What the Bible says about
Goats, Characteristics of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The male goat represents strong-mindedness, singleness of purpose, and leadership rather than following. Interestingly, Scripture does not view the goat in nearly as good a light as a sheep. Perhaps this is so because people who exercise these characteristics are frequently offensive to their brethren and tend to go off in their own direction in their drive to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, a great deal of ego often accompanies leadership and initiative.
First, let us look at the good side. Jeremiah 50:8 contains this curious command to those living in Babylon. "Move from the midst of Babylon, go out of the land of the Chaldeans; and be like the rams [margin, male goats] before the flocks." Proverbs 30:29-31 from the NIV helps explain. "There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king with his army around him." The imagery of a he-goat in its positive sense is of leadership. If it is among a flock of sheep, it assumes command. Along with this is a sense of dignity, stately bearing, and undaunted courage—but also a strong inclination toward haughtiness.
We see the downside of the goat imagery in Matthew 25:33, 41 where Christ rejects the goats, representing people.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Two): The Burnt Offering
Understanding the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats lies in their surprised responses. Both the sheep and the goats respond, "When did we see you in need and help you?" (verses 37-39, 44). This parable contains two lessons.
The first lesson is that neither the sheep nor the goats are surprised at the place Christ assigns them. A careful reading of the parable shows that clearly. They do not respond to the place that Christ assigns them, but they express surprise at the reasons He gives for His judgment. A vital question to Christians is, on what does He base his judgment? The basis of His judgment is how they treated Christ! Of course, their treatment of Christ manifests itself in how they treated those in whom Christ lived, those who had His Spirit.
The second lesson is no less important than the first. Jesus, our Judge, eliminates the possibility of hypocrisy obscuring His judgment of the sheep and the goats. If the goats had thought that treating their brothers in the faith would have gotten them into the Kingdom, they would have done it. What is the lesson? Jesus is interested in love from the heart, not a false love.
The true love of God is seen in the sheep. As the sheep respond to their brother's need, they are united in their distress and at the same time unwittingly, unconsciously, without hypocrisy, align themselves with Christ. Apparently, they are not even aware of what they were doing. This is a kind of love that cannot be faked or put on. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
The reaction of the goats is quite different. They have little sympathy for God's way and remain indifferent, Laodicean, to their brethren. In so doing, they reject their Messiah, their King, since He lived in the people whom they would not serve. The goats are condemned because of their sins of omission.
Because they had developed their relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, fasting, and obedience, the sheep have love through a regular infusion of the Spirit of God. "[T]he love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). A godly life always comes down to the basic things. The sheep are simply unconsciously and unaffectedly good, kind, sympathetic, and concerned, attributes of character that cannot be feigned.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Christ concludes His interpretation of the parable in verse 46, where He indicates that the sheep are given eternal life, but the goats are cast into the Lake of Fire. It is clear from this section of Scripture that we want the attributes of sheep and not those of goats!
What is it about goats that causes God to use them in such a negative light? Goats are capricious. They are impulsive and unpredictable, devious and contrary. If they are not poking their heads through fences, they may be standing on their hind legs, stretching for those tender leaves just out of reach. Goats are never content with what they have.
They are experts in opening gates and squeezing through small gaps because they hate to be confined. Fences that will handle sheep, cattle, and horses will not hold goats. They will work tirelessly to spring themselves from any situation they deem inhibiting.
Consequently, goats are not very good followers. "Gregarious behavior" is a term that refers to the flocking or herding instinct which is found strongly in sheep, cattle, and horses. Again, this quality is rather weak in goats; they prefer leading or going off on their own. Meat packers use this instinct in sheep and goats to their advantage. They will train an old goat, appropriately called a "Judas," to lead sheep to the pens for slaughter. A well-trained Judas will lead group after group of sheep to the slaughter all day long.
A sheep follows its Shepherd, peacefully moving forward with the flock. He is content to be led because he has faith in Him. A sheep responds to his Shepherd's voice and goes where He directs. On the other hand, a goat follows only its own lead, creating disunity when he comes in contact with others in the flock. Because of his independent nature, he often finds himself in contention with the Shepherd for leadership of the flock, leading some astray. A goat often eats things—a symbol of ingesting spiritual instruction—sheep would avoid because they have no real value and cause sickness.
Goats are not inherently evil, but some of their traits could be deadly—spiritually—if found in a Christian. A Christian who is unpredictable, who thinks he is above it all, who independently does his own thing, who wants to take over, has trouble functioning in a group, or does not want to be led, is exhibiting the characteristics of a goat—one Christ says will be cast into the Lake of Fire!
Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Goats on the Left
Meekness, we should understand, is not weakness. Though scoffed at by an assertive and bruising world, meekness demonstrates tremendous strength, for it is power under internal restraint. Meekness withholds force that could otherwise be brought to bear, keeping it in check for the right purpose, appropriate magnitude, and perfect time.
Jesus Christ's final day epitomizes such strength under flawless regulation. To the arresting mob seeking Jesus of Nazareth, He declared, "I AM," and those words, combined with the commanding presence and force of character of the One speaking, caused the troops and their officers to draw back and fall to the ground (John 18:3-8). It was a withering display of authority, yet less in magnitude than what it could have been.
He admonished Peter for needlessly injuring a servant with his sword, explaining that He could summon over twelve legions of angels to His defense if needed (Matthew 26:50-53). It was a rescue He could have called for but did not. Jesus possessed awesome authority, yet He used it solely for doing His Father's will, even though that meekness included submitting Himself to the basest of men. Were it not for Jesus' assent, it would have been impossible for men to take His life (John 10:17-18).
Once arrested, this powerful Man permitted Himself to be led around, sent here and there like a common stock animal. Notice the repeated activity after His arrest: He was led to Annas, one of the high priests (John 18:13). Annas then sent Him to Caiaphas, another high priest (John 18:24). He was led from Caiaphas to the Praetorium (John 18:28), the Roman headquarters for that region. After being questioned there by Pilate, He was sent back and forth between Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:7, 11, 15). In Matthew 27:1-2, Jesus was led away at the behest of the chief priests and elders. Finally, they "led Him away to be crucified" (Matthew 27:31; see also Mark 14:53; 15:1, 16; Luke 23:26; emphasis ours). During all this ignominy, He spoke few words, mounting the meekest of defenses—that is, He safeguarded the truth and His disciples but not Himself. He was sent and led, yet He retained His authority and dignity.
Christ's meekness shone brighter still when He was brought to the place of His crucifixion. The Judge of all mankind, who legally could have required the lives of all living, did more than just hold Himself in check. Of those who led Him and crucified Him, He said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). By His words, He cleansed those who led Him and perpetrated His suffering rather than condemn them.
Some have wondered at the use of goats in the sacrificial system, given that goats are known for contrariness and stubbornness, while Christ, the object of all the offerings, had none of those traits. However, goats can also symbolize positive qualities of leadership, such as strong-mindedness, a commanding presence, and singleness of purpose—beneficial qualities where true meekness dwells but destructive where self-interest rules.
In this context of genuinely meek leadership, we can see Jesus as a goat, particularly on His crucifixion day. As their Leader, He ensured the disciples kept their liberty, looking out for His charges rather than Himself (John 18:8-9). Though He submitted to being sent by the rulers and led by their agents, He was not pushed around. He courageously laid down His life; they did not take it from Him. He maintained His dignity and bearing as a leader, only bowing His head when His life was over (John 19:30). Because He was meek, Christ exhibited the positive goat-like qualities without the negative traits, such as obstinance or defiance.
David C. Grabbe
Led Outside the Gate
The New King James titles this section "The Elder's Task." It covers instructions to the ministry in their job to protect the church from false teachers. In this section is the famous verse 12, "Cretans are always liars," and then he talks about those who are preaching Jewish fables and teaching the commandments of men.
Paul is giving general guidelines to Titus, the pastor on Crete, to help him to read the motives of the people who were affecting the congregation. One might say he was helping Titus to read their fruit. Does not scripture say, "You will know them by their fruits?" This is one of Christ's prime teachings in the Sermon on the Mount so that we would know the wolves that come among the flock. Paul is doing this same with Titus except putting it into different words.
He is telling the ministry that they have to get inside the heads of the people to sense the type of people that they are. Ministers have to be able to "read their minds" by observing what they say and do. This is not a Gestapo action, but an exercise to protect the flock. Among a minister's primary jobs is to ensure that no one has entered the flock who does not belong there, and to usher him out, if need be, to protect the rest of flock.
Oftentimes, goats come in among the sheep, and the goats need to be chased off due to their contrary influence on the sheep. Matthew 25 is clear about where the sheep end up, and where the goats end up.
Paul is instructing Titus in how to do his job—how to protect the flock of which he was made leader.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is God in All Our Thoughts?
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