The Significance of Bethlehem: The Message of the Birth

You know the story don’t you, the story of the birth of Jesus? The story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem only to find there was no room for them at the inn. The story of how Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. You know the story, right? But why Bethlehem; why was the Savior of the world born there? The reason might surprise you.

BIRTH OF THE LAMB

An empty manger at night under the fog.

On the hills about six miles south of Jerusalem lay an area, a town called Bethlehem. It was there, on those hills, sheep grazed, shepherds kept watch, and newborn lambs were chosen and set apart. These distinct lambs born in Bethlehem, were predestined to be offered as a Passover sacrifice at the Temple. In a manner of speaking, these were royal lambs, handpicked and approved for a task only a privileged few would have. Sure, there were other towns who raised other lambs, but it was only Bethlehem that birthed lambs pure and special enough to be considered worthy of giving their life as a sacrifice to the Lord.

It is by no coincidence that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was also born in the same town as the sacrificial lambs. In fact, the place of Jesus’ birth was prophesied by Micah about 700 years before it came to pass.

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.

Micah 5:2

Just as the lambs born on the hills of Bethlehem were predestined to be offered as a sacrifice, so too was the most important Lamb that ever graced the Temple courts. The royal lambs who were handpicked and approved by their shepherds were symbolic of the royal Lamb of God who was chosen by the Father, approved as the only One worthy to give His life to save the world. The most fitting birthplace for the Son was on the hills, among the lambs.

 

THE SHEPHERDS AND THE LAMBS

Two lambs in a grassy field.

The shepherds who kept the royal flocks of Bethlehem weren’t your ordinary shepherds; they too were special and set apart. These unique shepherds were what they called “Rabbinical” or priestly shepherds. They were familiar with the Old Testament writings, they had been educated in the Law of Moses, and most importantly, the shepherds were trained with special skills to keep the Temple lambs unblemished—perfect and spotless in every way.

Immediately following their birth, the shepherds would meticulously look over and inspect the lambs making sure they were flawless and without fault. The shepherds would then wrap the perfect lambs in swaddling clothes, certifying their birth was a “holy birth.” This outward, physical display of cloths wrapped securely around the lambs meant they were deemed an acceptable sacrifice.

And what of the birth of Jesus? Luke 2:7 says “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Mary took what was available to her, strips of cloth used for the swaddling of little newborn lambs, and tightly wrapped them around her baby boy. The Perfect Lamb, born to save the world, was swaddled in the exact manor the Temple lambs were swaddled. The significance of this act spoke volumes to those who understood what the swaddling represented: the certification of a holy birth. The message woven within the cloths; this One is holy.

THE SHEPHERDS AND THE STALL

Watch Tower made of stone.

This is an example of what a Watch Tower may have looked like in Ancient Bethlehem.

On the edge of the town of Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, stood a special place of protection for the shepherds and the sheep. The Migdal Eder, or Tower of the Flock, as it was called. It served as a watchtower as well as a stall. The shepherds, who spent day and night with their sheep, never leaving their side, would use the Migdal Eder as a place of protection when the lambs were born to ensure they remained perfect.

Now, when it comes to the birth of Jesus, the Bible isn’t specific in telling us exactly where Jesus was born. Scripture does not say He was born in the backyard stable of the hotel that was full, or in a cave where a few donkeys were housed. All we know is what Luke tells us, that Mary “placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The word manger used here also means stall. This manger may not be the tiny, wooden, basinet-like piece of furniture we see displayed in the Nativity sets today, but instead it could mean Jesus was born in the Migdal Eder.

Once again, Micah prophesied about the Tower of the Flock long before Jesus was born.

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

Micah 4:8

Given the fact that Bethlehem was the town in which the sacrificial lambs were born, and those lambs were birthed at the Midgal Eder, wrapped in swaddling clothes to certify their holy birth, does it not make sense the same details would surround the birth of our Savior?

THE MESSAGE TO THE SHEPHERDS

If we continue reading the story in Luke we see an angel appear to shepherds who were “living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” The angel announced a special message; there had been a holy birth. A baby, which was Christ the Lord, could be found wrapped in cloths and laying in a manger. The shepherds did not miss the significance of this message, for they understood the meaning far greater than most.

It was there, on the hills of Bethlehem, God chose to reveal His greatest message to those who sacrificed so much. You see, because of their profession, this select group shepherds would not have been allowed to take part in any ceremony or worship at the Temple. Their worship with the Lord had to be an individual thing. Yet, the shepherds of Bethlehem were the first people to praise the One who would be called the Good Shepherd, and they were the first ones to behold and worship the Lamb of God.

Jesus proclaimed true worshipers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth. How fitting on the night of His birth, the shepherds, who had never been allowed to worship the Lord, were welcomed into the presence of Son of God, to worship in spirit and in truth. God’s message to the shepherds; the perfect baby boy named Jesus had come for ALL mankind.

When we sing the songs and display the Nativity manger, may we remember the message of the birth: Jesus, the Holy One, was born to give His life as a sacrifice to save the world.

 

 

 

2018-03-05T15:04:16+00:00

About the Author:

I have developed a deep passion for the culture and customs of Biblical times, and it is my heart’s desire to teach others about the symbolism hidden within pages of God’s Word. I love to seek out and focus on the “little things,” that when discovered, become more like God-sized treasures. I truly believe the deeper our understanding is of the Old, the more relevant God becomes in the New.