Palestine (MNN) – From nativity sets to children’s books, the image of baby Jesus in a forlorn stable showcases His humble entrance to Earth. True, it was a quiet start, but is that picture accurate? Haytham Dieck, Tour Guide Program Coordinator at Bethlehem Bible College says the physical place probably looked a little different than what many imagine.
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7 ESV).
While resting at a hotel or inn is common in Western society, that wasn’t the case when Jesus was born. In fact, the word used for inn in Luke is a word that can also indicate a guest room in a private home.
When Caesar Augustus ordered the census, people returning to their home towns would have been expecting and expected to stay with relatives. This would have been the case for Joseph as well.
Undoubtedly, he was planning to stay with family. So, what happened? Why was Jesus laid in a manger?
A Place for Family and for Animals
Dieck explains that the answer is probably two-fold. First, there is a misunderstanding about what homes in Bethlehem were like at the time. Stables were not separate from the home. Houses consisted of two floors, both used as living spaces for people and animals.
“The first floor which was called the lower floor, it is used for daily work, kitchen, taking care of the animals, the cattle. It’s a place where daily work would take place in the house, in the lower level,” Dieck explains.
“However, you have the second level which is the upper level. That level is for family. It contains the bedrooms, the living area and one of the rooms there is called even the guest room.”
So, the “stable” would not have been separate from Joseph’s extended family, except for by a few walls.
The Whole Family
Secondly, Joseph would not have been the only person in his family visiting relatives. Everyone had to return to their home town.
“So once they came there, they went up to the upper room, to the upper floor. And indeed, that room was full because everybody’s coming to Bethlehem, especially those that are related to the tribe of Judah,” Dieck says. “And they couldn’t find any room for them. So they had to go down.”
Suddenly Luke’s narrative makes more sense, especially with the well-known hospitality of Middle Eastern culture. So family members came to Bethlehem for the census that there weren’t enough places to put everyone.
King of the Earth
Despite misconceptions about Jesus’s birthplace, Dieck notes that the facts are still astonishing; God was born in the busy, animal-filled living quarters of some of Joseph’s family. It was not an impressive moment, but a humble one.
“I mean, come on. He’s the king of Earth, the king of the world, and he’s being visited by the most low status people, who are the shepherds and this is an excellent example of humbled [circumstances]. And at the same time He would be visited by another kings or the wise men who are called the magi. So, it’s really amazing the way how the story has been set. It’s amazing.”
Come and See.
As Dieck notes, there is more to the incarnation, and to Bethlehem, than a forlorn stable.
Bethelehem Bible College embraces the rich history of its city. Palestinian believers have roots all the way back to the first churches and they are still worshipping and astonished by the Savior today. Bethlehem Bible College invites brothers and sisters from other places to join them in their mission of developing Christ-like leaders. You can do this by supporting the college through visits and through prayer.
Bethlehem Bible College offers experiences in partnership with Ta’ Shuf Tours. This year they invite you to dig deeper into the Christmas story. Learn more about the place where Jesus was born and the way God is continuing to work through believers on a tour in Bethlehem. Learn more about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem from Dieck in these short videos.
Header image courtesy of Tony Alter on Flickr.