"Zachariah, Abigail, Shema, HannahÖ" Young David counted sheep by name as they passed under the arch on their way into the sheepfold. Impatient to get through narrow openings, sheep sometimes banged into one another, but David never lost track. Tonight nearly all were safe, but one was missing. ďHannah, where is Shamul?Ē
ďBaa-baa!Ē Hannah answered the tap of Davidís staff and went on through.
David drove the last of the flock inside the stone corral and dragged a pile of branches across the opening. The sun, a red ball sinking into the far side of the hill, signaled daylight drawing to a close. After dark, finding lost sheep among craggy hillsides near Bethlehem would be near impossible. He must hurry.
Shamul, a wooly favorite, named for the prophet Samuel wasnít known to wander. David smelled trouble. With a parting backward glance, he turned toward the setting sun, "Lord these are your sheep. Please watch over them while I go into the mountains and seek one that has gone astray."
"Shamul, Shamul," David called, searching behind shadowy bushes and looking into dark crevices. Each sheep knew its name and responded by following the shepherdís voice and coming to him. The cooling, early evening breeze and echoes off canyon walls were all that were present to answer Davidís shout. But he knew he was not alone.
As youngest of Jesseís eight sons, Davidís lot was to pasture his fatherís sheep. It was hard and dangerous work, but there was nothing David would rather do. Because it kept him close to Godís wondrous creation, as well as the Lord Himself, he was willing to endure the rugged life of the shepherd. Not only that, David truly loved his fatherís sheep.
Being out of doors day and night in every kind of weather had toughened David's body and honed his sense of smell, sight, and sound. Pasture, wood, and rocky hillside were all known to him; but to the odor of wild animals he was especially alert. Because of this, before pitiful bleating could reach his ears, the acrid scent of lion rose to meet his nostrils.
And then he saw it, a curly-maned, full-grown male in shaggy coat, running crossways atop a rise with poor Shamul dangling from its dripping jaws.
With a prayer on his lips, David hesitated not an instant. Propping his staff against a boulder, in one motion he felt for his sling, loaded it, and aimed. The shot was sure: the stone sank in a small hollow in the big catís skull near its ear. Bringing his staff and hardly any fear at all to the scene, he walked up to the fallen brute. Shamul, lying on his side a short distance apart, didnít move.
David took another step forward. Suddenly with a roar the lion was alive; it sprang at him, going for the throat. Hot breath and gaping jaw loomed near, but David was even stronger and swifter than the lion. Digging his fingers into the shaggy beard, he clutched it, jerking hard. At almost the same instant, he drew back his right arm and with his shepherdís staff struck the raging beast a deadly blow. The awful creature fell back to earth in a sprawl. It shivered, emitted a ragged, raspy sound, then lay still at last, and silent.
Because he cared deeply for all Godís creatures, David knew a moment of pity. But then he remembered. Running to Shamul he knelt beside his charge, his groping fingers searching the soft wool for signs of life. Finding its heart yet beating, he spoke gently, ďCome little friend, letís get you up.Ē
Shamul raised his head, tried to say baa, then lowered it again. The sheep was heavy and awkward, but David managed to roll it to a better position, tucking its feet beneath its body. Then it was only a matter of some tugging to get Shamul upright. With firm gentle strokes, David rubbed the trembling animal all over, bracing its body until it could stand on its own.
Finally a true baa came forth from Shamul and David understood it was time to go. Balancing the sheep's weight across his shoulders, David headed downhill in a swinging stride back toward camp. Never more sure of anything, he knew he would find the main flock exactly as he left them, safe in the sheepfold of the Lord.
They would be asleep when he and Shamul arrived.
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