Lasting Truths: God Keeps His Word

Why did Joseph go to Bethlehem? Why did Mary go with him? Were they engaged or married? What kind of reception did they receive in Bethlehem? What was unique about Jesus’ birth? What is the significance of being laid … in a manger?

2:4–5: And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Caesar Augustus was the first Roman emperor. He was the most powerful man in the world. He issued an order that God used to accomplish His purposes. Hundreds of years before his time, a Hebrew prophet had predicted that the Jewish Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Augustus probably had never heard of Bethlehem or Micah (5:2). His decree called for the entire world to be taxed. The word taxed is found in verses 1, 3, 5, and the verb form, “taxing,” is in verse 2. Many translators have the word in verse 2 as “registration” or “census” . Taxed in verse 3 is translated as “register” or “registered” . A. T. Robertson wrote: “It was a census, not a taxing, though taxing generally followed and was based on the census.”

So the emperor issued a decree for all to register for taxation. In the land of the Jews, their practice was to return to their ancestral city. Because Joseph was a descendant of David, he went to Bethlehem, the city of David. He lived in Nazareth, which was many miles from Bethlehem. This explains why Joseph went to Bethlehem, but why did Mary go? The distance of 85 to 90 miles was a long trip for a pregnant woman about to deliver her child. She may have gone because she also was from the house of David and women as well as men were required to register. The wording to be taxed with Mary sounds as if she also went to enroll for taxation. However, the words with Mary could go after went. “And with him went Mary who was betrothed to him” (NEB). Then the point would be not that they were both required to go but that they chose to go together.

Even if Mary was not legally required to go, there were other reasons for her to go. Only she and Joseph had been told the unique circumstances of the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Joseph had been considering divorcing Mary or legally breaking their engagement (Matt. 1:18–19). The angel told Joseph to marry Mary, although they did not consummate their marriage until after the birth of Jesus ( 20–25). From that time on, Joseph had been Mary’s shield and protector against what people would say about a virgin who became pregnant outside of marriage. If Mary had remained in Nazareth, she would probably have been a target for slander and gossip.

Espoused wife (“engaged,” ; “pledged to be married,”) is the same word used in Luke 1:27, which states that they were engaged but not married at that time. The trip to Bethlehem took place after God’s word to Joseph (Matt. 1:25). Why then would Luke use the same word to describe Mary before and after Joseph and Mary were married? One reason may have been because they were married but not yet living as husband and wife, at least not in the fullest sense. They would not have been traveling together if they were not married.

Another reason why Mary made the long trip may have been that they knew Jesus was to be the Messiah, and Micah 5:2 predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Mary was great with child; apparently the time of Jesus’ birth was near.

2:6–7: And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The days were accomplished probably has a double meaning. On the one hand, it meant that the time for the birth was near. In addition, these words may also mean that Jesus was born on God’s time schedule. He was born “in the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4). Thus God had used the decree of a pagan ruler to bring Mary to Bethlehem at just the right time.

Verse 7 records the actual birth of Jesus. She brought forth her firstborn son. The word firstborn allows for her to have other children. She and Joseph had several children (Mark 6:3). The New Testament does not teach that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes. These were cloths wrapped around the infant to keep Him warm. Mary probably brought these with her from Nazareth.

She laid him in a manger. This was a feeding trough for animals. There is considerable speculation about the kind of place in which Jesus was born. Some think it was a cave in which animals were kept. Some of the houses of that day had a structure in which animals were kept in a separate part of the same house. We do know that the place was not an inn, and it was a place where animals were kept. Thus the place of Jesus’ birth signifies the humility of His life and ministry. He was not born in a royal palace, as would befit a King. Nor was He born into the home of one of the rich and famous of His day.

Much has been made of the words, there was no room for them in the inn. This has been interpreted to mean that the innkeeper was callous in turning away a couple about to have a child. This may be true, but the Bible says nothing about the innkeeper. The innkeeper may have suggested the accommodations, which provided shelter for them. Whether it was a cave, a stable, or part of a house, Mary and Joseph found refuge there.

What are the lasting truths in Luke 2:4–7?

     1.      God is at work in the world to bring in His kingdom.
     2.      God fulfills His promises.
     3.      Humility is a Christlike quality.
     4.      God’s ways are always best.

written by Robert J. Dean

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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