– WHO WERE THE SHEPHERDS IN THE CHRISTMAS STORY? … The Answer May Surprise You! – By Luke
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (See Luke 2:8-20)
Most of us are very familiar with this passage, as reading it is a Christmas Eve tradition for many families. But who were the shepherds? Why were these men privileged to have angels appear to them? Was there any significance to these shepherds other than being humble keepers of sheep? Did the angels announce the birth of the Savior throughout the land, but this was the only account that was recorded in scripture? Or was there a greater purpose to the angelic revelation specific to these shepherds?
The Christmas story takes on added meaning when we consider that the shepherds who were abiding by their flocks in the fields were perhaps watching over temple sheep, sheep that were being bred and protected to be sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem. The noted information relies heavily on the research of Cooper P. Abrams III in his article Where was the Birth Place of the Lord Jesus?
These shepherds may have been men who were accustomed to preparing lambs which symbolically represented the Messiah in their cleanliness, perfection, and their sacrifice on the altar of the temple. This gives added depth of meaning, if true, to these scriptures which tell of the angels who came to these shepherds to proclaim the birth of the Lamb of God, the Savior of mankind, who would offer the last and ultimate sacrifice.
But there are more interesting details. The place where the angels appeared to the shepherds is traditionally known as the Tower of the Flock, or Migdal Edar, which is very near Bethlehem. One commentator notes: “This watch tower from ancient times was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild beasts. It was the place ewes were brought to give birth to the lambs. In this sheltered building/cave, the priests would bring in the ewes which were about to lamb for protection. These special lambs came from a unique flock which was designated for sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem.“
According to Edersheim in The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, in Book 2, Chapter 6, it states, “This Migdal Edar was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks that pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but it lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage from the Mishnah (Shekelim 7:4) leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple-sacrifices.“
What are we to make of all of this information from the writings of the rabbis? First, we know that Migdal Edar was the watchtower that guarded the Temple flocks that were being raised to serve as sacrificial animals in the Temple. These were not just any flock. The shepherds who kept them were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal, that was to be sacrificed, had to be and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished.These lambs were apparently wrapped in swaddling cloths to protect them from injury which, of course, was also used to wrap the Christ child.
Thus, with the establishment of Temple worship in Jerusalem, the fields outside of Bethlehem became the place where a special group of shepherds raised the lambs that were sacrificed in the Temple. Being themselves under special Rabbinical care, they would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean stable for a birthing place. The Tower of the Flock was used for birthing ewes, and the surrounding fields were where these shepherds grazed their flocks. These shepherds customarily kept their flocks outdoors twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, but brought the ewes in to deliver their lambs where they could be gently cared for. It was to this place that Joseph took Mary. It was in this special stable at “Migdal Edar” that Christ may have been born!
Luke 2:8-18 records that there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their sheep by night. Who then were these shepherds? Without question, these were shepherds who resided near Bethlehem. They were none other than the shepherds from “Migdal Edar” who were well aware that the Targum hinted and many of the rabbis taught that the Messiah might well be announced from “Migdal Edar” at Bethlehem. The angels only told the shepherds that they would find the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. There was no need for the angels to give these shepherds directions to the birthplace because they already knew. These were the men who raised sacrificial lambs that were sacrificed in the Temple. When the angelic announcement came, they knew exactly where to go, as Luke 2 indicates, for the sign of a manger could only mean their manger at the tower of the flock! You cannot explain the meaning or direction of the sign they were given or their response unless you have the right manger and the right shepherds!
Prophetically, Migdal Edar is the exact place in Bethlehem for Christ to be born. In Micah 4:8 the word is rendered “tower of the flock” (marg., “Edar”), and is used as a designation of Bethlehem, which figuratively represents the royal line of David as sprung from Bethlehem.In this setting, the prophecy was but one other evidence that later proved that Jesus was the Messiah, but one that Israel ignored in rejecting Him as their Messiah.
Typically, “Migdal Edar”, (the tower of the flock) at Bethlehem is the perfect place for Christ to be born. He was born in the very birthplace where tens of thousands of lambs, which had been sacrificed to prefigure Him. God promised it, pictured it and performed it at “Migdal Edar”. It all fits together, for that’s the place where sacrificial lambs were born! Jesus may not have been born, as has often been assumed, behind an inn, in a smelly stable where the donkeys of travelers and other animals were kept. He was most likely born in Bethlehem, at the birthing place of the sacrificial lambs that were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem which Micah 4:8 calls the tower of the flock.
John the Baptist in John 1:29 proclaimed of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Jesus is presented in the Bible as being likened to a sacrificial lamb. It was not by chance but by choice that Christ identified His death with the time of the observance of the Passover. Peter spoke of our redemption as wrought by the “precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” ( 1 Pet.1:19); and Paul told us that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” ( 1 Cor. 5:7). By which Christ is revealed in Heaven as the Lamb that was slain. (Rev. 5:6-13) Christ as the “Lamb of God”, and as such the significance of this sacred prophesied birthplace on the outskirts of Bethlehem takes on new meaning.
The Birth Revisited – http://hethathasanear.com/Birth.html
Where was the Birthplace of the Lord Jesus? – http://www.bible-truth.org/BirthPlaceofJesus.html
The Tower of the Flock – https://tw.icej.org/news/commentary/tower-flock