Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shearing Sheep in New Zealand

Mosiah 14:7 (also Isaiah 53:7)

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth.”

After reading the title to this post you may say to yourself, “No, not Isaiah!  I can’t understand Isaiah.”  But I promise you can understand Isaiah if you take it a little at a time … a verse here and a verse there.  Just like I will explain. 

Isaiah and many of the other prophets have used sheep to describe the Savior.  (After all, He is the “Lamb of God.”)   Well, what better place to learn something about sheep than in New Zealand.  They say there are 4 million people in New Zealand and 16 million sheep.  That’s right – the sheep greatly outnumber the people in this beautiful country.   This is also where the story behind this scripture comes into focus for me.

I just returned from New Zealand where we were filming some profiles of Church members for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign on the mormon.org website.   One of the members we selected to highlight was the Stake President of the Kaikohe Stake, Pres. Butch Horsford.  President Horsford is a dairy farmer and a sheep rancher in the northern part of New Zealand’s north island.  We got up long before sunrise one morning to begin filming him milking his herd of dairy cows.  Later in the afternoon he volunteered to shear two sheep for us so we could film that interesting activity.   

President Horsford is a pro at shearing sheep.  As a teenager he began shearing sheep to earn money for his mission.  He continued after his mission and still shears occasionally today.  He can shear an entire sheep in less than a minute.  He told us it wasn’t unusual for him to shear nearly 300 sheep in a day during the shearing season when he was younger.  (I can’t believe how much work that must be.)

I always imagined that as a sheep was being sheared it would be making all kinds of noise as it was tossed back and forth.   In fact, I asked President Horsford, “Do the sheep make a lot of noise while being sheared?”  I’m sure that sounded like a city boy question to ask a rancher, but he patiently answered, “No.   Not much.”  Still, I thought they must make some noise. 

Then President Horsford brought the first sheep in for shearing.  He expertly grabbed the front legs and began lopping off the wool.  Each sheep is shorn in the exact same way and the shearers move with no wasted motion.  As President Horsford started going back and forth with the clippers I still expected to hear the sheep start to bellow and fight.  To my surprise the sheep willfully submitted to the motion of President Horsford’s shears.  Not once did it make a sound.  The sheep was perfectly quiet.

I didn’t think too much about this until the very next day when I was reading the Book of Mormon in my hotel room during a rare break in our schedule.  It was then I read Mosiah 14:7

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth.”

I have read that scripture each time I’ve read the Book of Mormon, but it has never hit me like it did at that moment.  There it was, recorded by Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Christ that when the Savior was taken to the “slaughter” that he “opened not his mouth.”   That prophesy was filled when Christ was brought before Pilate to be charged by the Pharisee’s – Pilate “questioned him with many words; but he answered him nothing (Luke 23:9) - just like the sheep I had seen was “dumb before her shearers.”

I’m grateful for the tender mercy of being able to read that scripture just a day after witnessing this phenomenon myself.  It truly impressed upon my mind the sacredness of the writing of the Prophet Isaiah and why Nephi quoted them so often.  (Remember in II Nephi 25:5 where Nephi writes, “Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah.”)

I hope this has given you a small insight to the deep meaning that can be found in the scriptures.  I just love reading the Book of Mormon.  I hope you do too!

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