I saw a clip: two zookeepers in China thought of a stunt to celebrate the changing of the year from tiger to rabbit. And so they brought out a cute white bunny and a tiger cub. The men smiled and showed their animals, then placed the bunny near the cub on a decorated perch.
As soon as the tiger was free, it pounced upon the rabbit. A paw the size of the rabbit, knocked on its side and swiped it into the tiger’s jaw. They tried to separate the two, but it was too late.
Rabbits have a wisdom of their own. They are never to be found in the presence of tigers. They endeavor to never be seen, except by other rabbits. In summer they are the color brush and dirt and rocks. In winter, some become the color of snow. Rabbits are not the peacocks of the world, they are skittish, quick, and concealed.
You will be surprised the first time you watch a rabbit dig a hole. And the hole will quickly be a burrow. Leave alone long enough and you will have a warren, a rabbit city beneath the ground.
Rabbits have no claws to fend off dogs or cats or birds seeking to make them prey (although a mother rabbit will strike as quick as a rattlesnake. She may not have more than some nails for digging and teeth for hay, but she will use them with all the force within her.) The rabbit scurries about beneath the brush, wary at every moment.
Consider a moment and look about, you will see how every weak animal seeks to survive on this planet by speed and wisdom and concealment. Sparrows disappear among the branches of a trees or the leaves upon the ground. They move in clouds, so that no one sparrow can be easily tracked. The skitter about, anxious to survive.
Even insects can hide and dodge with a genius beyond their size. Try grabbing a fly or tracing a gnat on a summer evening as it dips and zags like someone weaving hair.
Predators may seem to have it much better. They are great and powerful, but their prey is elusive. And predators confront predators. Lions fight hyenas for the carcass, and vultures dog the hawk. A great white shark fears nothing, but orcas hunt and eat the apex predators beneath them.
Goats have horns and cattle are large. Where no rancher culls the herd, dangerous bulls will protect the cows. A stampede of buffalo and obliterate a pack of wolves.
Yet, one animal stands out. The lamb is not the color of grass. His mother has no horns. He will never run like a gazelle or fly like a crow. He cannot disappear into a crevice after a snake. He does not pretend to be a poisonous animal. No wolf was ever harmed by a flock of sheep.
How striking then that God speaks of his people as sheep:
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
And he is a shepherd:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Think again of the language of the well-known 23rd Psalm:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
Psalm 23:1–2. Those who cause injury to the church are fierce beasts:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
The Puritan Richard Sibbes observed:
For the first, the condition of men whom he was to deal withal is, that they were bruised reeds, and smoking flax; not trees, but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds. The church is compared to weak things; to a dove amongst the fowls; to a vine amongst the plants; to sheep amongst the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel: and here God’s children are compared to bruised reeds and smoking flax.
Sibbes, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. Edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1, James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1862, p. 43.
The earth is dangerous; even roses have thorns. The sheep have no protection, except their shepherd. All of their hope is in their shepherd. If a wolf comes, the shepherd alone can stop the wolf. The sheep can only die.
God does not save by increasing our strength. His people never become wolves or bears. Instead, he teaches us to be weak. We are not merely harmless beasts; we are taught to become harmless beasts. In fact, we are not merely to accept our weakness, but to glory in our weakness:
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8–10. Now there is a paradox. To be weak, seems to be one who has no honor, no glory, no power. How then can Paul glory in his weakness? How is he safe in the power of Christ, when we know how often Paul was imprisoned, degraded, beaten? How can suffering insults or calamities be a means of glory? A great grizzly, fearless of all things in the world is filled with glory. A lion is glorious. A sheep? Sheep are weak and foolish. But sheep have something no shark, no wolf ever had: a shepherd.