Matthew 25:33 "And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left". NKJV

There are other questions on this site that look at who these animals represent, but here I want to look at the animals themselves.

I have read that a sheep is led by its shepherd; a goatherd is led by his goats.

As the sheep go from "mountain to hill" in Jeremiah 50:6 they seem happy to follow a shepherd anywhere. However, the dominant male goats "rams before the flock" in Jeremiah 50:8 suggest a different sort of animal.

Do these Jeremiah verses clearly show why Jesus used sheep and goats as in Matthew 25:33?

1 Answer 1


Commentators include multiple reason. Sheep tend to be obedient followers. Goats tend to be disobedient. In Jeremiah 50:6 and John 10 sheep are pictured as followers. The issue in Jeremiah 50:6 is the shepherds.

As the shepherd separates (ὡσπερ ὁ ποιμην ἀφοριζει [hōsper ho poimēn aphorizei]). A common figure in Palestine. The sheep are usually white and the goats black. There are kids (ἐριφων, ἐριφια [eriphōn, eriphia]) which have grazed together. The goats devastate a field of all herbage. “Indeed they have extirpated many species of trees which once covered the hills” (Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, pp. 89f.). The shepherd stands at the gate and taps the sheep to go to the right and the goats to the left. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Mt 25:32). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

The parable’s portrayal of the righteous as sheep and the wicked as goats may stem from their relative value to the owner. Goats were sometimes disobedient to the goatherd (Babrius 3.2–3), probably more often than sheep to the shepherd. Moreover, sheep cost more than goats did (Jeremias 1972: 206), and because of their greater utility and value, they were nearly always held in greater quantity. -- Keener, C. S. (2009). The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (pp. 603–604). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The Jeremiah passage seems to parallel to John 7:29.

6 “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. 7 All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the LORD, their habitation of righteousness, the LORD, the hope of their fathers.’ (Jer. 50:6–7, ESV)

Then the Pharisees responded to them: “Are you fooled too? 48 Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him? 49 But this crowd, which doesn’t know the law, is accursed!” (John 7:47–49, ESV)

Apparently in this passage, the shepherds are the priests and the rams (male goats) are political/military leaders.

“Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as male goats before the flock. (Jer. 50:8, ESV)

  • Might Jeremiah 50:6 "rams before the flock" suggest individuals who want to impose themselves on the flock? Any comment.
    – C. Stroud
    Apr 18, 2021 at 16:00

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