“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
– Luke 2:8
In our Christmas manger scenes there are always several shepherds that are placed around the display. These shepherds are always 35-40 year old, bearded men. In reality in the Middle East, almost all the shepherding is done by very young children, most of them girls. In the Middle Eastern culture, the men do very little of the menial work. You might find them sitting under a tree watching their children handle the livestock, but they rarely do the labor themselves. Even today in Israel, you almost never see older men actually tending the sheep. Instead, younger people are given the job of walking with and taking care of the animals. A great Old Testament example of this is when Samuel came to Jesse’s house to decide who would be the king to succeed Saul. He looked at all the older sons and then asked if there were any more. David, the youngest of the brothers, was out tending the sheep. Most scholars think he was around ten years old when Samuel came to anoint him. It is highly unlikely that the shepherds that were visited by the angels on the night that Jesus was born were older men. They were most likely young boys and/or girls that got to see that miraculous sight.
Also, the fact that the shepherds were, “in the fields” is very significant. For most of the year the shepherds kept their sheep in the wilderness or desert areas of Israel. They moved the sheep constantly, looking for enough grass to keep them going. The desert was where the shepherd stayed with his sheep, even from the earliest times in Israel. They only came to and were allowed into the fields at one certain time of year. The word used here for field denotes a specific type of cultivated land, not just land in general. The fields in Israel are only found in a narrow mountainous strip in the center of the country, around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. These fields were where the farmers raised their barley, wheat and other grains. The wheat was typically harvested in late June and July, much the same as in the United States. After the wheat had been completely harvested, there was a two week period where the poor people could come in and glean the fields. God instructed the Jewish people not to cut the corners of their fields, but to leave some for the poor, the alien and the widows (see Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 23:22, and the story of Ruth). Only after the last day allowed for gleaning would the shepherds be allowed into the fields with their sheep to eat the stubble and whatever else remained. The time of year that they would have been allowed into the fields would have been approximately the first to the middle of August. They would have stayed in the fields eating and fertilizing until late September or mid October – departing in time for the owners to prepare their fields for next year’s crop. The early rains in Israel usually start to fall in late October and November and the farmer would have to have his soil prepared and ready by then. If the shepherds were in the fields when Jesus was born, what does that say about the date of December 25 as his birthday? There is a lot more to this that we don’t have time in this limited space to cover, but it is a fascinating study! At the least it certainly begs for the possibility of a different date than what we traditionally celebrate as the birth of the Christ child.
Now that we have covered the trip by Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, the manger scene and the shepherds, it is now time to take a look at the wise men that came, following a star to this now famous little town in Israel.
About the author:
Bob is the creator of this site and a disciple of Ray Vander Laan. Along with his wife of 50 years, he teaches a Bible study at Christ’s Church in Roswell, NM. He is also an avid hunter and fisher.
As I read Scripture about 17 years ago Yah showed me Yeshua was not born in December and not to observe xmas, in fact having me throw away all my xmas decorations. Since then I heard compelling teachings that it could have taken place during Tabernacles, other during Yom Teruah and others during Passover. The last one by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn who also says during Passover and brings new light into the customs of shepherds and other points (youtube Jonathan Cahn – When was Messiah Jesus born?). Of course after this I was compelled to do additional research leading me to your fine article, thank you
The prophetic angle: His ministry being 3.5 years exactly, at the end of which He would be “cut off” or killed. His ministry started when He BEGAN to be 30 years old (Luke 3:23), therefore 6 months from His death in the spring at Passover season, therefore no later than October.
This and the article above appear to corroborate each other for the same time period.
It says he was “about” 30.
Years ago, in large volumes entitled Picturesque Palestine, the much-traveled Canon H. B. Tristram, who had made frequent visits to Palestine, wrote as follows (Vol. I, page 124):
“A little knoll of olive trees surrounding a group of ruins marks the traditional site of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, Migdol Eder, ‘the tower of the flock’. But the place where the first ‘Gloria in excelsis’ was sung was probably further east, where the bare hills of the wilderness begin, and a large tract is claimed by the Bethlehemites as a common pasturage. Here the sheep would be too far off to be led into the town at night; and exposed to the attacks of wild beasts from the eastern ravines, where the wolf and the jackal still prowl, and where of old the yet more formidable lion and bear had their covert, they needed the shepherds’ watchful care during the winter and spring months, when alone pasturage is to be found on these bleak uplands”. (Italics supplied).
Here an authority of no mean standing tells us that in the dry summer season the hills are well-nigh bare, affording insufficient pasture, so the shepherds then normally keep their sheep near the town and enfold them at night. But when the winter rains fall, the hills become clothed with grass, and the shepherds, knowing this, take their sheep further a field. Then, because it would make the sheep walk too far to reach the folds every evening, expending energy needlessly, they simply watch their flocks in the fields all night. This seems to be precisely what the evangelist Luke describes:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). The shepherds were not in the town; the flock was not in a fold in or near the town. They were afar in ‘the field’ or common pasturage. The sheep were taken there only in the winter, when the winter rains brought forth grass on the hills.”
Once again, the claim that it was too cold for shepherds to be abiding in the fields in December is shown have no basis. In fact the historical record shows exactly the opposite: the shepherds would have been abiding in the fields in December with their flocks.
Source: This article is from http://Jesus-ReasonForSeason.com A website that will address many of the ever increasing claims that not only Christmas but many parts of the Bible are either false or influenced by heathen or pagan rites.
Hi, and Shalom to everyone, Blessed be Adonai Elohim in Yeshua’s Name HalleluYah ????, I have made a decision of my life 2,5 year ego the Scripture says truth and cannot be wrong it proves itself, but we as a people already proved wrong ourselves, I jus want to encourage you to read it. AMEN..
Hey, this is quite revealing how the agricultural pattern in the East helps to shed light, first on the culture of the people and the possible date of the birth of Jesus than has been traditionally accepted. The exactness of the date is not much of interest to me as the cultural significance of the shepherds and their work.
After reading this information regarding the birth of Jesus, I pray that the current media trend has not allowed propaganda to dispute or challenge biblical interpretation.
At the very bottom of this page, I saw Meta included in the credits .
Therefore the previous crime riddled company Facebook may have invaded biblical studies also.
The new Facebook evolution into Meta has no decency just like it’s previous mission statement.
Thank you, Lisa. ♥️