Christmas in Israel (Middle East)
The Real Story of Christmas This is the real story of Bethlehem. It will change your Christmas story a little, but perhaps that is for the best. I wish you all a Happy Khanukkah and a Happy Christmas. Let me start by saying that Bethlehem is a Hebrew word for house of bread. In the Bible, Jesus is called the Bread of Life and even though He was not born on December 25th, He was born to give us life everlasting (John 6:48-51). Bethlehem was a very small, poor town 2000 years ago and it still is today. Having been there recently, I can attest to that. Right now it is a Muslim town but 2000 years ago it was the place where Jewish shepherds raised the unblemished, sacrificial lambs. Three times per year, on particular Feast Days, the head of each Jewish household was required to go to Jerusalem to bring a sacrifice on behalf of his family. The fall Feast of Sukkot (soo coat) also called the Feast of Tabernacles was one such Feast Day. Now, for most, it was impractical to carry their sacrificial lamb across country to Jerusalem, yet they were required to have an offering once they got there. That is where Bethlehem comes in. Its close proximity to Jerusalem and its need to subsidize its economy, made it an ideal place to raise the needed lambs. This was Bethlehem's claim to fame. The shepherds kept their flocks on the hillsides during favorable weather. Ewes were brought to a special area on the outskirts of Bethlehem called Migdal Eder (or watchtower of the Temple flocks) for the birthing of their lambs. These lambs were housed in penned caves at Migdal Eder to keep them safe because these lambs were set aside for sacrifice and had to be without blemish or scar. The watchtower was constructed for protection against enemy or harm.
So, Mary and Joseph were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of Sukkot but were also stopping in Bethlehem for the census and to pay their taxes; perhaps they were going to pick up their sacrificial lamb there as well. Fore mentioned, Sukkot is in the fall and as families gathered to celebrate, census taking would have been ideal. Tax collecting took place then as well because money was readily available following the fall harvest. Winter is cold and rainy in Israel and it would be illogical to ask people to travel in December for these types of governmental practices. Likewise, shepherds would not likely be on the hillsides in the harsh season of winter but they would still be shepherding in the fall (Talmud). Additionally, Jesus was 33 & 1/2 when He died on the tree as the Sacrificial Lamb at Passover. Passover is in the spring. Back to Bethlehem and Migdal Eder:
The shepherds at Migdal Eder were special rabbinical shepherds educated in lambing and the care of the animals.
The lambs were washed and "dressed" for protection in cloths called swaddling. These cloths were strips made from the discarded, used garments of the High Priest. The High Priest wore special clothing while performing the duties of sacrifice in the Temple. These garments, once stained with blood, were not fit to be used again so they were washed and sent to Migdal Eder to be used for the lambs. Jesus was born during Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles calculating from the Scriptures. He was probably born on the first day of the Feast because we know He was circumcised on the 8th day. The 8th day of Sukkot is also a special day in Judaism, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah which is a celebration of water and the Word. Jesus is called the Living Water and He is also called the Word (John 7:38 & John 1:1). During Sukkot the people dwelt in temporary housing or booths to remember God's provision and that He dwelt with them in the desert. Jesus was also called Immanuel which means God with us (Isaiah 7:14 & Matt. 1:23). Jesus was called The Unblemished (without sin) Sacrificial Lamb at Passover (John 1:36 & 1 Peter 1:19). He was born in the stable of the unblemished sacrificial lambs in Bethlehem at Migdal Eder (Micah 4:8 & 5:1-2 & Matt. 2:6). He was not born in any old stable full of cows, donkeys, and chickens as the traditional manger scene depicts.
And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. ~ Micah 4:8
As Migdal Eder was a watchtower of protection, so Jesus is our protector who watches over us. The rabbinical shepherds were not ordinary herdsmen. Jesus, referred to as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) was also a rabbi. He certainly was not ordinary. As the High Priest sacrifices, he intercedes between God and man.
The Baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes made from the High Priests garments foreshadowing His priestly duties.*
He is the High Priest (Hebrews 3:1) because He made Himself propitiation for sin on man's behalf. I hope you realize by now that Jesus was Jewish. As you can see, God does nothing except for Divine purpose by perfect design. Let me end with this: Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua which means Salvation. May you be blessed this glorious season.
Used with permission from the author.
*"During the time of Sukkot, the priests were in the Temple. In the Holy of Holies, the high priest would take his linen undergarment, discard it, and lay it at the altar. It was traditional during Sukkot for the high priest’s garment to either be sold for money for the Temple or to be given to the poor. We know that Joseph and Mary were poor because of the sacrifice they gave in the Temple for Yeshua’s birth, which was two turtledoves. It was required that you sacrifice a lamb and a dove, but if you were poor, they allowed two doves. Doesn’t it make sense that Mary got the wrapping from Zechariah the priest, who got it from the Temple, where it came from the high priest in the Holy of Holies? As she was wrapping her baby, she was wrapping Yeshua in high priestly garments. You can find the wrapping of the baby mentioned in Ezekiel 16:4." - Sandie Zimmerman
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the governmental bodies in Israel, which has passed laws that make it difficult for Israeli Arab Christians to prosper and to live their lives with the same freedoms as Jewish Israelis. Pray for the Arab Christians living in Bethlehem and the West Bank areas, whose freedoms have been greatly curtailed. And thought it may seem naive and futile, pray that Palestinians, Jews and Christians live at peace with one another in an areas that has known little peace over the centuries.