Christmas Characters – Caesar Augustus

Augustus is part of this story!  I am adding him as a reminder (to myself) that God is in control even of power-hungry political figures (Democrat and Republican).  The census is more than just taxation.  Augustus gets to know how many people he controls, a true “power trip”.  Even with Roman roads and a courier system, the thought and decree were probably started more than a year in advance of Jesus’ birth.  Herod was also part of Augustus’ handiwork.

I have a feeling Joseph was a practical man and would not have chosen that long trip unless he was made to do so.  Mary had already walked to Bethlehem once before she was “great with child” and would not have looked forward to a bouncy trip on the back of a donkey.  Prophesy, however, had to be fulfilled, Jesus was not to be born in Nazareth.  Caesar had to be part of the plan or Mary and Joseph would have stayed where they were!

If I was scripting a scene for a movie, Augustus’ part would have been the introduction.  All you would have seen was him signing a scroll and ordering an official to get it out fast.  The camera would then pan up to show Father God saying to Jesus, “Good, that is started are You ready?”

Further Thought – When has God used political problems to advance the Gospel?

Christmas Characters – Mary

As I read the Christmas story looking at Mary the thing that most impressed me about her was that she served Elizabeth for three months.  However they were related, it was important for Mary to share this time with her friend and relative. (I do wonder if part of the reason for this visit was not to strengthen her faith for what lay ahead of her.)mary-and-elizabeth

The Cost

This trip came at a cost.  It was the first of four times that she would go between Nazareth and the land of Judah in nine months.  It is approximately eighty to ninety miles and she probably did the first two on foot; that would have been about a week’s worth of walking.  The journey took her through many of the historical sites of Israel and through Jerusalem.  Just walking would have been hard enough, even though she was young, but there were also the chemical changes going on inside her.  Another cost was her reputation!  She left Nazareth not showing that she was pregnant and came back with a three-month baby bump, you know tongues were wagging.   Joseph considered divorce.  Being stoned to death was a possibility. Just a little pressure for saying YES to God.

Mary and Gabriel

Mary was greatly troubled.  I don’t really blame her.  Suddenly there is a man in your room and he is happily greeting you saying you are highly favored of the Lord.  “Greatly troubled” is diatarasso it is used once in the New Testament and gives the idea she was very upset. When “greeting” is used elsewhere in Luke it is aspasmos which is just the concept of saying hello.   It seems that the entire conversation may not have been recorded but it would seem likely that Gabriel introduced himself as he did with Zechariah.

I have tried to connect Zachariah’s service with the birth of Jesus in the Post – The Day of Atonement, Passover, and Epiphany.  The results are not what I expected about the birth time of Jesus.  The legend/history is better than I thought.

Mary had heard the Scriptures, she knew like every other virgin of the family of David that she was a candidate to carry the Messiah.  Now it was happening to HER!  Luke 3:31 cropped-jesus-2.jpgputs her in a branch of the family that came through Nathan and the only connection to the “kingly line” was with Zerubbabel and Shealtiel.  The greeting sounded like the one given to Gideon (Judges 6:12), who also had family trouble because he accepted the task he was given.


Mary was a reflective person who considered her place in history by what God had given her to do.  In Luke 2: 19 she is “treasuring all of these happenings and pondering them.”  She would have been the only source of these happenings for Luke and Matthew.

Her song of praise in 1:46 showed a lot of thought and awareness of Scripture and the events of her time.  I think the week-long walk may have helped the composing of her song.

Christmas – Two Questions

Christmas – Two Questions

“How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Zechariah (Luke 1:18)

“How can this be, since I am­­ a virgin?” – Mary (Luke 1:34)

Two visits from the angel Gabriel, two “fear nots”, two explanations, two questions, and two different human responses are the start of the Christmas story.  The first chapter of Luke introduces us to Zechariah and Mary and how both got news about babies from the angel Gabriel.  Zechariah’s news comes as response from prayer, but you get the idea that it did not show up when he expected it too.  In fact it seems many years late according to Zechariah.  Mary’s news is completely unexpected, a little troubling, but received by a willing heart.

After some struggling with these two stories, some underlining, and looking up some words I am going to try and write this blog and what may seem an unfair situation. It took me a while to understand that Father God had His timetable and His will was carried out for both Zechariah and Mary.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a child, God had heard that prayer and was answering it, but not according to human thinking. (Mary was not ready, who knows she may not have even been born when they were praying for a child.)  Zechariah got the news of a lifetime, in the Holy of Holies, from an angel that startled and caused fear in the old man.  His response of unbelief is reflected in his question and probably in body language but it had to be in his heart as well.  So even though he was silenced for nine months Father God still used him and answered the pray. In my thinking Zechariah was treated unfairly until I studied Mary’s part of the story.

Both, Zechariah and Mary’s story are very similar.  Gabriel introduces himself and both Nativity_Scenes002get a “fear not.”  Both are told they will have a baby and are given some explanation, and then both ask their question.  The difference with Mary is that she gladly accepted the news (vs. 38).  The terms that help put light on this was “highly favored” (charitoo) and “favor” (charis).  According to my Strong’s/Vine’s Concordance favor is a gift from the “giver’ of the favor but needs to be received with thanksgiving.  I think it would have been a different story for Zechariah if he had praised and thanked God for the news before he asked his question.

The term charitoo is used only twice in the New Testament here with Mary and then again in Ephesians 1:6.  In Ephesians it is in connection with “us” being adopted as sons so that we can receive “every spiritual blessing.”  I find no mistake that charitoo is in the same verse as the words grace and praise.  Here it is translated as “freely given.”  The concordance adds an interesting note for the Ephesians verse; it says that “grace is a free gift” while “favor may be deserved or gained.”

My personal take away now is there is a big difference between answered prayer and favor.  I hope that I can be like Mary and Elizabeth (vs. 25) and praise God with a thankful heart for the things that show up in my life.


Tribes of Israel – Gad and Asher

Zilpah and Her Boys

Zilpah is Leah’s slave and is not mentioned outside of Genesis. Even though she had children by Jacob you have to wonder if life really changed any for her because of the “marriage.” Like Bilhah she did not even name her children. (see comments under Bilhah)

Gad is Jacob’s seventh child and Zilpah’s first, his name means “good fortune.”

Deuteronomy 33: 20 About Gad he said:“Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. 21 He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the Lord’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel.” (NIV)

Genesis 49:19 “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels. (NIV)

Once again little is told about his life and his family became shepherds with lots of animals and settled on the east bank of the Jordan with Reuben and Manasseh. Those tribes seem to blend together and are called Gilead often in scripture. The Gadites produced warriors that “crossed the Jordan” with the half-tribe of Manasseh all the way to the time of David. With the other trans-Jordan tribes they built a large alter in order to announce their intentions of worshipping Jehovah.

Asher is Jacob’s eighth child and Zilpah’s second, his name means “happy.”

Deuteronomy 33: 24 About Asher he said: “Most blessed of sons is Asher; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil. 25 The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days. (NIV)

Genesis 49:20 “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king. (NIV)

This word from Jacob was fulfilled in their allotment because that area has some of the best olive trees and orchids in the land. The tribe helped Gideon but for the most part they are rather quite throughout Israel’s history. Anna the prophetess, in the book of Luke, that met Mary in the Temple is about it for notable tribe members.

Tribes of Israel – Levi

Levi is the third son of Jacob and Leah. His name sounds like the Hebrew word for attached because Leah hoped that Jacob would be attached (love) to her.

Genesis 49:“Simeon and Levi are brothers— their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council,
let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel. (NIV)

This prophecy was fulfilled because the Levities had the “Lord as their inheritance” thus they received only cities within other tribes and Simeon was “scattered” into Judah. After the incident at Shechem, they really did not do anything else outstanding and just slip into history.

Deuteronomy 33:8 About Levi he said: “Your Thummim and Urim belong to the man you favored. You tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah.
He said of his father and mother, ‘I have no regard for them.’ He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word
and guarded your covenant.
10 He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar.
11 Bless all his skills, O Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Smite the loins of those who rise up against him; strike his foes till they rise no more.” (NIV)

The Thummim and Urim were how the Israelites could receive instruction (Ezra 2:63) from the Lord. I have read that the breastplate (Exodus 28:30) the High Priest wore had stones with the names of the tribes inscribed on them and they may have been removable; then they would “roll” them and pick who the Lord’s choice was from the casting of these lots. An example of this may be in Judges 1:1+2 when Judah was picked to lead Israel against the Canaanites. (If you Google this subject, you will find a lot of non-Christian/Biblical info)

Massah and Meribah was the name given to the campsite of Rephidim (Exodus 17) or the “spring and rock” where the Israelites argued and tested the Lord about drinking water. Rephidim is also where the Amalekites come into the Exodus story as enemies.

Exodus 32 is an interesting chapter featuring the Levities. Moses is up on a mountain seeking God and receiving the Commandments, Aaron is making a golden calf and the family collectively is killing people who are out of control because of the calf. And once again God shows His mercy by making Aaron the priest even after he “fibs” about the golden calf in vs.24.  It is interesting to note that a specific genetic marker has been found that allows them to specifically trace Aaron’s family line. See

Other notable descendants of Levi and Aaron are David’s Praise Team: Heman, Asaph, and Ethan (1 Chronicles 15: 19), Benaiah the captain of David’s guard was a priest-1 Chronicles 27:5. Jeremiah was from the priestly family of Hilkiah.