Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Levitical Shepherds: The Shepherd's Candle

The Big Idea: The third Advent candle called the Shepherd’s Candle focuses on the station of shepherds (likely Levitical Shepherds) and their joy and amazement learning about the Savior.

 Shepherds for Worship

Our son’s favorite Candid Camera stunt depicts bright college bound high school students told, “You have the aptitude to be a shepherd.”

Shocked and dismayed, one says “I don’t even like animals!”

“Are people still doing that?” another responds incredulously.

Shepherds herd smelly stubborn animals they are not always highly esteemed. Why did the angels visit shepherds one dark night in Bethlehem? God must enjoy juxtapositions. Consider the contrast of Jesus, King of kings, God Eternal born in a stable, not a palace. God loves people of all kinds: the godly, the wealthy, the prominent, the middle man, and the poor who are invisible and despised. He has a special place in His heart for the lowly ones. (Psalm 4:21, Psalm 138:6)


What’s a Levitical Shepherd?

The tribe of Levi, son of Jacob (Genesis), managed the tabernacle/temple and sacrificial worship. Aaron’s descendents (the brother of Moses) were the priests. The rest ran the upkeep and logistics of the sacrificial system. They work for worship, so that others can come to the temple and properly worship God.

Some Levites handled sacrificial animals and grain. Some kept and refilled oil lamps, overseeing the oil and incense supply. Some managed special clothing. Some washed bowls, knives tongs etc. This was their vocation. The tithe of the people of Israel cared for them and their families.

Bethlehem, about 5 miles from the temple in Jerusalem, was a site outside of the big city, to raise lambs for sacrifice. Scholar Alfred Aldersheim wrote a book, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883), researching Biblical and extrabiblical sources on this. Search Migdal Eder (Tower of the Flock). We cannot be 100% sure of this in Jesus’ period but it offers an interesting connection to these shepherds. Sacrificial bound lambs without blemish needed protection from cuts and injury in a rocky harsh land. It is suggested the new lambs were wrapped in strips of cloth (Swaddling clothes) and laid in feeding troughs (manger) to protect them (see articles below).

Great Joy

The shepherds were visited by an angel.

The angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2: 10-12 (NLT)

These shepherds, probably sleepy, cold and dirty were the first people chosen to meet the promised Messiah. If indeed they were Levitical shepherds, they knew the Messianic prophecies. They knew where birthing lambs were wrapped in swaddling cloth placed in a manger. Migdal Eder. They hurried to find Him (Luke 2:15). Imagine their wonder! They told everyone this story (Luke 2:18-19) and all who heard were astonished!

The pink candle lit on the third week of Advent is the candle of joy. I grow weary of TV news. I hunger for encouraging news. Reflect on the joy of our Savior (literally, our rescuer). It is good news indeed!

Useful articles:

About Those Shepherds

From the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Edersheim on the Nativity of Jesus the Messiah

Scholars do not agree on the documentation and current lack of archeological evidence available but the suggestion of Levitical shepherds is compelling and plausible.


Up next: Angel Tracking: The Angel's Candle

Previous post: Notable Small Town Residents: The Bethlehem Candle

Note: We have been in the process of going through a Practical Starter Guide of Inductive Bible Study. We will resume this series in January.



1. Imagine yourself as a shepherd in the night watching sheep outdoors. What kind of conversations might you be having? What might you think about at night? What might be your hopes and dreams?

2. Imagine listening to the experience with the angels (Read Luke 2: 8-18). Why would you be afraid at first? Think carefully about what the angel says. Why is this good news? What would you as a shepherd feel. How do you feel about this declaration in your modern worldview?

3. Why is this about joy? Meditate on the angel's words.


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