“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).
Key Verse: Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Plea for Deliverance – Psalms 1-41
Forgiveness – Psalms 42-72
The Righteous Judge – Psalms 73-89
God’s Sovereignty – Psalm 90-106
Praise & Worship – Psalm 107-150
Jesus refers to Himself in Scripture as the Good Shepherd who leads His sheep (John 10). As sheep are commonly considered dumb animals, many characteristics in their behavior give them that connotation. David was a shepherd boy who spent many hours watching them, caring for them, protecting them. It is through his experience with them he penned Psalm 23.
Without a shepherd to lead them to green pastures, sheep will feed upon whatever they can find, including poisonous weeds. They are apt to drink from polluted water when thirsty, picking up internal parasites when not following the shepherd to the still, clean waters. When sheep are “cast down” getting themselves in a position of lying on their backs with their feet in the air unable to roll over and get up, the shepherd is there to restore them back on their feet. Creatures of habit, sheep will follow the same paths causing ruts and overgraze the same pastures turning them into wastelands without a shepherd leading them. It is the shepherd who safely guides the sheep through mountainous passes where danger and death lurk. It is the shepherd’s rod that disciplines the flock and protects them from wild predators, from which they are defenseless. The staff is used to gently prod the sheep from getting too close to the edge of steep cliffs, keep them together moving in the right direction, and reunite separated lambs with their mothers. It is the shepherd who anoints the heads of the sheep with oil to control the flies which aggravate them. When sheep have good pasture, clean water, no fear of predators, are healthy and feel safe, they are able to lie down and not be in want of anything.
Isaiah wrote “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way,” (53:6). The herd mentality of sheep causes them to follow after one another. Without a shepherd to guide them they become scattered and leave the path that has been deemed best to lead them to green pastures, inviting all kinds of disasters upon them. David , with great clarity and an abundance of experience, declared, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” To live a life of peace and contentment, and not be led astray by wandering off on another trail, it is imperative to be led “in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” For it is only then when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil. His rod and His staff will comfort us.
The Good Shepherd goes before His sheep,
The sheep follow him;
For they know His voice.