1 Samuel 7:9 “Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord.”
Have you ever been in such deep need, so overflowing with heartache, that you literally cried out to God with the full strength of your being?
I came across this verse the other day while I was in the middle of looking for something else. It grabbed my attention forcefully since I have six nursing lambs in the yard with their mothers at the time of this writing. The detail of the “suckling lamb” was a shock to me. A “suckling lamb” is a lamb that is young enough to still be nursing, most likely any age between birth and four months old. It was the first time I had ever noticed the word “suckling” in reference to a sacrificial lamb. Since most other Biblical references to sacrificial lambs do not include this detailed word, I had assumed sacrificial lambs were normally not necessarily young enough to still be nursing, since a weaned lamb may still be classified as “lamb” for up to eight months after weaning, (depending upon weaning age, and age of maturity). I need to look into this topic further, but this phrase, “suckling lamb,” made me take a second look at this verse and its context.
When a baby, nursing lamb is taken away from his mother, the lamb is afraid. Once caught and held, even cuddled and held gently, it will start to struggle with all its might. Even lambs who belong to mothers who have very trusting relationships with their shepherds, are afraid of people, even familiar ones! So the first thing a suckling lamb who (unknown to him) is about to be sacrificed is it would struggle wildly.
The other thing a nursing lamb does is cry out for sheep-mom in a panic! Sheep-mom is his source of protection, belonging, security, and provision. Being separated from the flock, but mostly from her, is the worst thing that can happen in his little lamb mind! When I read this verse, I instantly thought of the struggling and little panicked bleats of a new lamb separated from his sheep-mom.
But because this lamb is a part of a nursing pair, there are really two creatures featured in this scene of the sacrifice of the suckling lamb: the lamb, and his mother. I have seen many mother sheep respond to separation from their lambs. The younger her lamb the higher the level of the ewe’s concern. I once witnessed a sheep-mom whose lamb was stolen by an eagle (out of sheep-mom’s vertical range of vision) spend half a day looking around the pasture for her missing lamb. I’ve seen sheep quietly grieve dead lambs. I’ve seen sheep pacing back and forth until their lambs are returned to them. I’ve heard ewes calling for their lost babies, stopping to listen in between “baaas” for the higher pitched lamb-cry they hope to hear in return. Consider this statement of a British shepherd regarding the reaction of his ewes after some of his lambs were killed by theives:
“‘My reaction was one of total disbelief,’ says Mr Phipps, 53. ‘It looked like a dog attack, but I quickly realized they were bullet wounds. It was terrible to hear the mothers calling for their lambs that were no longer there.’”
Rory Knight Bruce, “Return of the Rustlers”,
The Daily Mail.com, August 29, 2011.
“The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all. Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord.
3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths [female gods] and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only….
7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them.
When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines.
8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.”