Adult Bedouin males usually delegated the care of flocks to young boys and girls. This responsibility was learned early in childhood. The possibility that young boys and girls were in the fields tending flocks forms a startling’ contrast to the traditional Western view that the shepherds who came to see baby Jesus were adults (Luke 2:8-16).
Many shepherds tended their flocks deep in the Negev Wilderness, probably several days’ travel from home. Located south of Mount Hebron, the arid Negev land (Negev means “dry”) has few natural water sources and receives very little rainfall. But the northern region of the Negev, from the Hebron Mountains to the Zin Wilderness, is good sheep country. Its rolling hills surround large, broad valleys.
Many of the biblical shepherds came from villages along the edge of this wilderness. These settled shepherds farmed around their villages and took their sheep onto nearby land that could not be farmed.
Shepherding was difficult for both settled and nomadic shepherds. They faced burning sun and cold winds. Regardless of the conditions, they were responsible for the care of their sheep.
Sometimes a shepherd had a donkey that carried him and his food and water. Other times he simply walked. A camel hair coat and simple head cloth protected him from sunburn while he stayed with the flock for days at a time. He ate what he carried with him: dates, figs, olives, bread, and cheese.
Bears, lions, wolves, and leopards lived in wilderness areas. At night, shepherds put their flocks either in a sheepfold under a house, in a nearby pen, or an enclosure in the wilderness. On occasion, the shepherd laid across the opening of the sheepfold, acting as a gate to protect the sheep and prevent them from straying. It was most likely this image that Jesus was referring to when He described Himself as the gate or door to the sheepfold (John 10:9).
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