“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Matthew 25:31-33 (NIV)
When I (Jim) was growing up, I always wondered why the sheep were considered good and used as a picture of the righteous people, while the poor goats were used as a symbol of the wicked. Why did the goats deserve that? After all, people get good things from goats like milk, leather, and meat.
This week, while checking through the book of Matthew with the Dirayta translation team, I got a bit of an insight as to why goats might have been chosen to represent the bad people. Many of the Dirasha people (who speak the Dirayta language) raise sheep and goats and are familiar with their ways. As we discussed the verses above in Matthew 25, one of the translators said, “Many people don’t like goats.” One of the others explained why. “Goats move about very quickly, and it is difficult for the shepherd to keep track of them. The sheep move slower and are easier to herd.” They also said that goats and sheep have different diets and it is easier to find food for the sheep.
I then investigated further and found that the IVP Bible Background Commentary says: “Although sheep and goats grazed together, it is said that Palestinian shepherds normally separated sheep and goats at night because goats need to be warm at night while sheep prefer open air. Sheep were more valuable than goats, and characteristics like this may have influenced how these terms would be heard figuratively; for instance, in a pagan dream handbook sheep were associated with good while goats were associated with trouble.” So all in all, there are good reasons why the people of Jesus’ day would have viewed sheep more positively than goats.
I’m just thankful that I have been claimedby the Good Shepherd as one of his sheep! And we continue to work so that others here in Ethiopia might hear his voice through the Word of God in their own language!
Jim and Susan Kaiser recently visited Ethiopia in preparation for ministry among the Dirayta people. They hope to move there late in 2014.