Shepherds of the Nativity
SHEPHERDS Part 2, Twelve Days of the Nativity DAY 4
In this series of articles, titled “Twelve Days of the Nativity, ” We take a deeper look into the nativity and all of it’s beautiful symbols. The Twelve Days of Christmas take on a whole new meaning as we discover Jesus Christ and His Ministry!
This is part 2 of my article on “The Shepherds” from my 12 article series titled, “Twelve Days of the Nativity.”
SHEPHERDS, PART 2
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
CLOTHING OF THE SHEPHERD
When I first read about the clothing of the shepherd it absolutely blew my mind! How could I get so excited about shepherd clothing! But unraveling details of a shepherd’s dress opened up so many passages of scripture for me that I could not previously understand. To understand the clothing of the shepherd is to further understand Christ and His “called” servants. The Shepherds watching their flocks on the night of his birth were His servants, and these shepherds serve as a further pattern for future servants he would later call throughout the New Testament. Understanding this clothing will give you insight into the “men” that God appoints as his “shepherds.” These are men that He “calls out” to “feed his sheep.” (Note: The word “church” in our New Testament scriptures is the greek word ekklesia which actually translates directly to the phrase “call out”).
THE SHEPHERD’S HOOK
A shepherd’s hook was curved at the top so that it could be used to wrap around the neck of the sheep if they began to “stray” from the path. We find references to the “straight and narrow path” throughout scripture, and the Apostle Paul refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ as, “The Way.” A good shepherd was able to lead his sheep safely through narrow mountain passes and show them “the way”. In addition, the shepherds staff was used not only to keep the sheep from leaving the path, but also as a weapon for defense against predators who would harm the flock.
THE SHEPHERD’S HOOK AND THE PATTERNS FOUND IN SCRIPTURE
We must remember that it was Moses who carried a staff as he led the Children of Israel out of Egypt. The shepherds hook is found throughout ancient Egyptian art—and it was the Pharaohs who were depicted holding this crook. The Pharaoh is often depicted with a hook and flail, which symbolically held the same purpose as the Shepherds staff—to protect and direct the people. In scripture, the staff symbolizes “the word” of God. Christ was the “word made flesh.”
THE SHEPHERD’S HORN, or Ram’s Horn
The Shepherd’s horn was a hallowed out ram’s horn carried at the waist of the Shepherd and it was filled with olive oil. This horn filled with olive oil was used to protect the health of the sheep. The shepherd would rub the head and ears of the sheep with oil to prevent bugs and lice that could enter the ears of the sheep and potentially kill them. Even the fleece of the sheep was rubbed with oil to keep bugs off.
THE SHEPHERD’S HORN AND THE PATTERNS FOUND IN SCRIPTURE
In the Old Testament, Samuel used his horn filled with oil to anoint David as the future king. Olive oil is a symbol of the holy spirit in scripture. Oil, covers us symbolically, the same way the holy spirit would. David’s “anointing with oil” was symbolic of his future Kingship. These same promises are revealed to us through the New Testament. We are His sheep, and He is our shepherd. We are “anointed” with the “holy spirit, and this “anointing” has purpose. It is a protection, comfort, guide, and spiritual power for us.
THE SHEPHERD’S MANTLE, or Outer Garment
The shepherds outer garment was animal skin—either goat skin or sheepskin. A shepherd’s very appearance blended in with the animals that he tended. He was one of them—they lived and ate under the same stars, but the shepherd with the staff and his mantle was the guide of them all—they followed his voice. Their relationship was one of mutual dependance, affection, and love. The lived as equals, and yet reaped the benefits of his love and protection.
THE SHEPHERD’S OUTER GARMENT AND THE PATTERNS FOUND IN SCRIPTURE
John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah both wore the same clothing of shepherds–and the description of their clothing in scripture is intentional by the authors. They wore a mantle of hair girded at the waist. John the Baptist and Elijah both appear at a time in the “church” when a division is taking place. They are both prophets that dwell in the “wilderness” and preach a “true” gospel to the people—one of repentance. They were dressed as shepherds of their flock at a time when the people struggled to identify “true” shepherds. Their clothing has symbolic meaning and can be tied to the ancient practice of wearing sack cloth and ash.
SACKCLOTH AND ASH
What does a “repentant” person look like? Anciently, when individuals repented, they participated in a symbolic practice where they wore sackcloth and ash. What was the ritual of wearing sackcloth and ash? Sackcloth was a woven garment usually made from animal hair or wool that was worn against the skin to cause great discomfort. The repentant individual during this ritual would put on sackcloth and cover themselves with ash to signify “mourning” or “repentance.” It was a very public and dramatic display. This practice reflected a willingness to submit to God—because if one can “openly shame” themselves before their fellow peers, they had certainly done it already before God in secret. This public expression of shaming themselves was an “outward” reflection of something that had already occurred “inwardly”. It was a “token” of one who feared God’s wrath more than men’s judgements.
At the mere sight of these individuals, everyone could “see” that they were “repentant.” They didn’t hide it. It was an outward act that showed “self-humiliation.” A truly repentant person, like this ritual, shows “self-humiliation” in their words and actions. They speak plainly of their past failures to reflect a current state of sorrow for the sins they know they “presently” dwell in.
THE PROCESS OF REPENTANCE
The process of “becoming new” tends to be a public one when God is involved—and that is for His purposes. Those who get to witness these individuals during their “change of heart” become “aware” of the sins of the sinner because these sinners begin to “wear” them outwardly as a “sign” or “token” of their repentance. These “sins” feel like the uncomfortable, “hairy woolen” garment of sackcloth, as the repentant sinner becomes “aware” of their own sins before God. Individuals who symbolically wear “sackcloth” feel their sins, and then “cover” themselves with “ash” symbolically as they go through a “refiners fire”—and it’s through the “ashes” that we find a person “reborn.”
THE SHEPHERDS OF THE NATIVITY
When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds tending their flocks—they were surround by the “glory” of the Lord. This “glory” is called the shekinah glory and it is spoken of over and over throughout the scriptures—and this presence only “dwells” with those who have been “washed clean.” It’s the presence of God dwelling on earth amongst us. At the time of Christs birth true shepherds were treated as sinners. These shepherds, who slept with animals and wore “mantles of animal hair,” would have been considered “unclean”— not because they were sinners, but because of their outward appearance.
At the time of Christ’s birth, the ritual practices for “cleanliness” became more important than God’s intended purposes behind them, and were used by the Pharisees and scribes to “separate” themselves as “better” than those who were deemed “physically and ritually unclean.” (Matthew 15:2). We find in Matthew chapter 15, an instance, where the Savior teaches the the “true” meaning behind customs of “ritual” purity, and so the Angel of the Lord appearing to those “deemed unclean” would been a paradox to those unprepared for His coming.
ON THAT NIGHT
On that night, an angel of the Lord appears to the same “type” of servants he has always appeared to. And these shepherds do the very thing that His servants have always done, which is, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke Chapter 2).
Be sure to check out my other articles in this series HERE: