the Shepherds & the Angel
by haRold Smith
a citizen of the Commonwealth
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in the manger because there was no place for them in the inn.
"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of YHVH appeared to them, and the glory of YHVH shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Yeshua haMashiach. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in the manger. ' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising YHVH and saying, 'Glory to YHVH in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!'
"When the angels went away from them, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which YHVH has made known to us.' And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, lying in the manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising YHVH for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." Luke 2:1-20
Luke's original audience would have immediately picked up on the religious significance of the Bethlehem shepherds watching their flocks by night. Aware of the instructional words of the Tanakh (OT) about Hebrew Temple worship, they would have known that when you said Bethlehem, you said "sacrificial lambs". The hills around Bethlehem were home to the thousands of lambs used in ritual worship in the Temple. As a boy from Bethlehem, King David would likely have tended sheep destined for the daily offerings or used in the sacrifices on the high holidays in these very hills. Every day, according to the Torah, two lambs were required for a daily sacrifice in the Temple, meaning that 730 were needed each year plus the tens of thousands more lambs needed for the feast of Pesach (Passover) as well as for the other religious rituals. Everyone in Israel recognized Bethlehem as being synonymous with sacrificial lambs. Micah, the Hebrew prophet who foretold of haMashiach's (the Messiah's) birth in Bethlehem, also prophesied, "And you, O Tower of the Flock (in Hebrew, Migdal Eder), the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto you shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem" (Micah 4:8 - click on highlighted words to view content). Although obscure and often overlooked, Micah disclosed that the Messiah, who embodied the hope of the Kingdom of Israel, "was to be revealed from Migdal Eder - 'the Tower of the Flock'." Close by where the shepherds were camped that night, in the northern part of Bethlehem on the road to Jerusalem (less than an hour's journey by foot), was the tower known as Migdal Eder, the "watch-tower of the flock." This was the station where shepherds brought their flocks destined for sacrifices in the Temple. For animals found as far from Jerusalem to the north of Bethlehem and within that circuit on every side, the males were offered as burnt-offerings, the females as peace-offerings.
"On the night in which Yeshua was born, the angelic message came to those priests of the Temple whose duties had been designated, often from their youth, to "keeping watch over their flock." These were not just any flock and herd. The shepherds who kept them were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal that was to be sacrificed had to be and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged or blemished. During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priests would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. Once birthed, the priestly shepherds would routinely place the lambs in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as "the manger" and "wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes," preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves "until they had calmed down" so they could be inspected for the quality of being "without spot or blemish" (In fact the Mishnah (Baba K. vii. 7) expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wilderness - and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services" (Baba K. 80 a & Alfred Edersheim, the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, chapter VI). Every event in Yeshua's life pointed toward His prophesied death. On the night of His birth, an angel appeared to the shepherds who were out in the fields, "keeping watch over their flock by night" and instructed them: "you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in the manger" (Luke 2, above). The shepherds immediately responded, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which YHVH has made known to us" (v. 15). Where would they have known to go - since there were no directions provided?
|...a depiction of what Migdal Eder might have looked like|
The twice-daily offering of a male lamb as commanded in the Torah was known as the tamiyd meaning continual (found in verse 3 of Numbers 28:1-8. It was offered up as the first and last offering of each day and, scripturally, is the only sacrifice that strictly called for a male lamb without spot or blemish that could not be replaced. The requirements of the sacrifice at Pesach (Passover) could actually be a goat or a bullock as well as a lamb (Leviticus 22:19-21). The Hebrew word tamiym, (translated for lambs "without spot or blemish") means complete, whole, entire, sound and is the same word used as "perfect" describing Noah in Genesis 6:9 and by YHVH to Abraham in Genesis 17:1. The tamiyd was sacrificed the third hour every morning, the same time as when Yeshua was hoisted up onto the stake (Mark 15:25, Mishnah: Tamid 3:7; Edersheim, The Temple, chapter 7, p. 108) and the ninth hour every afternoon when Yeshua was offered up as that sacrificial lamb (Mark 15:34-37, Antiquities of the Jews 14.4.3 & 14:65; Philo Special Laws I, XXXV-169), once and for all, continually every day of the year to be able to stand in the Presence of YHVH (Exodus 29:38-42). Additionally, by approaching this subject from the Hebrew perspective we shall see that while swaddling "cloths" were used in the handling of newborn babies, swaddling "bands" (as referenced in Job 38:9) were used for subduing animals prior to sacrifice. These "swaddling bands" were strips of gauze-like cloth used to restrain a lamb being prepared for inspection before sacrifice to prevent thrashing that they not "blemish" themselves. A sacrifice had to be "bound" (Hebrew `aqad) in order to be valid. "Binding" an animal for sacrifice is the Hebrew akeida (ibid, Hebrew Glossary and Terminology); specifically mentioned in Abraham's "binding" of Yitzchak (Isaac) for sacrifice to the Almighty in Genesis 22:9 (this particular sacrifice was, of course, never consummated). The tense used in the original Greek of Luke 2:12 shows He will be found "having been swaddled" without any indication of what that "swaddling" consisted of. So, it is not a stretch to see the newborn Yeshua in the sign of "the manger" of the birthing room of Migdal Eder "having been swaddled" in the bands used on the tamyid lambs brought there for inspection before sacrifice.
|...the birth of the King of Kings|
According to the Torah, when a woman had an issue of blood for any reason, she was ritually unclean for that time and for seven days thereafter. She remained ceremonially unclean until she was purified by entering a mikvah (water immersion) in the witnessing presence of a rabbi. While she was ritually unclean, she had to live separately from the rest of the family so as not to defile the people in the household and by her presence rendering them ceremonially unclean. Therefore, during those times, the woman would leave and stay in a nearby area where she would not defile the home. (Leviticus 15:19-23). During childbirth and with the issue of blood loss, the same rule applied to women giving birth (Leviticus 12:2-4). If she were to give birth in the common living area, she would defile the family and make it necessary for them to be ceremonially purified by both a ritual immersion and a sacrifice; therefore, women would leave the home and give birth elsewhere. After the cessation of blood and the required time of waiting for purification, the woman and child would perform the necessary rituals of purification to be ceremonially clean and return to the household with the rest of the family. Before the rabbis co-opted it to the confines of the Temple, circumcision was performed as a natural course of birth by the parents (Genesis 17:23). Thus, with this understanding, there being "'no place for them in the kataluma" would be regarded as completely appropriate. But this is no indication that she would be summarily ostracized to reside in a stable of animals by her family who cared for her well-being.
That sheep only give birth in the spring is true for most sheep in the world. However, the Awassi, a fat-tailed sheep, is a local breed found only in southeastern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Cyprus and Israel. It has been found that when rams are introduced to the ewe Awassi flock while the lambs were weaning from spring birth, the sheep give birth in autumn - indicating that they had become pregnant while the lambs were still weaning. So, given the fertility of the Awassi sheep, the number of lambs required for Temple sacrifices and the skill of the Temple Priests in managing sheep found locally; it is entirely plausible for the Messiah to have been born in the autumn as the scriptural account mentioned above indicates. My experience has shown it to be safer to view the world from the Truth found in scripture rather than to bend the Truth of scripture to the vantage point of the world's speculations. Not everything is as it seems.
Tradition (not the Bible) says that Yeshua‘s birth place was in a cave over which the Basilica of the Nativity was built in Bethlehem according to Origen of Alexandria (185-254 CE). Origen wrote that it was generally accepted that Yeshua was born in a cave at Bethlehem which could be visited in his day (Origen of Alexandra,"Contra Celsum", book I, chapter LI). Based on this information, the Roman Emperor Constantine, built a Basilica over this cave in the 4th Century at the request of his mother Helena. It was destroyed and the present basilica was built by Emperor Justinian in 530 AD. However, just above the shepherd's field northeast of modern Bethlehem, lie the ruins of ancient Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2). Both Genesis 35:19 and 48:7 state that Rachel was buried at "Ephrath, which is Bethlehem." Ephrath or Ephrathah was the ancient name for the area that was also called Bethlehem. The oldest tradition based upon Gen 35 and 48 places ancient Bethlehem Ephratah northeast of the current day city and about 4 miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem. This puts Migdal Eder very close to the modern day marker of Kever Rakhel - the tomb of Rachel. It is quite reasonable that Joseph and Mary would have come to their family's ancestral home with hope that the Messiah would be born in the place where David was born. Regardless of what archeologists have uncovered concerning the Tower of the Flock, however, it will never become public knowledge because of the highly lucrative nature of the Roman Catholic Church's ownership of the tourist attraction known as the "Church of the Nativity" in Bethlehem. But, it does not take a leap of imagination to envision how Joseph and Mary, coming from a family whose local roots containing the seed of royalty went back centuries, could have found her birthing place in the sacrificial birth room of the Temple of YHVH. It would be so like the Father to arrange it this way.
Yeshua was born earlier, in the fall, during the festival of Sukkoth, "the Feast of Tabernacles." Yeshua was 33 1/2 years old at the time of his death. His ministry begins at age 30 (Luke 3:23). with his baptism by John the Immerser approximately six months prior to the first Passover of His ministry (John 2:13, John 1:33-34, John 2:23). The second Passover is recorded in John 5:1. If the "feast" mentioned here is not the Passover Feast, then it would be one of the other two major feasts, either the Feast of Weeks (seven weeks after the second Passover) or the Feast of Tabernacles (six months after the second Passover) - but, still occurring within the same year. The third Passover, at the feeding of the 5,000, is mentioned in John 6:4 with the fourth and final Passover, coming when he is crucified, mentioned in John 11:55. Using this chronological information, it appears that Yeshua's ministry lasted around 3 1/2 years. He was crucified at Pesach (Passover) which occurs in the spring (John 19:13-15). So, dialing back six months to the beginning of his public ministry at age 30 would place it into early fall (September or October as there are six months between Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles) which would also be when Yeshua was born 30 years earlier - not in December. Sukkoth (the feast of Tabernacles) is also marked in late September to early October (depending on the lunar cycle). John 1:14 tells us that the Word became flesh and "dwelt" among us. The Hebrew word for "dwell" used in Exodus 29:45 is shakan and means "tabernacle". By inserting the proper wording, the scripture now reads, "The Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us". It would be so like the Father to arrange it this way.
Part One: the Birth - Revisited
Part Two: the Magi
Part Three: the Origin of Christmas
Part Four: Unequally Yoked
|"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him." John 4:23|
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