Of goats and mice

I read recently that a trade union is upset because a college campus has purchased twenty goats to clear up an overgrown portion of the college campus. The union objects that by using the goats the University of Western Michigan has taken jobs away from union workers. Apparently the reason the university employed the four-footed mowers rather than two-footed is environmental. Goats do not spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere the way a rider mower might.

They’re not kidding around, either. The goats are making quick work of the brush, eating through scrub, poison oak, everything. But union leaders insist this is ba-a-a-a-ad for employment. It seems the four-footed mowers will eat anything, and are thus scape goated for the poor employment in the region. So we are faced with a dilemma. Do we support jobs or the environment?

Even in the Bible, it seems, goats get a bad rap. Recall that at the end of time, the sheep will be on the right, the goats on the left (Matthew 25:33). The older brother in the story of the prodigal son bemoaned the fact that though his wayward brother was being given a fattened calf, he had not even been given a goat to celebrate with his friends (Luke 15:29). As already suggested, an Israelite who had sinned could bring a goat to the high priest, admit his sin, then place his hands on the goat, as if to transfer the guilt from Israelite to animal. The goat was then let out of the camp, symbolically taking the sin with him (Leviticus 16:8). (Don’t worry, the ubiquitous creature, of all animals, is well suited to surviving in the wilderness. Goats, as we have already observed, can eat anything).

So sheep are considered innocent and pure, while goats are generally thought of as mischievous and destructive. Also, they threaten jobs in Michigan, apparently. Perhaps goats should organize a union of their own?

It seems that goats get no respect. Not that you will hear them bleating about that. They just eat. Even in tandem with bulls, however, goats are not sufficient to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4).

All of which is a good way to remind ourselves that when it came to our sin, the Lord did not leave it up to either four-legged creature; he offered the ultimate sacrifice: himself (Hebrews 10:5-7). I do not know whether to side with the humans or the goats in Western Michigan University, but I am relieved beyond words that the Lord gave himself for my sins. Nothing and no one less could have done the job.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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