But my first trip to Israel made me throw that picture out the window…
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that Mary should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7).
There was no room in the Inn because there wasn’t an Inn. The concept of a Best Western, Motel Six, or The Waldorf wasn’t around yet.
Culturally, hospitality ruled the day. The idea of not opening your home to a stranger in the Jewish culture was abhorrent. Bethlehem was packed because of the census. Every male alive and his family who came from the lineage of David was there. All of the homes would have been full, even somewhat overflowing.
The Greek word translated “Inn” is “kataluma”. It is used in one other story in the Bible, and it describes the upper room of a house where the last supper was held. The best translation for this word is “guest room”,
…because it is a room
…in a house.
Mary and Joseph most likely stayed with a relative who owned a house in Bethlehem. However, the house was full of aunts, uncles, cousins, and various other kin that packed the place out.
Mary and Joseph weren’t put in a barn, or even in an area that would have been offensive. The area where the animals were kept was the most secure room of the house, because the animals were some of the most expensive possessions a person could own.
Think of it as the family vault room.
Many of the houses at that time were attached to caves. The caves were warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. One would walk through the house to get to the cave. It helped the house stay safe from the elements, and served as one room they didn’t have to build. If you’ve ever been to Israel, you know caves are everywhere. It is simply a part of the lay of the land. There aren’t now and weren’t then a lot of trees – why do you think King David had them shipped in from so far away when he was preparing to build the temple?
One-sided wooden barn structures simply didn’t exist.
So as you picture Mary and Joseph, arriving with a group of people from Nazareth to Bethlehem (see the first blog here if you missed it), put them in a safe, large cave attached to a house.
They weren’t alone, and there wasn’t an inn keeper. They were however about to become a family of three with the God of the Universe as their son…
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