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And there were shepherds in that same region,

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who slept at night in the fields, out in the open,

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while keeping watch over their flocks.

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Now there were

shepherds close to Bethlehem who camped out in the open, under the stars every night

while keeping watch over their flocks day and night.


1: “region”

This was intended to give us the signal that these shepherds watched the sheep being kept for sacrifices at the temple. Most shepherds wandered the countryside following the pattern of moisture that enabled their sheep to get green shoots and sprouts which are barely visible to us humans. But the sheep for the temple had to be kept close to the temple and the area around Bethlehem was chosen for that purpose.

The irony is that these specific shepherds were looked down upon by the priests and the population in general because they never got the chance to go to the temple and participate in the religious rituals which were so important to the Jews. Most of the time the shepherding of flocks was done by girls or very young boys, with an older sibling as a supervisor over the flocks. In such cases temple rituals did not matter because it was usually the fathers that were involved in those things, not the whole family. But the Bethlehem flocks were different for they used grown men to do this job and there were no days off and no extra shepherds on hand to allow some to take a turn and go to the temple. Therefore, the priests considered them permanently unclean; the fact that they took care of the sheep for the temple sacrifices did not matter. The rest of the population also looked down on them; they were dirty, and uneducated, doing a job that was usually considered unfit for grown men. Whereas the common people of that day may have taken a bath once a month, and the rich people once a week, these guys never took a bath. The only reason a grown man would take this job was if he could not find any other employment. It would not be unreasonable to assume that a good percentage of this group of shepherds had something “wrong with them.” They may have had some physical malformity, a speech impediment, or an aversion to being around people. Whatever the case was for each of these shepherds, know that the text is telling us that these were some of the undesirables of society, not as bad off as lepers, but pretty close. It was to these unclean, uncouth, unaccepted men that God first announced the arrival of the savior of the world.

2: “out in the open”

The Greek word used here comes from two words, one meaning “uncovered, with no roof,” the other meaning “a field.” These guys were not just sleeping in an uncovered courtyard, they were separated from other people, and slept out in the fields, under the stars every night, enduring the changes in weather with no protection except what they wore on their backs.


Does “by night” refer to sleeping in the open fields, or keeping watch over their flocks, or both? The grammar of this sentence tells us it is both, for “lodging” and “keeping” are the same type of participle. Obviously, they had to watch the sheep day and night, so I believe that, while the words “by night” refer to both, the emphasis is on the fact that they lived outside all year long, sleeping out in the fields, under the stars, every night. This gives the reader a picture of the type of life these men lived.