For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) I love re-reading parts of Scripture that I have read many times. And Romans 6:23 is one of those verses I’ve read a lot. I’m pretty sure I used this verse in...
As for you, tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you it will come — Even the former dominion will come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. (Micah 4:8)
The prophet Micah ministered to the people of God approximately 740 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. His ministry was concurrent with that of the prophet Isaiah, and both men wrote quite a bit about the long-expected Messiah of Israel.
The fourth chapter of the book of Micah begins with a description of what it will look like when the Messiah comes. Verse 8 offers us a location to associate with his coming: “tower of the flock.” The Hebrew for “tower of the flock” is Migdal Eder. We first see it in Genesis 35, as the place where Jacob sets up camp after the death of his wife Rachel.
There is nothing else in Scripture to lend any significance to the place or to give us a clue as to why the Messiah should be revealed there. All we know is that it is near Bethlehem (Ephrath). If we look to the Rabbis, however, we can see wonderful truths taking shape through the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Mishnah (Jewish Oral Law) does indeed tell us something about Migdal Eder, something highly significant.
Glory to God in the Highest!…
Alfred Edersheim writes:
This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep-ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and accordingly, that the shepherds who watched over them were not ordinary shepherds. [They] were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible.
Because the daily sacrifices in the Temple (morning and evening) could never stop, these shepherds were in the fields working all year round. They would have been in frequent contact with blood (from treating injuries to delivering newborn lambs), refuse, death, and other things that made them ritually impure.
It should be noted that ritual impurity is not sin per se; no one was suggesting that these shepherds were doing anything wrong. Nonetheless, God had given guidelines in the Torah as to how men could approach him, and these shepherds could never meet that standard. Because of this, these shepherds would never be able to go to worship at the Temple; they could not approach God’s dwelling place on earth.
It is these shepherds, then, the ones who could not approach God, who witness the heavenly choir unveiled, singing “Glory to God in the highest!” in Luke 2:13-15. These, among the lowliest men in Israel, are the ones who receive the news of the birth of the King. The Lord Jesus, God incarnate, appeared first to those far off, those who were unable to draw near to him.
How fitting, and how characteristic of the life and ministry of Jesus! He associated with the dregs of society. He healed those who would have infected others. He purified those who would have rendered others impure. He reached out to everyone but perhaps most fervently to those who were furthest from the center of the worship of God at the Temple.
This also speaks to the universality of Jesus’ ministry. In the first century, the Jews were the only nation on earth who knew the God of the Bible. But from the time of Moses up to the present, they have known that when the Messiah comes, all nations will come to know and worship the one true God (Genesis 12:3, 22:18; Micah 4:2).
…Peace Among Those with Whom He Is Pleased!
With all of the trimmings and trappings that come with the season of Christmas, it is wonderful for us to remember that Jesus reached out to us, who could not reach out to him. In Christ, we who were far off have been brought near.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)
As a Gentile, I could not naturally be included in the covenants of God. This was perhaps more obvious during the time of Jesus’ life on earth. In the first century, anyone who was not Jewish was a pagan, an idolater, engaged in all kinds of impurity and wickedness on a daily basis. It is hard for us to imagine today, when most Christians are Gentiles, but back then, every aspect of Gentile life was contaminated with idol worship and all of the evil things associated with it.
Jewish people were born into the covenants, and it was necessary for Gentiles to convert from paganism to Judaism in order to be included in the community of faith. This describes all of us before we come to know the Lord. Just like the shepherds who were ritually impure, we were “far off,” separated from God. But through the blood of Jesus, we can draw near to God by faith and be included in the covenants:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ephesians 2:4-5)
How wonderful, in this season, to remember that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, that he did for us what we could not do ourselves, that we who were once far off have been brought near.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:13-15)
How fitting that his first visitors and his first worshippers were the very ones who could only do so if he first came to them.