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The Christadelphian | December 2009

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Christadelphians in a ‘tolerant’ world
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Endings are beginnings” | Brian Woodall
  • Fellowship in the Gospel 16 – The blessing of fellowship | Michael Ashton
  • Pause and ponder 35 – Holding fast in troubled times | Stephen Whitehouse
  • The Tower of the Flock | Sid Levett
  • Giving no offence | Geoff Henstock
  • Dedication and preaching effort (2010 / 2011) | Chris Brook and David Simpson
  • The transfiguration Part 2 | Dudley Fifield
  • The Letter to the Philippians 12 – “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) | Mark Allfree
  • Doors | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • Signs of the times The Berlin Wall remembered
  • Israel and their land A country under threat
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

The Tower of the Flock

EVEN in this increasingly godless world the recognition of the birth of Christ causes some to have their thoughts directed, albeit briefly, to aspects of the Biblical record. For many people, a snippet of information from a chapter such as Luke 2 read at a nativity scene is the sum total of their knowledge of the birth and future role of Jesus Christ.

A cursory examination of the chapter should generate thought and raise some questions, but rarely does that occur. One wonders what people make of the references to Israel and to establishing a kingdom.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee … to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” (Luke 2:4)

Linking this with 2 Samuel 7:13 would establish that God said of David’s Son, “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever”. Further reading in Luke 2 reveals Simeon’s declaration that the child would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel” (verse 32).

Many hear these words once a year and move on with life as if nothing had occurred. In current times many consider the record to be mythical and, unfortunately, many of those who do accept the veracity of the words make no attempt to ascertain the point of the references to Israel and future glory. An enquiring mind would soon establish the connections with the words of the prophets foretelling this birth and the many New Testament references to a second coming. We are familiar with the full scope of the work of the Lord Jesus and see him as much more than a baby in a manger, but even with this background we can be influenced by popular perceptions of his birth and miss some of the key features discoverable by those who search.

The scriptural record moves on quickly from the birth of Jesus and some aspects of his childhood to the work of John the Baptist. The baptism he offered was not just a token procedure for it was a baptism of repentance providing forgiveness of sins. It is apparent that many at that time were seeking for Messiah and consequently the coming of John raised questions: “The people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ.” And John’s answer is, “He who is mightier than I is coming” (Luke 3:15,16).

The Lamb of God

In the declaration of John the Baptist, recorded in John 1:29, the role of Jesus starts to become apparent: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This is an intriguing title for John to use for there is no prior usage of it. He quite likely took the concept from Isaiah 53:7: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb.”

Around a thousand years prior to Isaiah there were events in which a lamb was central, pointing forward to the one who was to come. Abraham was tested by God when instructed to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice:

“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here am I, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:7,8)

Abraham continued with the preparations to sacrifice Isaac but was stopped by the angel who advised that he had established that he feared God. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns” (verse 13). This was not the time for the revealing of the Lamb and the wait would be long.

Lambs were used for a very special purpose when the Israelites were departing Egypt:

“They shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household … the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses … The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you.” (Exodus 12:3,6,7,13)

The message of salvation through the spilt blood of a lamb is apparent. The application of these concepts by John the Baptist into the title “The Lamb of God” is therefore exceptionally appropriate. We sing of this in Hymn 249:

“Thou, our Paschal Lamb indeed,
Christ, today thy people feed.”

Those with but a minimal knowledge of the birth of Christ have heard of Bethlehem. We have read of it regularly and know of other events in that location, but further review will establish stronger reasons for its being the birthplace of our Lord and for John’s reference to the Lamb of God.

Migdal Eder

Some two thousand years before the birth of Christ in the period of the patriarchs, God directed Jacob to travel from Bethel to Bethlehem. During the journey Rachel gave birth to Benjamin: “She called his name Benoni; but his father called his name Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18). With these names, respectively meaning ‘Son of Sorrow’ and ‘Son of the Right Hand’, we see Benjamin as a type of Christ. That concept is bolstered by the place of Benjamin’s birth and the location of Rachel’s tomb:

“So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb … Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.” (35:19-21)

Reference to “the tower of Eder” is significant (the NIV retains the Hebrew, “Migdal Eder”) with its literal translation being, “Tower of the Flock”, an expression utilised in other passages:

“And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8)

Thus we have Migdal Eder as the site from which dominion would come to Israel. The prophet Micah draws further attention to the significance of the area:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (5:2)

Alfred Edersheim and Josephus refer to Migdal Eder as a functioning location in the time of Christ for the pasturing of lambs for temple sacrifices and particularly for the large numbers required at Passover. Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah refers to Migdal Eder at Bethlehem as a watchtower for flocks destined for temple sacrifices and states that those who watched over them were not ordinary shepherds. Their role in life was to raise lambs for sacrifice to prefigure the Lamb of God. They were aware of the teachings that the timing was appropriate for the coming of Messiah and, indeed, that he might be born at Migdal Eder.

Based on writings in the Mishnah, Edersheim states that strict Rabbinical directives were to be observed. Flocks were in the fields all year round, being brought indoors only in exceptionally bad weather and when the ewes were giving birth. Because of the significant purpose for which the lambs were intended, the stables were kept in a meticulously clean condition. Relating this to the circumstances of Christ’s birth, it becomes apparent that it is not by coincidence that the inns were full. It leads us to ponder whether Joseph, as he went from inn to inn, received an angelic message of a better location or did it occur to him that he should have initially gone to Migdal Eder, the birthplace of the Passover lambs?

With a background knowledge of Migdal Eder we have a much greater understanding of the import of these words recorded by Luke:

“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night … And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid: for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8,10,11)

This strongly points towards the specialist shepherds because they kept flocks in the open throughout the year; they were apparently not unduly surprised at the news of the birth at that time of a Saviour and they knew immediately where to find the child rather than searching through the inns of Bethlehem. It is most unlikely that this was an announcement to shepherds chosen at random.

Matthew adds (perhaps primarily for his Jewish audience) that a prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled in an event associated with the birth: “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more’” (Matthew 2:17,18).

Additional to this prophecy being fulfilled by Herod’s actions we have further evidence here that Bethlehem was chosen, not solely for census compliance, but also because of what the location prefigured. There is considerable merit in Brother Harry Whittaker’s suggestion that the Ramah mentioned in Jeremiah is not near Bethel but is Ramath-Rachel, a village near Bethlehem. Hebrew tradition places Rachel’s tomb at that location. Archaeological excavations by the Israeli Department of Antiquities in 1954 and 2004 have identified the site, including the unearthing of a substantial palace with its burnt level indicating destruction around 586 BC. This may be the palace of Jehoiakim, with its destruction and associated killings being the primary application of Jeremiah 31:15. The location is referenced in The Lion Atlas of Bible History as Ramat Rahel.

A careful aligning of events

Christ was born in due time; not just an infant in a manger but as the Lamb of God prefigured by the Passover lambs and born in the same location. This careful aligning of events is further evidence of the power and majesty of our God and of the intricate detail provided in the scriptural record with its consequent encouragement to us. A great privilege has been granted us to know of the role of the Lamb:

“You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18,19)

We look forward to the revealing of his role further:

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

At this time of the year when we have had enough of images of donkeys, cattle and chickens in stables or when the crass commercialisation and the excesses now associated with “year-end” become an offence to us, let us take our thoughts to Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock, and all it represents.

SID LEVETT

 

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