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By Richard Gunther


There is a view, held by some Christians, that to call a human child a “kid” is an insult. The inference is partly because of the parable, in which Jesus portrayed himself as a Great Shepherd, separating the sheep nations (‘good’) from the goat nations (‘not so good’). If goats are ‘bad’ people, then kids must also be bad, because they are the offspring of goats.


   Another reason is anecdotal. Sheep, it is said, care for their lambs, while goats, it is said (by people who know very little about these animals) do not care for their kids. Female goats, these people say, wander away from their offspring, leaving them untended. This theory is not supported by the facts. As someone who has been involved with farming for the last thirty years, I can say with confidence that sheep do not always make good mothers. The usual regular chore, every spring time, is to round up all the abandoned lambs and ‘mother them up’ to their own mothers, or to some other mother.


   One of the tedious and often frustrating mothering techniques at lambing time is to take the skin of a dead lamb and wrap it around an abandoned living lamb, so the mother who lost the first lamb will accept the new lamb – she smells the familiar smell of her dead lamb and allows it to suckle.  But even though this is done the mother may still refuse to allow the lamb to suckle. Some ewes with two lambs will deliberately shun one of their lambs, leaving it to die only a few metres away.  Lambs wander away too, get themselves stuck in fences, find holes in fences and run far away  from their mothers . . . many farmers find this erratic and stupid behaviour infuriating and frustrating. So, from simple observation, it can be argued that sheep and lambs are not as ‘good’ as they are said to be, and by no means supply a useful contrast to goats with their kids.


   But what does the Bible say about “kids” and goats?


   Gen.27:9 Jacob brought two kids to his mother to use in the ‘red pottage’ incident. In this case the kids (Heb. ‘gedi’) were ‘neutral, that is neither good or bad. Their skins supplied the ‘hairy arms’ for Jacob in his plan to deceive his father.


   Ex.23:19. In the Law, the people were commanded not to boil the kid (Heb. ‘gedi’) in its mother’s milk. This law has a compassionate aspect in that a mother goat would at the time be producing the milk for its young, therefore, to kill and eat the kid could cause some distress to the mother.


   Another word used for goats is ‘gedi izzim’ which means ‘baby goat’. One place where this word is used is where Judah offered his daughter-in-law a kid as a pledge for her ‘services’ to him. This could work in either of two ways if we try to find a value for the kid – it either undervalues the kid because it is set against Judah’s deed, or it overvalues the kid if it is set against the ‘services’ rendered by the woman.


   Another word for young goats is the Hebrew ‘gediyyah’.


   We find this word in the Song of Solomon 1:8. The Beloved speaks to the Woman: “Feed your little goats beside the shepherd’s tents”. This is obviously poetry, and meant to be a beautiful expression, which means that, by inference, that kids are valued as something attractive and positive in this instance.


   Lev. 4:23. When a ruler sins, according to the Law, he or she is told to bring an offering: a kid without blemish. This is a very important point. The kid was used as an offering for sin, just as a lamb was used as an offering for sin. By inference therefore, the kid is a symbol of the Lord Jesus. By making lambs and kids equal in their station as offerings, God has given kids a status which the denigrators of ‘kids’ cannot gainsay.


   Ez. 43:22 and 45:23. Ezekiel saw a wonderful, glorious, beautiful Temple in his vision, in which kids were to be offered daily as part of the sacrificial system. It is not a matter for this paper to try to explain what the vision means, but the fact that kids – rather than goats – are being offered in God’s Holy Temple surely tells us something about their value.


   2 Chron. 35:7. Good king Josiah wanted to celebrate the Passover, so he ordered the people to get busy. As an act of benevolence he donated many lambs and goats so the people would be able to join in – 33,000 in all. In this way the kid (‘gediyyah’) was elevated to the same level of importance as the Passover lamb.


   Luke 15:29. In the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ the brother of the son who went away complains to his father that he never gave him a kid as part of a general celebration. The kid here is seen as a blessing, a good thing, and part of a celebration, so its value is once again elevated.


   Looking at the word ‘goats’ we also find several interesting verses.

   Prov.30:31 says “There are three things which are majestic in pace, yes four that are stately in walk: a lion . . . a greyhound . . . a goat . . . and a king. “ Now obviously, if goats were ‘bad’ they would not come in for such clear commendation. Goats and kings go together – surely there must be some other way we can regard the parable of the sheep and goats?


   Let us take another look at the parable. Mat.25:31-46. Jesus told this parable about the end of this present age. He said he would be like a shepherd at that time, separating the sheep nations from the goat nations. The emphasis is more on the shepherd than the animals he is working with. Surely the main point about this is the fact that Jesus can discern between one kind of person and another. God, we know, looks upon the heart and not the outward appearance.


   The parable goes on to say that the ‘sheep’ nations are generally more humanitarian than the ‘goat’ nations.


   Let us, just for argument’s sake, take this parable literally. If it means what it seems to mean, as a literal description of how things are, then we have a direct contradiction of the gospel. People will be saved by works rather than faith. It looks as if the humanitarian nations have a pretty good chance of getting into God’s Kingdom simply by doing good deeds, and not, after all, by trusting in Jesus alone. This is rather disturbing, but then, all the parables seem to say one thing when they really mean another.


   If we look back into the Old Testament we find that God usually called the people of Israel the “sheep”, or the “sheep of his pasture”, and since this parable is called a parable of the kingdom, we would not be violating any rules if we saw it as a symbolic picture of God separating the Israelite nations from the non-Israelite nations at the end of the age. Now it is very clear that God loves all people, of whatever branch of the family tree, so there is no suggestion in the parable that sheep are good and goats are bad, but that some nations are generally better than others. Jesus could have called them stones and bread, or salt and pepper for all that it mattered.


   References to Israel being the sheep include: Ps.44:11, 74:1, 78:52, 79:13, 95:7, 53:6, Ez.34:6, 11, 12. God is pictured as the great Shepherd in Ps.23:1, 80:1, Is.40:11, Jer.31:10, 50:44, Ez.34:23, Zech.13:7, John 10:11,14, Heb.13:20 and 1Pet.2:25.


   So God has not cast off his people whom he foreknew, nor abrogated his covenant promises to his people, yet he has also opened the doors to all the world for salvation. We have solved one question – that of the place of kids in Scripture, but we have unearthed yet another problem – the national identity of Israel at the return of Christ.


   As it is not the purpose of this article to explain the place of Israel the ‘sheep’ or non-Israel the ‘goats’ n their context as national identities, you may consider that matter yourself – but it is clear from Scripture that there is no insult implied in the affectionate term “kids” when applied to human children.

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