Faith From Flock to Manger

The Symbolic Journey of Shepherds from the Old Testament to Nativity Scenes

Shepherds hold a significant place in the tapestry of the Bible, guiding us from the pastoral fields of the Old Testament to the humble manger of the New Testament. This article embarks on a symbolic journey ‘From Flock to Manger’, exploring the role of shepherds within these sacred narratives.

In the Old Testament, shepherds were more than just caretakers of sheep; they were leaders, protectors, and a symbol of humble servitude. Their presence in nativity scenes echoes this symbolism, as the first to witness the birth of Jesus Christ, a humble beginning in a simple manger that changed the course of history.

Join us as we traverse through biblical terrains, from the ancient landscapes where shepherds grazed their flocks, to the starlit stable that cradled the newborn Savior. We’ll uncover the rich symbolism woven into these narratives and their enduring impact on the Christian faith.

Shepherds in the Old Testament

The role of shepherds in the Old Testament is deeply rooted in the historical and societal context of ancient Israelite society. Their representation carries profound symbolism that is often overlooked.

Societal Role of Shepherds

In the agrarian society of ancient Israel, shepherds were an integral part of the community. They were tasked with the care and guidance of flocks, leading them to areas with sufficient food and water, and fiercely protecting them from predators or thieves. This role required diligence, courage, and a deep understanding of the needs of the flock, traits that were highly valued.

Shepherds as Leaders

Interestingly, many great leaders in the Old Testament were once shepherds. Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, was a shepherd. Abraham, often referred to as the Father of Nations, began his journey as a shepherd. Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt, was tending his father-in-law’s flock when he encountered God in the burning bush. King David, the greatest king in Israeli history, was initially a shepherd boy. These examples highlight how the humble occupation of a shepherd was often a stepping stone to significant leadership roles.

The Shepherd Metaphor

The metaphor of the shepherd in the Old Testament is rich with symbolism. The shepherd represents leadership, guiding the flock (the people) with wisdom and foresight. It’s a symbol of care, demonstrating the responsibility and commitment to ensuring the well-being of the flock. Moreover, it’s a symbol of protection, embodying the courage to defend the flock from any harm. This metaphor beautifully encapsulates the qualities of a good leader, one who leads with wisdom, cares with compassion and protects with courage.

By understanding the role and symbolism of shepherds in the Old Testament, we can better appreciate their significance in the nativity scenes. The shepherds are not just bystanders; they carry with them centuries-old symbolism of leadership, care, and protection.

Shepherds in the Nativity Story

In the nativity story, as told in the Gospel of Luke, shepherds play an essential role. They are depicted as the first to receive the divine announcement of Jesus’ birth and become the first witnesses to this miraculous event.

The Divine Announcement

On the night of Jesus’ birth, an angel of the Lord appeared to a group of shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock by night. The angel announced, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11). This was followed by a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).

The First Witnesses

Upon hearing this news, the shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem to see the event that the Lord had made known to them. They found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. Overwhelmed with joy and awe, they became the first to witness the birth of Jesus.

The Proclaimers of Good News

Not only were the shepherds the first witnesses, but they also became the first to spread the news of Jesus’ birth. They returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. Their actions symbolize the call to all believers to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

In the nativity story, the shepherds symbolize the good news being revealed to humble and ordinary people, reinforcing the theme of God’s inclusive love. Their presence in nativity scenes serves as a reminder of their unique role as witnesses and proclaimers of the birth of the Savior.

The Shepherd Metaphor from the Old Testament to the New Testament

The shepherd metaphor, first introduced in the Old Testament, finds powerful continuity in the New Testament, particularly in the nativity story and the teachings of Jesus.

The Nativity Story

In the nativity story, the shepherds, who are among the first to learn about Jesus’ birth and witness the newborn Savior, represent the continuity of the shepherd metaphor. Just as shepherds in the Old Testament guided and protected their flocks, the shepherds in the nativity story lead us to the manger, unveiling the arrival of the one who would become the ultimate guide and protector.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd

The shepherd metaphor reaches its zenith in the portrayal of Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd‘. In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This statement embodies the qualities of leadership, care, and protection that were associated with shepherds in the Old Testament. However, Jesus takes this metaphor a step further by emphasizing His self-sacrificial love, indicating His willingness to lay down His life for humanity.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Further continuity of the shepherd metaphor is seen in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). In this parable, Jesus likens God’s love for each individual to a shepherd’s joy at finding a lost sheep, reinforcing the themes of care, guidance, and protection.

Thus, the shepherd metaphor weaves a thread of continuity from the Old Testament through the New Testament. It evolves from representing human leaders to symbolizing the divine leadership, care, and protection offered by Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This continuity adds depth to our understanding of the biblical narrative and enriches the symbolism of shepherds in nativity scenes.

Symbolism and Representation of Shepherds in Nativity Scenes

Shepherds hold a place of honor in nativity scenes, not just because of their historical presence at the birth of Jesus, but also due to the profound symbolism and representation they carry.

Symbol of Inclusivity

In the shepherds, we find a powerful symbol of inclusivity. Their humble status in society underscores the inclusive nature of God’s love and salvation. They were neither religious leaders nor wealthy patrons, but simple, hardworking individuals. Yet, they were chosen to be the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth. This inclusion conveys a profound message – that divine grace and acceptance are available to all, regardless of their social status or occupation.

Divine Acceptance

The shepherds’ presence at the birth of Jesus signifies divine acceptance. It shows that God does not discriminate based on societal norms or hierarchies. The shepherds, who were often looked down upon in society, were elevated to a position of honor in the Christmas story, indicating God’s acceptance of the lowly and humble.

Historical Authenticity

Including shepherds in nativity scenes adds a layer of historical authenticity. They serve as a reminder of the socio-cultural setting of Jesus’ birth. The shepherds, with their rustic attire and staffs, remind us of Jesus’ humble beginnings in a manger in Bethlehem, far removed from the opulence of a palace.

Connection to Jesus’ Teachings

Moreover, the shepherds in the nativity scene subtly connect to Jesus’ later teachings. As Jesus often referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd,” the presence of shepherds foreshadows His ministry and the spiritual guidance He would offer to humanity.

Thus, the shepherds in nativity scenes serve multiple symbolic functions. They represent inclusivity and divine acceptance, add historical authenticity, and subtly foreshadow Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd.

Spiritual Lessons from the Role of Shepherds

The shepherds’ roles in both the Old Testament and the nativity story carry profound spiritual lessons, teaching us the virtues of humility, vigilance, and compassion. These lessons are not only applicable in a religious context but also offer guidance for our everyday lives.


Shepherds, by their very nature, were humble people. They lived simple lives, often on the margins of society, caring for their flocks in the open fields. Despite their humble status, they played significant roles in biblical events, reminding us that humility is a virtue highly valued in spiritual life. The shepherds teach us to remain humble, regardless of our role or position in life.


Shepherds needed to be vigilant at all times, protecting their flocks from potential dangers. This vigilance is a metaphor for spiritual watchfulness. Just as shepherds watched over their flocks, we too must be vigilant in our spiritual journey, guarding against anything that might lead us astray from our faith.


The role of a shepherd was not just about guiding and protecting; it was also about caring for the flock. If a sheep was injured or sick, the shepherd would nurse it back to health. This compassion is a reflection of Jesus’ love for humanity and serves as a model for us to follow. It teaches us to care for others, especially those who are weak or hurting.

Faith and Obedience

The shepherds in the nativity story also teach us lessons of faith and obedience. Upon hearing the angel’s message, they immediately set out to find the newborn Savior. Their prompt response demonstrates their faith in God’s word and their readiness to obey His command. This act encourages us to respond to God’s call with faith and obedience.

Thus, the roles of shepherds in the Old and New Testaments offer valuable spiritual lessons that can guide our lives. By embodying humility, vigilance, compassion, faith, and obedience, we can strive to live in a way that reflects these shepherd-like qualities.

Prevalence of Shepherds in Modern Nativity Scene Sets and Figurines

Shepherds have long been a staple in nativity scene sets and figurines, reflecting their important role in the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. Today, their presence remains prevalent in modern interpretations of the nativity scene.

Shepherds in Various Nativity Sets

Across various nativity sets, from the traditional to the contemporary, shepherds continue to feature prominently. Whether it’s the Patience Brewster Nativity Shepherd & Sheep Figures, the Scandinavian Nativity Scene Shepherd w Flock, or the Willow Tree® for Demdaco Nativity Set, shepherds are included as key figures alongside the Holy Family, the three wise men, and often a few animals.

Artistic Representations

Artistically, shepherds are often depicted in humble attire, sometimes with a sheep by their side or carrying a staff, symbolizing their pastoral role. These depictions serve not only to add historical authenticity but also to remind us of the humble status of those who were first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth.

Expanding Collections

Many nativity collections have expanded over time to include more shepherds and sheep, reflecting different aspects of the biblical account. For instance, some sets now include the ‘Second Shepherds’ Play’, a famous medieval mystery play that follows another nativity play involving shepherds.

Emphasizing the Shepherd’s Role

The prevalence of shepherds in modern nativity scenes underscores their significance in the Christmas story. This continued inclusion helps to emphasize the shepherd’s role as a witness to the divine birth, further enriching the narrative of the nativity scene.

In conclusion, the prevalence of shepherds in modern nativity scene sets and figurines attests to their enduring significance in the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and their symbolic representation of humility, vigilance, and compassion. Their presence serves as a reminder of the humble beginnings of the Christmas story and the inclusive nature of God’s love.

Conclusion From Flock to Manger

In essence, the consistent inclusion of shepherds in contemporary nativity scene sets and figurines signifies their enduring importance in the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth. Their presence not only adds historical authenticity but also symbolizes humility, watchfulness, and kindness. By featuring shepherds in the nativity scene, we are reminded of the humble origins of the Christmas story and the universal scope of divine love.

Prayer of Salvation

Giving your life to the Lord is the best decision you can ever make in your entire life on earth. I invite you to make Jesus your Lord today. In Romans 10vs.9 the Bible says that, “If thou confess with thy mouth, that Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.” Please, pray this prayer:

Dear heavenly Father, I believe with all of my heart that Jesus is Lord. I believe that he died on the cross and that on the third day God raised him from the dead. I affirm that Jesus is the Lord of my life from this day onward. I’m now born again. In the name of Jesus. Amen!

Well done for making this prayer! You are now born again. Attend a bible based church and keep learning the truth of God‘s Word as you become an excellent Christian.

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