How did the shepherds know where to find baby Jesus?

Q. A few years ago I browsed the internet with many questions surrounding the biblical accounts of the nativity. One question I had was “How did the shepherds know where to go to find the newborn Jesus?” It was then I came across the proposition that he was born at Migdal Eder, also called “The Tower of the Flock” in Micah 4:8. I found the concept compelling due to the history of special type of shepherding that took place in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus birth. What are your thoughts about the possibility of this being where Jesus was born?

You are referring to an interpretation that a commentator named Alfred Edersheim offered of Micah 4:8, “And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.” There is a “tower of the flock” mentioned in Genesis 35:21, and Edersheim assumed that it still existed in the time of Jesus. He inferred from a reference in the Mishnah that sheep destined for temple sacrifices were raised and tended there, and so he saw symbolic significance in the location and suggested that Jesus had been born there.

However, this interpretation is not accepted by most biblical scholars. It is unknown whether the tower mentioned in Genesis still existed in Jesus’ day. In any event, the Mishnah reference simply specifies the radius around Jerusalem within which found sheep were to be considered temple sacrifices, using Migdal Eder (the location, not necessarily a tower by that name) to specify the distance. We do not need to infer from this that this was a place where temple sheep were raised and kept.

For his part, Micah seems only to be describing Jerusalem figuratively as the “tower of the flock,” that is, the city that watches over the people of Israel as God’s flock. Micah is promising that the kingship will return to Jerusalem. Christians believe that this promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. But we do not need to conclude from the prophecy that Jesus was born at or near a tower by that name that still existed in his day.

So how did the shepherds find the baby Jesus? The angel who appeared to them told them how. He said, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds would have known where the various animal feeding locations were in Bethlehem, and they just had to go from one to another until they found a baby, wrapped up as a newborn, in one of the mangers.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

2 thoughts on “How did the shepherds know where to find baby Jesus?”

    1. Yes, an interesting article. It offers an account of how the Magi may have determined that they should travel to Judea. But the shepherds relied on what the angel told them about where they would find the baby Jesus.

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