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Cattle abounded in the Holy Land. The inhabitants chiefly devoted themselves to the rearing and management of them (Deut. 8:13; 12:21; 1 Sam. 11:5; 12:3; Ps. 144:14; Jer. 3:24). They may be classified as:
Neat cattle. Many hundreds of these were yearly consumed in sacrifices or used for food. The finest herds were found in Bashan, beyond Jordan (Num. 32:4). Large herds also pastured on the wide fertile plains of Sharon. They were yoked to the plough (1 Kings 19:19), and were employed for carrying burdens (1 Chr. 12:40). They were driven with a pointed rod (Judg. 3:31) or goad (q.v.).
According to the Mosaic law, the mouths of cattle employed for the threshing-floor were not to be muzzled, so as to prevent them from eating of the provender over which they trampled (Deut. 25:4). Whosoever stole and sold or slaughtered an ox must give five in satisfaction (Ex. 22:1); but if it was found alive in the possession of him who stole it, he was required to make double restitution only (22:4). If an ox went astray, whoever found it was required to bring it back to its owner (23:4; Deut. 22:1, 4). An ox and an ass could not be yoked together in the plough (Deut. 22:10).
Small cattle. Next to herds of neat cattle, sheep formed the most important of the possessions of the inhabitants of Israel (Gen. 12:16; 13:5; 26:14; 21:27; 29:2-3). They are frequently mentioned among the booty taken in war (Num. 31:32; Josh. 6:21; 1 Sam. 14:32; 15:3). There were many who were owners of large flocks (1 Sam. 25:2; 2 Sam. 12:2, compare Job 1:3). Kings also had shepherds “over their flocks” (1 Chr. 27:31), from which they derived a large portion of their revenue (2 Sam. 17:29; 1 Chr. 12:40). The districts most famous for their flocks of sheep were the plain of Sharon (Isa. 65:10), Mount Carmel (Micah 7:14), Bashan and Gilead (Micah 7:14).
In patriarchal times the flocks of sheep were sometimes tended by the daughters of the owners. Thus Rachel, the daughter of Laban, kept her father’s sheep (Gen. 29:9); as also Zipporah and her six sisters had charge of their father Jethro’s flocks (Ex. 2:16).
Sometimes they were kept by hired shepherds (John 10:12), and sometimes by the sons of the family (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:15). The keepers so familiarized their sheep with their voices that they knew them, and followed them at their call. Sheep, but more especially rams and lambs, were frequently offered in sacrifice. The shearing of sheep was a great festive occasion (1 Sam. 25:4; 2 Sam. 13:23).
They were folded at night, and guarded by their keepers against the attacks of the lion (Micah 5:8), the bear (1 Sam. 17:34), and the wolf (Matt. 10:16; John 10:12). They were liable to wander over the wide pastures and go astray (Ps. 119:176; Isa. 53:6; Hos. 4:16; Matt. 18:12).
Goats also formed a part of the pastoral wealth of Israel (Gen. 15:9; 32:14; 37:31). They were used both for sacrifice and for food (Deut. 14:4), especially the young males (Gen. 27:9, 14, 17; Judg. 6:19; 13:15; 1 Sam. 16:20). Goat’s hair was used for making tent cloth (Ex. 26:7; 36:14), and for mattresses and bedding (1 Sam. 19:13, 16). (See GOAT.)