A Shepherd King
Great news for the lowly.
This is the fourth devotional in Ministry to State's Advent series: The Politics of Christmas. You can read the previous devotional here.
The profession of shepherding implied a great deal of responsibility. A shepherd or group of shepherds were responsible for guarding, protecting, feeding, and herding the flock of sheep over which they were assigned.
In terms of guarding and protecting, the shepherds were responsible for defending the flock against threats both external and internal. That is, the shepherds would chase off wolves and other predators lurking around the sheep, but they would also protect the sheep from themselves. If a sheep fell into a hole, broke its leg, or wandered too close to water, the shepherd was responsible to bring it back.
In terms of feeding and herding, the shepherds were responsible for moving the flock to the best places for them to graze. Without their guidance, the sheep might starve or even wander into a place of danger searching for food.
These various roles with which shepherds were charged made them an apt metaphor for kings in the context of the Ancient Near East. A king had to guard their people against threats from foreign lands, but also from rebellion and mutual harm. A king would ensure that the harvest came in and food was available to his people.
We see these responsibilities and more in the time of the kings in the Old Testament. David, the greatest king of Israel, was a shepherd boy before God made him a king. After the time of David, kings came and went. Some shepherded God’s people well, but most did not. Most of them did what was evil in the eyes of God. They promoted idolatry and rebellion against Yahweh.
Knowing failure would come from the throne of Israel, God made a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7 where he told David that his throne would be established forever. But after so many years of kingly failure, corruption, and wicked shepherding, and after conquest by Babylon and most recently Rome, how could the throne be returned to a righteous king? How could a good shepherd rule?
We are given our answer in Luke 2:8-21. In the dark of night, as the shepherds faithfully fulfilled their duties, an angel appeared to them saying that in the city of David, Christ the Lord was born. At long last the promised king from the line of the great shepherd-king David had arrived. As is fitting the birth of an eternal king, the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds as a host of angels arrived singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
With this marvelous news ringing in their hearts, the shepherds went to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to tell them all they had heard. I imagine a sense of joy pervaded their message. They, the lowly shepherds outside the city, had been chosen by God to carry such marvelous news. They were charged with telling the world, through Scripture, that a good shepherd-king had a long last come to rule his people. And then they went back to work, praising God in worship.
Scripture is replete with the resplendence of God’s rescue. At moments of great darkness, the light of God shines. The story of the shepherds is just such a moment. Because of Christmas, we serve a king who is gentle and lowly, and strong and mighty. He is worthy of your worship.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate in D.C. and cohost of The Will & Rob Show.