And there were in the same country shepherds
For Bethlehem was a place of pasture: near to Ephrata, the same with Bethlehem, were the fields of the wood, ( Psalms 132:6 ) and the tower of Edar or the tower of the flock, ( Genesis 35:21 ) ( Micah 4:8 ) and here David kept his father's sheep, ( 1 Samuel 17:15 ) so that we need not wonder to hear of shepherds here,
abiding in the field, watching over their flock by night:
from whence it appears, that Christ was born in the night; and the F15 Jews say, that the future redemption shall be in the night; and Jerom says F16, it is a tradition of the Jews, that Christ will come in the middle of the night, as was the passover in Egypt: it is not likely that he was born, as is commonly received, at the latter end of December, in the depth of winter; since at this time, shepherds were out in the fields, where they lodged all night, watching their flocks: they were diligent men, that looked well to their flocks, and watched them by night, as well as by day, to preserve them from beasts of prey; they were, as it is in the Greek text, "keeping the watches of the night over their flock." The night was divided into four watches, the even, midnight, cock crowing, and morning; and these kept them, as the Arabic version adds, alternately, some kept the flock one watch, and some another, while the rest slept in the tent, or tower, that was built in the fields for that purpose. There were two sorts of cattle with the Jews; there was one sort which they called (twyrbdm) , "the cattle of the wilderness", that lay in the fields; and another sort which they called (twtyyb) , "the cattle of the house", that were brought up at home: concerning both which, they have this rule F17;
``they do not water nor slay the cattle of the wilderness, but they water and slay the cattle of the house: these are the cattle of the house, that lie in the city; the cattle of the wilderness, are they that lie in the pastures.''On which, one of their commentators F18 observes,
``these lie in the pastures, which are in the villages, all the days of cold and heat, and do not go into the cities, until the rains descend.''The first rain is in the month Marchesvan, which answers to the latter part of our October, and the former part of November; and of this sort, seem to be the flocks those shepherds were keeping by night, the time not being yet come, of their being brought into the city: from whence it appears, that Christ must be born before the middle of October, since the first rain was not yet come; concerning this, the Gemara F19 is more large;
``the Rabbins teach, that these are they of the wilderness, or fields, and these are they of the house; they of the field are they that go out on the passover, and feed in the pastures, and come in at the first rain; and these are they of the house, all that go out and feed without the border, and come and lie within the border (fixed for a sabbath day's journey): Rabbi says, those, and those are of the house; but these are they that are of the field, all they that go out and feed in the pastures, and do not come in to remain, neither in the days of the sun, nor in the days of the rains.''To the shepherds, the first notice of Christ's birth was given; not to the princes and chief priests, and learned men at Jerusalem, but to weak, mean, and illiterate men; whom God is pleased to choose and call, and reveal his secrets to; when he hides them from the wise and prudent, to their confusion, and the glory of his grace: and this was a presage of what the kingdom of Christ would be, and by, and to whom, the Gospel would be preached.
F15 Tzeror Hamrnor, fol. 73. 3.
F16 In Matt. xxv. 6.
F17 Misn. Betza, c. 5. sect. 7.
F18 Maimon. in ib.
F19 T. Bab. Betza, for. 40. 1. & Sabbat. fol. 45. 2. Vid Maimon Hilch. Yom Tob, c. 2. sect. 2.