Please join me in welcoming Dave Gossett to the ETL Blog Table! Some time ago, I’d asked Dave for permission to run a piece he’d written entitled, “I Was Wrong About Sheep” and was delighted when he communicated a willingness to share it with us.

So, take it away Dave, and thanks!

* * *

There is a scene indelibly imprinted in my memory from childhood which proved formative in my thinking about sheep.

I witnessed a lamb on our farm repeatedly butting—nose first—into a stiff, heavy-gaged hog-wire fence in effort to escape its pen. “Sheep are just plain stupid,” I thought to myself. I’d never seen a pig do anything like that.

I was raising pigs to show at the county fair and found them to be intelligent. They could be easily trained and, by the time they were taken to the fair, directed around the show ring with nothing more than a wooden cane. The lambs I was preparing to show, on the other hand, were much more difficult to deal with.

I subsequently drew the conclusion that sheep are not very bright, and I’ve carried this low opinion of them (almost like a chip on the shoulder) much of my life.

However, I recently had a notion to check the data on the intelligence of sheep. I expected they would rank a little above, say… turkeys.

Yet to my surprise, according to scientists who measure such things, sheep are similar to dogs and pigs in their intelligence.

“Woah!” I thought. “This changes things!”

* * *

My original conclusions about sheep were obviously wrong. Since they aren’t stupid, it had to mean they are just plain stubborn.

Like the lamb I’d witnessed butting its head against a stout fence, sheep will stubbornly continue their hurtful, self-destructive behavior, even when doing so defies intelligence.

* * *

Since then, Scriptures like Isaiah 53:6—which states, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each has turned to his own way”—take on for me the significance God likely intended. It seems that sheep go astray not for lack of intelligence, but because they want their own way. They are stubborn!

“All of us like sheep” are not stupid, but we all tend to turn to our own (often harmful) ways. Why? Because, like sheep, we can be stubborn.

* * *

I have observed commercial-size flocks of sheep in our area as they are moved from one pasture to another. And this is how it plays out: The flock follows the shepherd with the aid of shepherd dogs, who continually chase down and nip the heels of those sheep that are going astray. It seems that, at any given time, there are those choosing to take their own path.

You and I tend to “stray from the flock” where there is both security and provision; mostly because we decide what we want to do is “the thing to do.”

* * *

The implications of my new-found understanding of sheep are profound. I have been guilty at times of referring to certain people as “stupid”—which was wrong of me, and I have repented of that. No, we or others we observe are not stupid. We may, however, do stupid things. The difference here is subtle, yet huge.

Coming to terms with this difference is allowing me to better view people the way God does—as intelligent beings, created in His imagine. But, left to ourselves, we have a tendency to stubbornly choose paths which can harm ourselves and others.

The grief human stubbornness brings to our Creator is seen in Matthew 23:37, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. His ongoing desires for intimacy with His chosen people were frequently met with resistance:

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

 * * *

Just as the heart of God breaks to see this behavior, those who follow Jesus should have breaking hearts and similar compassion for anyone straying away from God’s good and loving paths.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

* * *

Honestly, I did not have a heart of compassion for the lamb I watched stubbornly ramming its nose into the fence years ago. I wrote the little creature off as stupid and left it at that. But God has powerful ways of working in our hearts, and He reminded me that when I see people’s seemingly idiotic choices and the resulting destruction of lives, families, and even nations, it is tempting to become—shall I say—judgmental, contemptuous, and unsympathetic.

Perhaps, just maybe, the chip I have carried on my shoulder regarding sheep, I have also carried regarding people. How much better it is to put on a heart of compassion by the power of the Holy Spirit, as taught in the above passage!

I am trusting my new perspective will help me to view others differently. And if you’ve had struggles similar to mine, I invite you to consider seeking the freedom which comes from viewing others more biblically than judgmentally.

Of course, regular exposure to God and His Word will serve as an excellent check and balance for us. And instead of feeling “sheepish” when Scripture nips us back to where we belong, it is cause for rejoicing! It’s a blessing to be cared for by the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15).

All we like sheep have gone astray. We were lost and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd—not even knowing we were stubborn, foolish, and in danger.

But God not only provided a shepherd for us, but the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

* * *

I encourage you to read the prophetic writings about Jesus found in Isaiah 53:1-12; it should take just over one minute for you to read. I’m particularly grateful for the reminder we have in the latter portion of verse 6: “… and the LORD has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”

We have a very merciful and compassionate Savior.

All praise to Him!

[Dave Gossett serves as an elder at GracePoint Church in Ephrata, Washington, and actively volunteers with Encouragement That Lasts.]



People Lover. Author. Blogger. Speaker. Forgiven Much & Wild About God. Learn about June's latest book on her website.


  • David says:

    Well said David!
    Quite a difference between stupid and stubborn.
    Thanks for sharing and helping to build one another up.
    Blessings and shalom!

  • Brad says:

    The example of sheep as it applies to humans spelled out in this blog is timely and convicting. It could be especially true within the local church community as I (and we) view the actions of others within that setting.

  • Evelyn says:

    Great insight and teaching illustration. Thank you Dave

  • Shannon says:

    Thank you Dave, that is amazing! We can’t presume to even know where a person has
    been or what amount of brokenness they’ve experienced that they would allow
    themselves to make decisions that are unwise – but Jesus does and I pray to see
    people like He does and ask that He helps me love them like He does…

  • Gi Gi says:

    Thank you Dave for your guidance, compassion and gentle spirit. I’ve always admired and appreciated that about you. This is true in your writing and encouragement as well.
    Gi Gi Horrell

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