Traditions in the Story of the Birth of Jesus

The Word of God is such a marvelous document. And no matter how much we read it, we keep finding new things. At this time of year the story of the birth of Jesus is read frequently from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. When they are read, we listen but we do not hear because our minds have been pre-programmed with traditions.

A Christian Sister, Rachel Olsen, published a provocative article on Proverbs 31 Ministries that pointed out facts about the birth of Jesus that we simply overlook. We know the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would become pregnant and give birth to “the Son of the Most High.” Gabriel also told her that her relative, Elizabeth, who was “well along in years,” (Luke 1:36) was six months pregnant. Mary then hurriedly went to visit Elizabeth. Miss Olsen says, “ . . . when Mary returned home from spending three months out of town (Luke 1:56) and told Joseph she was pregnant, all he could think of was to divorce her quietly.”

In a Jewish wedding the bride and groom are considered married once the marriage contract is agreed upon, even though the marriage has not been “consummated.” When Mary returned to Nazareth, with her stomach slightly bulging, Joseph reacted as a man of honor. He knew he and Mary had not been together, and yet she was pregnant. Joseph loved Mary and did not want her publicly disgraced or possibly stoned for adultery, so he considered a very private divorce.

Imagine what must have been going through Joseph’s mind. His wife, Mary, was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, or so she said. Her elderly relative, Elizabeth, was pregnant even though she was “getting along in years.” And Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, had become mute and could not speak. He must have wondered what kind of family he was marrying into.

But an unnamed angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20) and confirmed all that Mary must have told Joseph. He reacted righteously and immediately, and brought her to his house. Later, they were required to go to Bethlehem for the census and while there the Lord Jesus was born.

Other Christian writers point out that there was a tower near Bethlehem known as the Tower of the Flock, or Migdol Eder. This tower had been there at least since the time of Jacob. (Genesis 35:21) It was near there that his beloved Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel, or “ewe lamb” in Hebrew, had named the son Benoni, or “son of my sorrow.” Jacob renamed him Benjamin, or “son of my right hand.” The prophecy of the Messiah being born at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) is made more certain in Micah 4:8 which specifically names the Tower of the Flock. For centuries the rabbis said the Messiah would be born in the vicinity of the Tower of the Flock, or in the tower itself.

Alfred Edershiem, in his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, points out that this tower was significant in the care of the surrounding flocks of sheep. We are told that this two-story Tower of the Flock is where lambs were born for Temple sacrifice. The upper floor was for the rabbinical shepherds to watch the flocks. The lambs were protected in the surrounding fields because a sacrificial lamb had to be without blemish. The lower floor was kept ritually clean and was for the birthing of sacrificial lambs. The new-born lambs were immediately wrapped in (swaddling?) cloths until their legs strengthened and stabilized. If a lamb fell and “skinned its knee” it would be disqualified as an unblemished lamb for sacrifice. After a short time, the more stable lamb was given to its mother to nurse and grow. This was the only function of the lower level of the tower. Is it possible that this was the traditional stable in which the Lord Jesus was born?

You can see the Lord’s wonderful foreshadow. Rachel, the ewe lamb, gave birth to the “son of sorrow” near the Tower of the Flock. Mary gave birth to Jesus near or in the Tower of the Flock. Jacob changed the name of the “son of my sorrow” to “son of my right hand. Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), in His first coming was the Man of Sorrows, but He now sits at the Right Hand of God. The protective Tower of the Flock was used for sacrificial lambs. It is very possible that Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our sins, was born in the Tower of the Flock. What a wonderful picture of the Lamb of God being born where the sacrificial lambs were born.

And then, there were the “Wise Men.” Tradition tells us there were three wise men and even gives their names, but the number or names are not confirmed by Scripture. By putting the pieces together, most scholars believe they were Magi from Persia. They had secret knowledge and were priests and advisors to kings, not magicians. However, we get our word “magician” from the Magi. It is thought the Magi worshipped one Creator God. When the Prophet Daniel became the Chief of the Magi (Daniel 2:48), he quite possibly explained who the Creator God was and shared the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

When these learned and influential men arrived in Jerusalem with their entourage of aides, servants and probably a military contingent, the entire city was in an uproar. But the uproar of the citizens did not compare to that of the Idumean (Edomite) who had purchased the office of King of Judea, namely Herod. Herod was really upset when the Magi told him they were looking for the one born King of the Jews. (Matthew 2:2)

When the Magi found Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in a house (Matthew 2:11), not a stable as tradition tells us. In addition, we have no indication that the Magi found the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem, as according to tradition. Scripture tells us that after the days of her purification, Mary and Joseph took the baby to the Temple in Jerusalem, and after this they returned to Nazareth. (Luke 2:39) It is possible that the Magi found Jesus in Nazareth and then returned home. Word that the Magi went to Nazareth certainly would have reached Herod, which may be the reason the Lord told Joseph to take his family to Egypt. According to the wonderful provision of God, the trip was financed by the gifts of the Magi.

The lesson for us today is to examine the Bible closely. We cannot assume we are familiar with a passage or a story. Also, we must examine the traditions we accept. How many parts of our worship service and beliefs are there because of tradition and not because of Scripture? Another lesson found in the story of the birth of Jesus, is the wonderful provision of God. He probably provided a ceremonially clean place for Jesus to be born, and He provided the funds for Jesus to be taken to Egypt for protection.

May we always praise the Lord for His wonderful provision of the perfect Sacrificial Lamb that died in our place. Praise the Lord for Jesus! May His name be praised forever!

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