The Shepherds and Angels

Why were the Shepherds the first people to find out about the birth of Jesus? And what an amazing way they found out about it!

The Story in the Bible

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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ 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, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour 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.'

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:8-20

The History behind the Shepherds and Angels in the Christmas Story

At that time, sheep farmers were generally seen as having low or little value by other people.

The type of sheep the shepherds would have been raising were 'fat tailed' (or broad tailed) sheep. They often had lambs in the autumn and winter, rather than in the spring which most sheep in western countries these days.

The shepherds were quietly getting on with their own business when suddenly an angel appeared to them. I'm not surprised they were afraid!

The Christmas Story - The Shepherds being visited by an Angel

The angel's words to them told them of Jesus and his amazing birth and how they could recognise him in a very crowded town. The words of the hosts of angels is very similar to the words sung during a sacrifice service in the temple when there were three blasts of the temple trumpets.

This is only the second time in the whole Bible that a group of angels rather than one angel had appeared to people, so this proved that they had a very important message to give to them. We don't know the names of the angels or how many there were of them, but in the Bible it says that there are millions of angels - so it would have been an amazing experience! If you'd like to know more about angels, go to whychristmas?com's sister site whyangels?com.

There's a theory that Jesus might have been born a couple of miles outside of Bethlehem - and was actually born in the company of the shepherds!

A couple of miles outside Bethlehem there was a special watch tower called the Migdal Eder, which means 'The Tower of the Flock'. It's thought that sheep born there were used as sacrifice animals in the Jewish Temple in near-by Jerusalem. So they were very special an the shepherds were thought of more highly than normal shepherds.

According to some sources, the lambs at Migdal Eder had their health checked by resting them in a 'manger' (or dip in a rock to stop them escaping) and were even wrapped in swaddling clothes to show they were special!

You can read more about this theory on the pathos blog.

I’m not convinced about Jesus actually ‘being born’ at 'Migdal Eder’ but having those shepherds being the first to be told about Jesus makes a lot of sense.

Having seen the new baby, the Bible says "...they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

If they were shepherds from Migdal Eder, they could have told the people they saw on the way back to hills, friends and relatives in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the 'middle class' people they sold sheep to and also the people and priests in the Jewish Temple when they took their best sheep and lambs to be sold there for sacrifices.

One ancient prophesy from the Bible also said that the Jewish messiah would come to the 'tower of the flock'.