December 1, 2015

The Temple Shepherds - Nativity Story



Interview with Rebecca Holt Stay, Instructor of Biblical Studies - BYU Continuing Education

"There were in the same country as Joseph and Mary, shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night" (see Luke 2:8). We understand those to be the temple flocks, which were kept in the Bethlehem area just south of Jerusalem. And when you think of a field, it's not a field, its a hill. It's a very hilly rocky place. When my husband and I were there in the shepherd's fields of Bethlehem, a flock of sheep and goats went by. So it was a lovely experience.

But shepherd has a really deep meaning in the Old Testament. Shepherd in Hebrew is 'reu.' Now the feminine form of that is Ruth, but we'll see it in the man's name Reuel, which means shepherd of God, which is Jethro. And Moses is sent to Jethro to be taught how to shepherd God's people. But maybe more importantly, 'reu' has a second meaning and that is 'friend' because shepherds eat with the flock and therefore they are their friends. That's the connotation. So the shepherds are the friends of the sheep.

And these shepherds, and every shepherd would be out in the fields at lambing season because when the mother sheep drop the lambs there can generally be two born at the same birth. They need to there to witness which of the two lambs is the first born, because only one of those lambs will be acceptable at the temple as an offering for sin, as a first born, male, perfect lamb. And so they would have some red thread or string with them to tie loosely around the neck of the first born lamb in order to mark it as a first born. And thus it would be essential at the birth of the Lamb of God that shepherds are there to witness His birth as Mary's first born. And then just as the shepherds in the temple flock would indicate which are the first born and tell their leaders, and tell the priests at the temple which are the first born lambs, they would go out and say, "ah, the first born Lamb has been born." And bare testimony to the coming of that first born Lamb.

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