Shepherds Saw HIM First
Birth of Jesus
Luke 2:1-20-"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests."
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about," So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Have you ever wondered or contemplated why God chose shepherds to be the first to see King Jesus (other than Mary and Joseph) and to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of the Good News to others with excitement?
Shepherds were definitely on the lower end of the Israel's society. They were loaners and mostly extremely poor and uneducated men. They did not have much say in regard to the affairs of men, yet for some reason God the Father chose them above all others in Israel to hear those wonderful words from the mouths of angels that night!
Wikipedia defines a shepherd as – "Unlike farmers, shepherds were often wage earners, being paid to watch the sheep of others. Shepherds also lived apart from society, being largely nomadic. It was mainly a job of solitary males without children; and new shepherds thus needed to be recruited externally." The Hebrew word for shepherd is RA-AH. the word AH means flock of sheep while RA means herder. In Hebrew it means herder of sheep. The word shepherd is used 105 times in the Bible!
Some Biblical scholars have said that the shepherds were outcasts of society in Jesus day; and there is some evidence of that in the Mishnah and the Talmud (Rabbinical commentaries on the Old Testament dating even before Jesus day). Shepherds were definitely poor and loners, yet the Scriptures give shepherds high positions in God's eyes; and His view of them is the one I am concerned about in this look at shepherds being chosen by God to glorify His Son! In Luke 2:18 it says that-"all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them". If they were truly outcasts in those days, the people would have not listened to or believed in what the shepherds said!!
Beginning in the Old Testament in Genesis 4 we see the second son of Adam and Eve was Abel; and he was a shepherd who found favor with God over his brother Cain- Genesis 4:1-4-"Now the man (Adam) had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have obtained a male child with the help of the Lord." And again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a cultivator of the ground. So, it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought an offering, from the firstborn of his flock and from their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering".
Next, we see Father Abram (Abraham) was a shepherd! In Genesis 13:1-2-"So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he, and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold." Abraham was given the promise (the Coming of Jesus the Messiah is the promise) and the covenant that by your descendants all nations would be blessed (Genesis 26:4). Abraham's son Isaac was a shepherd; and the promise that God had given Abraham was given to Isaac (Genesis 17:21). Isaac had a son, and his name was Jacob; and Jacob was a shepherd and the promise given to Abraham and Isaac was given to Jacob (Genesis 28:14). Jacob had 12 sons who were shepherds. Genesis 47:1-3-"Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, "My father and my brothers and their flocks and their herds and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen." And he took five men from among his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, "What is your occupation?" So, they said to Pharaoh, "Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers." One of Jacob's shepherd sons was named Judah and from the descendants of Judah would come the promise given Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob- the Messiah Jesus Christ! Genesis 49:10-"The scepter will not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes…"
God used shepherding as a tool and method to prepare His spiritual leaders! We see that God took Moses who was a proud prince in Egypt and sent him into the wilderness for forty years to be a shepherd for Jethro the priest of Midian. It took forty years of shepherding to humble this proud prince so he could be used by God. Numbers 12:3- "(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any person who was on the face of the earth.). Exodus3:1- "Now Moses was pasturing the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God." God uses this now humbled Moses to set His people free from Pharaoh, Egypt, and slavery so the sons of Judah (where Jesus' lineage would come from) could come to the promised land.
God uses a shepherd named David to become the king of Israel -- a man after God's own heart. A true shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. He will protect them from the wild beasts: the bear, the lion, and the wolf! Young David was out guarding the flock when the judge and prophet named Samuel came to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons to be king to replace wicked king Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Samuel anointed David, and the Holy Spirit came upon him. 2 Samuel 5:2-"Previously, when Saul was king over us, you (David) were the one who led Israel out and in. And the Lord said to you, 'You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a leader over Israel.'"
Shepherds spend a great deal of time alone in the wilderness with very few weapons to defend themselves and the sheep. Their weapons consisted mostly of a staff, a shepherd's bag, and a pouch, to protect the flock and themselves. They must possess great courage and love for the sheep to do this! God was training this young shepherd, David, to be His king. This training comes in handy when Israel is being threatened by a Philistine giant name Goliath.
All of Israel was trembling before this giant but David was not. Why? Because David trusted God and had already faced dangerous animals and knew how to use the smallest of weapons in his defense. He tells King Saul he is not afraid of this giant because he had trusted God and had protected his flock from danger in the past. 1 Samuel 17:34,37-"But David said to Saul, "Your servant was tending his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a sheep from the flock, … And David said, "The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He will save me from the hand of this Philistine." So, Saul said to David, "Go, and may the Lord be with you." David trusted His God and took just a sling from his shepherd's bag and one of the five smooth stones he had gathered. And using this sling, he put one of those smooth stones between the eyes of the giant Goliath and killed him. God had prepared a shepherd to be His king! David the shepherd king in whose lineage was the promise. What promise? The promise is Jesus Christ the Messiah of the tribe of Judah Who would be born in Bethlehem the town of David!
In the Scriptures, many times God Himself is referred to as being the Shepherd. Jacob calls God his shepherd in Genesis 48:15-"And he (Jacob) blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day." King David the shepherd writes in Psalm 23:1-3- "The Lord is my shepherd; I will not be in need. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name."
Asaph the priest, worship leader, and prophet calls God the shepherd of Israel in Psalm 80:1-"Listen, Shepherd of Israel, Who leads Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!" Micah prophecies of Jesus shepherding His flock with His scepter in Micah 7:14-"Shepherd Your people with Your scepter, the flock of Your possession which lives by itself in the woodland, in the midst of a fruitful field. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old." The prophet Zechariah prophecies about Jesus the Good Shepherd's death on the cross and the Apostles abandoning him! Zechariah 13:7-"Awake, sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man, My Associate," declares the Lord of armies. "Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones." Jesus Himself calls Himself the good shepherd in John 10:11-"I am the Good Shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."
We see a theme forming in Scripture that God has a special place in His heart for the shepherds! He, Himself, is considered a shepherd of men. We see in the lineage of Jesus Christ godly, but not perfect men, who were shepherds of sheep and people. They gave us examples of what a good shepherd looks like. Abel gave God an acceptable sacrifice which ended up causing him to lose his life to a wicked and jealous brother named Cain. Abraham was called the father of faith and a friend of God! Moses was the great leader (shepherd) God used to bring the Israelites out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. He was willing to intercede and protect God's people even though they constantly rebelled against Moses and God. Moses had a shepherd's heart! David the king was a man after God's own heart who constantly served and interceded for the people of God. In David's lineage would be the Messiah!
There are good and evil shepherds spoken about in the Scriptures. Great judgment is poured out on the evil shepherds, but that is a topic for another (near) future writing.
There are characteristics of good shepherds which the Lord is using to show us why shepherds are so dear to Him. Shepherds today include pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and they should show these same characteristics as they shepherd God's sheep. Shepherds are willing to sacrifice their own life for the life of their sheep (John 10:11). Shepherds seek the wellbeing of their sheep (Psalm 23). Shepherds lead the sheep to good pastures and water sources to keep them healthy (Psalm 23). They will go out and find the sheep who have wandered away from the flock and bring them back to safety (Matthew 18:12)! If the sheep are injured, they will care for and mend up their wounds and sometimes they will be found carrying them on their shoulder! (Ezekiel 34:12). They are attentive both day and night with a watchful eye to protect the sheep from all kinds of danger (Luke 2:8). Jesus refers to His church as His sheep, and when He restored Peter at the lakeside meal, He told Peter to feed His sheep and tend His lambs (John 21:15-17).
Matthew 2:6-"And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For from you will come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel." The prophet Micah had said: Micah 5:2-"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will come forth for Me to be Ruler in Israel. His times of coming forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity." The Savior of the world -- the promised Messiah -- the ancient promise given to so many past shepherds of God -- was about to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. He is born of humble estate in Bethlehem of Judah in a lowly stable.
What was so different about these shepherds near Jerusalem and Bethlehem that God chose them to see Jesus the Messiah at His birth? Who were these shepherds? The shepherds of Bethlehem performed the honorable profession of shepherding just like various Old Testament shepherds I wrote about earlier in this writing. They had flocks of the Fat-Tail (broad-tailed) sheep (ovis laticaudata) that can still be found in the Holy Land today. The reference to the fat tail of these sheep can be found in Exodus 29:22 and Leviticus 3:9.
If the shepherds who heard the Angels annunciation were those who kept flocks for the Temple sacrifices, they would have been from the Migdal Eder (tower of the flock) area which is near both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was just a one mile walk from Bethlehem! Migdal Eder is first mentioned concerning Israel (Jacob) in Genesis 35:21- "Israel [Jacob] moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder." The Message by angels in Luke would have great meaning to the shepherds who cared for these incredibly special sheep. Bethlehem and nearby Migdal Eder are mentioned in Micah's Messianic prophecy of Jesus' birth. Micah 5:2-"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Micah 4:8-"As for you, watchtower of the flock (Migdal Elder), stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem." This tower of the flock, Migdal Eder, is linked to the coming of the King. This annunciation to the Migdal Eder's shepherds would fulfill that aspect of this messianic prophecy.
Nothing of God's word will fail! All that the prophets foretold in Scripture will be fulfilled to the letter! The shepherds who take care of the sheep without blemish for the Temple sacrifices were doing a great service for God and His people. They also supplied the "Passover lamb" each Passover in Jerusalem and now the real Passover Lamb is being born near them in Bethlehem! They held a special place in God's heart, and He chose them out of all the people in Israel to hear the greatest news ever spoken- "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord."
God says He dwells in the humble and contrite heart: Isaiah 66:2b-"…These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word." These humble shepherds trembled and were terrified at the word of God from the angels: Luke 2:9-" An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."
The angels did not appear to the proud and wicked king Herod or to the religious leaders which Jesus as an adult would call vipers (Matthew 3:7). No, He chose simple men who He knew would share the Good News! They received it with great joy and rejoicing and shared it with all they met. They were humble servants who God used to bring the greatest news ever declared by an angel to those around them.
Have we been as faithful with this Good News and shared it with all that are around us? Does this Christmas joy about Jesus coming fill our hearts as it did these shepherds? God trusted them with it, and they responded well. Every one of us who is truly regenerated is responsible to be faithful with it also! May we also be faithful shepherds of the Good News of Christ!
THIS CHRISTMAS PROCLAIM JESUS – THE LAMB OF GOD!
The Lamb of God that bore the Judgment of God
that we might receive the Forgiveness of God for our Sin.
(Quote from S. Lewis Johnson)