Luke 2:8
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Shepherds abiding in the field.—The fact has been thought, on the supposition that sheep were commonly folded during the winter months, to have a bearing adverse to the common traditional view which fixes December 25 as the day of the Nativity. At that season, it has been urged, the weather was commonly too inclement for shepherds and sheep to pass the night in the open air, and there was too little grass for pasturage. In summer, on the other hand, the grass on the hills is rapidly burnt up. The season at which the grass is greenest is that just before the Passover (Mark 6:39; John 6:10); and, on the whole, this appears the most probable date. The traditional season, which does not appear as such till the fourth century, may have been chosen for quite other reasons—possibly to displace the old Saturnalia, which coincided with the winter solstice. It is noticeable that the earliest Latin hymns connected with the festival of Christmas dwell on the birth as the rising of the Sun of Righteousness on the world’s wintry darkness.

Keeping watch.—Literally, keeping their night-watches, as in Matthew 14:25. Who the shepherds were, or why they were thus chosen as the first to hear the glad tidings, we cannot know. Analogy suggests the thought that it was an answer to their prayers, the fulfilment of their hopes, that they, too, were looking for “the consolation of Israel.” We may venture, perhaps, to think of the shepherds of Bethlehem as cherishing the traditions of David’s shepherd-life, and the expectations which, as we know from Matthew 2:5, John 7:42, were then current throughout Judæa—that the coming of the Christ was not far off, and that Bethlehem was to witness His appearing, as thus gaining a higher spiritual receptivity than others. The statement in the Mishna that the sheep intended for sacrifice in the Temple were pastured in the fields of Bethlehem, gives a special interest to the fact thus narrated, and may, perhaps, in part, explain the faith and devotion of the shepherds. They had been rejoicing, at the Paschal season, over the spring-tide birth of the lambs of their flocks. They now heard of the birth of “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Luke

SHEPHERDS AND ANGELS

Luke 2:8 - Luke 2:20
.

The central portion of this passage is, of course, the angels’ message and song, the former of which proclaims the transcendent fact of the Incarnation, and the latter hymns its blessed results. But, subsidiary to these, the silent vision which preceded them and the visit to Bethlehem which followed are to be noted. Taken together, they cast varying gleams on the great fact of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Why should there be a miraculous announcement at all, and why should it be to these shepherds? It seems to have had no effect beyond a narrow circle and for a time. It was apparently utterly forgotten when, thirty years after, the carpenter’s Son began His ministry. Could such an event have passed from memory, and left no ripple on the surface? Does not the resultlessness cast suspicion on the truthfulness of the narrative? Not if we duly give weight to the few who knew of the wonder; to the length of time that elapsed, during which the shepherds and their auditors probably died; to their humble position, and to the short remembrance of extraordinary events which have no immediate consequences. Joseph and Mary were strangers in Bethlehem. Christ never visited it, so far as we know. The fading of the impression cannot be called strange, for it accords with natural tendencies; but the record of so great an event, which was entirely ineffectual as regards future acceptance of Christ’s claims, is so unlike legend that it vouches for the truth of the narrative. An apparent stumbling-block is left, because the story is true.

Why then, the announcement at all, since it was of so little use? Because it was of some; but still more, because it was fitting that such angel voices should attend such an event, whether men gave heed to them or not; and because, recorded, their song has helped a world to understand the nature and meaning of that birth. The glory died off the hillside quickly, and the music of the song scarcely lingered longer in the ears of its first hearers; but its notes echo still in all lands, and every generation turns to them with wonder and hope.

The selection of two or three peasants as receivers of the message, the time at which it was given, and the place, are all significant. It was no unmeaning fact that the ‘glory of the Lord’ shone lambent round the shepherds, and held them and the angel standing beside them in its circle of light. No longer within the secret shrine, but out in the open field, the symbol of the Divine Presence glowed through the darkness; for that birth hallowed common life, and brought the glory of God into familiar intercourse with its secularities and smallnesses. The appearance to these humble men as they ‘sat simply chatting in a rustic row ‘symbolised the destination of the Gospel for all ranks and classes.

The angel speaks by the side of the shepherds, not from above. His gentle encouragement ‘Fear not!’ not only soothes their present terror, but has a wider meaning. The dread of the Unseen, which lies coiled like a sleeping snake in all hearts, is utterly taken away by the Incarnation. All messages from that realm are thenceforward ‘tidings of great joy,’ and love and desire may pass into it, as all men shall one day pass, and both enterings may be peaceful and confident. Nothing harmful can come out of the darkness, from which Jesus has come, into which He has passed, and which He fills.

The great announcement, the mightiest, most wonderful word that had ever passed angels’ immortal lips, is characterised as ‘great joy’ to ‘all the people,’ in which designation two things are to be noted-the nature and the limitation of the message. In how many ways the Incarnation was to be the fountain of purest gladness was but little discerned, either by the heavenly messenger or the shepherds. The ages since have been partially learning it, but not till the ‘glorified joy’ of heaven swells redeemed hearts will all its sorrow-dispelling power be experimentally known. Base joys may be basely sought, but His creatures’ gladness is dear to God, and if sought in God’s way, is a worthy object of their efforts.

The world-wide sweep of the Incarnation does not appear here, but only its first destination for Israel. This is manifest in the phrase ‘all the people,’ in the mention of ‘the city of David’ and in the emphatic ‘you,’ in contradistinction both from the messenger, who announced what he did not share, and Gentiles, to whom the blessing was not to pass till Israel had determined its attitude to it.

The titles of the Infant tell something of the wonder of the birth, but do not unfold its overwhelming mystery. Magnificent as they are, they fall far short of ‘The Word was made flesh.’ They keep within the circle of Jewish expectation, and announce that the hopes of centuries are fulfilled. There is something very grand in the accumulation of titles, each greater than the preceding, and all culminating in that final ‘Lord.’ Handel has gloriously given the spirit of it in the crash of triumph with which that last word is pealed out in his oratorio. ‘Saviour’ means far more than the shepherds knew; for it declares the Child to be the deliverer from all evil, both of sin and sorrow, and the endower with all good, both of righteousness and blessedness. The ‘Christ’ claims that He is the fulfiller of prophecy, perfectly endowed by divine anointing for His office of prophet, priest, and king-the consummate flower of ancient revelation, greater than Moses the law-giver, than Solomon the king, than Jonah the prophet. ‘The Lord’ is scarcely to be taken as the ascription of divinity, but rather as a prophecy of authority and dominion, implying reverence, but not unveiling the deepest secret of the entrance of the divine Son into humanity. That remained unrevealed, for the time was not yet ripe.

There would be few children of a day old in a little place like Bethlehem, and none but one lying in a manger. The fact of the birth, which could be verified by sight, would confirm the message in its outward aspect, and thereby lead to belief in the angel’s disclosure of its inward character. The ‘sign’ attested the veracity of the messenger, and therefore the truth of all his word-both of that part of it capable of verification by sight and that part apprehensible by faith.

No wonder that the sudden light and music of the multitude of the heavenly host’ flashed and echoed round the group on the hillside. The true picture is not given when we think of that angel choir as floating in heaven. They stood in their serried ranks round the shepherds and their fellows on the solid earth, and ‘the night was filled with music,’ not from overhead, but from every side. Crowding forms became all at once visible within the encircling ‘glory,’ on every face wondering gladness and eager sympathy with men, from every lip praise. Angels can speak with the tongues of men when their theme is their Lord become man, and their auditors are men. They hymn the blessed results of that birth, the mystery of which they knew more completely than they were yet allowed to tell.

As was natural for them, their praise is first evoked by the result of the Incarnation in the highest heavens. It will bring ‘glory to God’ there; for by it new aspects of His nature are revealed to those clear-eyed and immortal spirits who for unnumbered ages have known His power, His holiness, His benignity to unfallen creatures, but now experience the wonder which more properly belongs to more limited intelligences, when they behold that depth of condescending Love stooping to be born. Even they think more loftily of God, and more of man’s possibilities and worth, when they cluster round the manger, and see who lies there.

‘On earth peace.’ The song drops from the contemplation of the heavenly consequences to celebrate the results on earth, and gathers them all into one pregnant word, ‘Peace.’ What a scene of strife, discord, and unrest earth must seem to those calm spirits! And how vain and petty the struggles must look, like the bustle of an ant-hill! Christ’s work is to bring peace into all human relations, those with God, with men, with circumstances, and to calm the discords of souls at war with themselves. Every one of these relations is marred by sin, and nothing less thorough than a power which removes it can rectify them. That birth was the coming into humanity of Him who brings peace with God, with ourselves, with one another. Shame on Christendom that nineteen centuries have passed, and men yet think the cessation of war is only a ‘pious imagination’! The ringing music of that angel chant has died away, but its promise abides.

The symmetry of the song is best preserved, as I humbly venture to think, by the old reading as in the Authorised Version. The other, represented by the Revised Version, seems to make the second clause drag somewhat, with two designations of the region of peace. The Incarnation brings God’s ‘good will’ to dwell among men. In Christ, God is well pleased; and from Him incarnate, streams of divine complacent love pour out to freshen and fertilise the earth.

The disappearance of the heavenly choristers does not seem to have been so sudden as their appearance. They ‘went away from them into heaven,’ as if leisurely, and so that their ascending brightness was long visible as they rose, and attestation was thereby given to the reality of the vision. The sleeping village was close by, and as soon as the last gleam of the departing light had faded in the depths of heaven, the shepherds went ‘with haste,’ untimely as was the hour. They would not have much difficulty in finding the inn and the manger. Note that they do not tell their story till the sight has confirmed the angel message. Their silence was not from doubt; for they say, before they had seen the child, that ‘this thing’ is ‘come to pass,’ and are quite sure that the Lord has told it them. But they wait for the evidence which shall assure others of their truthfulness.

There are three attitudes of mind towards God’s revelation set forth in living examples in the closing verses of the passage. Note the conduct of the shepherds, as a type of the natural impulse and imperative duty of all possessors of God’s truth. Such a story as they had to tell would burn its way to utterance in the most reticent and shyest. But have Christians a less wonderful message to deliver, or a less needful one? If the spectators of the cradle could not be silent, how impossible it ought to be for the witnesses of the Cross to lock their lips!

The hearers of the story did what, alas! too many of us do with the Gospel. ‘They wondered,’ and stopped there. A feeble ripple of astonishment ruffled the surface of their souls for a moment; but like the streaks on the sea made by a catspaw of wind, it soon died out, and the depths were unaffected by it.

The antithesis to this barren wonder is the beautiful picture of the Virgin’s demeanour. She ‘kept all these sayings, and pondered them in her heart.’ What deep thoughts the mother of the Lord had, were hers alone. But we have the same duty to the truth, and it will never disclose its inmost sweetness to us, nor take so sovereign a grip of our very selves as to mould our lives, unless we too treasure it in our hearts, and by patient brooding on it understand its hidden harmonies, and spread our souls out to receive its transforming power. A non-meditative religion is a shallow religion. But if we hide His word in our hearts, and often in secret draw out our treasure to count and weigh it, we shall be able to speak out of a full heart, and like these shepherds, to rejoice that we have seen even as it was spoken unto us.Luke 2:8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field — Here we see, that as Abraham and David, to whom the promise of the Messiah was first made, were shepherds, so the completion of this promise was first revealed to shepherds. Keeping watch over their flocks by night — Which it was necessary they should do, to guard against the wolves and other beasts of prey, common there. The original words, φυλασσοντες φυλακας της νυκτος, may be more literally rendered, watching the watches of the night. These watches were four; the first is mentioned, Lamentations 2:19; the second and third, Luke 12:38; and the fourth, Matthew 14:25; being the morning watch. It seems there was a considerable number of the shepherds together here, for the expression implies that they watched by turns according to these divisions of the night. “As it is not probable,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that they exposed their flocks to the coldness of winter nights in that climate, where, as Dr. Shaw (Trav., p. 379) has shown, they were so very unwholesome, it may be strongly argued from this circumstance that those who have fixed upon December for the birth of Christ have been mistaken in the time of it.” The birth of Christ has been placed in every month of the year. The Egyptians placed it in January — Wagenseil, in February — Bochart, in March — some mentioned by Clement of Alexandria, in April — others, in May — Epiphanius speaks of some who placed it in June — and others who supposed it to have been in July — Wagenseil, who was not sure of February, fixed it probably in August — Lightfoot, on the 15th of September — Scaliger, Casaubon, and Calvisius, in October — others, in November. But the Latin Church, being infallible in judgment, and supreme in power, has settled the matter by declaring that he was born on the 25th of December. See Labbæi, Concil. Fabricii, Bibliot. Antiq., cap. 10. It is happy for us that the particular day and hour, or even year, in which he was born is not necessary to be ascertained in order to our salvation; nor at all material to true religion. It is sufficient for us to know that he was born, was made flesh, and dwelt among us, assumed our nature, and in consequence thereof is become an all-sufficient Saviour and Redeemer, in whom whosoever believeth, with a right faith, shall not perish, but have eternal life.2:8-20 Angels were heralds of the new-born Saviour, but they were only sent to some poor, humble, pious, industrious shepherds, who were in the business of their calling, keeping watch over their flock. We are not out of the way of Divine visits, when we are employed in an honest calling, and abide with God in it. Let God have the honour of this work; Glory to God in the highest. God's good-will to men, manifested in sending the Messiah, redounds to his praise. Other works of God are for his glory, but the redemption of the world is for his glory in the highest. God's goodwill in sending the Messiah, brought peace into this lower world. Peace is here put for all that good which flows to us from Christ's taking our nature upon him. This is a faithful saying, attested by an innumerable company of angels, and well worthy of all acceptation, That the good-will of God toward men, is glory to God in the highest, and peace on the earth. The shepherds lost no time, but came with haste to the place. They were satisfied, and made known abroad concerning this child, that he was the Saviour, even Christ the Lord. Mary carefully observed and thought upon all these things, which were so suited to enliven her holy affections. We should be more delivered from errors in judgment and practice, did we more fully ponder these things in our hearts. It is still proclaimed in our ears that to us is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord. These should be glad tidings to all.The same country - Round about Bethlehem.

Shepherds - Men who tended flocks of sheep.

Abiding in the field - Remaining out of doors, under the open sky, with their flocks. This was commonly done. The climate was mild, and, to keep their flocks from straying, they spent the night with them. It is also a fact that the Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. While away in these deserts and mountainous regions, it was proper that there should be someone to attend them to keep them from straying, and from the ravages of wolves and other wild beasts. It is probable from this that our Saviour was born before the 25th of December, or before what we call "Christmas." At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. But the exact time of his birth is unknown; there is no way to ascertain it. By different learned men it has been fixed at each month in the year. Nor is it of consequence to "know" the time; if it were, God would have preserved the record of it. Matters of moment are clearly revealed; those which "he" regards as of no importance are concealed.

Keeping watch ... - More literally, "tending their flocks "by turns" through the night watches."

Lu 2:8-20. Angelic Annunciation to the Shepherds—Their Visit to the Newborn Babe.

8. abiding in the fields—staying there, probably in huts or tents.

watch … by night—or, night watches, taking their turn of watching. From about passover time in April until autumn, the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields, the shepherds lodging there all that time. (From this it seems plain that the period of the year usually assigned to our Lord's birth is too late). Were these shepherds chosen to have the first sight of the blessed Babe without any respect of their own state of mind? That, at least, is not God's way. "No doubt, like Simeon (Lu 2:25), they were among the waiters for the Consolation of Israel" [Olshausen]; and, if the simplicity of their rustic minds, their quiet occupation, the stillness of the midnight hours, and the amplitude of the deep blue vault above them for the heavenly music which was to fill their ear, pointed them out as fit recipients for the first tidings of an Infant Saviour, the congenial meditations and conversations by which, we may suppose, they would beguile the tedious hours would perfect their preparation for the unexpected visit. Thus was Nathanael engaged, all alone but not unseen, under the fig tree, in unconscious preparation for his first interview with Jesus. (See on [1539]Joh 1:48). So was the rapt seer on his lonely rock "in the spirit on the Lord's Day," little thinking that this was his preparation for hearing behind him the trumpet voice of the Son of man (Re 1:10, &c.). But if the shepherds in His immediate neighborhood had the first, the sages from afar had the next sight of the new-born King. Even so still, simplicity first, science next, finds its way to Christ, whom

In quiet ever and in shade

Shepherds and Sage may find—

They, who have bowed untaught to Nature's sway,

And they, who follow Truth along her star-pav'd way.

Keble

Bethlehem was a place about which were pastures for sheep, as appears from 1 Samuel 17:15. There were shepherds abroad in the night (for so the word signifieth) watching over their flocks; whether the phrase signifieth (as some think) successive watches, such as are kept by soldiers, and by the priests, I cannot say. This maketh some think, that it is hardly probable that our Saviour was born in December in the midst of the winter, that being no time when shepherds use in the night to be keeping their flocks in the field. And there were in the same country shepherds,.... For Bethlehem was a place of pasture: near to Ephrata, the same with Bethlehem, were the fields of the wood, Psalm 132:6 and the tower of Edar or the tower of the flock, Genesis 35:21 and here David kept his father's sheep, 1 Samuel 17:15 so that we need not wonder to hear of shepherds here,

abiding in the field, watching over their flock by night: from whence it appears, that Christ was born in the night; and the (o) Jews say, that the future redemption shall be in the night; and Jerom says (p), it is a tradition of the Jews, that Christ will come in the middle of the night, as was the passover in Egypt: it is not likely that he was born, as is commonly received, at the latter end of December, in the depth of winter; since at this time, shepherds were out in the fields, where they lodged all night, watching their flocks: they were diligent men, that looked well to their flocks, and watched them by night, as well as by day, to preserve them from beasts of prey; they were, as it is in the Greek text, "keeping the watches of the night over their flock." The night was divided into four watches, the even, midnight, cock crowing, and morning; and these kept them, as the Arabic version adds, alternately, some kept the flock one watch, and some another, while the rest slept in the tent, or tower, that was built in the fields for that purpose. There were two sorts of cattle with the Jews; there was one sort which they called "the cattle of the wilderness", that lay in the fields; and another sort which they called "the cattle of the house", that were brought up at home: concerning both which, they have this rule (q),

"they do not water nor slay the cattle of the wilderness, but they water and slay the cattle of the house: these are the cattle of the house, that lie in the city; the cattle of the wilderness, are they that lie in the pastures.

On which, one of their commentators (r) observes,

"these lie in the pastures, which are in the villages, all the days of cold and heat, and do not go into the cities, until the rains descend.

The first rain is in the month Marchesvan, which answers to the latter part of our October, and the former part of November; and of this sort, seem to be the flocks those shepherds were keeping by night, the time not being yet come, of their being brought into the city: from whence it appears, that Christ must be born before the middle of October, since the first rain was not yet come; concerning this, the Gemara (s) is more large,

"the Rabbins teach, that these are they of the wilderness, or fields, and these are they of the house; they of the field are they that go out on the passover, and feed in the pastures, and come in at the first rain; and these are they of the house, all that go out and feed without the border, and come and lie within the border (fixed for a sabbath day's journey): Rabbi says, those, and those are of the house; but these are they that are of the field, all they that go out and feed in the pastures, and do not come in to remain, neither in the days of the sun, nor in the days of the rains.

To the shepherds, the first notice of Christ's birth was given; not to the princes and chief priests, and learned men at Jerusalem, but to weak, mean, and illiterate men; whom God is pleased to choose and call, and reveal his secrets to; when he hides them from the wise and prudent, to their confusion, and the glory of his grace: and this was a presage of what the kingdom of Christ would be, and by, and to whom, the Gospel would be preached,

(o) Tzeror Hamrnor, fol. 73. 3.((p) In Matthew 25.6. (q) Misn. Betza, c. 5. sect. 7. (r) Maimon. in ib. (s) T. Bab. Betza, for. 40. 1. & Sabbat. fol. 45. 2. Vid Maimon Hilch. Yom Tob, c. 2. sect. 2.

{2} And there were in the same country shepherds {d} abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

(2) The angels themselves declare to poor shepherds (not at all regarding the pride of the mighty) the Godhead and office of the child lying in the crib.

(d) Living outside, and in the open air.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Luke 2:8 f. Ποιμένες] not οἱ ποιμένες.

ἀγραυλοῦντες] staying out in the open fields; Plut. Numbers 4; Parthen. Erot. xxix. 1, and the ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι already in Homer, Il. xviii. 162.

φυλάσσ. φυλακάς] often conjoined also among the Greek writers; Plat. Phaedr. p. 240 E; Xen. Anab. ii. 6. 10, and the passages in Kypke. Comp. שָׁמַו מִשְׁמָרו̇ח, Numbers 1:53, al. The plural applies to the different watch-stations.

τῆς νυκτός] not belonging to φυλακάς, but: by night, definition of time for ἀγραυλ. and φυλάσσ.

According to this statement, Jesus cannot have been born in December, in the middle of the rainy season (Robinson, Pal. II. p. 505 f.), as has been since the fourth century supposed with a probable joining on of the festival to the Natales solis invicti (see Gieseler, Kirchengesch. I. 2, p. 287 f. ed. 4). Just as little can He have been born on the sixth day of January, which in the East was even earlier fixed as the festival of the birth and baptism (still other times fixed as the day of birth may be seen in Clement Al. Strom. I. p. 339 f. Sylb.). According to the Rabbins, the driving forth of the flocks took place in March, the bringing in of them in November (see Lightfoot); and if this is established at least as the usual course, it certainly is not in favour of the hypothesis (Wieseler) that Jesus was born in February (750), and necessitates precarious accessory assumptions.

ἐπέστη] Comp. Luke 24:4; Acts 12:7; Acts 17:5. In the classical writers it is used also of theophanies, of appearances in dreams, and the like, frequently since Homer (Il. xxiii. 106, x. 496), denoting their sudden emergence, which nevertheless is implied not in the word in itself, but in the text.

δόξα κυρίου], בְּבוֹד יְהֹוָה radiance by which God is surrounded. Comp. Ewald, ad Apoc. p. 311. God’s glorious radiance (comp. Acts 7:2) had streamed down with the angel. “In omni humiliatione Christi per deeoram quandam protestationem cautum est gloriae ejus divinae,” Bengel.Luke 2:8-13. The shepherds and the angels.8–20. The Angels to the Shepherds

8. in the same country] Tradition says that they were natives of the little village Beth-zur (Joshua 15:58; Nehemiah 3:16). They were feeding their flocks in the same fields from which David had been summoned to feed Jacob, God’s people, and Israel His inheritance.

shepherds] Why these were the first to whom was revealed the birth of Him who was called the Lamb of God, we are not told. The sheep used for the daily sacrifice were pastured in the fields of Bethlehem.

abiding in the field] This does not prove, as some have supposed, that the Nativity took place in spring, for in some pastures of Palestine the shepherds to this day bivouac with their flocks in winter.Luke 2:8. Χώρᾳ, region) in which David also had fed his sheep.—φυλακὰς, watch [plur.]) by turns.Verses 8-20. - The Bethlehem shepherds see the angels. Verse 8. - In the same country; that is, in the upland pastures immediately in the neighborhood of Bethlehem. Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Why were shepherds chosen as the first on earth to hear the strange glorious news of the birth of the Savior of the world? It seems as though this very humble order was selected as a practical illustration of that which in the future history of Christianity was to be so often exemplified - "the exaltation of the humble and meek." Mary would learn from this, the first visit of adorers to her Babe, that the words of her song (the Magnificat) would in very truth be realized. The subsequent visit of the learned and wealthy travelers from the East (Matthew 2:1-12) would tell her that the words of the Isaiah prophecy were all literally, in their due order, to be fulfilled, some of them even in the unconscious childhood of her Son (see Isaiah 60:3, 6; Psalm 72:10). Now, among the Jews at that period shepherds were held in low estimation among the people. In the Talmud (treatise 'Sanhedrin') we read they were not to be allowed in the courts as witnesses. In the treatise 'Avodah-Zarah' no help must be given to the heathen or to shepherds. The Mishna (Talmud) tells us that the sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. This semisacred occupation no doubt influenced these poor toilers, and specially fitted them to be the recipients of the glad tidings. They would hear much of the loved Law in the solemn ritual of the great temple. They would know, too, that there was a rumor widely current in those days that the longlooked - for Messiah was soon to appear, and that their own Bethlehem was to witness his appearing. Shepherds

Luke's Gospel is the gospel of the poor and lowly. This revelation to the shepherds acquires additional meaning as we remember that shepherds, as a class, were under the Rabbinic ban, because of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance well-nigh impossible.

Keeping watch (φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς)

Φυλακή is sometimes used of a watch as a measure of time, as in Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48; Luke 12:38. So possibly here. See Rev. in margin, night-watches. There is a play upon the words: watching watches. There was near Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, a tower known as Migdal Eder, or the watch-tower of the flock. Here was the station where shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrifice in the temple. Animals straying from Jerusalem on any side, as far as from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder, were offered in sacrifice. It was a settled conviction among the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and equally that he was to be revealed from Migdal Eder. The beautiful significance of the revelation of the infant Christ to shepherds watching the flocks destined for sacrifice needs no comment.

Their flock (τὴν ποίμνην)

May not the singular number fall in with what has just been said? - the flock, the temple-flock, specially devoted to sacrifice. The pronoun their would furnish no objection, since it is common to speak of the flock as belonging to the shepherd. Compare John 10:3, John 10:4.

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