“And there were in the same country
Shepherds abiding in the field,
Keeping watch over their flock by night.”
This familiar verse found in Luke 2:8 carries greater significance than realized in a casual reading of the events of the first Christmas. Referring back to the Old Testament one reads of Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz located near the little town of Bethlehem (Ruth 1:22-2:3). It was the location of those fields where the ancestral home of King David was established, for Ruth and Boaz were David’s great-grandparents, necessitating the return of Mary and Joseph to register in the City of David for census purposes. The genealogy of Jesus found both in Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter three contain the names of Jesus’ earthly ancestors, which include David the King, David’s father Jesse, David’s grandfather Obed, and David’s great-grandfather Boaz. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was not a coincidence, but planned by God the Father to fulfill His eternal purpose.
With Bethlehem situated just six miles southeast of Jerusalem, the shepherds keeping watch over the flock that night included priestly shepherds keeping watch from the two-story stone tower of Edar located midway between the two cities. The priestly shepherds’ sole task was to provide lambs for the Temple sacrifices. It was these lambs that were to be without spot or blemish (Deuteronomy 17:1), therefore upon birth the lambs were wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger within the tower to calm them and keep them from injuring themselves. After Rachel’s death and her burial in Bethlehem, Jacob “journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar,” (Genesis 35:19-21).
The Perfect Lamb of God was born on that holy night in a lowly stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger, as were all the sacrificial lambs (Luke 2:1-20). It was JESUS who was sacrificed for the sins of the world, once for all time, the veil in the Temple renting from top to bottom negating any future sacrifices and giving man access into the Holy of Holies, to God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:50-51; Hebrews 10:1-12). The Prophet Micah wrote 700 years before the birth of Christ the announcement of the Promised Messiah would take place at the tower of Edar, known as the “tower of the flock” (Micah 4:8).
The Book of Matthew in the New Testament opens with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Out of the long list of names recorded several are familiar from the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Boaz and Ruth; Jesse, David and Solomon. As the birth of Jesus unfolds in the second chapter of the Book, several verses refer back to what was written previously in the Old Testament. To fully understand the New Testament one must also read the Old, for the Old Covenant introduces the New Covenant founded upon Christ alone as the Sacrifice for sin.
- When King Herod questioned the chief priests and scribes where the Promised Messiah would be born, “They said unto him, in Bethlehem of Judea,” relying upon the Prophet Micah’s prophesy in the Old Testament, “…out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” (Matthew 2:4-6; Micah 5:2).
- When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee with his young family to Egypt “until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him,” it was the Prophet Hosea the Lord had spoken to and had written 750 years earlier found in the Old Testament, “I… called My Son out of Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-15; Hosea 11:1).
- As King Herod saw that he was mocked by the return of the magi to their own country another way and called for the slaughter of all children two years and under, Matthew recalls Jeremiah the prophet saying, “Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not,” (Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15).
- Settling in Nazareth upon their return from Egypt, more prophesies written in the Old Testament are noted concerning Jesus, in that, “He shall be called a Nazarene,” a community where residents were often despised and rejected, as Nathanael said to Philip upon his invitation for Nathanael to come see Jesus, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” In Psalm 22 David wrote of the Promised Messiah of the New Testament, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him.” The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “His Holy One, to Him whom man despiseth, to Him whom the nation abhorreth,” and also, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Matthew2:23; John 1:46; Psalm 22:6-8; Isaiah 49:7; 53:3).
As one continues reading throughout the Book of Matthew and beyond, reference upon reference is made back to the Old Testament. The Prophet Isaiah wrote in the Old Testament of John the Baptist’s ministry recorded in Matthew chapter three (Isaiah 40:3). Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in chapter four records Jesus quoting Old Testament Scripture in answer to Satan’s twisting of Scripture. Just as the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:16 writes of the Body of Christ, the Church, being “the whole body fitly joined together,” both the Old Testament and the New Testament fit wholly together, hand in glove. To understand the New, one must be familiar with the Old.
Key Verse: Ruth 1:16, “And Ruth said… whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
Move to Bethlehem – Chapter 1
Gleans in the Fields – Chapters 2-3
Redeemed by Boaz – Chapter 4
Great-Grandmother of King David – Chapter 4