And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (Luke 2:8-20)
A group of shepherds living near Bethlehem were privileged to receive the news of Christ’s birth from an angel. They hurried into town to see for themselves, then spread the good news abroad. Significantly, Jesus’ ancestor David was a Bethlehem shepherd who became king of Israel. About a millennium before the Savior’s birth, the prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse.
Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The Lord hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.
And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah” (1 Samuel 16:10-13).
This event was recalled later in a Psalm attributed to David, not included in today’s Western Bibles, but known from the Greek Septuagint and Syriac versions and was also included in one of the psalters found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here is a portion of that psalm:
Halleluia of David, son of Jesse.
I was smaller than my brothers
and younger than my father’s sons;
he put me as shepherd of his flock
and master of his kid goats . . .
God saw everything
he heard everything
He sent his prophet to anoint me
Samuel, to make me great.
my brothers went out to meet him
They were quite tall,
they had attractive hair,
but YHWH [Jehovah] God did not choose them,
instead he sent to fetch me from following the flock
and anointed me with holy oil
and set me as leader of his people
The Sacrificial Lambs
St. Jerome wrote to Eustochium of “the tower of Edar, that is of the flock,’ near which Jacob fed his flocks, and where the shepherds keeping watch by night were privileged to hear the words: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.’ While they were keeping their sheep they found the Lamb of God whose fleece bright and clean was made wet with the dew of heaven when it was dry upon all the earth beside, and whose blood when sprinkled on the doorposts drove off the destroyer of Egypt and took away the sins of the world” (Letter 108 to Eustochium 10).
In medieval times, Migdal-Eder was considered to be the spot where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Christ, and, according to Gaulish Bishop Arculf, who visited the site ca. AD 700, a church stood there with monuments to the three shepherds.
The Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God
Old Testament sometimes compares Israel to a flock of sheep who are admonished to follow the Lord as sheep follow their shepherd. In the New Testament, Jesus is the good shepherd, while his followers are compared to sheep. One of the most well-known Bible passages begins “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
The patriarch Jacob (renamed Israel), spoke of “the shepherd, the stone of Israel” (Genesis 49:24).
 This sounds very much like a messianic declaration, for Christ is both the “good shepherd” (John 10:11; John 10:11, 14; cf.Alma 5:38-39, 41, 57, 60; Helaman 7:18) and the stone of Israel (1 Corinthians 10:4). Indeed, D&C 50:44 calls Jesus both “the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel,” reflecting Jacob’s words. Some early Christian writers saw Isaiah 1:3 as an allusion to the manger used as the newborn Christ’s bed. This passage uses the term “master’s crib” as an analogy for Israel’s misunderstanding God’s plan. The English term “crib,” used in our day to denote a baby’s bed, originally denoted the place where food was placed for animals (cf. Proverbs 14:4).
The Akathist Hymn, adopted for the liturgy of the eastern orthodox churches in A.D. 626, but perhaps dating from as early as the third century, has the shepherds coming to see the newborn Christ “as a spotless lamb being pastured in the womb of Mary” and calls Mary “mother of the lamb and shepherd . . . fold of spiritual sheep” (Ikos 4). Compare this with Nephi’s vision, “And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (1 Nephi 11:20-21).
Joseph, son of Jacob, is said to have experienced a similar vision: “And I saw that a virgin was born from Judah, wearing a linen stole; and from her was born a spotless lamb” (Testament of Joseph 19:8). In the book of Revelation, the lamb represents Christ. Testament of Benjamin 3:7-8 also speaks of “the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world . . . the unspotted one . . . the sinless one.” The apostle Peter wrote of “Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
Melito, a second-century bishop of Sardis, described Christ, saying “He is the lamb being slain; he is the lamb that is speechless; he is the one born from Mary, the lovely ewe-lamb; he is the one taken from the flocks, and dragged to slaughter, and sacrificed at evening” (On Passover 71). Melito had in mind not only the Passover lamb as described in the book of Exodus, but Isaiah’s prophecy of the Savior “as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers” (Isaiah 53:7; cited in Acts 8:32; Mosiah 14:7; 15:6). Elsewhere, Melito wrote of Christ, “He was seen as a lamb, but remained a shepherd.” He also compared the slaughter of the Passover lambs at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt with Christ (On Passover 31-32). In the Acts of Saint Eustratius, Christ is said to have put on the sheepskin (his humanity) to lure on the wolf, Satan.
The fourth-century A.D. Syriac Christian writer Ephraim composed a number of Hymns on the Nativity to commemorate the birth of Christ, in which he provided details missing from the Bible but evidently in circulation among Christians of his day. Terming Christ “the True Lamb [who] redeemed us” and noted that “the early lamb no one ever used to see before the shepherds: and as for the true Lamb, in the season of His birth, the tidings of Him too hasted unto the shepherds . . . the Shepherd of all became a Lamb in the flocks” (Hymns on the Nativity 3.12).
Ephraim further wrote that “In March when the lambs bleat in the wilderness, into the Womb [of Mary] the Paschal Lamb entered!” (Hymns on the Nativity 3.10). In his commentary on Exodus 12:3, he noted that “the Lamb is a type of our Lord, who on the tenth of Nisan entered into the womb.” By this, he intended to demonstrate that Mary conceived Jesus just a few days before Passover (15 Nisan in the Hebrew calendar), nine months before the celebration of his birth in December. Thus, in Hymns on the Nativity 4.11, he wrote that “Moses shut up a [Passover] lamb in the month Nisan on the tenth day [Exodus 12:3]; a type of this the Son that came into the womb and shut Himself up therein on the tenth day. He came forth from the womb in this month in which the sun gives longer light.,” i.e., December.
Ephraim’s reasoning was actually backward, for Christ was born, not conceived, at the same time that lambs are born, i.e., the end of the Hebrew month of Nisan (also called Aviv), which overlaps the latter part of March and beginning of April. Indeed, Ephraim contradicted himself in another of his hymns, where he suggested that Christ was, in fact, born in the lambing season:
At the birth of the Son, there was a great shouting in Bethlehem; for the Angels came down, and gave praise there. Their voices were a great thunder: at that voice of praise the silent ones [the shepherds] came, and gave praise to the Son . . . The shepherds also came laden with the best gifts of their flock: sweet milk, clean flesh, befitting praise! They put a difference, and gave Joseph the flesh, Mary the milk, and the Son the praise! They brought and presented a suckling lamb to the Paschal Lamb, a first-born to the First-born, a sacrifice to the Sacrifice, a lamb of time to the Lamb of Truth. Fair sight [to see] the lamb offered to The Lamb! The lamb bleated as it was offered before the First-born. It praised the Lamb, that had come to set free the flocks and the oxen from sacrifices: yea that Paschal Lamb, Who handed down and brought in the Passover of the Son. The shepherds came near and worshipped Him with their staves. They saluted Him with peace, prophesying the while, “Peace, O Prince of the Shepherds.” The rod of Moses praised Thy Rod, O Shepherd of all. (Hymns on the Nativity 5.1-4)
Like other early Christian writers, Ephraim termed Christ the “First-born,” usually in the context of his mortal birth (Luke 2:7 says that Mary “brought forth her firstborn son”). But he also alluded to the symbolic meaning of this title. For example in his Hymns on the Nativity 5.2-3, he wrote that “the shepherds also came laden with the best gifts of their flock . . . They brought a suckling lamb to the Paschal Lamb, a first-born to the First-born . . . The lamb bleated as it was offered before the First-born.”
The Message of the Angel
The message delivered to the shepherds has, in our day, been the subject of much commentary. The King James version of the Bible has the angels declaring that there should be “on earth peace, good will toward men.” Some scholars render the Greek as “peace toward men of good will,” while others prefer “peace toward those who please him,” meaning God.Peace is also associated with sheep in Hebrews 13:20, which speaks of “the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep.
 Anciently, as today, the youngest son or prepubescent daughter often led the sheep to water and pasture and guarded them against predators. A man without sons typically hires shepherds to do the job. Thus, Laban’s youngest daughter Rachel kept the sheep (demonstrating that she had not yet reached puberty) until her cousin Jacob arrived and took over the task (Genesis 29:6-10; 30:27-33). Though Jacob kept Laban’s sheep and goats, he put his own flock in the keeping of his sons (Genesis 30:35-36; see also Genesis 37:2). It is likely that one of the reasons Jacob’s older sons hated Joseph is that his father sometimes broke with tradition and kept his younger son with him rather than sending him out with the flocks (Genesis 37:12-14). In Bible times, as among most Middle Easterners today, once a girl reaches puberty, she did not go out alone, for fear that she might be seduced or raped (cf. the story of Dinah in Genesis 34), so only a younger girls would be alone with the flock, as was Rachel. (Jewish tradition holds that Jacob met her when she was ten years old, which would have made her seventeen when he married her.) Jethro allowed his daughters to keep the flock because they were seven in number (Exodus 2:16-19). But when Moses married Jethro’s daughter Zipporah, he became the family shepherd (Exodus 3:1).
 Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 6:200. The set fleece is an allusion to the story of Gideon in Judges 6:36-40.
 Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 18:16; Psalms 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 100:3; Ecclesiastes 12:11; Isaiah 40:11; 44:28; 53:6; 63:11; Jeremiah 13:17, 20; 23:2; 25:36; 31:10; 51:23; Ezekiel 34:5, 8-19, 23; 36:37-38; 37:24; Micah 2:12; 7:14; Amos 3:12; Zechariah 9:16; 10:2-3; 11:11, 15-17; 13:7. Note that in some of these passages, the Lord selects a proxy (e.g., a prophet or king) to serve as shepherd over his sheep.
 Matthew 9:36; 18:12-14; 25:33-35; 26:31; Mark 6:34; 14:27; Luke 15:4-7; John 10:1-16; Romans 8:36; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:3-4. In the Book of Mormon, see 1 Nephi 13:41; 22:25; Mosiah 8:20-21; Alma 5:37-41, 57, 59-60; 25:12; Helaman 7:18-19; 15:13; 3 Nephi 15:17, 21-24; 16:1-3; Mormon 5:17.
 The translation used here is from an unpublished paper by Margaret Barker of Cambridge University, which she shared with the author and other faculty members during a visit to the Brigham Young University campus in 2003.
 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 1:824. The Armenian version of this passage notes that the virgin who would bear the Messiah was “wearing a multicolored stole” (ibid.)-an obvious reference to Joseph’s “coat of many colors” (Genesis 37:3), which was interpreted by the early rabbis as the priestly garment. For a discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Priestly Clothing in Bible Times,” in Donald Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World (Salt Lake City: Deseret FARMS, 1994), ____-____.
 Angels are frequently said to speak with a voice of thunder. See the discussion in John A. Tvedtnes, “The Voice of an Angel,” in Noel B. Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo: FARMS, 1997).
 See Hymns on the Nativity 3.12, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 13:232; 14.1, 5, 22, 26 (ibid., 13:250, 252); 16.8 (ibid., 13:256); 19.1, 13 (ibid., 13:261-2); Hymns for the Feast of the Epiphany 1.12 (ibid., 266).