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Dictionaries :: Sheep

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Easton's Bible Dictionary


are of different varieties. Probably the flocks of Abraham and Isaac were of the wild species found still in the mountain regions of Persia and Kurdistan. After the Exodus, and as a result of intercourse with surrounding nations, other species were no doubt introduced into the herds of the people of Israel. They are frequently mentioned in Scripture. The care of a shepherd over his flock is referred to as illustrating God's care over his people (Psa 23:1,2; 74:1; 77:20; Isa 40:11; 53:6; Jhn 10:1-5,7-16).

"The sheep of Palestine are longer in the head than ours, and have tails from 5 inches broad at the narrowest part to 15 inches at the widest, the weight being in proportion, and ranging generally from 10 to 14 lbs., but sometimes extending to 30 lbs. The tails are indeed huge masses of fat" (Geikie's Holy Land, etc.). The tail was no doubt the "rump" so frequently referred to in the Levitical sacrifices (Exd 29:22; Lev 3:9; 7:3; 9:19). Sheep-shearing was generally an occasion of great festivity (Gen 31:19; 38:12,13; 1Sa 25:4-8,36; 2Sa 13:23-28).

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia



1. Names:

The usual Hebrew word is tso'n, which is often translated "flock," e.g. "Abel.... brought of the firstlings of his flock" (Ge 4:4); "butter of the herd, and milk of the flock" (De 32:14). The King James Version and the English Revised Version have "milk of sheep." Compare Arabic da'n. The Greek word is probaton. For other names, see notes under CATTLE; EWE; LAMB; RAM.

2. Zoology:

The origin of domestic sheep is unknown. There are 11 wild species, the majority of which are found in Asia, and it is conceivable that they may have spread from the highlands of Central Asia to the other portions of their habitat. In North America is found the "bighorn," which is very closely related to a Kamschatkan species. One species, the urial or sha, is found in India. The Barbary sheep, Ovis tragelaphus, also known as the aoudad or arui, inhabits the Atlas Mountains of Northwest Africa. It is thought by Tristram to be zemer, English Versions of the Bible "chamois" of De 14:5, but there is no good evidence that this animal ranges eastward into Bible lands. Geographically nearest is the Armenian wild sheep, Ovis gmelini, of Asia Minor and Persia. The Cyprian wild sheep may be only a variety of the last, and the mouflon of Corsica and Sardinia is an allied species. It is not easy to draw the line between wild sheep and wild goats. Among the more obvious distinctions are the chin beard and strong odor of male goats. The pelage of all wild sheep consists of hair, not wool, and this indeed is true of some domestic sheep as the fat-rumped short-tailed sheep of Abyssinia and Central Asia. The young lambs of this breed have short curly wool which is the astrachan of commerce. Sheep are geologically recent, their bones and teeth not being found in earlier deposits than the pleiocene or pleistocene. They were, however, among the first of domesticated animals.

3. Sheep of Palestine:

The sheep of Syria and Palestine are characterized by the possession of an enormous fat tail which weighs many pounds and is known in Arabic as ‘alyat, or commonly, liyat. This is the ‘alyah, "fat tail" (the King James Version "rump") (Ex 29:22; Le 3:9; 7:3; 8:25; 9:19), which was burned in sacrifice. This is at the present day esteemed a great delicacy. Sheep are kept in large numbers by the Bedouin, but a large portion of the supply of mutton for the cities is from the sheep of Armenia and Kurdistan, of which great droves are brought down to the coast in easy stages. Among the Moslems every well-to-do family sacrifices a sheep at the feast of al-'adcha', the 10th day of the month dhu-l-chijjat, 40 days after the end of ramadan, the month of fasting. In Lebanon every peasant family during the summer fattens a young ram, which is literally crammed by one of the women of the household, who keeps the creature's jaw moving with one hand while with the other she stuffs its mouth with vine or mulberry leaves. Every afternoon she washes it at the village fountain. When slaughtered in the fall it is called ma‘luf, "fed," and is very fat and the flesh very tender. Some of the meat and fat are eaten at once, but the greater part, fat and lean, is cut up fine, cooked together in a large vessel with pepper and salt, and stored in an earthen jar. This, the so-called qauramat, is used as needed through the winter.

In the mountains the sheep are gathered at night into folds, which may be caves or enclosures of rough stones. Fierce dogs assist the shepherd in warding off the attacks of wolves, and remain at the fold through the day to guard the slight bedding and simple utensils. In going to pasture the sheep are not driven but are led, following the shepherd as he walks before them and calls to them. "When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (Joh 10:4).

4. Old Testament References:

The sheepfolds of Reuben on the plain of Gilead are referred to in Nu 32:16 and Jud 5:16. A cave is mentioned in 1Sa 24:3 in connection with the pursuit of David by Saul. The shepherd origin of David is referred to in Ps 78:70:

"He chose David also his servant,

And took him from the sheepfolds."

Compare also 2Sa 7:8 and 1Ch 17:7.

The shearing of the sheep was a large operation and evidently became a sort of festival. Absalom invited the king's sons to his sheep-shearing in Baal-hazor in order that he might find an opportunity to put Amnon to death while his heart was "merry with wine" (2Sa 13:23-29). The character of the occasion is evident also from the indignation of David at Nabal when the latter refused to provide entertainment at his sheep-shearing for David's young men who had previously protected the flocks of Nabal (1Sa 25:2-13). There is also mention of the sheep-shearing of Judah (Ge 38:12) and of Laban (Ge 31:19), on which occasion Jacob stole away with his wives and children and his flocks.

Sheep were the most important sacrificial animals, a ram or a young male being often specified. Ewes are mentioned in Le 3:6; 4:32; 5:6; 14:10; 22:28; Nu 6:14.

In the Books of Chronicles we find statements of enormous numbers of animals consumed in sacrifice: "And king Solomon offered a sacrifice of twenty and two thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep" (2Ch 7:5); "And they sacrificed unto Yahweh in that day (in the reign of Asa).... seven hundred oxen and seven thousand sheep" (2Ch 15:11); at the cleansing of the temple by Hezekiah "the consecrated things were six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep. But the priests were too few, so that they could not flay all the burnt-offerings: wherefore their brethren the Levites did help them" (2Ch 29:33 f); and "Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the assembly for offerings a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and the princes gave to the assembly a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep" (2Ch 30:24). In the account of the war of the sons of Reuben and their allies with the Hagrites, we read: "And they took away their cattle; of their camels fifty thousand, and of sheep two hundred and fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand, and of men a hundred thousand" (1Ch 5:21). Mesha king of Moab is called a "sheep-master," and we read that "he rendered unto the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams" (2Ki 3:4).

5. Figurative:

Christ is represented as the Lamb of God (Isa 53:7; Joh 1:29; Re 5:6). Some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible represent God as a shepherd: "From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel" (Ge 49:24); "Yahweh is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Ps 23:1; compare Isa 40:11; Eze 34:12-16). Jesus said "I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me.... and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Joh 10:14 f). The people without leaders are likened to sheep without a shepherd (Nu 27:17; 1Ki 22:17; 2Ch 18:16; Eze 34:5). Jesus at the Last Supper applies to Himself the words of Zec 13:7; "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Mt 26:31; Mr 14:27). The enemies of Yahweh are compared to the fat of the sacrifice that is consumed away in smoke (Ps 37:20). God's people are "the sheep of his pasture" (Ps 79:13; 95:7; 100:3). In sinning they become like lost sheep (Isa 53:6; Jer 50:6; Eze 34:6; Lu 15:3 ). In the mouth of Nathan the poor man's one little ewe lamb is a vivid image of the treasure of which the king David has robbed Uriah the Hittite (2Sa 12:3). In So 6:6, the teeth of the bride are likened to a flock of ewes. It is prophesied that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb" (Isa 11:6) and that "the wolf and the lamb shall feed together" (Isa 65:25). Jesus says to His disciples, "I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Mt 10:16; compare Lu 10:3). In the parable of the Good Shepherd we read: "He that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth" (Joh 10:12).

Written by Alfred Ely Day

Torrey's New Topical Textbook

Sheep: Clean and Used as Food

Deu 14:4

Sheep: Described As


2Sa 24:17


Jhn 10:4,5


Psa 114:4,6

Being covered with a fleece

Job 31:20

Remarkably prolific

Psa 107:41; 144:13; Sgs 4:2; Eze 36:37

Sheep: Bleating Of, Alluded To

Jdg 5:16; 1Sa 15:14

Sheep: Under Man's Care from the Earliest Age

Gen 4:4

Sheep: Constituted a Great Part of Patriarchal Wealth

Gen 13:5; 24:25; 26:14

Sheep: Males of Called Rams

1Sa 15:22; Jer 51:40

Sheep: Females Of, Called Ewes

Psa 78:71

Sheep: Young Of, Called Lambs

Exd 12:3; Isa 11:6

Sheep: Places Celebrated For


Eze 27:21


Deu 32:14


Isa 60:7


Mic 2:12

Sheep: Flesh Of, Extensively Used as Food

1Sa 25:18; 1Ki 1:19; 4:23; Neh 5:18; Isa 22:13

Sheep: Milk Of, Used as Food

Deu 32:14; Isa 7:21,22; 1Cr 9:7

Sheep: Skins Of, Worn as Clothing by the Poor

Hbr 11:37

Sheep: Skins Of, Made into a Covering for the Tabernacle

Exd 25:5; 36:10; 39:34

Sheep: Wool Of, Made into Clothing

Job 31:20; Pro 31:13; Eze 34:3

Sheep: Offered in Sacrifice from the Earliest Age

Gen 4:4; 8:20; 15:9,10

Sheep: Offered in Sacrifice under the Law

Exd 20:24; Lev 1:10; 1Ki 8:5,63

Sheep: Flocks Of

Attended by members of the family

Gen 29:9; Exd 2:16; 1Sa 16:11

Attended by servants

1Sa 17:20; Isa 61:5

Guarded by dogs

Job 30:1

Kept in folds or cotes

1Sa 24:3; 2Sa 7:8; Jhn 10:1

Conducted to the richest pastures

Psa 23:2

Fed on the mountains

Exd 3:1; Eze 34:6,13

Fed in the valleys

Isa 65:10

Frequently covered the pastures

Psa 65:13

Watered every day

Gen 29:8-10; Exd 2:16,17

Made to rest at noon

Psa 23:2; Sgs 1:7

Followed the shepherd

Jhn 10:4,27

Fled from strangers

Jhn 10:5

Sheep: Washed and Shorn Every Year

Sgs 4:2

Sheep: Firstlings Of, Not to Be Shorn

Deu 15:19

Sheep: Firstlings Of, Not to Be Redeemed

Num 18:17

Sheep: Firstlings of, could not be dedicated as a free-will offering

Lev 27:26

Sheep: Tithe Of, Given to the Levites

2Ch 31:4-6

Sheep: First Wool Of, Given to the Priests

Deu 18:4

Sheep: Time of Shearing, a Time of Rejoicing

1Sa 25:2,11,36; 2Sa 13:23

Sheep: Were Frequently

Given as presents

2Sa 17:29; 1Ch 12:40

Given as tribute

2Ki 3:4; 2Ch 17:11

Destroyed by wild beasts

Jer 50:17; Mic 5:8; Jhn 10:12

Taken in great numbers in war

Jdg 6:4; 1Sa 14:32; 1Ch 5:21; 2Ch 14:15

Cut off by disease

Exd 9:3

Sheep: False Prophets Assume the Simple Appearance

Mat 7:15

Sheep: Illustrative

Of the Jews

Psa 74:1; 78:52; 79:13

Of the people of Christ

Jhn 10:7-26; 21:16,17; Hbr 13:20; 1Pe 5:2

Of the wicked in their death

Psa 49:14

Of those under God's judgment

Psa 44:1

(In patience and simplicity,) of patience, of Christ

Isa 53:7

(In proneness to wander,) of those who depart from God

Psa 119:176; Isa 53:6; Eze 34:16

(Lost,) of the unregenerate

Mat 10:6

(When found,) of restored sinners

Luk 15:5,7

(Separation from the goats,) of the separation of saints from the wicked

Mat 25:32,33

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1 Strong's Number: g4263 Greek: probaton


from probaino, "to go forward," i.e., of the movement of quadrupeds, was used among the Greeks of small cattle, sheep and goats; in the NT, of "sheep" only

(a) naturally, e.g., Mat 12:11, 12;

(b) metaphorically, of those who belong to the Lord, the lost ones of the house of Israel, Mat 10:6; of those who are under the care of the Good Shepherd, e.g., Mat 26:31; Jhn 10:1, lit., "the fold of the sheep," and Jhn 10:2-27; 21:16, 17 in some texts; Hbr 13:20; of those who in a future day, at the introduction of the Millennial Kingdom, have shown kindness to His persecuted earthly people in their great tribulation, Mat 25:33; of the clothing of false shepherds, Mat 7:15;

(c) figuratively, by way of simile, of Christ, Act 8:32; of the disciples, e.g., Mat 10:16; of true followers of Christ in general, Rom 8:36; of the former wayward condition of those who had come under His Shepherd care, 1Pe 2:25; of the multitudes who sought the help of Christ in the days of His flesh, Mat 9:36; Mar 6:34.

2 Strong's Number: g4263 Greek: probation


a diminutive of No. 1, "a little sheep," is found in the best texts in Jhn 21:16, 17 (some have No. 1); distinct from arnia, "lambs" (ver. 15), but used as a term of endearment.

Note: For "keeping sheep," Luk 17:7, RV, see CATTLE.

Smith's Bible Dictionary


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 beasts 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 (compare John 10:4; Psalm 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. 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 sheep, 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. SEE [SHEPHERD].


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