Week 3 – The Long Journey to Bethlehem, by Katrina Milligan
“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. . . And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 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.” Luke 2:1-5 (NASB)
By decree of Caesar Augustus, the whole world was ordered to be registered. For Mary this meant she had to travel, with her husband Joseph, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David because he was a descendent of David. This 90-mile journey to Bethlehem would have taken approximately 5 days. The roads in those days were very narrow, just wide enough for a person riding a donkey to pass. This would have been a very busily traveled time since “all the world should be registered” (verse 1). We think holiday travel is difficult because of all the cars on the road, or Christmas shopping unpleasant because of all the people crowding the malls. But not everyone celebrates Christmas, and with the internet and online shopping, it’s getting easier. But, in this passage, the whole WORLD was to be registered. Lot’s of traffic, people were probably not in the best of moods because they were being forced to travel great distances and it was busy everywhere.
Now, think of Mary who is nine months pregnant. Joseph is probably very concerned making her travel all that way. But there was no choice. Caesar Augustus (King of Rome) had made a declaration. I’m sure Joseph tried to make her as comfortable as possible. Put her on a donkey and padded it as best he could. I remember being nine months pregnant; we had to make a lot of pit stops even when traveling a short distance. Sitting for any length of time got uncomfortable. At least I could rest my head back and sleep occasionally as we traveled.
As I think about their mode of travel, I think back to the vacation my family and I went on this last June. We went on an hour and a half trail ride, on saddled horses. It was a lot of fun! But, I was SO ready to get off after only an hour and a half! I found that it uses more muscles that I ever thought it would, and that the bumping up and down in the saddle got painful after a while. Trying to maintain a balance that was helpful and kind to the horse, as well as me, took concentration and work. As I look back on that trail ride, it really makes me appreciate Mary traveling all that way sometimes walking, sometimes riding, all the more.
I used to read the Christmas story and think, “Traveling at nine months? YUCK!” I still think that way. As I dig a little deeper, though, I realize Mary and Joseph knew this was no coincidence. They had to travel to Bethlehem because they knew that the baby had to be born there as told by the prophet Micah (Micah 5:1-3). I would imagine that while Mary was probably rather uncomfortable, she was probably in complete awe at how God was using so many people to bring all the prophesies to fruition!
At that time, Caesar had made Herod King of Judea, and had named him “King of the Jews”. Herod was a tyrant. Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler would be as close to modern day contemporaries as I can think of. He was paranoid of all things, real or imaginary that may try to take his place. He too was familiar with the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Herod was from the land of Edom, the linage of Esau. Esau, as you will recall, traded his birthright for food to his twin brother Jacob (Gen. 25:29-34; 36:1-8) Because Herod was of the linage of Esau, this would have been an insult to the Jewish people (descendants of Abraham, Isaac [Esau’s father], and Jacob) to have him declared “King of the Jews”. Herod was very smart and powerful, and had a LONG history of being cruel and inhumane. So, I would also imagine that it would have also been quite frightening for Mary to be traveling to Bethlehem, carrying the Messiah inside her womb! What might Herod do if he found out?! We know what Herod did, but that’s later on and you’ll have to read up on that on your own (Matthew 2:16-18). Mary and Joseph must have had great faith that the Lord was in ultimate control, even over a tyrannical King.
After this long journey, they finally arrive at Bethlehem, only to find that there is no place to stay. All the lodging — Hilton’s, Holiday Inn’s, Grand Westin’s, Super 8, even the mom and pop’s — had no vacancies. But they did finally find someone who felt sympathetic to Mary being so late in her pregnancy. This is where we will pick up on our next and last study for this season in Luke 2:8-20.
Much of the information about Herod was learned from “That The World May Know” set 3 series by Raynard VaderLaan published by Focus on the Family.