I’ve just finished reading ‘The Judas Goat‘ by Perry Stone. The Israelites trained a goat to live among their sheep to be sacrificed so that they could be duped into following it into the slaughter pen. Analogous to Satan’s presence among believers, it’s also easy to see ourselves in such a position of vulnerability and danger as the sheep of His pasture.
Living in the bases of the Cumberland Mountains presents me many opportunities to experience sheep and goats. Neither of these animals strike fear into my soul nor do they provide serious obstacles to living in my neighborhood. Occasionally they prove themselves to be a nuisance, like the time I had to use my horse lasso to catch my neighbor’s goat and then ride it home in the front seat of my Cadillac. Hence, I have earned the nickname of “goat roper.” My past experience with these small animals gives me confidence I can handle one, if I have to.
I’m nearly 6 feet tall and have had the altitudinal edge to see over the heads of 95% of the people I meet. Certainly I can be intimidated by someone with bigger biceps who’s brandishing a weapon, but no one has caused me to fear more than the brown bear I met in Alaska.
My group became separated, due to their folly, leaving me alone at the edge of an inland pond on Kodiak Island. The bear appeared out of nowhere, intent on reaching the water. He saw me but I did what I was instructed: crouch down, avoid eye contact, and don’t run. Thankfully, the fish in the water was a greater draw than a skinny woman in a ball with her camera. Across the lake, in another group, a child began to cry. This distraction afforded me the opportunity to slink back further into the woods and await the group to find me. The bear entered the water, turning his ear to the crying child, became distracted by the abundant fish around his feet, swam in deeply, and eliminated my pending peril. I have it all on camera, just for the record.
I was on the right path. I did the right thing. Yet, those that veered off our pathway were spared the threat and were never challenged to practice what the guide instructed. In reflection, the experience was exhilarating only because no harm came to me. At the time, all I could think of was, “Where is everybody? I’m out here on my own! This may not end too well!” I haven’t had any other opportunities to practice what I’ve learned but I can make a spiritual application which has served me well since then.
In 1 Samuel 17: 33-37, David gives testimony of his qualifications to fight the giant Goliath. Saul diminishes his youthful offer by reminding David he is but a youth and that Goliath was a seasoned warrior. David raises himself up to his full height and responds, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear. He will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.” (v.37)
David had been out on the job tending the flocks as instructed. He was in the place the was supposed to be, in the field with the animals. He knew that danger was a possibility. Sheep are dumb. They are vulnerable. Therefore, he shepherds.
Why do we believe that we can be an unshepherded sheep? The field is dangerous. Just ask the sheep next to you. The threats will come because we all occupy the same space. You’ve heard it said: “Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you.” We can be in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, but this world is engineered such that until the Lord returns there will be danger.
Our Shepherd is always out in front of the flock, yet some us us choose to detour here and there, or hang back on the outer edges. He allows that. But, once you have encountered and FOUGHT the bear, you will be much wiser to stay with your group under the Shepherd’s staff. David became a great shepherd to his flock because he fought enough lions and bears that he could wrestle a bloodied sheep alive out of the mouth of its predator. No training manual or simulator can mock up an actual experience as well as a real encounter. Why did the Lord leave David out to dry in the pastures? Because He knew there was a giant in his future that needed to be slain.
As frightening as it was to encounter my brown bear, it made me much more vigilant during the remainder of that trip. When I think of the lions and bears I am fighting right now in my life, I can garner some comfort knowing that this exercise is preparing me for a greater giant of a problem yet to come. I admit that I get pretty chewed up sometimes and have begged God to stop the training session. When I realize that the blood I’m covered in is not my own, but His, I crouch down and submit to the wisdom that tells me not to have a spirit of fear but of love and a sound mind.
Our Goliath is out there, waiting for us. Before you get discouraged and weary, take copious notes and pay attention to the lessons God is teaching you today. Pray that under the Lord’s protective hand that you will be viewed as the seasoned warrior, and not a foundling in the faith.