April 2, 2015
Editor’s Note: Passover begins tomorrow, April 3. For those of us who aren’t familiar with Jewish traditions, Passover is an eight-day festival which is celebrated from the 15th to the 22nd of the Hebrew month called Nissan. The dates on the American calendar change every year. This year Passover is Friday, April 3 (Shabbat, or Sabbath) in the evening through Saturday, April 11 after sundown.
* * *
A number of years ago I heard Jimmy DeYoung, an outstanding news commentator and Bible teacher, make a presentation at a Bible prophecy conference. Since it was during the Christmas season, he was teaching about the birth of Jesus in the first chapter of Luke. He read to us Luke 2:8–12:
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.’
Dr. DeYoung then asked the audience a surprising question: “Did you ever wonder why this was a sign?” This left us all speechless. I had to admit to myself that I had never even questioned it. Why was it a sign? Dr. DeYoung had us turn to the book of Micah. We were all familiar with Micah 5:2, which prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but many of us were not familiar with Micah 4:8, which prophesied that He would be announced at the tower of the flock (Migdal Eder). Dr. DeYoung, who had lived in Jerusalem for a number of years, told us that Migdal Eder was a two-story tower that had been built in a pasture outside Bethlehem. The remains of the tower had recently been discovered.
Dr. DeYoung explained that the shepherds in the field had not all been the lowly shepherds that we had always assumed. They were actually priests from the temple who were doing shepherding work to assist in the birthing of the sacrificial lambs so that they would be unblemished for sacrifice. While the shepherds were keeping watch over the flock from the top floor of the tower, the shepherd-priests would bring the pregnant sheep in from the field to the tower’s bottom floor, where the sheep would give birth. As soon as a lamb was born, the priests would wrap it with strips of cloths made from old priestly undergarments. This was done to keep the lamb from getting blemished. The priests would then place the lamb onto a manger to make sure it would not get trampled. Wow! So when these shepherd-priests went into Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, they must have exclaimed, “There is the Lamb of God, prepared for sacrifice, unblemished!” They had to be excited beyond description, because they were the only ones who could have understood the sign. It was just for them from God. It was personal!
I presume that Jesus’ swaddling cloths were from the same source as the lambs’ cloths. Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, was married to the priest Zacharias. Elizabeth could have given her the cloths made from the priestly undergarments. It is highly probable that the first clothes that Jesus wore were the clothes of a priest. What a sign! I was so intrigued by this that I did some further research. These historical observations and parallels were confirmed by many messianic rabbis and the renowned historical writer Alfred Edersheim. I also sought out help from Bob Ibach, an experienced archaeologist, who had done some digs in Israel. He found the written account and pictures of the discovery of “the tower of the flock,” Migdal Eder. This whole insight made the account of the announcement of Jesus’ birth astounding and even more exciting!
More and more facts began to unfold in my research. I was talking further with David Schiller, my Jewish teacher and friend, about what I had learned about the shepherds and the lambs. He amazed me with some more historical insights. He explained that each Jewish family would put the family name around the neck of their lamb that they took to the Temple to be sacrificed. They did this to make sure they received their own lamb back for the Passover dinner. I wondered if there was any significance to this piece of trivia. As I was contemplating this, Schiller pointed out to me a particular object found in most of the paintings of Christ on the cross. There was a small sign at the top of the cross that looked like four letters: “INRI.” I discovered that this was an abbreviation of the sign that Pontius Pilot placed on the cross as seen in John 19:19:
Pilate also wrote an inscription, and put it on the cross. It was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
I learned that the letters were the first letters of each of the nouns in the inscription in Latin. I contacted my daughter Ruth, who is very good with Latin, and asked her to show me the inscription in the Latin Vulgate. That confirmed it: “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” (INRI).
Then Schiller opened my eyes to an incredible observation. Since the inscription had been in three languages — Latin, Greek, and Hebrew — he transliterated it for me from Hebrew to English. I saw before me these words: “Y’Shua HaNatzri V’Melech HaYehudim.” I was absolutely stunned when I took the first letters of each of these words. It spelled “YHVH,” the Tetragrammaton form of the name of God! YHVH and YHWH can be used interchangeably. When this technique of abbreviating is used, the title on the cross in the actual Hebraic script undeniably reveals the name of God. In English, the name is pronounced “Yahweh!”
Just like the Jews put their family name on their lamb for sacrifice at the Temple, God put His name on His Lamb for His family, which includes you and me!
God gave us so many pictures in order that we could understand the magnitude of His loving grace!
Excerpted with permission from Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts by Michael Norten, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2015.
* * *
There are many names for God revealed in Scripture, Yahweh being just one. God put His name on His Lamb for us to show and demonstrate His love for His people. Join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily-
NOTE: This is not Sacred Name Theology
Next message , two for the price of one, the one is Jesus, the price His blood.
The First Christmas
by Nick Harris
There are many misunderstandings today about the events surrounding the first Christmas. For one thing Jesus was not born in an out building behind a motel in Bethlehem as many Christmas cards seem to suggest. The truth is this: Jesus was born in a cave used for the birthing of sacrificial lambs. The male lambs born in that cave, and others like it in the Bethlehem area, were to be used exclusively in the Temple. They were set-aside to be the TAMIL, or the morning sacrifices which began each day. They were also used for the burnt offerings. The female lambs were used in the Temple for peace offerings.
However, the most common usage for these lambs that were born in Bethlehem was this: they were destined to become Passover lambs. Therefore, the shepherds that attended them were actually shepherd-priests. These men had been designated from the time they were very young to be the ones who would be assigned the task of "keeping watch” over the Temple’s flocks. One of their tasks was to make certain that none of these lambs were blemished while being birthed.
According to the Mishnah, these lambs were immediately wrapped in "swaddling cloths" after their births to protect them from injury, since baby lambs tend to thrash about and harm themselves in their first couple of hours of their lives. The shepherds who attended these lambs, being under special rabbinical care, were also required to keep their birthing caves ritually clean.
Since there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the local caravansary, these young people were allowed to occupy one of these birthing caves in the hillside. That birthing cave is now found beneath the ancient Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. According to the Gospel account, as soon as Jesus was born, Joseph wrapped him in swaddling cloths.
No doubt, Joseph could not have understood the full significance of the swaddling cloths in which he wrapped the infant Jesus. You see, swaddling cloth was primarily used to wrap the body of someone who had died, so Joseph’s actions told this story: in this cave in the Judean hillside, the young Lord of the universe lay in a stone manger, wrapped in grave clothes. This action was taken, according to the angel of the Lord, to be a sign to the shepherds who would come to visit Him. It offers a sign to us, as well. This sign was this: this was a child who had been born to die. His heavenly Father wanted the world to know the reason for his son becoming flesh.
The entire scene seems so illogical, does it not? Logic would seem to dictate that when the Lord of the universe, the Almighty God, chose to enter into the life of this world, He would have elected to have been born in absolute luxury and splendor. We would think that he would have chosen a palace in Rome, or Alexandria, or Antioch, or Ephesus. But He did not! He chose to be born in a cave that was carved into the side of a Judean hillside. Even the lowest peasants were born in better places than this. It is a shocking tale, is it not?
After Mary had given birth to Jesus in this cave, after Joseph wrapped him in swaddling cloths, he then took the infant Jesus and cut His umbilical cord. He now required a place to lay the child so that he could wash away the afterbirth, but all he could find was a stone feeding trough or manger, where the baby lambs were laid after being born. So, Joseph laid the young lord of the universe in this stone manger and thoroughly washed his body with salt water. Then, he scrubbed the baby with salt. The salt would kill any bacteria that might be found on the child. Great symbolism was attached to this action in the time of Jesus. For the Jewish people of that day, salt represented truth and honesty. This act on the part of a Jewish father indicated a determination to raise this child is such a way that his words would be “salted.” In other words, when this child became an adult, he would say what he meant and mean what he said. He would speak truthful words.
Once those tasks were completed, it was then that Joseph wrapped those strips of swaddling cloth around the body of this baby, as we previously illustrated. However, this raises a question: from where did Joseph get the swaddling cloth? There are two possible answers. The first possibility has to do with a social custom practiced at that time. In the days of Mary and Joseph, people in the Middle East who had to travel for a long distances were often faced with great hardship and danger. Travelers died in a variety of ways: accidents, assaults by robbers, and illnesses. Since the Jewish law declared that a body had to be buried in the earth immediately following death, pious traveling Jews were required to wrap long strips of swaddling cloth around their waists, so if they died along the way, the swaddling wrapped about their waists could be used for a burial shroud. Perhaps the righteous Joseph had taken this precaution.
The second possibility has to do with the place in which Jesus was born. As has previously been suggested, Jesus appears to have been born in a birthing cave for sacrificial lambs. Since these lambs were wrapped in "swaddling cloths" immediately after their birth, the shepherds who attended these lambs may have left the swaddling cloth in the cave.
Of course, we know none of this for certain; all we know is that within a few moments of the birth of the Messiah, God had dispatched shepherds to come and pay homage to the one destined to bring "peace on earth, goodwill to men."