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Portraits of Mary #4: Out of Bethlehem

Lori loves to read, study, and teach the Bible. Part of understanding the Bible is to know the culture of those times.

Micha's Prophecy About Bethlehem

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel—One whose origins are of old, from the days of eternity. Micha 5:2
(Berean Study Bible)

The prophet Micah lived 700 years before the birth of Christ. And yet, in great detail, he foretold where the Messiah, the Christ child would be born.

Micah spoke to Bethlehem, calling it small among the clans of Judah. Bethlehem was a small town in Judea. It wasn't a large city, it had no grandeur, but it was rich with a significant history. David grew up there, shepherding sheep from a young age. The Lord sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David as the next king. It was young David, a lowly shepherd boy. Both Mary and Joseph were from the line of David.

Micah went on to say "out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler of Israel..." "Me" is God the Father, "One" is God the Son who Micah was predicting would be the ruler of Israel. He identifies Jesus' eternal existence. "One whose origins are of old, from the days of eternity." Learned Jews knew this passage. I wonder if Joseph was mindful of Micah's prophecy when he journeyed to Bethlehem, knowing Mary would give birth there. He would be the earthly father of the Eternal One.

Bethlehem means House of Bread. Jesus was the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

But you Bethlehem Ephratha...out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel (Micha 5:2).

But you Bethlehem Ephratha...out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel (Micha 5:2).

Bethlehem or Bust

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child (Luke 2:4,5).

What must Mary have felt when they had to drop everything and go on a 90 - plus mile trek to Bethlehem for the census. Estimates are they traveled about a week to ten days. It was quicker to go through Samaria, a four-day trip, but there was much animosity between the Jews and Samaritans, so the Jews avoided traveling through there. It could have put Joseph and Mary at risk if there was any trouble. So their travel would have taken longer. Several months before Mary had made the long, upward journey to the hill country of Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth. Now they would be heading up through the Judean hills again. It was rugged terrain. Did Mary ride a donkey? Luke doesn't say. Walking that far in such rugged terrain in late pregnancy does not seem practical. Joseph just might have found a donkey or some other animal she could ride on. But riding a donkey when great with child was no picnic either.

What must Mary have been thinking all those days as she traveled with her husband?

"Where will we stay?"

"How long will we have to be there?"

"Where will I give birth?"

"I will miss my mother not being there."

"Will there be a midwife to tend to me?"

"Will Joseph be able to handle all of this?"

And what was Joseph thinking?

"I hope I can find us a safe place to stay."

"I hope we can find a midwife?"

"What will become of Mary and the baby if we have no help and no place to stay?"

"I'm in way over my head."

Bethlehem would be swelling with humanity to register for the census. Sure enough, Joseph could find nowhere to stay. Was he in a state of desperateness? Probably so.

The Crudeness of Jesus' Birth

So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:6,7).

It doesn't sound like Mary gave birth the very day they arrived. It says "While they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered." They may have been there for several days or weeks. What matters is that Christ was born in Bethlehem.

There was no midwife to help Mary. We don't read whether Joseph helped birth Jesus or not. He was a carpenter, not a farmer who raised animals and helped birth them. He knew little to nothing about delivering babies. Imagine how alone she felt. She must have missed her mother terribly. Did she really know how to tie the cord, or deliver the afterbirth? She was a young teen.

Luke says Jesus was born and laid in a manger. We assume this means they were in a stable or a cave where animals were kept.

It wasn't a sanitary, romantic silent night that first Christmas. There was no pageantry in that crowded stable. Animals who were lowing, snorting, whinnying, stomping and eliminating. The smell was horrific. Mary's cries could be heard outside. But, a final push and the wail of the newborn King pierced the town of Bethlehem and graced humankind with hope.

Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a feeding trough. Hold that thought. The hay couldn't have been clean. The Son of God came down in human form and was born in the crudest environment imaginable.

Mary and Joseph had all the wonder other parents have as they beheld their newborn Child. He was the Savior, Immanuel, God with us, the Son of the Highest, the Deliverer of Israel. The pain, loneliness, smells, and all the rest were forgotten in those first moments.

portriats-of-mary-4-bethlehem-o-bethlehem

Heaven in the Pastures

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 (Luke 2:8-16).

It was an average night in the fields of Bethlehem. The sheep were penned up for the night and the shepherds were guarding them.

Shepherds in the bible were in a low social position. However, these were no ordinary shepherds. Most shepherds in Israel kept their sheep in unpopulated areas, always moving their flocks to new pastures. Abraham and Lot, Moses, and Jacob were such Bedouin shepherds. But these Bethlehem shepherds were relatively close to town. They were raising the finest flocks, and the purest lambs set apart for temple sacrifice. Jerusalem was a mere five miles away. Many scholars believe that because they were raising lambs for temple sacrifice they were priests.1

They were minding their own business that night. Perhaps they were discussing all the pilgrims pouring into town and were extra vigilant in watching the sheep. But suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them. Luke notes that the glory of God was shown around the shepherds when the angel appeared. There was no mistaking it. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this angel was Gabriel, who always brought good news, primarily the birth of the Messiah. His awesome presence always caused great fear. As he did with Zacharias and Mary, he told them not to fear. He had good news of great joy.

"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (vs 11).

Say what?

They knew about the coming Savior from the Scriptures. How could they not if they were raising lambs for sacrifice?

Then the angel gave them a sign: "You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Jesus was called the Lamb of God later on by John the Baptist. One scholar explains: "When the lamb was ready to be born, the “priestly” shepherd would pull the lamb out of the mother, and carefully wrap it in swaddling cloths to keep it from harming its limbs. After wrapping the baby lamb, the shepherd would lay it in a manger until the newborn had calmed down."2 When the angel said this will be a sign, he made it one they could connect with, one that pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. If this angel's message and the glory of God shining around them weren't enough the unimaginable happened:

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!” (vs. 13,14).

Here the Savior was in a crude stinky stable, while the shepherds were witnessing the pageantry of heaven with legions of angels. The breathtaking grand finale. "Glory to God in the highest." A glorious confirmation that all the angel said was true. When the angels went back into heaven it was stone silent. When they caught their breath they didn't hesitate to find the baby Savior. They left their lambs in haste to find the Lamb of God.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13,14).

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13,14).

The First Evangelists

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...Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them (Luke 2:17-18,20).

The shepherds gathered around the sublime Lamb of God, lying in a manger in swaddling clothes, just as their lambs did. It was a sacred and humbling moment for them. I wish Luke had told us what they thought and said. Mary and Joseph must have been taken aback when they arrived and told them what their messenger announced.

The shepherds were the first evangelists after the birth of Jesus.

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.

"Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills, and everywhere," says the great Christmas carol. How could they not? The people believed what they said and marveled. Why did they listen to and believe a bunch of shepherds? They were priestly shepherds and well respected is one possible reason. Perhaps they were very convincing. Maybe the people remembered the Micha 5:2 passage as the shepherds told their story.

The shepherds went back to their flocks rejoicing and praising God. It was a night they'd never forget.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger (Luke 2:16).

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger (Luke 2:16).

Mary's Treasure Chest

But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (vs 19).

Mary's heart was a treasure box of cherished moments, information about her Son, the promises of God, the events regarding her Son, the Son of God. Some versions say she kept all these things. She kept them to herself , stored them up in her heart, and pondered them. The word pondered means to bring together in one's mind, confer with one's self.3 Mary was putting the pieces together, connecting the dots, thinking it all out trying to discern what it all meant, and praying about it. When Gabriel came to her with the news of her imminent pregnancy and who her Son would be, she was troubled, disturbed, questioning, trying to understand.

When she saw her older, barren relative Elizabeth six months pregnant, the baby leaped in her womb, and she proclaimed Mary was carrying the Lord. Mary not only sang a song of praise, but she put all of it into her treasure box and pondered it. There would be more treasures to ponder as her Son grew and His ministry began. She was a very special woman, a devout woman, a mother most blessed.

She placed it all in her treasure box where they were cherished and protected.

Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Sources

1 Right, A. V. from the. (2017, December 24). A Little-Known Fact About the Nativity Shepherds. A View from the Right. http://aviewfromtheright.com/2017/12/24/a-little-known-fact-about-the-nativity-shepherds/

2 Migdal Eder – The Tower Of The Flock | Bible Prophecy Tracker. (2017, December 24). Prophecytracker.org. https://prophecytracker.org/migdal-eder/

© 2021 Lori Colbo