In Bible times, shepherds were poor and generally considered lower-class people in their society. Because of the nomadic nature of their job, they could not keep all the customary details of ceremonial Jewish law. How could they observe all those meticulous hand washings or participate in the required feasts and holy days making up the Jewish religious calendar when they had to be out in the fields watching their flocks? Since this was the case, shepherds were despised by the religious Jews of their day and considered ceremonially unclean.
The shepherding life was often difficult as well as dangerous. Not only did they have to keep the herds moving to find new pasture, but shepherds had to bed down near the flock, taking turns sleeping so someone was always alert to protect the animals from robbers or wild beasts. These men were usually uneducated, rough, and used to a hard life.
So, why DID God prefer these men over others to tell the good news of the birth of a Savior? Maybe it was because of their lowly state—instead of being pious and puffed up, they were simple and receptive. After all, God hates pride and arrogance (Proverbs 6:16-17; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 16:5; 1 John 2:16). It might have been that they could relate to the poor circumstances into which Jesus was born. However, when we read Matthew 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins,” and again in John 1:29 “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” it makes perfect sense that the birth announcement of God’s sacrificial Lamb would be given to those lowly shepherds who responded with joy to the good news.
“God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:28 NLT).
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:8-20).