The miracle gets our attention so that we will take notice of the sign.
An examination of Luke 2:1-24
Luke is the only gospel writer to include the finer details of Yeshua’s birth and brit milah. It’s interesting that Luke, a proselyte, would record these specific details relating to the Torah of HaShem, while the remaining gospel writers, Jews by birth, concerned themselves with other matters surrounding this part of Messiah’s life. A wonderful remez (hint) of redemption can be seen in the pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the first born) rite alluded to in this section of Luke’s gospel. There is also much to be gleaned from the p’shat (contextual, literal meaning).
2:1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all of the Roman empire. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
Caesar Augustus reigned over the Roman Empire from 27 B.C.E. to 14 C.E. It’s interesting to note that he was called, “god,” “saviour,” and, “father,” during his reign.
This census was the first of two, taken between 1 C.E. and 7 C.E. (It’s the latter of the two that is referred to in Acts 5:37). While Quirinius was not physically governing in Syria until 6 C.E., he was responsible for the oversight of its operations and defence under Varus, during Herod’s reign.
It’s important to remember that for the people of Israel, a census was considered an affront to G-d. The taking of a census denoted a lack of trust in G-d’s provision. This census therefore, was something they were forced to participate in under an oppressive Roman occupation. (See Exodus 30:12; 2 Samuel 24).
4 Yosef (HaShem will add) also went up from Galil (Circle, rolling), from the city of Natzeret (a branch), to Y’huda (Praise), to the city of David (Beloved) which is called Beit-lechem (House of bread), because he was of the house and family of David,5 in order to register along with Miryam (rebellious, bitter people), who was engaged to him, and was with child.
Yosef’s return (shuva) to his ancestral town is essential to fulfilling the prophetic birth announcement of the prophets (1 Samuel 17; 20; Micah 5:2).
Beit-lechem is approximately 8 kilometres from Yerushalayim and approximately 136 kilometres from Natzeret in the Galil.
Given that a majority of governors over the province of Palestine (Israel) were keen to avoid further uprisings and the causes for them, it is unlikely that a census would have been called during an Aliyah (going up) festival of Israel. In addition, a Jew could not be both in his ancestral town and in Yerushalayim at the same time. While Beit-lechem was close to Yerushalayim, the majority of Israel’s outer communities were more than two days journey from Yerushalayim, where the Temple stood. This is just one of many reasons why a Sukkot birth for Messiah is extremely unlikely.
There is a remez (hint) to deeper allegory in this text. It’s not literary manipulation, names are given and can’t be changed to suite the author simply because he is writing a record of history. These names were given before the creation of the world by The Author of creation. It’s no coincidence then, that the names of the participants in this historical account have deeper meaning regarding the events that are being revealed in time.
· Through Yosef G-d has promised that He will add to Israel.
· Through the land of the Galil He has shown that the purposes of G-d are like a (rolling circle) wheel that exists outside of time and space but also contains time and space.
· Through the town of Natzeret He reveals the branch of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-10), the entrance of Messiah as He breaks into time and enters the world of humanity.
· Through Y’huda G-d brings praise to Israel’s King Yeshua. This is seen also in the latter designation that the news is for all ha-am (the people--singular—of Israel). The shepherds become the vehicle for the perpetuation of that praise.
· In the symbolic provision of matzot in Beit-lechem, HaShem offers, through the bread and the body of Messiah, the means of both spiritual sustenance and reconciliation.
· G-d offers this reconciliation both through and to Miryam, a rebellious people (Israel).
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them to lodge.
In recent years many have focused on the Greek term kataluma and its interpretation. The word itself means, “Lodging or breaking journey,” an inconclusive meaning at best.
What we know is that Yosef was returning to an ancestral town where he was bound to have, at very least, distant relatives. Those returning to their town of origin would have been warmly welcomed by family and given whatever room was available. Archaeology testifies to the fact that many homes were built in two stories with a barn or animal enclosure at the base and living quarters above. As is the case with western Christmas and thanksgiving celebrations, the last to arrive usually get the air mattresses in the basement or garage, there is no rejection inferred, it’s simply the only practical option. Given that birth is a messy business, the downstairs quarters may have been the only reasonable location for Yosef and Miryam. We must conclude therefore, that their residing in a ground floor barn, is an act of love and a symbol of humility which is meant to convey the humble status of G-d’s most loving gift to humanity, His only begotten Son Yeshua. So He was born in a barn and had a feeding trough for a bed, big deal, He wasn’t the first Jew to sleep amongst animal faeces, and He won’t be the last.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
Some Christian commentators have foolishly called these shepherds the lowliest members of the first century Jewish society. What utter nonsense. It was the Egyptians that loathed shepherds (Genesis 46:33-34), Israel and her prophets have always held the shepherd in high regard. Moshe the human author of the Torah is called a shepherd of G-d’s people; David, Israel’s greatest king prior to Messiah’s coming, was both literally and metaphorically a shepherd to Israel. The prophets speak of both G-d and His Messiah as shepherds of Israel. Add to this the historical information regarding the region in which this account takes place.
It’s a historical fact that there was a tower in close proximity to Beit-lechem, called Eder (flock), around which were pastured the flocks destined for the Temple sacrifice. This group of shepherds held a position of great esteem in Israel and were led by a Priest whose role was to ensure the unblemished nature of the animals that would be offered in nearby Yerushalayim.
This is also the historical location of the fields of Boaz, the kinsmen redeemer who received Ruth into Israel. Ruth who is the mother of Obed, the grandfather of King David, from whom the Messiah is descended.
9 And a messenger of HaShem suddenly stood before them, and the shekinah (Manifest glorious light, feminine presence) of HaShem shone around them; and they were terrified.
No one remains unsettled when surprised by the seemingly immediate appearance of another being. The kavod (glory) or, Shekinah (manifest light presence) of HaShem was more than awe inspiring, it was terrifying. In our sinful state terror that inspires humility is a gift of G-d. Awe is the sum of these things. It is worthwhile to note that the Kavod (Glory) of G-d is spoken of many times at transitional points throughout Israel’s history (See: Exodus 16:7, 10; Isaiah 40:5, Psalm 104:31 etc).
10 But the messenger said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all ha-am—the people (singular);
While it’s true to say that Messiah came to save both Jew and Gentile, this isn’t the intended meaning here. If it were, the writer, a very meticulous historian, would have used the plural, “peoples.” A Jewish reader will hear ha-am or kol ha-am, and understand it to mean all of the people (am: singular) of Israel (empirical, ethnic, that is, the unity of the twelve tribes.) This is not a universal statement. It stands in stark contrast to the attempt that the Roman census has made, to show governance over G-d’s chosen people. This good news--while it will one day be good news for Roman citizens also—is bad news for Rome.
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a deliverer, who is Mashiyach ha-Adon (the Lord).
The L-rd’s anointed, or Mashiyach, is a term used throughout the Tanakh in reference to certain Kings of Israel (See: Lamentations 4:20; 1 Samuel 24:7).
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
Perhaps one of the meanings behind this statement is in reference to the fact that it’s unusual for a baby to be kept in a feeding trough, even in first century C.E.
It’s important to note that, “signs,” and, “wonders,” are two entirely different things. The shepherds were already experiencing the wonder of the heavenly host of HaShem; this sign on the other hand was intended to teach them something of great importance. The Messiah comes as a lowly servant, His entrance into the world is marked by His low position, wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough. The sign was meant to reveal the humility of the second Adam, in contrast to the pride of the first Adam. Therefore, a, “wonder/miracle,” gets our attention, so that we will take notice of the, “sign,” that follows.
13 And suddenly there appeared with the messenger a multitude of the heavenly host praising G-d and saying,
14 “Glory to G-d in the highest,
And on earth peace among human beings of good will.”
Israel is no stranger to the heavenly host (tzvaah) of HaShem. They are the select messengers/angels in service of G-d. HaShem is known as, “Adonai tzvaot,” L-rd of the host. (Note: the feminine plural form tzvaot). (See 1 Kings 22:19; Jeremiah 8:2; Psalm 33:6 etc).
The peace offered here is not universal. Peace is offered to human beings, “of good will,” or, “upon whom G-d’s favour rests.” Only the humble are able to receive the gift of G-d, Yeshua, Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace. G-d’s plan is not world peace, His plan is peace for those who humbly receive the gift of His son, which brings reconciliation. It remains that the opposite of peace belongs to those who refuse G-d’s gift.
15 When the messengers had gone away from them into the heavens, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Beit-lechem (House of bread) then, and see this thing that has happened which HaShem has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Miryam and Yosef, and the baby as He lay in the feeding trough.
Beit-lechem was clearly a tight nit Jewish community who were familiar with this group of shepherds and willing to direct them to the family home where Yeshua slept in a feeding trough. They went to the house of bread to meet the Bread of Life.
17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Miryam treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
The text affirms the presence of relatives and other members of the community, p,eople who would have had respect for the role the shepherds played in Israel’s sacrificial system. The familiar phrase is spoken of Miryam, “But Miryam treasured all these things, pondering them in her core being.” Truly a woman of noble character whose worth is greater than rubies, Ayshet Chayil.
20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising G-d for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
The shepherds returned to their duties at the Tower of the Flock. They would be out in the fields until the end of November when the weather began to become colder. This makes a 25th of December date for Messiah’s birth unlikely.
21 And when eight days had passed, it was time for His circumcision, His name was then called Yehoshua (HaShem’s Salvation), the name given by the messenger Gavriel (Mighty on of G-d) before He was conceived in the womb.
Yeshua was circumcised according to Jewish Instruction. To those who call Torah observant Messianic Jews, “legalistic,” I would say, “It seems that your Christ came under the Torah’s regulation for circumcision.”
It is noteworthy that Yehoshua is the Hebrew form of Joshua. While Yeshua is also used in the Tanakh as a proper noun, it’s more likely that Yeshua’s given name was Yehoshua. Both names mean, “HaShem saves/delivers”.
Note that His name was given, “before,” He was conceived. He is the uncreated One Who was in the beginning with G-d and was G-d. (John 1:1).
22 And when the days for their purification according to the Torah (Instruction) of Moshe (drew out) were completed, they brought Him up to Yerushalem (Rain of peace) to present Him to HaShem
We are now reading at a point chronologically 32 days after Yeshua’s brit milah. Miryam was ritually unclean due to child birth and was required to offer a sacrifice 40 days after the birth. (Leviticus 12:1-10)
“When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. 7 Then he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female. 8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’” –Leviticus 12:6-8
The sacrifice offered by Miryam denotes a position of poverty. (Leviticus 12: 8)
The text says, “their,” purification, which may refer to a unique form of uncleanness that Yosef was also seeking purification for (perhaps a nocturnal emission), or it could denote that Yosef was joining Miryam in the purification ritual. This was sometimes done as an act of solidarity, as seen in the case of Paul/Shaul, Acts 21:22-27.
23 (as it is written in the Torah of HaShem, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to HaShem”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Torah of HaShem, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
The purification of the mother was required for every child, however there was an added requirement for the firstborn male of each of Israel’s families called pidyon ha-ben. (Numbers 18:16). This redemption of the firstborn was a reminder to Israel of her redemption from slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 13:2-6). It specifically remembers the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb redeemed the firstborn of Israel. (Exodus 11:45; 12:29-30). Each family dedicates the firstborn son to G-d’s service and then redeems him with a payment of five sanctuary shekels. (Numbers 18:16). In the place of the firstborn, G-d accepts the service of the Levites. (Numbers 3:12-13, 45; 8:14-19). Pidyon ha-ben takes place when the child is 30 days old (Numbers 18:16), which means that they were in Yerushalayim for ten days following Yeshua’s ritual redemption in order to complete the sacrifice for Miryam’s purification.
· Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — "plain" ("simple") or the direct meaning.
· Remez (רֶמֶז) — "hints" or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
· Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: "inquire" ("seek") — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
· Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in 'bone') — "secret" ("mystery") or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.
2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.