The moon was full and radiated its dim timeless light over Bethlehem. David opened the coral in chilly darkness and called the sheep, his sheep, to come to him. They immediately obeyed and poured out of the gate in twos and threes with the yapping sheep dogs scurrying out first, anxious to please the young master and to lead the way. David quickly reviewed all the steps he needed to take to harness his brood and guide them. He was sure of the way out of town, but was less sure of the way to Hebron. His doubts and fears of getting lost, of wild animals, of failing in his mission gradually dissolved under the power of the hymns he was humming in defense of his soul; the hymns his mother taught him to expel demons. While fighting this internal skirmish his body mechanically and intuitively lead him, the leader of the lambs, directly to the pastures of Hebron.
These would be the first steps into a new life for David and he was ready. He had a strong sense that he was not as he appeared to be, a boy leading a herd to Hebron pastures, but rather a young man with a Spirit within which was himself and at the same time, not himself because It guided him beyond what his own knowledge could, and instructed him beyond his limited experience. The boy-man sensed the presence of an invisible life force, be it angels or the Spirit of the Lord Himself surrounding him. He was not alone. The sheep he had for physical companionship, but the Lord for instruction, guidance, and protection, gems the sheep were oblivious to.
As David walked he thought too about the trek of his ancestors out of Egypt. He tried to imagine being there and what it was like to walk away from slavery. He pretended that his sheep were people and that he was Moses leading the way. David had learned about Moses and the Exodus from his father; he was proud to be of the tribe of Judah. Judah was the one who told his brothers to sell Jospeh to the Ishmaelite instead of killing him like they planned to do, or just leaving him in the pit to die as Rueben suggested. It was Judah who made the first move that saved Israel from starvation. It was Judah who convinced Jacob to allow the brothers to take Benjamin to Egypt as Joseph demanded, who was willing to become surety that Benjamin would return safely. Judah lead the way when his father Jacob and the entire family moved into Egypt at Pharaoh’s invitation.
But most importantly and what made David feel like the son of a king was when Jacob elevated Judah above his brothers in his blessing. He said, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion, like a lioness-who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and the obedience of the people is his. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes; his eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”
This man, his great grandfather Judah, thought David, surely lives deep within me. “Perhaps it is the spirit of Judah who is guiding me and my sheep fearlessly through the wilderness to Hebron. Judah sleeps deep within me,” thought David as he paraded proudly with his staff held high like a scepter leading his sheep not towards Hebron, but perhaps even farther, maybe even as far as Jerusalem. “Surely” thought David, “as Judah led Israel into Egypt, I, the son of Judah should lead them out.” And out loud he yelled, “Lambs, let’s go!”
After several hours of parading his sheep to Hebron, David, son of Judah, spotted the first grassy pasture and decided to stop to let the sheep feed and spend the night. He spotted a large broad Sycamore tree that could give him a backrest and a canopy to shade him from the sun. Perfect. David walked up to the tree and leaned his shepherd’s staff up against it, unpacked his duffle bag and prepared for himself a cozy bed on the dry ground. The sheep wandered around munching grass and wild flowers; the youngest frolicked cheerfully. David unpacked his mother’s food and joined his animals in a hardy meal while the sun rapidly descended behind the western mountain range, and the hot air gradually cooled again.
When nighttime fell over the earth and David had no brother or father to talk to, he pulled his lyre out from the satchel and played himself into sleepiness.
When he stopped playing the sudden silence alarmed him. He swallowed his fear so to speak, and unfolded his bedroll to sleep. Laying between the blankets, rather than falling from sleepiness into sleep, David grew more awake. He lay there, thinking and hoping sleep would come. Two dogs lay close to him to keep him warm. He couldn’t tell if they were sleeping or just being still.
This was his very first night all alone in the fields. David felt a sting of sorrow contemplating the transition from being with his mother all day to being with his brothers. Suddenly what occurred to David was the loss his mother must have felt when he left her alone to go into the fields. Such abandonment. Such loneliness. He had left her companionless. The sensitivity she conveyed to his young soul had to be met head on, lest he crumble. The only way David knew he could survive was to become aware of the presence of God. He was not alone. That was the reality of it. And if he was not alone, then he could communicate with his Companion Yahweh, listen carefully for words of guidance and comfort, not from his bulky brothers, or his tender mother, but from a richer, wiser, invisible Power, just as real, just as loving as his mother, just as instructive as his brothers. On this night, for the first time, David spoke directly to God. He poured out his heartfelt thoughts as if he could see the Lord. Through his words God became manifest to the man-child.
These were the thoughts that lulled young David into sleep on his first night as a full fledged shepherd. The morning light, a blazing red streak across the sky, woke him up before the sun popped up behind the mountain range. When he opened his eyes and remembered where he was and why, his first thoughts which resounded so loudly in his soul that David couldn’t tell if he spoke them or thought them were, “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.” [Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.] “Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad” [Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.] "His soul sang to Him the prayers that his mother had placed there from his infancy.
David lay there for a few moments and listened to his heart praying while staring into the cloudless sky. Then he pulled himself up and looked for his sheep and counted them. What a relief, not one was missing. Being busy packing his bed and eating kept David from thinking. The dogs who had corralled the sheep spotted David and raced each other to reach him looking for affirmation and food. He reached into his food bag and pulled out a measure for the day. He hoped to kill game to feed the dogs with that day.
In silence David, packed up his bed, rounded up the sheep and headed south across the wadi to reach the pastures on the other side.
The day was particularly hot and dry. Even the sheepdogs had slowed down. Yet, David began to feel more alert and alive than he had ever felt before. Thoughts descended onto his mind like a refreshing spring rain. Like he was being instructed by a master. As he walked he suddenly saw his sheep, his companions as so much more than animals, as his subjects. He saw them as warming blankets, as nourishing food, as healing lanolin, that they would become.
Then in shock he saw them as recipients of sin, of his sin and his brothers’ sin. This alarming conclusion brought tears to David’s eyes. He suddenly felt embarrassed and ashamed before them. He no longer felt like their master, instead he was aware that he was their debtor. Someday one of them would be murdered for David’s sin. What a gruesome thought. He tried to shake it from his mind. He looked at the sheep and wondered which one it would be. Which innocent sheep would bear his iniquity? One of them had to, God demanded it. God demanded animal sacrifice to spare him, like He sent the ram at the moment Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac. That innocent ram proved Abraham’s trust and obedience. One of these sheep would prove David’s obedience and gratitude. David, son of Judah lowered his scepter which turned back into a staff as his heart shied away from his sense of royalty and into a sense of shame and humility.
“But why?” David asked his inner Mentor. Why did God ever require the death of the innocent lamb? Enemies die. Enemies should be killed lest they kill us. Not friends, not ignorant but generous woolen sheep! “Dear Lord, let them die of old age after a full life enjoying the sun and grass.” cried this unusual son of a holy mother.
His inner Mentor simply replied, “The Law is life.”
David followed that statement to its opposite wholeness. “If the law is life and I transgress the law, then I am as death.”
The Mentor smiled approvingly in David’s heart.
“I don’t only deserve to die,” thought David, “because I have violated life, I am death. This sheep never violated laws of nature like man violates laws of nature and of God.” David was not so young and innocent that he didn’t know about evil men. He heard about girls his age being raped, about old men going into children, about thieves and those men who kill for pleasure, about animal men. Remember Lot’s evil visitors? Worse. Animals would never violate the laws of nature as do these men.
David looked deep within himself and saw how often he violated the law, when he played on the Sabbath, when he was rude to his father, when he lied, when he coveted his neighbor’s bow and arrows. The law is life. To violate the law is death. The death of the lamb restores life to the man. The man is resurrected whose violations are passed on to the lamb in humility and gratitude, and repentance. The lamb is king, not David. To shepherd the ignorant recipient of his death, even if there is only one in the hundreds of sheep who will bear his sins, he didn’t know which one it would be, so he had to treat them all as the one who would bear his sins, and the sins of his brothers and his father. To shepherd them is to prepare them all to teach the meaning of, ‘The law is life, and to violate the law is death.’
How ignorant is man? As ignorant as these sheep, but as holy too.
As he walked behind the sheep to make sure none strayed, with the dogs corralling them in front, David saw wooly animals that carry the sins that eat away at souls, like lice that eat away at a body; the rebellious deeds of everyone he knew. This thought frightened David and caused tears to well up in his chest, brimming enough to spill from his eyes a bit. It seemed too unfair, they were so innocent. So ignorant of their sacred sacrificial job. “If only a person, a human being,” thought David, “with full knowledge of carrying the sins of others were to be sacrificed, it would make sense.” Then he thought that no human being could or would accept such punishment for others. No one. We need the ignorance of animals.
The Mentor quickly corrected David’s thought. “Is it punishment really?”
“Of course it is!”
“Not true. Not true my son.”
The sacrifice of the lambs is a noble act performed to teach, to show the effect of failure to choose life and to adhere to its path. The law is Life. That is not an arbitrary statement. The law forms a safe and narrow path, like stepping stones to immortality. Death of the lamb teaches the calamity of the missed step.”
“But the lamb doesn’t know that!”
The ignorance of the lamb is merciful. It will be killed for food anyway. Through its sacrifice, the lamb feeds the soul of man, not just his body.
“I still think it would be just for a man to be sacrificed because it is man’s sin that causes death.” retorted David boldly to The Mentor.
The Mentor withdrew in silence to leave a David with his thoughts and with his lambs heading to the richest pastureland in all of Israel