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.” (Luke 2:8-15 NIV)
I am constantly amazed at the depths of the Word of God, amazed at its mysteries and it ability to bring constant revelation.
I began to look at the life of a shepherd, and for many this will be familiar. The life of a shepherd during biblical times was hard, they barely got by on their wages and spent most of their time away from regular civilisation, and because of this they were unlikely to be able to engage in the religious practices of the day.
In the Mishnah, a piece of Rabbinic literature, it talks about something called the ‘Migdal Eder’. As far as I am aware it was first brought to light by Alfred Edersheim (1899) and he is the original inspiration for what I am about to write.
The Migdal Eder is thought to have been known as the “Tower of the Flock” and it was located outside of Bethlehem on the road to Jerusalem. The sheep that were pastured there were not ordinary sheep for they were destined for temple sacrifices, and so the shepherds who watched over the flocks were not ordinary shepherds. Part of their job was to certify those lambs that were suitable for sacrifice or to decide if they could be released for common purposes. It is also thought the those who were certified as suitable would be wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Can you see what is happening? It makes perfect sense that the shepherds who came to see Jesus are those that certify the lambs for sacrifice, for here was born the ultimate sacrifice. That which they had been doing in watching over the sheep and looking for those that were suitable for sacrifice and the temporary washing away of sin was now of a far greater reality by their visiting of Jesus. He was the perfect sacrificial lamb who was born to take away the sins of the world. The shepherds were not certifying Jesus as suitable or not, that had already been decided, yet I think we can safely say they would have given a unanimous yes. The symbolism is astounding and I find the ‘coincidences’ profound.