One key to understanding why sheep seem to some to exhibit “stupid” or inconvenient behavior, is learning how they perceive the world. Since sheep are prey animals, their eyes are located on either side of the head, like a horse or cow, instead of on the front of the head like predators’ eyes, including humans’. This eye location makes it so when sheep have their heads in a down position when grazing, they have a visual field much closer to 360° than a human could ever hope to have.
To understand what this means:
- Stand up right now, holding both of your arms straight out to the sides of your body, level with your shoulders. Go ahead; I’m waiting. I’ll know if you don’t do it. (If you don’t want to, then make the nearest kid do it. Kids love this!)
- Stare straight ahead and don’t move your eyes.
- To find out how wide your field of vision is, move your outstretched arms however far behind or in front of you is necessary for you to be able to still see both of your hands without turning your head, while still staring straight ahead.
This shows you how far around yourself you are able to see with your peripheral vision.
Now, to understand how far around herself a sheep can see:
- Continue moving your straight, outstretched arms toward each other behind your back. Move them as if you were trying to hold hands with yourself, behind your back. (It is like pinching your shoulder blades together while keeping your arms straight).
- When you have moved your hands as far behind you as you can without bending your arms, STOP. Unless you are weirdly double jointed, your hands should not be touching, but they should be beyond your field of vision.
If you’ve done it right, you should no longer be able to still see either of your hands while staring straight ahead. If you were a sheep though, you would still be able to!
This means sheep are great at being tuned in to their immediate surroundings, allowing them to perceive possible danger from nearly any where around them, as they go about their daily sheep-business.
However, because of the position of the eyes, sheep have two blind spots: one immediately in front of them; one immediately behind them. They may also perceive anything that is in front of them but off to their right or left at a 30-45° angle, to be a solid wall. For example, if I want my sheep to pass thru the opening I make for them between the opened gate and the fence post, the first time thru it, they often balk at moving forward. To them, the gate on their right, and the fence on their left, look like they are blocking their path. Because of the blind spot in front of the nose, they cannot see the open space when they get up on it close enough to pass thru it; all they can see is are the perceived “obstacles” to their progress. My sheep think the opening I’ve made for them isn’t big enough, if they can even see an opening at all. They have to pass thru because they trust me, in spite of what their sheep eyes are telling them.
Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Like sheep, we can tend to be too clued in to our immediate surroundings, especially when those surroundings produce anxiety, worry, or fear. We may not “see” or remember well what our Shepherd has already done for us, nor be able to “see” very well what He has for us straight ahead. Sometimes when He wants us to move forward, all we can see are the obstacles to what we know He is calling us to do.
Just as a good shepherd understands how sheep think, and their point of view, so our Good Shepherd, instead of being frustrated, anticipates how we His sheep will react to a situation because of our different perspective; He patiently works to accommodate our limitations. As “sheep”, we in turn need to trust Him, accepting that just as a shepherd is able to see things from a higher perspective and with greater dimension than a sheep, (his eyes literally being above the level of sheep’s), so our Shepherd sees things from a higher perspective, with greater dimension that we cannot comprehend. It is safe to move forward thru our perceived obstacles to do whatever it is He calls us to do.
Although sheep are very far sighted, with the blind spot straight ahead, there is also a spot directly in front of their nose where if they concentrate, they may bring what is close into focus. I’ve stood near sheep and seen them roll their side-facing eyes forward to bring something into view to study it. Sheep have to be very close to the Shepherd, to be able to see His face.