The Importance of the Shepherds

The Importance of the

Shepherds

By Evangelist Joe Collins

 

In the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke we see that Christ is born and that only a few people in the whole nation/World knew about it. Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the Inn Keeper, and the Shepherds. That was it. The Magi or Wisemen, would come later on in Christ’s life, so the question is ‘why only those people to know of the greatest birth in mankind’s history’?

Joseph and Mary were the step-father and mother of Jesus, so we can easily understand why they would know and actaully be there. The Inn Keeper, probably had no clue as to whom this little baby was, and probably didnt care until many years later. But that leaves us with the shepherds. So why Shepherds? Why not kings and queens, the rich or powerful, those in leadership government/religious?

Being a shepherd was not a glamorious lifestyle and no one envied those who were. Fisherman and shepherds were about the same rank in the Jewish society and that was not something to be too proud of either, because it was one of the lowest ranks you could be in life besides a widow or untouchable or a cripple. Thanks to Jewish literature, we know that being  ranked as a “shepherd” in society was among the most despised occupations of the time — but luckily for us, Christ identified himself with this occupation when he called himself “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). So, we know that the angel’s good news was not given to the kings and noble or rich and powerful people, but to workers with a low reputation and looked down at by the world. But why? But before we dive into the ‘why the mere shepherds’, lets learn about the the people who would become the shepherds.

Now we don’t know the names or lineage of these men to whom the angels gave the great message too, however, by looking into history and ancient books of Jewish culture and law, we can get a great idea, of who they were and their ‘background’ of what made them, them. We already know that being a shepherd or a fisherman was looked down at and considered one of the worse jobs/professions one could ever have. Some old Jewish books even advise fathers to make sure, by all means possible, that their sons did not become one of the those two trades, because it would bring dishonor or disgrace to their family name and lower their ranking in society. Because education was not a common thing like it is today, the lowest of the low could not read or write and usually could only do very low elementary math, but usually only the math that pertained to their profession. So we now know that these no-named shepherds were also very low to wisdom and knowledge. They were, if you will, ‘stupid’ among their fellow Jewish brethren. They, being shepherds, watched and protected over the flocks of sheep 24/7 with little to no time for themselves, which means that they did not practice Judaism very well or even at all. So lets take a step back and view over what we have learned about these shepherds.

What we know about them :

1. They were so low on the ‘totem pole’, that their names are not even recorded in scripture, even though they had one of the greatest honors in life, of being told of Christ’s birth by angels and then getting to see Christ themselves. Besides Christ’s earthly parents, these NO-NAMED shepherds were the very first men of mankind to see our Savior’s face!

2. Odds are, they were as dumb as rocks, and everyone knew it and threw it in their faces daily.

3. They did not practice the Jewish religious aspect of their lives as they probably should have been.

4. They were constantly out in the fields all year long taking care of the sheep.

Now since we know their ‘background’, one is only left to wonder even more then ever, why these people, out of everyone else? We know that these Bethlehem Shepherds were there, because the Bible states it, so lets find out why and why them.

In Hebrew, the word ‘Bethlehem’ means “House of Bread.” It was prophesied that the Messiah, “the Bread of Heaven,” would be a descendent of King David. He would also be born in the same city where King David (the shepherd who became the king of Israel) was born in, Bethlehem.

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 5:2

Caves were where shepherds would “kept watch over their flock” were and still are an area just east of Bethlehem, close to a town called Beit Sahur (means Village of the Shepherds). Beit Sahur is now an eastern suburb of the city of Bethlehem. Here, in the open fields of eastern Bethlehem, according the the book of Luke, an angel announced the birth of Jesus to these no-named shepherds. In these fields, the biblical Tower of Edar (Tower of the Flock) where Jacob settled after his wife Rachel died, can be found. The Tower of the Flock has two Jewish spellings, but both mean this tower. The two Jewish words/spellings are ‘Migdal-Edar’ and ‘Migdal-Eder’. These mere shepherds would see and use these caves daily, but the Tower, however, was for special use only, and ONLY certain shepherds could go there and use the tower of the flock. But what makes this tower so special and it usage for only elite shepherds? This tower can be found in the old testament twice and it points to something quite interesting about the just born Messiah, Christ Jesus; but however, it also has a very important physical reason which also, in the end, points to Christ as well (This would be our ‘everything physical points-to/means something spiritual sign).

The Tower of the Flock can be found in two old testament scriptures. The first reference is in Genesis and describes the tower’s location with respect to Rachel’s tomb.

And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died ) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which [is] Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that [is] the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day. And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.(Tower of the Flock) Genesis 35:16-21 KJV

Ephrath is another name for Bethlehem, and means both “ash heap” and “place of fruitfulness” bringing to mind the verse in Isaiah which speaks of the Messiah fulfilling God’s promise to restore Israel and bring beauty from ashes.

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 KJV

Some other interesting tidbits tucked away in this historical passage, are the names that Rachel and Jacob give to their son. Benoni means “son of my sorrow” while Benjamin means “son of the right hand.” Interesting that Jesus was called a man of sorrows, and also sits at the right hand of the Father.

The second reference to the tower of the flock comes from the book of Micah, and seems to indicate that the tower and the first appearance of the Messianic kingdom/rule (Christ’s first time here) are connected together.

And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem. Micah 4:8 KJV

So, according to Micah, this place called Migdal-Edar, or tower of the flock, carries not only some significance, but also a promise. Considering this verse, might it be likely that the angels would have proclaimed the fulfillment of the promise to a certain group of people who would understand the significance. And who were those group of people you ask? Well, the no named shepherds of course! But if they were the lowest of the low in profession and trade and didn’t practice Judaism very well, how would they know or even understand the significance of the message that angel brought them? Well to understand this ourselves and to find out the answer, we will look at Dr. Alfred Edersheim’s answer he wrote in his book about the life of Christ. Dr. Edersheim was a devout Jewish believer until He converted to Christianity and wrote about the life of Jesus as he understood it.

Dr. Alfred Edersheim, the author of the book entitled : The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, believed and stated in his book that the ‘Mishnah’ (Jewish oral law first recorded) provided some pertinent information about Migdal-Edar, the Tower of the Flock. “A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion that the flock which pastured there were destined for Temple sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds that watched over them were not ordinary shepherds. The same passage also leads us to infer that these flocks lay out all year round, as they are spoken of as “in the field” 30 days before Passover, that is in February, when in Palestine the rainfall is nearly greatest.” (R.F. Hutchinson, M.D., The Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, April 1887, pp. 167-169)

Rabbi Short, who also wrote about the tower and the shepherds, wrote this in his book about them, “We know that Migdal Eder was the watchtower that guarded the Temple flocks-those who were being raised to serve as sacrificial animals in the Temple. These were not just any flock and herd. 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.” (Migdal Eder, Rabbi Mike L. Short, Beth El Messianic Congregation, Glendale, AZ)

Mr. Cooper Abrams the third, also wrote this as well, “…many of the rabbis taught that 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 clothes and lying in a manger’…the sign of a manger could only mean their manger at the tower of the flock!” (Where was the Birth Place of the Lord Jesus? Cooper P. Abrams III)

So now we gather that these no-named shepherds, though low in society, was still given a great honor by the Temple of God, of being the Temple’s Shepherds!!! What a tremendous honor! They were the ones who were personally trained by the Rabbis the law of Moses, about sacrifice, and they were tasked as being the protectors of the sheep and lambs. They were not just any shepherds, but the Lord’s shepherds! They not only knew the Law and were the care-takers of the sheep but they also were trained in the prophecies of the coming Messiah! Hallelujah!

The Temple Shepherds, because they were taught about sacrifice, and the laws governing it, knew how to raise up lambs of God for sacrifice. These sheep and lambs were not just any sheep or lambs but they, like the shepherds, were the Lord’s! These special Shepherds and special sheep and lambs were the only ones to use the Tower of the Flock. Also, as a side note, the Tower of the Flock was owned/govern-by/protected by the Temple of God and its priesthood. When a lamb was going to be born, it would be born inside this tower and the shepherds would wrap up these baby lambs in swaddling cloths. Every firstborn male lamb was considered holy, set aside for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The shepherds would separate the lambs, choosing only the perfect firstborn males to drive to Jerusalem. There the lambs would be purchased by those who wished to atone for their sins. On the same mountain where Abraham had offered his son to the Lord, the lambs would shed their blood and lose their lives as that atonement. So some Bible scholars think that the birth place might have been at Migdal-Edar, the Tower of the Flock.

How else did the shepherds know where to find the baby Messiah? The Angel only said that the baby was born in a manger and was wrapped in swaddling clothes. No directions were given, nor was the name of the owner of an inn or stable given either. Were these temple shepherds expected to roam all over Bethlehem, looking in every stable until they found a baby in one of them, wrapped up in a manger? The word “manger” can also be translated to mean “stall”. Because is can mean ‘stall’, many people automatically think stable or barn (farm) and because Christ was found in a manger (a feeding trough for animals) it does lead one to believe this and have this type of mind-set. However, because the first male lambs were born in the tower and kept there, it too was a stable that had mangers in it.

The biggest signs to the Temple Shepherds of where Christ was, were “manger” and ” You will find him in swaddling clothes”.  Where do they have mangers, and the only place, the holy sacrifice was born at in Bethlehem and wrapped in swaddling clothing was the Tower of the Flock. So with this new knowledge we could easily argue that the angel did give directions to the shepherds, just personal directions, ones we would not pick up on, until we did a little digging on who these men were.

The spiritual meaning in all of this, is that God uses common man to be His voice. This is consistent throughout scripture and even to this day. God showed His Son, Jesus, to the common man first, the lowest of the lows!

When Christ grew up, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me, with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, `Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll- I have come to do your will, 0 God.”‘ -Hebrews 10:5-7

John the Baptist called Jesus not only the “Son of God” (John 1:34) but also the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36). The Firstborn Lamb of God would sacrifice his life to atone for the sins of all – a one-time perfect sacrifice, offered by the Father God Himself. Where else would “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) have to be born if not Bethlehem, among the sacred Temple flocks?

Why would Messiah choose to arrive in such an out-of-way place as Bethlehem? And why would the shepherds be the first to greet him? Even this was in God’s eternal plan.

“I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. “The days are coming… when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” -Jeremiah 23:4-5

The greatest King of all would arrive in Little Bethlehem, the City of David, the city of shepherds. The place where sacrificial lambs were born and raised. He was placed in a manger. What did that sign mean to the shepherds but better yet what does it mean to you today?

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