|“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2)||born in Bethlehem||And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child…. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-5, 7)|
Clearly the city of Jesus’ birth was Bethlehem as Micah 5:2 prophesied and as the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John confirm. (See Matthew 2:1,5-6,8,16; Luke 2:4,15; John 7:42) “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2) Luke proclaims the birth place as Bethlehem, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” 1 Samuel 17:15, confirms Bethlehem as the City of David, “But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.”
But where in Bethlehem was Jesus born? The fact is that the New Testament does not mention the exact place in Bethlehem of where Jesus was born nor does the Bible record that Jesus was born in stable attended by donkeys, chickens, and cows as many nativity scenes present? All the New Testament says is that there was no room in the inn and that Jesus was lain in a manger in Bethlehem. The New Testament does not mention a stable or that Jesus was born in the back of an inn. The actual place of Jesus’ birth was certainly not an accident, but was a sign given 700 years earlier which predicted where He would be born.
The popular conception that the word “manger” refers to a trough where animals were fed may be accurate. However, it could mean simply a stall. The Greek word which is translated in our English Bibles “manger” is Yatnh phat-ne (pronounced fat’-nay). The definition of the word is of a “stall” where animals are kept and in Luke 13:15 is translated as such. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word means a stall or a crib (See Proverbs 14:4). The question is what kind of “stall” or manger is the New Testament referring to and what kind of animal was fed or housed there.
Although the New Testament does not tell us where in Bethlehem Jesus was born, the Old Testament does. Micah 4:8 states, “And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.” Thus the Old Testament clearly states that the Messiah would be born at the “tower of the flock” (Hebrew: Migdal Edar).
The phrase “tower of the flock” is the Hebrew phrase “Migdal Edar” [mig-dawl ay-der] and means a “watch tower of the flock”. In ancient times this was a military tower erected to view into the valley on the edge of Bethlehem to protect the city. Several of these military towers are recorded in the Old Testament (See Judges 8:71, 9:46, 9:51; 2 Kings 9:17, 18:8; Nehemiah 3:1) The tower at Bethlehem is first mentioned in Genesis 35:21, “And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar” (“tower of Edar” – Migdal Edar). After Jacob left Bethel he came to Edar (the tower) and there Rachel began hard labor and as she delivered Benjamin she died and was buried there in Ephratah which is Bethlehem” (Gen. 35:19). After burying Rachel, Jacob moved his flocks beyond the tower of Edar. This would pinpoint the location as being near to what is present day Bethlehem. Clearly, this establishes that Migdal Edar, “the tower of the flock” was in Bethlehem in Bible times.
The oldest tradition, based upon Genesis 35:16-20; 48:7, points to a place one mile north of present day Bethlehem and 4 miles from Jerusalem. We do not know what were the bounds of ancient Bethlehem when Christ was born there, but we know the area called Bethlehem was larger than it is today. The references to present day Migdal Edar are in reference to present day Bethlehem and not the Bethlehem of biblical times which was certainly greater. Genesis 35:19 and 48:7 both state that Rachel was buried at “Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.”
“And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.” (Genesis 35:19)
“And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.” (Genesis 48:7)
It must be noted that Ephrath or Ephrathah was the ancient name for the area that later was called Bethlehem. According to Genesis 35:19, after Jacob buried Rachel he “moved his flocks beyond the tower of Edar” or “Migdal Edar.” The location of Rachel’s tomb today is outside, on the outskirts of present day Bethlehem, but clearly it was not when Jacob, buried his wife there. Clearly the area which is called Bethlehem in biblical times covered a greater area than does present day Bethlehem and the Tower of the Flock was in that city.
This watch tower from ancient times was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild beasts. It was also the place ewes were safely brought to give birth to the lambs. In this sheltered building/cave the priests would bring in the ewes which were about to lamb for protection.
According to Edersheim in The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, in Book 2, Chapter 6, states, “This Migdal Edar was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks that pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but it lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage from the Mishnah (Shekelim 7:4) 3 leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple sacrifices…”
In addition, Migdal Edar is also mentioned by the Jewish Targums and is translated “The Anointed One of the flock of Israel”. Thus, Targum Yonatan, cited by Rabbi Munk, paraphrases Genesis 35:23 and Micah 4:8, “He spread his tent beyond Migdal Edar, the place where King Messiah will reveal Himself at the end of days.” What are we to make of all of this information from the writings of the rabbis? First, we know that Migdal Edar was the watchtower that guarded the Temple flocks that were being raised to serve as sacrificial animals in the Temple. These were not just any flock and herd. The shepherds who kept them were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal, that was to be sacrificed, had to be and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished.”These lambs were apparently wrapped in “swaddling cloths” to protect them from injury and also used to wrap the Lord Jesus.
Thus, with the establishment of Temple worship in Jerusalem, the fields outside of Bethlehem became the place where a special group of shepherds raised the lambs that were sacrificed in the Temple. Being themselves under special Rabbinical care, they would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean stable for a birthing place. The Tower of the Flock was used for birthing ewes, and the surrounding fields were where these shepherds grazed their flocks. These shepherds customarily kept their flocks outdoors twenty-four hours a day every day of the year, but brought the ewes in to deliver their lambs where they could be carefully cared for. It was to this place that Joseph took Mary. It was in this special place at “Migdal Edar” that Christ was born! How do we know? The Micah 4:8 tells us so!
Prophetically, “Migdal Edar” is the exact place in Bethlehem for Christ to be born. Micah was God’s prophet who was warning Israel of the coming captivity. He used the authenticating prophecy of the Assyrian captivity of the Northern Kingdom (soon to occur when he foretold it) to serve as a reminder to Israel of God’s promised Kingdom. God wanted them to know that even though they would be taken from their land because of their disobedience that He would restore them in time. Micah 4:7 establishes the context of the passage and clearly is a Messianic prophecy of the coming of the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus Christ will reign over Jerusalem forever. “. . .LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.” In other words God was assuring Israel that He would fulfill His promises to them of the Kingdom. In Micah 4:8 the word is rendered “tower of the flock” (marg., “Edar”), and is used as a designation of Bethlehem, which figuratively represents the royal line of David as sprung from Bethlehem.
In this setting, Micah (Micah 4:8) uses the prophecy of the Babylonian captivity of the Southern Kingdom as a pledge to guarantee (authenticating prophecy) of the birth of Christ at “Migdal Edar” at Bethlehem which is exactly where it took place! Micah prophesied that as surely as Assyrians would soon carry away Israel in the North, so the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom, the “first dominion, the kingdom shall come to Jerusalem.” The verse states that as surely as Babylon would carry away the Judah, in the South, into captivity, so the Messiah would arrive at the Tower of the Flock. This prophecy was one other evidence that later proved the Jesus was the Messiah, but one that Israel ignored in rejecting Him as their Messiah.
Who were the shepherds who first received the news of the birth of the Messiah?
Luke 2:8-18 records that there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their sheep by night. Who then were these shepherds? Without question these were shepherds who resided near Bethlehem They were none other but the shepherds from “Migdal Edar” who were well aware that the Targum hinted and many of the rabbis taught that Messiah might well be announced from “Migdal Edar” at Bethlehem. The angels only told the shepherds that they would find the Babe wrapped in “swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” There was no need for the angels to give these shepherds directions to the birth place because they already knew. These were the men who raised sacrificial lambs that were sacrificed in the Temple. When the angelic announcement came, they knew exactly where to go, as Luke 2 indicates, for the sign of a manger could only mean their manger at the tower of the flock! You cannot explain the meaning or direction of the sign they were given or their response unless you have the right manger and the right shepherds!
Typically, “Migdal Edar”, (the tower of the flock) at Bethlehem is the perfect place for Christ to be born. He was born in the very birthplace where tens of thousands of lambs, which had been sacrificed to prefigure Him. God promised it, pictured it, and performed it at “Migdal Edar”. It all fits together, for that’s the place the place where sacrificial lambs were born! Jesus was not born behind an inn, in a smelly stable where the donkeys of travelers and other animals were kept. He was born in Bethlehem, at the birthing place of the sacrificial lambs that were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem which Micah 4:8 calls the “tower of the flock.”
John the Baptist in John 1:29 proclaimed of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Jesus is presented in the Bible as being “in type” as a sacrificial lamb. It was not by chance but by choice that Christ identified His death with the time of the observance of the Passover. Peter spoke of our redemption as wrought by the “precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”( 1 Pet. 1:19); and Paul told us that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” ( 1 Cor. 5:7). Even the first fulfilled type by which Christ is to be revealed in Heaven is as the Lamb (Rev. 5:6-13)10 .
Is the cave under the Basilica of the Nativity the birth place of Jesus?
Edersheim says that Migdal Edar was close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem11. A modern topographical map shows the traditional place of the Shepherd’s Field as being about 300 meters from the Basilica of the Nativity on the edge of Bethlehem.12 The site has a long history as the place of the birth of Christ going back to Origen of Alexander in the 2nd Century who said that Jesus was born in a cave located in Bethlehem.13 It is entirely possible that this cave or grotto was used to keep sheep and that this is where the tower of the flock was located, but it has not been proved. Other’s have purported the location of the “tower of the flock” in another location in the vicinity which has not been thoroughly excavated. The tower of the flock being a tower built of stones does not exist today and archaeology has not found its ruins. However, based on biblical record, Micah 4:8, and other evidences we must conclude that it was not the stable of an inn were donkeys and other animals were kept was not a tower.
God’s word tells us that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, of Judah in the city of David at a place called the “tower of the flock,” It is not important that we can go today to the exact spot where He was born. And even if we could, would that help us spiritually? I have been to Israel and seen Jerusalem, and a many of biblical places, but what I saw has little semblance to what it looked like in Jesus’ day.
For a time I tried to imagine what it looked like during Bible times, but it proved to be a futile effort. As a student of the Bible I also realized that God is not through with this area and this very place the Lord Jesus will return and set up His earthly Kingdom, which He promised to the Jews. It is going to greatly changed again in the future. What really got my spirits lifted and my mind souring was the realization that as a child of God, born again by Holy Spirit, saved by God’s free gift of grace, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, I too one day will return to Israel and will abide in His Millennial Kingdom and serve the Lord throughout all eternity. His coming, His life, death, burial and resurrection has assured me of that truth. The significance of His birth is that in God’s time Jesus came exactly as God promised and that as sure as His past promises have been kept, so will His promises for the future. By the way, that was the promise in Micah 4:8. I rejoice and thank God for His sure promises.
Galatians 4:4-5 “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
Written by by Cooper P Abrams III
Significance of Bethlehem
The deepest meaning of the littleness and insignificance of Bethlehem is that God does not bestow the blessings of the Messiah–the blessings of salvation–on the basis of our greatness or our merit or our achievement. He does not elect cities or people because of their prominence or grandeur or distinction. When he chooses he chooses freely, in order to magnify the glory of his own mercy, not the glory of our distinctions. So let us say with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!” Not glory to us. We get the joy. He gets the glory. – John Piper
Response: Dear Lord, The significance of Your birth is that in God’s time You came exactly as God promised and that as sure as His past promises have been kept, so will His promises for the future. Thank You for the hope for tomorrow. You will come again and rule just as Your Word says. Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.