biblical times. (Job 30:1) Shepherds in Palestine and the East generally go before their flocks, which they induce to follow by calling to them, comp. (John 10:4; Psalms 77:20; 80:1) though they also drive them. (Genesis 33:13) The following quotation from Hartley's "Researches in Greece and the Levant," p. 321, is strikingly illustrative of the allusions in (John 10:1-16) "Having had my attention directed last night to the words in (John 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, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. 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 Palestine 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. (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 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.
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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