The town of Bethlehem is mentioned, by name, thirty-nine times in the King James Bible. The city was originally called Ephrath in the books of Genesis and Ruth. In the New Testament, the book of Matthew mentions the city five times, while Luke lists it only twice and the gospel of John only mentions it once. The first recorded reference to Bethlehem is as the burial location of Rachel, the patriarch Jacob's favorite wife, who perished in childbirth (Genesis 35:19, 48:7).
One of Israel's Judges, Ibzan, who served as Judge from 1081 to 1074 B.C., was both born and buried in Bethlehem (Judges 12:8, 10). The city is also where King David was born and where he, as a youth, tended and fed his father's sheep (1Samuel 17:15). It is also where the prophet Samuel anointed him as the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:4 - 13).
Shepherd's field, which is shown in the above picture, is located at the outskirts of Bethlehem. The field is roughly five miles to the south of Jerusalem. The terrain of the city puts it at 2,550 feet (777 meters) above sea level and higher than Jerusalem.
It was above this field near Bethlehem, where flocks were being tended, that an angelic host first rejoiced over the birth of Jesus Christ to the world. After an angel calmed the fears of shepherds tending their flocks (Luke 2:9 - 10), a large group of angels suddenly appeared and loudly proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men of goodwill" (verse 14).
Jesus' birth in such a small, relatively insignificant town fulfilled several Old Testament prophecies. The prophecies he fulfilled are in in Genesis 3:14 - 15, 12:3, 17:17, 19, 49:10, Isaiah 7:13 - 14, 9:6 - 7, Deuteronomy 18:15, Psalm 45:6 - 7, Micah 5:2, Daniel 9:24 - 25, Jeremiah 31:15 and Hosea 11:1.
The shepherds near Bethlehem, however, who heard the angels shout for joy over the birth of the Messiah, were not your average sheepherder. They took care of a very special set of sheep. According to Alfred Edersheim in his book "Sketches of Jewish Social Life," they were watching sheep that eventually would be offered as sacrifices in Jerusalem's Temple.
There is no doubt it was these same shepherds from the outskirts of Bethlehem who, when they arrived in Jerusalem, help spread the news that the Messiah has finally been born into the world!
An ancient tradition states that some shepherds specified that they be buried with a tuft of wool in their hand. This was supposidly done to prove they were shepherds on Judgment Day so that they could be forgiven for the many times they missed church services due to being in the field.