Even the Sheep Suffer

Do you ever consider that animals, even sheep, can suffer?

What things immediately come to mind that could cause animals, even sheep, to suffer?

Over the years I have enjoyed having dogs and cats as a part of my own household.

Currently I have a fifteen-year-old dog who is mostly blind, seriously arthritic and dealing with some dementia. Occasionally there will be a yelp of pain but mostly she is still a very content and happy dog. Time is precious though.

I also have a ten-year-old dog that requires special supplements to keep her intestinal tract healthy and now is sprouting growths we need to monitor. The most recent one appears to have been cancerous but is healing thanks to an herbal injection that sloughed out the yuck. Other than the frustration of being in a “cone of shame” and having to be wrapped with gauze pads she is not expressing that she is in pain. Time is also precious here.

One of the cats is fifteen while the other is seven. The eldest is showing signs of arthritis but otherwise does not seem to have much pain. Just a bit of grumpiness, mostly toward the younger cat.

The youngest cat? Although she is in excellent health and quite limber you would think the world had come to an end when it is feeding time! Oh, the meows and the running about she does then!

In contrast to my fur children’s medical issues and antics,  Joel 1:18 paints a dire picture of animal suffering.

What can we learn from Joel today?

Prior to Joel 1:18 we learned that God has sent a message to Judah through the prophet Joel. Judah has suffered a serious locust plague followed by a drought. Now there is no food left for anyone, including the animals.

God, through Joel, has issued a call for the community to gather in mourning garments to cry out to Him about their situation.

God, through Joel, has vividly described the situation the community is facing and issued a spiritual call to action.

Now in 1:18,  God turns a spotlight on how the cattle and sheep are responding to the situation

ESV  Joel 1:18 How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer.

  • Did you know animals groan?
  • What does it mean to groan?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines groan in this way: to utter a deep moan indicative of pain, grief, or annoyance

How else are the herds of cattle described?

Consider three different translations:

  • ESV says the herds are perplexed.
  • NAS describes the herds as wandering aimlessly.
  • NET indicates the herds are wandering in a state of confusion.

Why are the herds perplexed and wandering aimlessly confused?

They have no food. As far as their eyes can see or their noses smell there is nothing to eat. They are hungry!

Then God, through Joel, says that even the sheep suffer.

Why does He say this?

Sheep are herbivores which means they eat vegetation. They tend to eat different vegetation than other species according to Sheep 101.

This statement drives home the point that all vegetation has been destroyed.

What other reasons might God have for drawing the community’s attention to even the sheep that suffer and the other livestock mentioned in this verse?

Genesis 1:28-31 can help us with this question.

In this passage God gives humankind responsibility to care for not just themselves but every living thing that moves on the earth.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God also provided edible vegetation for both humans and animals:

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Then God declared everything was good.

31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

In Joel, the Judean community is being reminded that the animals around them, even the sheep, suffer when humanity neglects their spiritual relationship with God their creator and provider.

Caring for animals is a part of our God given responsibility.

Even if you do not have household fur children or operate a farm with livestock you still have a God given responsibility towards His creation.

What comes first though is your relationship with God. Once you start to drift away from God, everything else eventually suffers.

When have you neglected God in the past day? Week? Month? Longer?

What have been the consequences of this for yourself? For other humans? For any animals you cross paths with?

What do you need to do today to stop or guard against neglecting God?

Is there someone you need to encourage in their journey with God today?

Do you need to think about the animals you cross paths with differently, whether domesticated or wild, because of your relationship with God?

Not everyone needs to personally take in a dog, cat, livestock or other animals! But we all have a responsibility for how we treat, think, and speak of the animals around us.

  • May we never forget that God created this earth, the vegetation, the animals, and us.
  • May we never forget that God saw good in what He created.
  • May we honor the responsibility God gave us to care for His creation whether plant, animal or human.
  • May we cherish our Creator and seek ways to live out our faith daily to positively impact our environment, even the sheep.


Barbara Lynn

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