Isaish 40:11 (NASB)
“Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”
What is the significance of “leading nursing ewes”?
Just like human moms, nursing ewes need some special consideration when they have new baby lambs. When lambs are newly born, the first couple of days is an important bonding time with mom. The nursing pair become familiar with one another’s sound and smell, so they can readily identify one another in the herd. Baby lambs take a day or so just to figure out for sure which end of the mamma sheep the milk comes out of, before they stop trying to get milk from her face or neck half the time. For this reason, it is helpful if the nursing pair can have enough time together, near the herd but not in the middle of it, for the baby to become oriented, nursing to become well established, to allow time to baby to adapt a bit to the new experience of life in the world.
Mamma sheep want to stay with their very fresh newborns who might be still gaining strength, and are not quite ready to run and keep up. When a shepherd calls to the sheep that it is time to move the herd, sometimes the new moms will not or cannot follow. She may become torn between the instinct to keep up with the herd for safety, and the instinct to take care of her new baby, if following the herd means leaving the slower, brand new baby behind. While her new lamb is often fast enough, even immediately after birth, to keep up with the pace of the adults in the flock, little lambs still do tire more quickly. A very fresh newborn, especially a second born twin, may need a more time (from a few minutes, to a whole day) to find its strength before being ready to push to keep up.
Leading a “nursing ewe”, “gently” means the Shepherd is not only aware of the mother’s concern for her babies, and her torn desire between keeping up with the herd, and keeping up with a baby that needs time, but that He is also sensitive to it and willingly takes action to help her with her concerns. His response is Not, “Oh come on you stupid old sheep!” He is not blind, deaf, nor callous to her needs, her priorities, to what concerns her. He understands, and responds supportively, with patience!
Sometimes, a mamma sheep get caught up in following the herd, and then has to go back and look for baby once she remembers. That can be hard in a crowded flock! If mama sheep has become separated from her baby lamb, an understanding shepherd may help her find her newborn she keeps calling for, that may be too short in the herd of adults to be able to see or get to her. The shepherd may locate the baby, gently lift the wriggling, un-trusting lamb up from the crowd to deliver him to his mother’s side.
When a mamma sheep knows the shepherd has her baby, she will follow the shepherd to keep up with baby. That He has her baby is her primary motivation for following Him at this time, but He doesn’t mind; she is still following. They, sheep and Shepherd, still have a relationship. She is still learning about Him as her Shepherd, even while her eyes and time are more focused on her lamb. The challenge, for both the sheep and human Christian parents, is to not view trust in the Shepherd, and responsibilities as parents, as two separate, compartmentalized things. Our Shepherd wants to support and nurture us while we carry those responsibilities; not demand more from us on top of it all.
A good shepherd is not frustrated that sheep have different needs at different times of life; by special circumstances, by vulnerability. It is to be expected. The shepherd is happy to do what is good for the sheep; happy to be able to go out of the way to provide for them. He rises to meet the need, and it gives Him joy to see the good result!
Have you ever felt torn in some way between “following your Shepherd” and all your responsibilities? Have you ever wondered if God is just waiting for you to “get with it”, blind to all you are trying to juggle? Do not worry! Your Shepherd is not frustrated with you! He is not a judge, sitting back, criticizing you for all you cannot keep up with, for all you feel like you “fail” to do. He understands your responsibilities He Himself has entrusted you with. He leads you gently. He is not demanding you “keep up” with Him, with any particular demands for service or performance “in spite of” all you have going on. He wants to give you rest and support. He looks at you with understanding and compassion. He understands the unique needs of your particular circumstances far better than you do, and likely He is not nearly as hard on you as you are on yourself.
Relax in the knowledge of the character of your Shepherd. He wants to lead you gently, not demand you keep up in spite of the weight of your responsibilities. He wants to help you carry them. He wants to look out for all the concerns you have to chase and keep up with, no matter how small. Whatever you are “crying out” about, perhaps even in a panic that you cannot keep up with your responsibilities, He longs to connect you with what you need. Rest in the understanding the your Shepherd loves you compassionately, and values your needs. Let Him gently lead you. The outcome of all you are doing is of interest to Him. We don’t have to worry about taking care of what all we have to do, and then serving Him, too, on top of it all. He wants to be your Shepherd IN your responsibilities; to carry your burden, give you guidance and protection, to soothe your frustration. Allow Him to walk with you in your need. You don’t have to “fix it” first to get it right. Trust Him with your “lambs”. Look for Him to lead you gently. Rest in His effort on your behalf.