As I have continued my daily walks for exercise and reflection, I have also continued to encounter several herds of cattle populating the various pastures lining the roads near our home. And as I have done so, I have begun to learn more and more about the lives of the individual cows themselves.
Each pasture has its resident bull, of course, who reigns supreme over his respective herd. All except one pasture, that is. For this particular enclosure consists solely of a group of juvenile bulls, each of whom continually jousts for preeminence among his peers, while impatiently awaiting his own (hoped for) eventual time on the throne.
The other pastures all contain their similarly respective herds of cattle, including cows, heifers, yearlings, and, of course, newborn calves. These calves can be born at any time of the year; but mostly in the spring and the fall. In my daily interactions, I have come to know many of these on an individual basis.
Certain individuals are a bit shy, and always hang back away from the road. Others are much friendlier, and always seem to be right up near the fence. The latter welcome a reassuring word or friendly pat on the head from anyone willing to provide either.
Surprisingly, those closest to the fence are often the massive bulls themselves. According to the local farmers, these are all almost always very gentle - often following them (the farmers) around whenever they (the farmers) happen to be in the pasture.
By comparison, the cows in each herd can be far more dangerous to be around. This is especially true whenever they have a newborn calf around; for the former will defend the latter zealously. This last fact leads me to an incident I recently observed; and which I now wish to share with you.
A couple of weeks ago, I was walking up a slight incline on the road about a mile from our home when I happened to glance to my left just in time to see a cow come up out of a gully and out into the pasture. She immediately turned, and began coaxing what was obviously a brand new calf up out of the same ravine.
I say brand new because, for several reasons, it was obvious to me that the calf had just been born. First, it was very small, much smaller than the other calves in the pasture. Second, it was wet all over. And third, it was very wobbly on its feet, stumbling awkwardly and nearly falling over with each uncertain step.
Nearby, I noticed a flock of vultures which had obviously alighted nearby on the ground. One by one, they began darting menacingly in and out toward the calf – ever pressing it, but never quite daring to get too close. This was obviously due to the presence of the cow. At the time, I assumed that they were just impatient to get at the afterbirth down in the wash where the calf had obviously just been born.
But then, an astounding thing unfolded! As I watched in disbelief, a vulture swooped down from the air and viciously pecked at the calf as it passed over. At this point, the cow herself reacted with furious abandon! She rushed past the calf, charging the flock of birds, forcefully and noisily dispersing them. Thereafter, she returned to the calf and stood boldly over it, using her head to gently nudge it up and over the rise and out into the pasture, where, already, other cows were arriving "en masse", as if in recognition that one of their own was in danger.
Dumfounded, I continued my walk on out to the lake, all the while earnestly reflecting on all I had just seen. I had always known that vultures were scavengers, but never that they were outright predators. Clearly, however, what I had witnessed was not just scavenging behavior, but outright predation.
On my return walk, I happened upon the farmer who owns the herd of cattle in question. I shared what all I had earlier seen; and he confirmed that this was indeed the case. He did in fact have a new born calf in the pasture, born earlier that day. What is more, vultures were in fact predators as well as scavengers.
He then related how he had once lost a calf that had been attacked by vultures even as it was being born! Coming out head first, the poor creature had had its eyes pecked out before its body had even hit the ground!
He further affirmed that the most vulnerable time for a calf is just after it has been born. Once it has been introduced to the herd, it is generally considered to be safe. Until then, it is in danger!
This was all somewhat confirmed in the days that followed; as I observed the newborn calf, easily distinguishable from the others because he still lacked his ear tag, secure in the midst of the herd. Here, he could variously be seen nursing, sleeping, and/or just plain frolicking, all with nary a worry in the world.
As I continue to reflect on this, I cannot help but see certain parallels (and principles) for the people of God. To begin with, we were intended to live our lives, not alone, but in community. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone; so Adam and Eve were given each other, as well as their children, with whom to dwell. Similarly, individual Christians are not intended to live out their spiritual lives alone, but rather as a part of a family - one consisting of forebears, brothers and sisters, and hopefully offspring (new believers) in Christ.
Moreover, new believers in Christ, like the newborn calf I observed, are the most vulnerable members of that family. Of course, the attack upon chosen newborns has always been a favorite approach of the evil one. After all, in the opening chapters of the Bible, using the serpent, he himself tried to waylay the first of all humans when he went after Adam and Eve. In the process, all of their descendants (including you and me) were cursed.
Later in the Old Testament, using Pharaoh, Satan tried to have Moses killed as an infant. In the process, a great many Israelites died. And of course, in the fullness of time, as is recorded in the Gospels, using Herod, he then tried the same with Jesus Himself. In the process, the slaughter of the innocents unfolded, as every male descendent in Judea under the age of two was put to death.
Coming forward, in the New Testament Book of Acts, we see the infantile church under attack, as the Devil went after each of the Apostles in turn, attempting to circumvent, first their maturity, and then their ability to reproduce their own faith in Christ in the hearts of others.
Of course, in none of these endeavors did he ultimately have success. Yet, even today, he persists in attacking newborn believers, even as they are at their most vulnerable state!
Thank God, therefore, that they are not alone. For God, in his wisdom, has given them the church. For this reason, those of us who comprise the church are responsible, not only for reproducing our faith in others, but also for watching over, protecting, and nurturing these new believers until such time as they themselves are both secure and mature in Christ.
For my part, I will not soon forget the passion with which I observed a lone cow jump to the defense of her newborn calf. Nor will I forget the response of an entire herd as one of their own was found to be under attack.
And I pray that I will also remember the spiritual lesson(s) attached to both of these sights. As I do, I hope I will always be reminded to do my best to look out for new believers within the family of God, and to help them to achieve their full potential as they grow to maturity in Christ!
In short, as a believer, I am responsible for “riding herd” on God’s people! May I be found faithful in all this entails!