Topic: Luke's Perspective of Jesus: Ch. 2 Study Notes
by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 2 Paragraph # 2 Study #1 Lincolnton, NC February 6, 2005
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
1901 ASV Translation:
8 And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock.
There are no textual variations in 2:8 between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26.
I. The record of 2:8-18 is to be written under the thesis, "Great Joy". Everything that Luke records in this paragraph falls under the angel's statement, "I bring you good tidings of great joy".
II. That an angel brought this announcement fits into Luke's already established pattern of telling us that some "angel" (Gabriel, in chapter 1) goes to someone with some pertinent information. In this text, the angel delivers his message and then a host from heaven joins him in praise to God.
III. The response at the end is that "everyone wondered"...reminescent of the response to the birth of John.
I. "And shepherds were..."
A. There has to be a reason that Luke focused upon "shepherds".
1. There were all kinds of details that could have been included in Luke's record (as, for instance, Matthew's record indicates in the account of the Magi).
2. "Selective inclusion" is a matter of unarguable fact no matter who is doing the historical recording--history is too vast of an "immediate affair" for anyone to record everything that happens at any point of time in any "setting" (whether the universe, this planet, one country, one city, one household, or even just one person's activities--just trying to tell what happens to one blood cell in a person's body over a ten minute period would take a fair amount of words and space).
3. All "selective inclusion" is a guided affair: no recorder of "history" simply records historical events -- something always controls the choice to record "this" and not "that" (for instance, if one was a student of lukemia, he might actually "choose" to attempt to record what happens to a blood cell over the span of ten minutes but his readership wouldn't be very large). In fact, even the writing of novels has developed to the point where story tellers switch from one key character to another and leave the reader "on hold" regarding the one when the switch is made to the other.
4. Thus, the question is: why did Luke decide to focus upon the experience of the shepherds and ignore that of the Magi?
a. The Magi record had very large overtones of "Messianic" identity as those men of some importance travelled a fair distance to ask "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" (see Matthew's record). That was, in large measure, Matthew's "point"...Jesus, of Abraham and David, is the Lion King.
b. The shepherd record also has very large overtones -- but they are not about what men think of as the "glorious themes" of glory and sovereignty and the exercise of power.
1) Shepherds are about one thing: keeping watch over their flocks.
2) The Lukan focus, thus far, has not been about "glorious" themes; it has, instead, been about "the solution(s) to habitual fearfulness" as it is wrapped around the "joy" thesis.
a) Zacharias was a fearful man (1:12).
b) Mary was a fearful woman (1:30).
c) These shepherds are "sore afraid".
d) Zacharias was promised "joy and gladness" (1:14).
e) Mary was promised enormous "blessedness" (1:28) and her reaction was "rejoicing" (1:47).
f) These shepherds are told of a "message of great joy".
3) At the core of this Lukan focus is a "Jesus" of the house of David Who shall deliver His people from all that ails them. This is a "Good Shepherd" thesis that would resonate with "shepherds" and set the tone for the New Testament's thesis regarding the shepherd leadership of His Church.
4) And central to this focus is the deliberate choice of God to address the "hungry" of the "low estate" while sending the rich and powerful away empty (1:48-53). His choice is driven by His own heart -- in terms of what He, Himself, is actually like ("I am meek and lowly of heart").
B. "...in that region..."
1. The construction is deliberately emphatic (literally, "in the region, that one", or "in the region, the same one").
2. The "region" is the environs of Bethlehem.
a. Note that the angel tells them "...is born...this day, in the city of David..." and they turn about and say "Let us go...unto Bethlehem...". The tie to 2:1-7 in its focus upon Bethlehem is unmistakeable.
b. This issue of the "Davidic" city and the "Davidic" house is so reminiscent of 2 Samuel 7 that we probably ought to look there for the "issue" -- David's "fear" that he will be dispossed by God as was Saul and God's deliberate promise of an enduring "house" so that he cannot be "moved".
c. But, even more basic than that, is the fact that David was the "Shepherd King" (author of Psalm 23), father of the "Lion King" (Solomon, whose throne was marked by the presence of 14 lions -- I Kings 10:18-20), whose "shephardic" activities had their focus and locus in "Bethlehem".
C. "...living in the pastures..."
1. Clearly not "housed" even as well as Joseph and Mary.
2. They were "sheep-folding" their charges in the open pastures.
a. Luke's point seems likely to be associated with the "shepherds" in respect to their typical care for their sheep.
b. Typical care meant that the shepherds were not looking out for their own interests, but for the well-being of the sheep.
c. Living in the pastures was so typical of the shepherd's lifestyle that it was never even considered that they might be interested in being in their own homes, sleeping in their own beds, and not dealing with the contingencies of weather, the out-of-doors, or any of the host of issues that living on the ground might bring their way.
3. The implications regarding the time of the year include two...
a. That the pastures were not in their typical hibernation period of no-growth.
b. That the weather was mild enough to make "living in the pastures" a probability.
D. "...keeping watch over their flock...
1. The verb "keeping" signals "guarding".
2. The noun "watch" is actually the term for "prison" -- signalling the presence of some kind of "pen" in the pasture for the flocks to be herded into in the evening for the overnight period.
3. Point: these men were "tending the sheepfold" to protect the sheep.
E. "...by night..."
1. The most dangerous time.
2. The best backdrop for the appearance of the glory of the Lord.
F. "...upon their sheep."
1. The focus is the shepherds' focus: the welfare of the sheep.
2. The focus upon sheep has not been a matter of no consequence over the years of the development of the Shepherd King thesis.
A. The overall focus of the verse is: Shepherds protecting sheep.
B. The environs of Bethlehem as "the city of David" is the point of "connection" between the birth of the Son of the Most High as a descendent of David and the deliberate exaltation of the "shepherd" thesis.
C. As a group, "shepherds" typify The Shepherd.
D. Luke is pushing Theophilus in his theological thinking...
1. Primarily toward "grace" in the context of "fear".
2. Then toward the "actual character" of the Christ in the same context.
a. It is one thing to give lip service to the "shepherd" character of Yahweh (as exemplified by parroting the 23rd Psalm at a funeral).
b. It is another thing to express one's real confidence in the Shepherd of Israel.