Q. A few years ago I browsed the internet with many questions surrounding the biblical accounts of the nativity. One question I had was “How did the shepherds know where to go to find the newborn Jesus?” It was then I came across the proposition that he was born at Migdal Eder, also called “The Tower of the Flock” in Micah 4:8. I found the concept compelling due to the history of special type of shepherding that took place in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus birth. What are your thoughts about the possibility of this being where Jesus was born?
You are referring to an interpretation that a commentator named Alfred Edersheim offered of Micah 4:8, “And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.” There is a “tower of the flock” mentioned in Genesis 35:21, and Edersheim assumed that it still existed in the time of Jesus. He inferred from a reference in the Mishnah that sheep destined for temple sacrifices were raised and tended there, and so he saw symbolic significance in the location and suggested that Jesus had been born there.
However, this interpretation is not accepted by most biblical scholars. It is unknown whether the tower mentioned in Genesis still existed in Jesus’ day. In any event, the Mishnah reference simply specifies the radius around Jerusalem within which found sheep were to be considered temple sacrifices, using Migdal Eder (the location, not necessarily a tower by that name) to specify the distance. We do not need to infer from this that this was a place where temple sheep were raised and kept.
For his part, Micah seems only to be describing Jerusalem figuratively as the “tower of the flock,” that is, the city that watches over the people of Israel as God’s flock. Micah is promising that the kingship will return to Jerusalem. Christians believe that this promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. But we do not need to conclude from the prophecy that Jesus was born at or near a tower by that name that still existed in his day.
So how did the shepherds find the baby Jesus? The angel who appeared to them told them how. He said, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds would have known where the various animal feeding locations were in Bethlehem, and they just had to go from one to another until they found a baby, wrapped up as a newborn, in one of the mangers.
Many thanks again to the readers who encouraged me and prayed for me during the time when health issues kept me from answering questions on this blog. I am very grateful that God has now restored sufficient health and strength for me to start answering questions again. I will begin with the backlog of nearly 70 questions that came in during the year and a half when I was unable to respond to them. This will take some time, and I may have to work slowly at first. But I am very hopeful that eventually I will get back to the place where I am answering questions as they come in. Thanks again very much for your support and patience, and thanks be to God!
I am very grateful for the words of encouragement and support I have received since publishing this post. Many thanks again to everyone who was praying for me!
– Not a question about the Bible, I’m just concerned about your well being, although I’ve never met you, I’ve always thanked God for you and you’ve been what I call a great role model of how to keep in step with Christ in my trust God daily walk. I hope that you’re well.
– I am grateful for the many blessings of your posts and your blogs. I hope you return again soon but it is all up to His plan. … Still missing your blog and still praying for you.
Thank you both for your kind words and for your concern for me. I am doing all right. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to share the full story at some point, but let me say for now that I am recovering from severe exhaustion. I am making slow but steady progress, thank God, but I am still looking at a long recovery. However, I am now at least able to moderate and reply to comments, and I do plan to resume writing posts to answer readers’ questions at some point. In the meantime, I would ask you to pray for me, that as I am careful to rest and recover, God would restore my strength, health, and energy. Please also pray that in this quieter season of life, I would meet God in new and deeper ways. Thank you so much.
Due to personal circumstances, I will not be able to answer new questions for a while. I apologize for this. In the meantime, please use the search feature to see whether one of the posts already on this blog may address your question. Thank you very much.
Q. Why did Jesus choose only men as his twelve apostles?
I think that the number twelve is the key to the answer. I believe that Jesus named twelve apostles to be the leaders of the movement of his followers because he wanted to show symbolically that this movement would constitute a new community of God’s people. And so just as there were twelve tribal patriarchs for ancient Israel, the new community would have twelve “patriarchs” of its own.
The Bible gives us several indications of this continuity between the tribal patriarchs and the apostles. Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper that they would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” As John describes his vision of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, he says, “On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel,” and then he adds, “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” And also in the book of Revelation, when John lists the tribes, as I argue in this post, “The names are presented in such a way as to show that the community of Jesus’ followers is the continuation of the people of God flowing out of the community of ancient Israel.”
So the selection of twelve men is, simply stated, symbolic. One implication of this is that I do not believe that the selection of only men as apostles means that women cannot have leadership roles in the community of Jesus’ followers. For my thoughts about that in greater detail, see the series of posts that begins here: Does the Bible say that women can’t teach or have authority over men? (Part 1). Indeed, Jesus chose not just twelve men, but specifically twelve Jewish men. But we do not conclude from that that non-Jewish people cannot have leadership roles in the community of his followers.