I used to have sheep, about a dozen ewes and a big ram named Joe. This combination resulted in about twenty lambs in the spring. Once these little ones discovered the wonderful world beyond the teat, they became a huge problem.
The ewes and Joe would happily eat the grass in the center of the field, but the young ones would walk around the perimeter of the pasture always testing the fence.
In the Modern West, we worship Freedom–our understanding of it. We think of freedom in socio-political terms. We must fight for freedom from those who would take it away. We’ve recast history to become the story of shaking off oppression.
The ancient conception of freedom is much different. To ancient peoples, the threat to freedom wasn’t other people and institutions, it was the lack of wisdom or virtue.
My experience with my sheep tells me that the ancients have the truer understanding of freedom.
If my young sheep could get out, they would. This is a problem; outside the fence was death.
Death came in two forms. The first was coyotes. I don’t suppose any further explanation is needed on this point, but let’s say there no sheep would survive the night.
The second threat was grain. I had a lot of whole corn and high protein pellets on the farm to feed the 4,000 pigeons. There were also various grain-based feeds for the cows, sheep, pigs, and horses. If these lambs got into any of this feed they’d die. Their behavior was predictable—they’d gobble up too much for their digestive systems to handle. The next morning I’d find them with their legs sticking in the air.
Sheep eat grain with a kind of desperate ecstasy. I know this because we fed it to them regularly. A few cups per day. If you ask a young sheep what he’d wish for if he could have anything, he’d ask for a pile of grain, and, the next time you saw him, he’d be on his back and his tongue would be blue.
When the Bible refers to people as sheep, don’t picture the white fluffy ones you see in all the Sunday school books. Picture one that spends all day striving for the glorious freedom beyond the fence.
In Modern terms, freedom comes from opposition to the fence put up by the evil farmer. In ancient terms is freedom means understanding, or at least trusting, that death can come through personal indulgence as easily as though external threats.
Sheep just don’t seem to understand that true happiness and freedom lie within the boundaries of the fence.