Shepherds at Migdal Eder

Editor’s Note: Today’s narrative comes from both biblical, historic, and Jewish sources concerning the life and work of the shepherds outside Bethlehem.

Pause: Luke 2:8-20

One night sometime after 8 B.C., the year Caesar Augustus decreed the world’s population should be counted, shepherds tucked their flocks safely inside the rocky folds at Migdal Eder outside the sleepy town of Bethlehem just as their forefathers for countless generations had done night after night. Charged with watching over the temple sacrifices pastured just south of Jerusalem, theirs was an important albeit quiet, monotonous life’s work until that night when an angel appeared to them with a loud, life-changing announcement. Their long-awaited deliverer had been born. 

“And this shall be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger,” the messenger declared as a host of angels joined with the refrain, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Peace. This was the longing in their hearts and the long foretold promise. All creation had been crying out for rescue since the first bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden had separated mankind from God. The angel’s message pointed to a lamb being readied for sacrifice, for shepherds routinely placed newborn lambs in limestone managers to pin them down for inspection. If found without blemish, these lambs were then wrapped tightly in cloths to keep them clean until they could be sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem as God’s temporary plan for the atonement of sin. Prophets foretold that one day the Messiah would offer Himself in His sinless perfection as the ultimate sacrifice to restore man’s relationship with God once and for all. So with great expectation, these shepherds left behind the sacrificial lambs in their watchkeeping to search for the Lamb of God who had always been watching over them with a plan for their good.

When the shepherds found the Promised One, Jesus, He was wrapped just as the angel had announced. As they bowed down to worship Him, they could not fully grasp the significance of those cloths binding their future sacrifice, nor could they connect all the threads God had woven together since the beginning of time to tell a story of a Great Shepherd caring for His flock. But they knew something miraculous had happened that night. Then, some 33 years after His birth, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, choosing to be bound on a cross and wrapped in swaddling clothes yet again to be buried in a tomb. May you know the peace coming not in the mourning at the grave but on Easter morning when Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave. He truly is the Great Shepherd who laid down His life for us and who walks daily with us, faithfully writing the narratives of our stories for our good and His glory.

Ponder: What would it have been like to be a shepherd that night outside Bethlehem? What would it have felt like to see the newborn Jesus and worship Him? How can I express my thankfulness today for the Great Shepherd, the Lamb of God, who came to sacrifice His life for me?

Pray: Thank You, Jesus, for the shepherds and swaddling cloths of Your story, for angelic messages and promises of peace. I declare with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” You are the King of kings, the Great Shepherd, the Lamb of God.

Listen: Christy Nockels sings her beautiful Wrap This One Up here and tells the story behind the song here.

— Jaime Sherman