A few weeks ago I returned from my first trip to Israel thanks in large part to a generous, anonymous donor who underwrote a goodly part of the expense. It fulfilled a lifelong dream I had to go to the Holy Land. The tour was led by Brian Simmons, translator of
The Passion Translation
Bible - one of the newest additions to the biblical library. Brian's exuberance, scholarly knowledge and revelatory insights into the land (together with those of our fine Israeli tour guide) made for an amazing experience and an overwhelming amount of knowledge to take in!
Our agenda was intense and, as anyone who's been there knows, Israel is literally packed with symbolic significance: the geography, what occurred where, as well as the names of towns and their relationship to the ministry of Jesus in them. One thing is clear when traveling the country, Jesus did a LOT of walking during His 3 ½ years of ministry! The distances he covered is nothing short of astounding.
There were many sites along the tour that moved me, deeply. However, being that Christmas was just weeks away, Bethlehem, and Brian's accompanying description of its significance was extra special. I have included below some of Brian's translation and footnotes of Luke 2 which speak of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the angel's announcement to the shepherds in the fields nearby. Please take a moment to read his translation and the footnotes. It's worth the time.
Luke 2: 8-12:
That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were Shepherds watching over their flocks. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God, and the shepherds were terrified! But the angel reassured them, saying, "Don't be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. You will recognize him by this miracle sign: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!"
Then all at once, a vast number of glorious angels appeared, the very armies of heaven! And they all praised God, singing:
"Glory to God in the highest realms of heaven! For there is peace and a good hope given to the sons of men."
Many scholars believe that these could be the same fields where sacrificial flocks were kept for temple worship. How fitting that these shepherds would hear the announcement of the birth of the Lamb of God. Others believe these fields could have been near the field of Boaz, or the fields where David once watched over the flocks of his father, Jesse.
A baby lying in a feeding trough where animals were kept nearby, wrapped in strips of cloths, became a sign of the Man-Savior's life on earth... The shepherds that night were possibly near Bethlehem at Migdal Eder, "the (watch) tower of the flock.) This would fulfill both the prophesies of Micah 5:2 and Micah 4:8, which say, "to you it (he) will come, your dominion (kingdom) from old will arrive." It was the lower floor of the watchtower that the birthing of the Passover lambs would take place... After the birth of the lambs, the priestly shepherds would
wrap the lambs in cloth and lay them in a manger lined with soft hay to prevent them from hurting themselves, for Passover lambs must be
unblemished with no bruise or broken bone. The miracle sign for these priestly shepherds would be a baby boy lying where
the Passover lamb should be-
in a manger, wrapped in strips of cloth. It was at the cradle of Jesus Christ that the kingdom from ancient times arrived on earth. [italics, mine]
As I read that again and again, I am amazed at how present the Lord is in the details of His creation. There is good reason Israel is called the Holy Land; God's Word and salvation plan speak forth from the very geography itself!
I return from my trip renewed in my love of the story of Christmas and the birth of the Lamb of God, our Savior Jesus Christ. It's a
good story...astonishing really!
Luke 2: 17,18: "Upon seeing this miraculous sign, the shepherds recounted what had just happened. Everyone who heard the shepherds' story was astonished by what they were told."