Part 1 - OVER THE HILLS OF GALILEE
by Stephen A. Haboush
abridged/edited by Roger S Nelson
If you were to go to Palestine today, you would walk over the same hills of
Galilee, Samaria, and Judea as the Master two thousand years ago. On those
same hills shepherds still lead their sheep hither and thither as David did
while a boy three thousand years ago near the beautiful city of Bethlehem, and
not far from the city of Zion.
My parents were compelled to leave the land of their birth and love and come to America to provide better environment mentally and morally. My father, before leaving, appointed one of my cousins to take care of the flock of sheep. Taking care of sheep is one of the most democratic customs of Palestine; for all people, whether the intelligent or ignorant, rich or poor, have their flocks. This cousin, several years later, hearing of the opportunities and privileges of the great land of America, left the flock and joined my parents here. For this reason Uncle, in whose home I was living at the time, called me out of school one day, and said, "My boy, I want you to take care of your father’s flock, and when you take care of them, remember to give a certain call and continue to use that call throughout your shepherd life; then the sheep will hear you and follow you whenever you call them". For the sheep do not know their shepherd by his face or garments but only by his call.
The Shepherds Voice
I remember very well when on day, while I was taking care of the flock on one of the hills overlooking the sea of Galilee not very far from the road that leads from Tiberias to the city of Nazareth, a carriage came down that highway. It was the time of the westering sun. When it approached the hill where I was standing, it stopped suddenly. Then I saw a man leaving it whom I recognized as a stranger in the country; for he was dressed in the garments of the West. He was a pleasant looking man, an American. Slowly he came up the hillside toward me; and as he approached, I noticed a smile on his face which banished whatever suspicion I may have felt toward him. He spoke to me in a language that I did not comprehend. In fact, I did not know a word of the English language until I came her a few years ago. This stranger, seeing I could not understand him, began to use his hands and gestured to me. His gestures indicated that he wanted to borrow my coat. We are taught to be courteous to strangers, and so I took the coat off and placed it on the shoulders of the stranger. With some more signs he asked from my rod and staff, which I gladly placed in his hands. What the stranger then did surprised me. He made a few steps away from me, turned his face toward my sheep and gave out a peculiar cry, such as I never heard before in all my life. The sheep, before hearing the voice of the stranger, were eating the grass in peace and comfort. But when they heard him, fright and panic came into their midst and they began to run here and there. Fearful for my sheep, I made a space of several rods between myself and the stranger. Then I called them, and when they heard my feeble voice, they stopped in their flight and followed me. How true what the Master said, "I know my sheep, and am known by mine. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me".
Goats and Sheep.
My flock was composed of eighty-five sheep and a dozen goats. The goat, as all Bible readers know, is used in the Bible as the emblem of the hypocrite. That use of the goat has the warrant of fact. Let me tell you that I shall never forget those goats, those double-faced creatures. When I turned my face away from them, they would go and follow heir own devices. I wonder if you have ever seen a goat. I do not mean the goat that walks on four feet, but on two - the man who is not behind your back what he is before your face. Only a shepherd of Palestine can appreciate the subtle fitness of the division of a flock into sheep and goats. What doom to be a goat in one’s relation to the heavenly Shepherd!
Naming the Sheep
I had a name for every sheep, and every sheep knew its name. This seems odd to an American, but in Palestine it was nothing unusual or uncommon for the shepherds to call their sheep by name. The Master said, "I call my sheep by name". And the Psalmist sings in ecstasy of soul, "Yea, God in the heavens calls the stars by name". The naming of the sheep by their shepherd was due to the differences of temperament and disposition. Though different, they belonged to the same flock, to the same fold, and to the same shepherd.
Shepherds, Herdsmen, Hirelings
There are three kinds of people that heave dealing with sheep: shepherds, herdsmen, and hirelings. The shepherds are members of the immediate family who own the flock. Herdsmen are those who are related to the family to whom the flock belongs, either by marriage or by blood. After taking care of the sheep for several years, they thereupon become themselves shepherds. The apprenticeship of Jacob we read about in the Old Testament is historic fact. Hirelings are engaged either by the shepherd or the herdsman to assist him by the month or year. Hardly ever does this hireling become either the shepherd or the herdsman of a flock of sheep. Myself, being the oldest son of the family, was considered the owner of the flock. That was the law of the family, and so it was for me to take care of the sheep.
The Sheep Fold
Uncle commanded me to feed the sheep and feed them well. They were kept in the fold back of our home. The fold was about forty by sixty feet in extent. Walls surrounded the fold. These were fifteen feet high and build out of rock. I shall never forget the first day I went to feed the sheep. When they heard me enter, every one of them, young and old, stopped what they were doing and looked at me curiously. Especially the old members of the flock surveyed me from head to foot, as if wondering where I came from and what my business there was. They looked at me so critically from beneath their shaggy eyebrows that I began to tremble. Seeing me standing in the center of the fold, with the food - clover, dry leaves, grass - and a bucket of water, the old sheep came toward me, and as they approached I observed veritable question marks upon their faces. They seemed wondering whether I was big enough and old enough to take care of them; also, if I brought them the proper kind of food. Just so a group of elders, deacons, and trustees look at a preacher when he comes to minister to them. As these old sheep came closer they looked at the food; they smelled it and then tasted it, and to their gratification they found that I brought them the same food that cousin and father had fed them on in the past. When they had ascertained this fact, they gave me " the ministerial call" so to speak. I came to know the sheep, and the sheep came to know me. Acquaintance led to friendship, and friendship developed into love. I came to love my sheep, and my sheep came to love me. Oh what a blessed association between the shepherd and his sheep!
Leaving the Fold
The sheep were kept in the fold two months of the year, January and February. In Galilee, instead of having snow and cold weather, as you would find about the mountains of Hermon and Lebanon in the North, we have a rainy season, similar to the climate in southern California; only we do not advertise it. The hills and valleys are wet and slippery, so that the flock has to be kept in the fold during that time. Presently the two months were over, and spring came and called me to lead the flock out to the hills. Oh for spring in Galilee! I wish I had the space to tell about spring in Galilee. We have a beautiful spring in America, but glorious is the spring of Galilee. I shall never forget that wonderful spring morning, when before leading the sheep out to the hills, I turned my eyes toward the eastern horizon and saw the morning star just fading into daylight, as if welcoming the sun. As I looked around I saw the birds just waking from their beds of the night and flying here and there, singing their songs of joy and love. As I led the sheep toward the hills that morning, on each hand along the pathway the flowers, as they were caressed by the golden rays of the sun, opened their petals and permeated the atmosphere with their fragrance. Indeed, we have a wonderful spring in Galilee. If you want to visit the Holy Land, come in the spring time, when you can see and enjoy the lilies of the valley, the roses of Sharon, and many other flowers so varied in form, hue and perfume.
When I had opened the door of the fold that spring morn, had given the call to the sheep and led them toward the hills, now and then I would look back to see if they were following me. Then my heart would beat fast within me as I wondered if they were following. Why did I wonder and why did my heart beat fast? Here is the secret: for two whole months I lived with the sheep, in the fold, trying to teach them the difference between my footsteps and those of others. Two whole months I took care of them, eating, sleeping, working with them, and trying to teach them the difference between my voice and the voices of strangers. Now the time had come for them to be taken away from the limited enclosure of the fold and to be led out to the open spaces, to the hill tops and the slopes where freedom was greater and there was an enhancement of opportunity, privilege, but an increase of temptation and danger no less. And now the time is at hand; now the moment has come when the teaching they have received is put to the test. To my joy and pleasure, as I look back, I see every sheep in my wake. When I saw that, a desire came into soul to take them onward and upward to higher heights and greener pastures and waters more tranquil. Why? Were not those sheep mine? Did they not follow me? And what could the logical correlate of such ownership and fellowship be but a sense of responsibility which would exact a service that meant the best of water, of pasture, and of safety upon the sunniest of hills?
Standing on the Galilean hill that spring morning, leaning upon my staff, while the sheep round about me were eating the tender grasses, I looked to my left and in the distance I could see the little city of Nazareth nestling in the bosom of the Galilean hills. The rays of the sun were just coloring the spires and cupolas of the places of worship, and I could see the sparkling spire of the Church of the Annunciation pointing toward the Infinite. Looking a little closer, I observed small specks of humanity going up and down the crooked streets of the city. Yes, the people were just waking from their slumber of the night and were going about their day’s labor. I looked to my right and saw in the distance the Sea of Galilee, also nestling in the bosom of those eternal hills, quiet and calm, like a sleeping child in the arms of its mother. Yea, I believe that one day a fragment of heaven dipped down and stayed in the embrace of the hills with its turquoise beauty that is the Sea of Galilee. No wonder that the Master loved to spend his days in Galilee. If you are familiar with the stories of the Gospels, you will know that Jesus spent the major part of his life there. The most immortal words came from his dear lips not from the height of Calvary, nor from the avenues of Jerusalem, nor from the highways of Jericho and the byways of Samaria. No, the most immortal words came from his precious lips upon the hills of Galilee, when he gave to the world the matchless words of the Beatitudes. Words are those which sparkle in the heart of a Christian; and where they sparkle they are fairer than the snows of Lebanon. And it is from the hills of Galilee that those words came to you and me.
The Lost Sheep
It was my custom to bring the flock back to the fold one day every week for the purpose of subjecting it to a closer inspection than was possible in the freedom of the hills. Arriving at the door of the fold I would take my staff and place it across the door just high enough to let the sheep into the fold one by one. As they entered I would count them one by one to see if they were all there. Two weeks passed and none of the sheep were missing; but the third week, to my surprise and dismay, I discovered that one of the old members of the flock was gone. I called my uncle and told him about it, and he commanded me to go back to where I was that day and seek the lost sheep until I found him. I replied that I could not go because my two shepherd dogs were not with me that evening and there was no one to look after the flock while being absent.
He said, "I will look after the sheep while you are away, and in the meantime take one of your cousins and remember: seek the lost one until you find him. Together search for him, my boy, until he is found".
I called my cousin, an older boy than I, who had just come from school, and told him to go with me and seek ‘Henry’. He got ready and both of us started out toward the hills. It was so dark that we could not see five feet from our eyes because a black cloud shrouded the heavens and a storm was coming from the west. We went out to the hills; and here and there the wild beasts round about us looked at us with eyes gleaming like jewels of fire. I trembled somewhat because of the presence of the wild beasts, but I was not altogether afraid. I should have been afraid and should have gone back before I had gone very far if I had been alone, but my cousin was with me. He was my companion and my comrade, yea, my comforter, and I was not afraid of the wild beasts that surrounded us. Ascending and descending those hills in the darkness, calling and calling for the lost sheep, stumbling and falling, bruising our hands and faces, seeking the lost sheep, such was our quest. The storm broke upon us with fury. Lightning nearly blinded our eyes and thunder nearly deafened our ears, as we sought the lost sheep.
After many hours of search I said to my cousin, "No use to go on any longer, for ‘Henry’ does not hear my voice: maybe he is killed; no use to go any farther."
But my cousin replied, "Don’t give up the search! Keep on! I am with you, and I will help you."
I answered, "I am tired and worn out".
He said, "My strength is your strength, keep on; be not discouraged, I am with you to the end."
And I said, "Cousin, this is the last call I shall give."
He answered, "Have faith."
When I gave the last call and its echo was about dying in the neighboring hills, it brought the answering voice of ‘Henry’. He was still alive! Wonderful! When I heard the voice of that lost sheep, tears of joy came into my eyes and I kissed cousin on the cheeks and told him to rejoice, for the lost was found. Hurriedly we went down the hill and in our haste rolled many feet down the hillside, the thorns piercing our flesh; but we didn’t care, for ‘Henry’ was down there still alive. A moment later ‘Henry’ would have been killed, for a few feet away there was a wolf with eyes gleaming like jewels of fire, jaws open, ready to spring upon ‘Henry’. Seeing him I uttered a loud cry to cousin to use his rod and staff. After many minutes of struggle - the writer was attacked by the wolf and he still bears the mark upon his brow - the wolf was scared into the darkness and ‘Henry’ was saved, but where had he been? In the afternoon of that day, while he was eating the tender grasses of the hillside with the rest of the sheep, he got the notion into his brain - if he had very much of that convenience - that he could find more grass somewhere else; that he could find more satisfaction by going away from the shepherd and the sheep. While I was not looking he strayed away into a field of brush down in the valley, where his old long horns got tangled in the branches. And he remained entangled as if hands had tied him.
You ought to have seen him. Poor old ‘Henry’! He looked so worn and fatigued. I believe he must have tried to disentangle himself, and it seems that the more he tried, the more he became entangled. Yes, down there in the valley he was all alone, tired, and hungry. We released him; and could you have looked into his eyes, you would have seen a look of deep gratitude, for he seemed to know we had come in time to save him from the wild beast. We started back to the city, and when we approached we saw the lights still burning in the window of our home. I told my cousin to call, and uncles and relatives and friends, upon hearing his voice, met us at the entrance of the city, and when they saw us safe and ‘Henry’ safe and sound between us, they, too, set up shouts of rejoicing, and their echo pealed from crag to crag. Yes, they rejoiced; for the lost sheep was returned to fold and to flock.
Disciplining the Sheep
At other times we went out to seek lost sheep, but instead of finding them alive, we could discover to our sorrow that they had been killed - the flesh torn and the bones broken. Too late, too late! The wild beasts had killed them. Another experience I must tell you before closing this chapter. This experience was with a young lamb, about six months old, but the name of Richard, or ‘Dick’ for short. He had so much pep and energy that he did not know what to do with them. In other words, he loved to stray away from the flock and shepherd. Why? Because he got illusions into his head. Let me tell what I mean by illusions. While eating the tender grass with the rest of the lambs and sheep, some fancy would get into his mind and he would raise his head and look to yonder hills and imagine that there was more grass over there. Plenty where he was, but more over on the hills yonder! And stray away he would. The first time I found him and rejoiced; the second time I brought him back to the fold and tapped him on his back and begged him not to stray away any more. But he disobeyed me and strayed away the third time. Let me say that it was very fortunate for me to find him the third time, for he was about to be attacked by a young fox when we came upon him. I brought him back to the fold and took my rod (about twenty inches long, made of hickory) and punished him terribly.
You say it was cruel?
I admit it.
You ask, "Why did you do that?"
I chastised and reproved him because I loved him. I would rather have broken every bone in his body than to have had him go out to the hillside alone to be devoured by some wild beast.
But you would say, "You went to extremes".
Well, I had to, for he went to extremes himself. I believe that one extreme justifies another. Let me tell you a secret. After five weeks, ‘Dick’ became well, and I let him go out with the flock, and from that day on he was always the first one to hear my voice and the first to follow me. As you see, I brought him to his senses. It nearly broke my heart to punish him, but it saved him from the jaws of death out there on the hillside. That is an experience as well as a parable. Do you wonder why sometimes we are afflicted with sickness or disappointment, or go through some tragedy that brings to us discouragement and heartache? I wonder who is to blame for it. Don’t you think that to a large extent we suffer for disobeying the Eternal? Some folks put the blame always on "fate" as the cause of all their woes. Now, is it? "God loveth whom He reproveth".
Shepherds on the Hillside
Now during the other six days of the week, the shepherds would keep their flocks out on the hills, and when evening came they would gather together with their sheep in some temporary fold on the hillsides and watch their flocks throughout the night. And these shepherds would take turns watching. A wonderfully democratic sort of fellows these shepherds were as they thus took turns; and never in all my shepherd life did I sense any jealousy among them. As I now look back upon my past life I remember that it fell to my humble lot on a number of occasions to watch the sheep through the night. But never, while thus watching the sheep through the night, did I feel alone. Though the shepherds lay stretched out in deep slumber and all the sheep rested in unbroken sleep, I was never conscious of being alone; for above me and around about me were the stars of the Syrian heavens. Through that deep, clear, pure atmosphere those stars seem as close as the lamps that light your home. It is a pity that to some Western intellectuals the stars of the heavens are mere specks of dust. Thank God, to the Orientals "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night sheweth knowledge". To the Palestinian the stars of the heavens are not mere "specks of dust" but the hallowed companions and messengers to the most heroic and tragic characters of the centuries. Such they were to me while, underneath their brilliant, soft, companionable light, I watched my sheep.