Symbolism of Sheep and the Leg-Breaking Myth

Sheep 101

Break a leg?
There is a commonly-held belief that shepherds in Biblical times would break the legs of lambs that constantly wandered away. According to the “story,” the shepherd would then set the broken leg and carry the lamb on his shoulders until the leg healed, after which time the lamb would remain by the shepherd’s side for the rest of its life. While there is no way to know for certain what Biblical shepherds did, there is no such story in the Bible, and to do so would be cruel and impractical.


Shepherding the Flock

First, you may have heard that shepherd’s often break the legs of a lamb that has continually gone astray. The idea is that as the lamb heals the shepherd will keep it by his side and handle and feed it so individually that the lamb will never stray again. A good shepherd would never do that. Angie and I cringe every time we hear that story and it’s just not true. If God wanted you to believe that, He would have written it in scripture with the other sheep analogies. There are better ways of protecting lambs from hurting themselves and wandering off.

Secondly, we often hear those that say, sheep must be led and cannot be driven. This is another misconception. Actually, when you think about it, that’s what sheep dogs do! Sheep can be led by someone that they trust. But they can also be driven just like cattle.

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3 Responses to Symbolism of Sheep and the Leg-Breaking Myth

  1. David E. Crites says:

    I have been looking up all the references on this and I agree; it is just not true. No one is that mean. I have raised sheep and goats for 50 years and an animal with a broken leg will actually hobble along and keep up by itself. The flopping leg will swell tight and heal itself in a few weeks with to treatment. I learned that goats will fight young ones and sometimes get their legs caught between their horns if they are close, which sometimes results in a broken leg in a small one. I have went so far as to lodge a block of wood between their horns to prevent this. This idea just got in the literature, like our astronaut have seen the great wall of China from the moon, mascara is made from bat guano, and there are no two snowflakes alike–there have been a lot of snowflakes.


    • Jennifer Herring says:

      I can’t say if this is true or not BUT I am leaning to the fact that it could be true based on scripture and also my recent painful experience. First, Jacob wrestled with God and walked away with a limp. We also know that Paul carried a thorn and when Paul requested that it be removed, the Lord said, my grace is sufficient for thee. And then my experience is that I had somehow managed to wander away from the safe pastures and found myself in an extremely dangerous situation with someone I loved dearly. And I didn’t get there overnight either. And after crying out to the Lord to save me, the absolute worst thing ever happened. My someone suddenly died right smack in the middle of my prayers. I was so broken, I honestly thought I would die and never heal. And the Lord was so very close to my wounded heart during my healing. I even sought a heart dr at one point because I thought i would die. And now I am back and healed and doubt I’ll sneak off from the pasture again.


  2. Marianne says:

    Jacob wrestled with an Angel who dislocated Jacob’s hip during the struggle. I’m glad it’s not a pattern throughout the scriptures. All Jesus ever instructed was to feed the Lambs. I think as long as you feed the Lambs they will stay close to you!


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