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 and the lamb(Exodus20:24; 29:28; Leviticus9:3; 12:6). Sheep and lambs formed an important article of food(1Samuel25:18).
In Leviticus 13:47 the wool was used as clothing. "Rams skins dyed red" were used as a covering for the tabernacle(Ex.25:5). Sheep and lambs were sometimes paid as tribute(2Kings 3:4). It is very striking to notice the immense numbers of sheep that were reared in Palestine in biblical times. 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, comp. (John 10:4; Psalms 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 sheer, 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.
There are frequent allusions in Scripture to these characteristics of the sheep, and to its proneness to go astray, Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6. It is a gregarious animal also; and as loving the companionship of the flock and dependant of the protection and guidance of its master, its name is often given to the people of God, 2Kings 22:17; Psalm 79:13; 80:1; Mt 25:32. Sheep and goats are still found in Syria feeding indiscriminately together, as in ancient times, Genesis 30:35; Matthew 25:32,33. The season of sheep shearing was one of great joy and festivity, 1Samuel 25:5,8,36; 2Samuel 13:23.
Sheep-cotes or folds, among the Israelites, appear to have been generally open houses, or enclosures walled round, often in front of rocky caverns, to guard the sheep from beasts of prey by night, and the scorching heat of noon, Numbers 32:16; 2Samuel 7:8; Jeremiah 23:3,6; John 10:1-5.
A kind of sheepfold was in the countryside, this type of sheepfold was a rough circle of rocks piled into a wall with a small open space, a gate or door.