Signs In The Nativity

The Prophet Micah tells us that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.

But this was not just a random spot to prove that God knew the future, there are several reasons why the Messiah came from Bethlehem.

Ancestral Home of King David

Jesus was a descendant of King David (as was prophesied in Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 11:10, and Jeremiah 23:5), which is why Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census.

Based on the Messianic prophecies in the Bible, the Jewish sages thought there would be two Messiahs (example: Sukkah 52a-b).  One would be a suffering servant, who would die for Israel.  They likened him to Joseph, the son of Jacob, and referred to him as Messiah son of Joseph.  The other would be a conquering king, who they likened to King David and referred to as Messiah son of David (Christians do not believe these prophecies point to two Messiahs, but to Jesus’s two comings).

As the descendant of King David, and with Mary’s husband Joseph as his adoptive father, literally and in spirit, Jesus was both Messiah son of Joseph and Messiah son of David.

House of Bread

In John 6:30-35, Jesus explains that the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness was a symbol of Him, the true Bread from Heaven.

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

During the Passover seder, there is a basket with three pieces of matzah.  The basket is often called the “echad”, which refers to a plural unity.  The middle piece of matzah (called the Afikomen) is broken in half, wrapped in cloth, and eaten at the end of the seder.  The Last Supper was a Passover seder, and the Afikomen is the piece of bread that Jesus referred to as His body in Matthew 26:26:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

The bread that Jesus referred to as His body was the second part of a plural unity (the echad) that was broken and wrapped in cloth.

What does all of this have to do with Bethlehem? Translated literally, Bethlehem means “House of Bread” (Beth = House, Lechem = Bread).  Jesus, the Bread of Life, the manna from heaven, the true afikomen, was brought into the world in the House of Bread.

The Table of Showbread was also one of the items in the Tabernacle, which leads me to…

The Gifts of the Magi

The Table of Showbread was one of the items Moses had made for the Tabernacle. (Lev 24:5-8)

And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the Lord. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.

The holy bread that was always to be before the Lord in the Tabernacle was placed on gold with frankincense.

And then the Tabernacle and all of the holy objects were to be consecrated with myrrh (Exodus 30:23-29).

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were all essential elements of God’s Tabernacle, and they were all brought at the birth of the Messiah, God’s new Tabernacle.

There was another very practical purpose for the gifts.  When Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, they sacrificed a pair of doves (Luke 2:22-24), which, if you read Leviticus 12:8, means they did not have much money.

Shortly after this, an angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt.  But if they couldn’t afford a lamb for dedication at the Temple, how could they afford the long journey to Egypt?  As luck would have it, someone from the east had been guided there to give them a gift of gold.

Migdal Eder

The shepherds that were told of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-20) were probably not random shepherds.  The lambs raised in Bethlehem were used as sacrificial lambs at Passover.  Specifically a place called Migdal Eder, which was part of Bethlehem in biblical times.  The association between Migdal Eder and the Passover lambs is confirmed in Mishnah Shekalim 7:4:

An animal that was found between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or a similar distance in any direction, the males are [considered] burnt offerings. The females are [considered] peace offerings. Rabbi Yehuda says, those which are fitting as a Pesach offering are [considered] Pesach offerings if it is thirty days before the festival.

Migdal Eder, which means “tower of the flock”, has long been associated with the Messiah among Jewish leaders due to a lesser-known Messianic prophesy in the chapter before the better known Micah 5:2 that I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  Micah 4:8:

As for you, watchtower of the flock [Migdal Eder],
    stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.

The shepherds at Migdal Eder were shepherd-priests who inspected the lambs and ensured that they met the requirements for Passover.  They used birthing caves where they took the ewes, and it is said that they wrapped the lambs in swaddling clothes to prevent them from injuring themselves, since the Passover lambs had to be without blemish.  The oldest traditions, including from Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.), say that Jesus was born in a cave. (I got most of this information from Cooper P Abrams III here)

Given all of this, it seems probable that these were the shepherds that were alerted of Jesus’s birth.  Jesus is first introduced by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and He was sacrificed on Passover, so it only makes sense that the shepherds in charge of the Passover lambs would be there at His birth.

Under the guiding star, the Light of the World.

In the House of Bread, the Bread of Life.

In the birthing cave, the Lamb of God.

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