Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shepherds Abiding in the Field

"And there were in the same country shepherds
abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night."

(Luke 2:8)

The shepherds to whom the Lord's Angel appeared announcing the birth of our Saviour were engaged in a most humble occupation. They were keeping watch over their flock by night, a serious responsibility. Sheep are not by nature easy to care for. They are silly and stupid, prone to wander, and incapable of helping themselves. Especially they are susceptible to danger in the night when the nocturnal predators come out searching for an easy snack. It is under the cover of darkness when so many things can go wrong. If a shepherd would slack off on his night watch by dozing, he could awaken to a disaster where it would be too late to rescue his flock. Sheep were, after all, the livelihood of these shepherds and an essential source for food and clothing for their families.

A slumbering shepherd during the night watch could be putting his sheep at risk for many disasters. His sheep might be easily picked off by creatures prowling the night. Wandering sheep could come too close to the edge of a rocky cliff, tumbling into darkness and death. Thieves could sneak in to snatch away precious lambs. Storms could arise with hail and driving winds. There is a long list of nocturnal dangers.

Today, we live in a time when there are many slumbering shepherds who are not abiding in the fields faithfully, nor are they keeping watch over their flock by night. Particularly in these dark days of great growing spiritual apostasy, so many shepherds have become complacent, reticent, apathetic and drowsy. They have welcomed many wolves into their flocks, never stooping down to check beneath the fuzzy wool. It is a fearful time for the innocent sheep.

The Scriptures tell us that a faithful shepherd must keep the night watch alert and awake. But keeping the night watch is against our bodies' natural rhythms. Our bodies want to snooze in warmth and snuggly comfort, not stand watch in the chilly midnight air. Nevertheless, there are many important jobs that must be done in the cool blackness of night. Some duties are borne out of compassion - caring for the infirm, feeding infants, rocking sick children, nursing the wounded. Other duties guard against danger such as thieves and attacks.

In our modern era of electricity we may not fully remember how dark the night can be. Scientists tell us that the earth is lit up at night, and that there are very few truly dark places on the planet anymore. We have nightlights, motion-detectors, surveillance cameras, electric fences and streetlights to protect our 24-hour passion for supercenters, restaurants, commuter trains, and factory shifts. The night has become lightened and brightened, but it isn't all for the better. With artificial light or without, mankind has always done his most dastardly deeds under the obscurity of night.

The Bible tells us that not only the physical night is dark, but there is also a corresponding spiritual night that is very dark indeed. Edom called to the prophet Isaiah and sarcastically twice asked him, "Watchman, what of the night?" He responded with a call to repentance, "The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come."

Jeremiah records sinful Zedekiah's flight from Jerusalem by night to attempt to escape the coming destruction of Jerusalem, only to be caught by the Chaldeans (39:4-5; 52:7-8). Night offered this king, who had been warned otherwise by Jeremiah, no protection.

Hosea describes a baker who sleeps all night while his cakes are rising with a terrible leaven, and then rises to discover a startling scene, that these spiritual adulterers
"ready their heart like an oven" that "burneth as a flaming fire" (vs. 4-6).

How frightening it can be when a fire breaks out in the night! This was a kind of fire that does not give warmth, nor light, but rather terrorizes. Amos describes a similar scene:

"Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth, Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is His name."
(Amos 5:6-8)

Many shepherds in our era feign great and magnificent visions while the hour grows late and times become darker. Micah warns about these false shepherds, and describes their night blindness:

"Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against Him: Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets and the day shall be dark over them."
(Micah 3:5-6)

Our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed in the night. He commanded his disciples to
"watch with me" but they fell asleep. He awoke them and asked, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." His concern was not that they watch in order to defend or protect Him, which He needed not, but rather that they watch because of their own frailty of flesh to falling into temptation. Wasn't the Lord chiding them for their complacency when He woke them once again at the hour of His betrayal, "Sleep on now, and take your rest"?

The believer has duties that obligate him to watch in the night. Sometimes this is a literal watch, sometimes it is a spiritual watch.
The woman of Proverbs 31 diligently worked into the night and rose up early in the morning (vs. 15, 18) to care for her family, which could be likened to caring for flocks. The Psalmist tells us that he so delighted in the Law of the Lord that "in his law doth he meditate day and night" (Ps. 1:2). Psalm 119 says, "Mine eyes prevent [keep] the night watches, that I might meditate in Thy Word" (vs. 148).

There are many Scriptures in the New Testament that point to shepherds
"labouring night and day" in the work of the Gospel and in prayer. Just a few include 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Thess. 3:8; 1 Timothy 5:5; and 2 Tim. 1:3. Sleeplessness for the purpose of earnest and fervent prayer is evidently part of the "normal" Christian life.

Romans 13:11-13 speaks to the necessity of righteous conduct in these last days. These verses speak to the fact that most sinful activities are partaken of during the cover of the darkness of night. A good saint will carefully guard his walk in the nighttime hours:

"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed; The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying."

The physical and spiritual darkness of night is not fearful to those who put their trust in God. Revelation tells us that Satan
"accuses us before our God day and night." He is relentless. Likewise, so should we be fervent both day and night because Colossians 1:12-13 promises us that God the Father "hath made us meet to be parkers of the inheritance of the saints in light" and "hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." 1 John 2:8 announces that "the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth."

The Scripture also likens night to the last of the last days when
"perilous times shall come" (2 Tim. 3:1). Thieves know to come in the night because they can be especially effective when people are sleeping! 1 Thessalonians 5 says that the "day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." But we are also told that we "are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief." If we are as watchful, alert and awake, as the five virgins (Matthew 25) who put oil in their lamps for light, we will not be overtaken in surprise by His coming. 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 continues:

"Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ."

Perhaps the shepherds faithfully abiding in the fields outside Bethlehem recalled to mind the Scripture of Isaiah:
"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee" Psalm 139:11-12 promises that "the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and light are both alike to Thee."

Revelation foretells a time in the future when there is no more
"curse" but a perpetual day: "And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever" (chapter 22).

May we all be as faithful as these humble shepherds of Bethlehem, abiding in the field, keeping watch over the flocks that the Lord has given to our charge in these last of the last days.

The Truth:

"Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord:"
(Lamentations 2:19a)

Copyright 2007 Discernment Ministries. Permission to repost in its entirety with a link to the original.