Why Shepherds?

This teaching was given by pastor Barry on 13th December as part of our 2020 Christmas Studies.

Why shepherds?

Have you ever wondered? Of all those who could have been invited to see Jesus as He lay in the manger, why did God chose shepherds?

As we study the Bible we begin to realise there are no meaningless details

Far from being a random choice, we discover there is much more hidden in the Christmas story that centuries of tradition as sadly obfuscated.

Shepherds were considered outcasts in 1st century Israel, so some say God chose them because He loves to choose the week things of the world to shame the wise.

Others say it was so news of Jesus’ birth could spread far and wide by people who had nothing to lose. But, if that were so, the Shepherds failed in their mission as the news of a ‘new born king’ didn’t even make it 8 miles up the road to Jerusalem, where Herod,  a particularly nervous and uneasy Idumean, appointed by Rome, sat on the throne of Israel as if it were his. When Herod did find out, as Magi from Babylonia arrived en masse in Jerusalem looking for this rightful King of Israel Herod proverbially lost it!

Did you know that the prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? Quite probably, as it’s a scripture read each year at Christmastime:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah,
though thou be little among the thousands of Judah,
yet 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.” (Micah 5:2)

But did you know that Micah, just 7 verse before, foretold the exact location, and it was to be a shepherds lookout tower on outskirts of Bethlehem?

“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)

This tower at Migdal Edar (which is the words translated as ‘tower of the flock”) was not only used by shepherds as a lookout to keep an eye on their sheep to protect them from thieves and predators, it was also used as a lambing room, where new-born lambs could be born away from the ravages of the cold night air. At the base of this tower was an natural depression in the rock the shepherds call the ‘manger’. It would be in there they would lay the new-born lambs.

But, significantly, these were not ordinary shepherds, and their sheep no ordinary sheep. All the sheep on the hills around Bethlehem were for one purpose; to be offered as sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem.

  • “Every day, according to the Torah, two lambs were required for a daily sacrifice in the Temple, meaning that 730 were needed each year plus the tens of thousands more lambs needed for Pesach (Passover) as well as for the other religious rituals”. – Harold Smith

For a lamb to be used as an offering it had to be without blemish. To protect it, the shepherds would wrap it in old priestly garments cut into strips, known as swaddling bands, to stop it kicking and thrashing about and damaging itself.

  • According to the Talmud, all sheep found in the area “from Jerusalem as far as Migdal Eder” [Bethlehem] were deemed to be holy and consecrated
  • They could only be used for sacrifices in the temple… in particular, for the Peace offerings and Passover sacrifices.

These shepherd’s primary duty was to inspect these lamb’s and confirm they were without blemish and able to be used as sacrificial lambs. It was their job to approve the lambs to be offered in Jerusalem to atone for sin!

  • “Luke’s original audience would have immediately picked up on the religious significance of the Bethlehem shepherds watching their flocks by night”
  • “Aware of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Jewish Temple worship of the day, they would have known that when you said Bethlehem, you said “sacrificial lambs”. The hills around Bethlehem were home to the thousands of lambs used in ritual worship in the Temple”. – Harold Smith
  • For 1st Century Christians: Hearing that Yeshua was born in Bethlehem would have automatically triggered an image of the Lamb of YHVH who takes away the sin [of the World].
  • With that in mind, it’s easy for us to imagine one of Luke’s listeners saying, ‘Of course the Lamb of YHVH would originate in Bethlehem – all the lambs for sacrifice came from there.  Harold Smith

This is why, of all people, God sent these shepherds (without any directions), not to a stable, but to see a baby lying in a manger – their manger!

Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.


May you be blessed and encouraged by this teaching.


The PowerPoint slides used in this study are available for free download.



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