A “cast’ sheep or a “cast down” sheep is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself.
A cast sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success.
If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die.
It is not only the shepherd who keeps a sharp eye for cast sheep but also the predators. All know that a cast sheep is easy prey and death is not far off.
In fact, even the largest, fattest, strongest and sometimes healthiest sheep can become cast and be a casualty. Actually, it is often the fat sheep that are the most easily cast.
The way it happens is that. A heavy, fat, or long-fleeces sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground.
As it lies there struggles, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs.
In the story of the ninety and nine sheep with one astray, there is the shepherd’s deep concern, his agonizing search, his longing to find the missing one, and his delight in restoring it not only to its feet and also to the flock as well as to himself.
When we read the life story of Jesus Christ and examine carefully his conduct in coping with human needs, we see Him again and again as the Good Shepherd picking up cast sheep. The tenderness, the love, the patience that He used to restore Peter’s soul after the terrible tragedy of his temptations is a classic picture of Christ coming to restore one of His own.
As with sheep, so with Christians, some basic principles and parallels apply which will help us to grasp the way in which a man or woman can be cast.
There is, first of all, the idea of looking for a soft spot. The sheep that choose the comfortable, soft, rounded hollows in the ground in which to lie down every often become cast. In such a situation it is so easy to roll over on their backs.
In the Christian life, there is great danger in always looking for the easy place, the cozy corner, the comfortable position where there is no hardship, no need for endurance, no demand upon self-discipline.
Secondly, sheep simply have too much wool. Often when the fleece becomes very long, it is much easier for a sheep to become cast, literally weighed down with its own wool. Here is where we find the clinging accumulation of things, of possessions, of worldly ideas beginning to weigh us down, drag us down, and hold us down.
The third cause of cast sheep is simply that they are too fat. Their weight simply makes it that much harder for them to be agile. Once a sheepman suspects that his sheep are becoming cast, for this reason, he will put them on a more rigorous ration. It is his aim to see that the sheep are strong, sturdy, and energetic, not fat and weak.
Turning to the Christian life, we are confronted with the same sort of problem. There are men and women who, because they may have done well in business or in their careers or their homes, feel that they are flourishing and have “arrived.” Often when we are most sure of ourselves we are the most prone to fall flat.
An excerpt from A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23