Deuteronomy 22:1-4 “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. . . You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.”
Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, God gave Israel various rules that they were to obey as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Many of these were very practical commands regarding property issues. An example is found in the verses above. Here God commanded that if someone saw a lost ox or sheep that belonged to someone else, they were not to ignore it. They were to return it to their owner, or if they didn’t know who the owner was, they were to keep it at their home until the owner came looking. If someone found their brother’s donkey or ox fallen down, they were, again, not to ignore it. They were to help him lift it up again.
This makes me think of a metaphor the Lord has given us in the New Testament, where He likens people who are in need to “sheep.” We can be certain that if the Lord cares about the well-being of livestock, He cares even more about the people who He likens to them. Perhaps it was this very law that Jesus was referring to in his rebuke of the Pharisees who had criticized Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. In Luke 14:5 it says this: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” In Luke 15, Jesus explains this to the Pharisees who grumbled about the Lord’s practice of “receiving sinners and eating with them”: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
God will never ignore a person who is spiritually lost. Nor will He ever ignore one of His own who has fallen down, who is struggling, who needs physical or spiritual help. He will go to him or her to lift them up. But how does He do this? Often, it is by way of a similar provision to that laid down in the Old Testament Law. Again, in ancient Israel, if a person saw a brother’s sheep or ox either lost or fallen down, he was to not ignore it but to go to it and provide help as appropriate. So, the Lord has told us in Matthew 25, that at the final judgment it will be like this: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Ignoring those in need: that is not the Lord’s way, nor should it be the way of those who say they are following Him. May God help us, the Lord’s “sheep,” to have eyes to see the needs of the “lost sheep” or those that have “fallen down,” and may He give us the wisdom to go to them and not ignore them any more than we would have others ignore us when we are in the same kind of need.
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