By Dr. Victoria Sarvadi
Being ministers of a vibrant Hebraic fellowship, my husband and I, along with about 40 -50 other dedicated people, celebrate the weekly Shabbat and all the biblical feasts. As ordained ministers, we focus on being Torah and Second Testament centric, culture and language centric, as well as kingdom centric. In the past, we have also provided annual study tours to the Holy Land of Israel. But we don’t visit the familiar locations as one expects to see. Our tours do not consist of beautiful byzantine churches, or most of the places of Christian tradition, but rather caves and underground tunnels, ruins of synagogues and fortresses, and archeological sites. We introduce people to the Land of Israel past, present, and future. And there is one location that is always at the top of our list, simply called Shepherd’s Field.
Located just five miles south of Jerusalem on the outskirts of Bethlehem called Bethlehem Efrat, lies a very special jagged and patchy plot of land. It’s no place of ancient grandeur, it contains no inspiring memorial or beautiful garden. Instead, it’s just a craggy pasture full of rocks and ruins. But it’s not just any field, it’s a small pocket of prophetic discourse and historical significance.
The history of Shepherd’s Field starts with a tragic story. According to Genesis 35:16, Jacob and his family journeyed from the town of Bethel. While they were still some distance from Efrat, Rachel began to give birth with great difficulty.
While she was undergoing this hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Don’t worry, this is also a son for you.” 18 But she died in childbirth. As she was dying, she named her son Ben-Oni [son of my grief], but his father called him Binyamin [son of the right hand]. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Efrat (that is, Beit-Lechem). 20 Ya‘akov set up a standing-stone on her grave; it is the standing-stone of Rachel’s grave to this day. (Genesis 35:17-20 CJB).
As she lays dying in land of Efrat, Rachel names her baby “My Son of Sorrow,” as Jacob ambiguously names the child “Son of My Right Arm.” This dramatic event heralds a prophetic picture for Christians as some 1,500 years later another baby is born in the same place. Yeshua, a Son of Sorrow that indeed, carries all our sorrows and now sits on the Right Hand of the Father!
The story of Rachel continues as Jacob then pitches his tent beyond Migdal Eder, Hebrew for the “Tower of the Flock”. And this tower of great significance was located somewhere within Shepherd’s Field.
It’s quite apropos that Rachel was laid to rest in this place as she was a shepherdess and even her name means Ewe or female sheep. Her tomb can still be visited in Efrat, a short distance from where the field can be observed.
It was only five hundred years later, this sheep-grazing land of Efrat was eventually tended by a young boy named David who was also anointed as King of Israel in the same locale.
Looking out upon this exceptional scene one begins to realize that this is not just an ordinary sheep field but rather a sacred and holy place reserved for sheep that were born for Temple sacrifice. The Mishna states that the perimeter around Jerusalem (up to five miles out) is considered holy and all animals were sacred within the perimeters. Being within a Sabbath’s walk from the Temple Mount, the priests would go daily to the field to choose the lambs suitable for Temple offerings. The High Priest would take the trek every year on the 10th of Aviv to pick out the Passover Lamb, bringing it through the Eastern Gate four days before Passover as families with their children would wave palm branches upon his entry shouting, Hosanna!
The shepherds of Shepherd’s Field were not your everyday vocational shepherds but rather priestly-trained and Temple-assigned men of skill. They were taught to determine the blameless lambs without blemish and meticulously care for them as they were all born for a Holy purpose.
The Tower of the Flock was not only a watch tower, but the lower floor held a nursery for the ewes in labor. It was a sterile and clean area where the babies could be born in safety and under shelter. It was customary for the newborn lambs to be immediately wrapped or swaddled to prevent any thrashing that might result in a cut or bruise from their little hooves, thereby disqualifying them for sacrifice. The babies were delivered, wrapped, and then placed in a hewed-out stone while they settled and calmed down.
The prophecies concerning the birth of Messiah are determined to be in Bethlehem Efrat.
But you, Beit-Lechem near Efrat,
so small among the clans of Y’hudah,
out of you will come forth to me
the future ruler of Isra’el,
whose origins are far in the past,
back in ancient times. (Micah 5:2 CJB).
But it gets more specific than just the mention of the small community of Efrat. The prophecy indeed mentions the Tower of the Flock which is located in Shepherd’s Field.
You, tower of the flock,
hill of the daughter of Tziyon,
to you your former sovereignty will return,
the royal power of the daughter of Yerushalayim (Micah 4:8 CJB).
Imagine the scenario, the Temple-trained Jewish shepherds who were educated in the Torah as it pertains to sacrifice and prophecy, watching their flocks one evening as a man named Joseph, with his espoused wife Mary, who was pregnant were shown to an emergency place of shelter.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them (Luke 2:6-7 CEB).
By the clues Luke gives us we know she was not in a home somewhere but rather in a place where there was available swaddling and a hewed-out stone, also known as a manger.
In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors! (Luke 2:8-14 CEB).
Where do you think these enlivened priestly-trained shepherds enthusiastically and instinctively ran to? The only place for miles that baby lambs would be born and swaddled. Just as Micah prophesied, the Tower of the Flock!
They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:16-18 CEB).
It has been ascertained through Biblical record that the timing of the priestly service of Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) would have fallen around May or June and that the birth of John would have happened in the Spring. Since we know John was six months older than his cousin, Yeshua, this would place Yeshua’s birth around the Fall Feasts. Could it be that while the Trumpets were being blown 100 times at the Temple on that very day of Yom Teruah, there were other Heavenly Trumpets sounding at the same time announcing the birth of the tiny King?
This beautiful and rich story plays out vividly in the imaginations of all who gaze upon this field. A pasture of profound history and no doubt a sacred portal where Heaven has announced the One who split time in two and changed the lives of billions of people all over the world. Shout it out all you nations – Yeshua, has become our Salvation!