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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE - Chapter 2 - Verse 7

Verse 7. Her first-born son. Whether Mary had any other children or not has been a matter of controversy. The obvious meaning of the Bible is that she had; and if this be the case, the word first-born is here to be taken in its common signification.

Swaddling clothes. When a child among the Hebrews was born, it was washed in water, rubbed in salt, and then wrapped in swaddling clothes; that is, not garments regularly made, as with us, but bands or blankets that confined the limbs closely, Eze 16:4. There was nothing peculiar in the manner in which the infant Jesus was treated.

Laid him in a manger. The word rendered "inn" in this verse means simply a place of halting, a lodging-place; in modern terms, a khan or caravanserai (Robinson's Bib. Res. in Palest., iii. 431). The word rendered "manger" means simply a crib or place where cattle were fed. "Inns," in our sense of the term, were anciently unknown in the East, and now they are not common. Hospitality was generally practised, so that a traveller had little difficulty in obtaining shelter and food when necessary. As travelling became more frequent, however, khans or caravanserais were erected for public use—large structures where the traveller might freely repair and find lodging for himself and his beast, he himself providing food and forage. Many such khans were placed at regular intervals in Persia. To such a place it was, though already crowded, that Joseph and Mary resorted at Bethlehem. Instead of finding a place in the "inn," or the part of the caravanserai where the travellers themselves found a place of repose, they were obliged to be contented in one of the stalls or recesses appropriated to the beasts on which they rode.

The following description of an Eastern inn or caravanserai, by Dr. Kitto, will well illustrate this passage:

 

"It presents an external appearance which suggests to

a European traveller the idea of a fortress, being

an extensive square pile of strong and lofty walls,

mostly of brick upon a basement of stone, with a

grand archway entrance. This leads . . . to a large

open area, with a well in the middle, and surrounded

on three or four sides with a kind of piazza

raised upon a platform 3 or 4 feet high, in the wall

behind which are small doors leading to the cells or

oblong chambers which form the lodgings. The cell, with

the space on the platform in front of it, forms the

domain of each individual traveller, where he is

completely secluded, as the apparent piazza is not

open, but is composed of the front arches of each

compartment. There is, however, in the centre of

one or more of the sides a large arched hall quite

open in front. . . The cells are completely unfurnished,

and have generally no light but from the door, and the

traveller is generally seen in the recess in front of

his apartment except during the heat of the day ....

Many of these caravanserais have no stables, the

cattle of the travellers being accommodated in the

open area; but in the more complete establishments . . .

there are . . . spacious stables, formed of

covered avenues extending between the back wall of

the lodging apartments and the outer wall of the whole

building, the entrance being at one or more of the

corners of the inner quadrangle. The stable is on

the same level with the court, and thus below the

level of the tenements which stand on the raised

platform. Nevertheless, this platform is allowed to

project behind into the stable, so as to form a bench

.... It also often happens that not only this bench

exists in the stable, forming a more or less narrow

platform along its extent, but also recesses

corresponding to these in front of the cells

toward the open area, and formed, in fact, by the

side-walls of these cells being allowed to project

behind to the boundary of the platform. These,

though small and shallow, form convenient retreats

for servants and muleteers in bad weather.

 

. . . Such a recess we conceive that Joseph and Mary

occupied, with their ass or mule—if they had one, as

they perhaps had—tethered in front .... it might be

rendered quite private by a cloth being stretched

across the lower part."

 

It may be remarked that the fact that Joseph and Mary were in that place, and under a necessity of taking up their lodgings there, was in itself no proof of poverty; it was a simple matter of necessity-there was no room at the inn. Yet it is worthy of our consideration that Jesus was born poor. He did not inherit a princely estate. He was not cradled, as many are, in a palace. He had no rich friends. He had virtuous, pious parents, of more value to a child than many riches. And in this we are shown that it is no dishonour to be poor. Happy is that child who, whether his parents be rich or poor, has a pious father and mother. It is no matter if he has not as much wealth, as fine clothes, or as splendid a house as another. It is enough for him to be as Jesus was, and God will bless him.

No room at the inn. Many people assembled to be enrolled, and the tavern was filled before Joseph and Mary arrived.

{a} "brought forth" Mt 1:25

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