Christmas stories.

Three Christmas story details you might not be aware of

1. Jesus was born in a rock cave (“a stable”)

     Since ancient times, and during the time of Christ, wood was extremely sparse and typically available only to rich noblemen and kings; therefore, buildings were made almost entirely of dolomitic limestone which is extremely dense and weather resistant.  Today we refer to this type of stone as “Jerusalem Stone” and in fact, since 1918, municipal laws in Jerusalem require that all buildings in Jerusalem be faced with Jerusalem stone, and hence if you visit Jerusalem, all buildings take on the same outward appearance, includes individual homes.

     Even though the scriptures do not specifically say that Jesus was born in the “stable” we are told that He was placed in a “manger” (which is inside the stable). Since we know that there was no room for them at the inn and they stayed in the “stable” we can safely assume that is the location where Jesus was actually born as well (Luke 2:7). The function of a stable then is the same as a stable today. It is a place where animals were kept. Stables back then were not man-made but natural caves on the surface of the ground which you can see today in Israel. Since they mostly held shepherd’s sheep at night they were referred to as “sheep fold caves”. This is the type of cave that Mary and Joseph were staying in along with shepherds and their sheep the night that Jesus was born.

     We are told that when Jesus was born, he was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” and laid in a “manger”. Swaddling clothes are narrow bands of clean fabric that happened to present in the cave and Mary used them to wrap up the newly born Jesus and then laid Him into a feeding trough which is a carved-out stone basin used to provide food and water for the animals (most likely sheep in this case).  I doubt if Mary herself understood the significance of what she had just done! (Luke 2:19)

2. Shepherds who would understand were greeted by Angels

     The night that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel met shepherds tending flocks, along with a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and declared to them that the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, had been born in Bethlehem. Since the shepherds were close enough to Bethlehem to drop everything and travel right then to see Jesus, it is a logical assumption due to the typology and distances between towns that these shepherds were the shepherds that tended the flocks of the Jerusalem priests. From where they tended the flocks, they could see Bethlehem as it sat on a hill about 6 miles to the southeast.

     These shepherds weren’t ordinary shepherds either as they had a special task that was critical to the temple and the sacrifices made to God. You see, when people came to the temple and made a sacrifice, if you were well off, you were to bring a lamb without a spot or any blemish. If you did not have such a sacrifice, you could purchase one from the temple which the shepherds would provide.

     Their task was simple. When a lamb was being born, the shepherds assisted with the birth as the lamb could not touch the ground until they were cleaned and examined thoroughly.  If they found that it had a “spot”, or physical defect, they would then put it on the ground so it could mix with the other lambs. It would not be suitable for a sacrifice as only the best could be offered to God.  If the lamb was spotless, or physically perfect, then it was their job to ensure that it did not get hurt in any way and possibly get a “blemish”, which is a small cut, wound, bruise, or any other small flaw from the time it was born to the time it was sacrificed. To make sure that the spotless lamb’s feet didn’t get cut on the rocks, they would wrap the lambs’ feet with clean “swaddling clothes” that were already there for that purpose. Only after the lamb’s feet were wrapped up would they place the lamb on the ground to walk. 

     When the shepherds came to the cave where Jesus was laid in the manger, they saw Him wrapped in the same swaddling strips used to cover the spotless lambs to prevent them from getting a blemish and they understood immediately that Jesus was indeed the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) who came to be sacrificed at Passover, and hence providing a means by which the relationship between us and God can be reestablished for those that accept His gift of salvation and continuously be led by the Holy Spirit as we serve the Lord.

     “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were … redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19)

3. The visit of the kings from the East

     We have all heard of the story of the three kings from the East being led by the Bethlehem star that came to worship our Lord in the manger, but the actual details of the real events are typically not depicted in the modern Christmas renditions. It is these embellished and altered stories that hinder a secular person from taking Christians seriously.

     Let’s start with the wise men, or kings, and the Roman Empire.  At the time Christ came the first time, everything had already been prepared for Him. There was a universal extremely simple and logical language (Koine Greek). There was worldwide commerce with a road system created by the Roman Empire extending to the ends of the connected continents which all converged in Israel (In other words, all commerce in the world passed through Israel to/from the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa). But most importantly, there was universal peace. Granted, it was peace due to the power and intimidation of the Roman Empire, but there were currently no wars, and God’s message could be spread to the ends of the earth on the road system that was set up using the universal language that was also in place.

     As we know, there were no wars but that doesn’t mean the Roman Empire won all the battles. In fact, they had lost several battles to kings in the East where their forces were the weakest. Since the scriptures talk about kings of the East that come together to Israel to worship the Lord, we can assume that God Himself protected them against the Roman Empire for this purpose.  At that time, it was a crime (whose punishment was immediate death) to say you were a king as there was no king except Caesar (Caesar Augustus in this case; Luke 2:1). [On a very sad note, when Christ was being tried by Pilate over 33 years later, it was the chief priests that said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  They would not even acknowledge that God was their King.]

The kings talk to Herod who was afraid of them:

      To approach the Governor (Herod) of a Roman Provenance (Israel) and to declare that you are “kings” and have come to worship the “King of the Jews” (Matt 2:2) that was born in Herod’s province begs the question: Why didn’t Herod immediately have these people arrested and put to death right then? The scriptures do not directly say this but perhaps it wasn’t necessary for Matthew to spell out the obvious. When kings traveled, they did not travel alone, especially when they had a long journey and they had valuable gifts in their possession.  It would be amiss to think that they did not have a very significant regiment of soldiers to protect them and carry the provisions for the very long journey.

     So, when the kings that the Roman Empire couldn’t previously conquer and their regiments of soldiers regiments came to see Herod about Jesus’ location, Herod must have been incredibly scared of them (Matt 2:3) and cooperated with them in having his scholars reference the Old Testament scriptures to determine where Jesus was born (Bethlehem, just 6 miles away: Mic 5:2).  Herod knew Jesus must be killed according to Roman law so he wanted to know from the kings “when” they first met the “star” who told them about Jesus’ birth to know at what age to start killing children. They told Herod the time and he reasoned that if he killed every child in that region two years old and younger then Jesus would be among them (Matt 2:7, Matt 2:16).

There was no “star of Bethlehem”:

     The word star was used interchangeably for Angel, messenger, or even Jesus himself (Num 24:17, Rev 22:16). An inanimate object is an “it”, but a person is a male or female. The “star” being referred to has the consistent parsing of a male that met them and not an inanimate object (Matt 2:2, 7, 9, 10).  The kings also say that they “met” him (the star) when they were in the East (back home) and were led to Israel.  Another way of saying that is that they were told to go to Israel where they would find Jesus. When they got to Israel, they didn’t know where to go so they inquired of Herod’s scholars.

The kings did not go to Bethlehem:

     Herod left them with the impression that Jesus was possibly still in Bethlehem (6 miles to the SE) because that is where He was born but when they left Herold, the angel (he) met them (Matt 2:11) and took them to Mary’s house (Matt 2:12) in Nazareth (65 miles to the North). [After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to dedicate Jesus to the Lord (Luke 2:21) and then back home to Nazareth (Luke 2:39) ] After the wise men gave their gifts to Jesus who was perhaps 18 months old or older at that time, Mary and Joseph had the funds to then take Jesus to Egypt and live off the gifts until the death of Herod so they could return home to Nazareth (Matt 2:19-23).

Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour

     I personally don’t understand why God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us in order to restore the relationship with us that was lost when Adam sinned. His plan of salvation comes with an “IF”. We must choose to accept Him and follow Him continuously. God will never force anyone to go to heaven no matter how much He loves us.

     December 25th has been the date chosen for Christians to celebrate Jesus’ birth since sometime in the 4th century. It is a time we should reflect on how unworthy we are to even be offered such an amazing eternal and everlasting gift for those that accept the Holy Spirit and follow Him always will we are reunited with Christ. Knowing that Christ is not willing that any should perish, today is also a day, like all days, that we need to witness to others about Jesus’ birth and the Good News.

     In these special last days in which the Lord has chosen to have you live, we are required to put on the “Whole Armor of God” as there will be a significant deception that will fall over the entire earth, and many Christians will be deceived. [The Armor of God topic was covered in a prior email.  If you wish a copy, please send a request to] The next more important thing you can do is pray and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and study God’s Word.  The end times are approaching, and we must work while it is still day because when the night comes, no one can work. (Paraphrasing John 9:4).

      While you study, I would suggest using “The Pure Word” as a complement to your favorite translation to understand more fully the meaning of each verse. Over the centuries, definitions of individual words have been slowly changing. It is the only translation that incorporates the original meanings of each of the 5,624 Greek root words as written over 1,900 years ago, along with their detailed parsings.

Rosh Hashanah

The Unfolding Mystery Of The Fall Holidays

October 10, 2022

My dear readers, since I publish my posts only once a month now – and this is a very special month indeed – I will discuss all the Fall holidays in this article. We are in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. As you all know, the number seven is very important in the Bible. What is the seventh day? Shabbat, of course, and just as the seventh day is a prophetic symbol of the future messianic kingdom, so is the seventh month: the journey of the soul to the joy of the messianic kingdom is gradually unfolding in this special month. Remarkably, Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar that falls on the New Moon, the beginning of the Jewish new month — when the moon, previously hidden from our eyes, begins to appear gradually. Along with the moon, the mystery of His Fatherhood and His Kingdom becomes brighter and brighter as we advance from one holiday to another. Today, we are going to follow the journey of the soul symbolized and revealed by these special days.

Of course, we will begin with the first of Tishrei – Rosh Hashanah. The term “Rosh Hashanah” in its current meaning does not appear in the Bible. Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as Zikhron Teru’ah  ([a] memorial [of] blowing [of Trumpets]); Numbers 29:1 calls the festival Yom Teru’ah (“Day [of] blowing [the Trumpet]”). Thus, the biblical Hebrew name for this holiday is Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה‎‎), literally “day [of] shouting/blasting”, and is usually translated as the Feast of Trumpets. The only commandment we have in the Torah for this day is indeed the blowing (of the shofar). Why?

The blowing of the shofar is a symbol of enthronement and kingship. Scholars suggested that the sounding of the shofar indicates God’s enthronement for the New Year: on Rosh Hashanah, God created the world, and by blowing our shofars we proclaim Him as our King! While opening a new Jewish calendar year, Rosh HaShanah commemorates the anniversary of Creation. However, the day we celebrate as Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, is not actually considered the anniversary of Creation itself – rather, it is the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation, when Adam and Eve were created. The anniversary of the first day of Creation would be five days before, on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. Why? Because, according to Jewish understanding, it is only when man was created that the whole of creation became meaningfulIn Rabbinic tradition, it is only the birth of humanity that made it possible for God to be proclaimed King. Therefore, when we blow Shofar on this day, it is akin to a coronation: we proclaim God’s enthronement and  Kingship for yet another year. Thus, we come to the main theme of the High Holidays:  God is King! God’s Kingship is the main theme of Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Awe it inaugurates. The special prayers for these days are filled with references to God as King: we read the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” every day during these special days.

To this traditional understanding, I would like to add a personal insight: I believe that the sound of the Shofar is a reminder to every soul (that is why it is called Yom Zichron Trua). We each have our own story, but there is a greater story that each of us is a part of, whether we are aware of it or not. Yom Zichron Trua is a reminder that we are part of His story. It is a reminder to each of us that we are not orphans in this world, that we have a true Father and this Father is King. If we recall also that in Scripture the word lizkor, “remember”,  always means some action—when we read “And the Lord remembered Noah… Sarah… Joseph,” there is always some action following these words—we would understand that the awakening of the soul is only the starting point, after which the real action, the work of the soul, must follow. This work of the soul is the repentance that the Lord expects from the soul. The sound of the shofar awakens the soul on Rosh Hashanah—it remembers that it has a Father and a King, and it embarks on the path of awe and humility. Thus, we enter the next segment of this journey: the Days of Awe.

I believe these ten days symbolize the path of the awakened soul.  This is the path of the soul, which first realizes that her Father is the King, and rejoices and trembles with happiness, but gradually understands that He is her King as well, and humbles herself under this knowledge: He is my King, He is my Master, He is my Lord. It is the same progression that we see in the Song of Songs—from the initial jubilation: My Beloved belongs to me, to the humble understanding: I belong to my Beloved. And thus, we arrive at Yom Kippur, when we are told to “humble our souls”.

By the time of Yom Kippur, the moon is almost full (but not completely full yet). The mystery continues to unfold. If we read Leviticus 16, the main text for Yom Kippur, we would understand that on Yom Kippur another and very important truth is revealed: we have a Redeemer, the One Who Himself redeems and purifies. No matter how impure we may be when we come to him, the King Himself purifies and redeems. He is our Redeemer and our High Priest. He redeems us and takes us as his children – and this is Chatima Tova!

And then, on the 15th of Tishrei, we get to the full moon and the full revelation of the mystery of Tishrei. The holiday of Sukkot begins five days after the Day of Atonement, on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, טו’ בתשרי tet-vav be-Tishrei, on the full moon. What is the meaning of Sukkot and why, in the Bible, is Sukkot sometimes simply called “The Feast” (1 Kings 8:2) or “The Feast of the Lord” (Lev.23:39). What is so special about Sukkot?

According to Jewish tradition, on Yom Kippur, God forgave His people after their terrible sin of the Golden Calf, and Moses returned with the second set of tablets. However, it is only at Sukkot that God’s presence returned to abide among His people; it is only at Sukkot that those divine clouds covered the hand-made booths. That is why Sukkot is indeed the holiday of divine intimacy and divine presence! That is why Sukkot is the most joyous of the Biblical festivals. If Pesach is called the “Season of our Liberation,” and Shavuot is called the “Season of the Giving of our Torah,” Sukkot is called zman simchateinu, the “Season of our Joy”—because God, in His mercy, came to tabernacle with His people! This is the joy of Sukkot, the joy of God’s presence and thus, the mystery of Tishrei is unfolded and revealed. We are awakened by the shofar and reminded of our Father and our King on Rosh HaShanah; we humble ourselves before Him during the Days of Awe; He redeems and purifies us on Yom Kippur; and finally, we enter the full joy of His presence and our renewed fellowship with Him on Sukkot. The full moon reveals to us the prophetic and profound truth of the Messianic Kingdom that both Jews and Christians wait for with trembling hearts: one day, we will need neither sun nor moon, because He Himself will be our Light!

Three plus four indeed.

Three Plus Four: Between Natural And Supernatural

By Julia BlumJuly 28, 20227 comments

We continue our “three plus four” series, and this is my second post on Abraham. Today, with the help of Hebrew, we will see some additional insights into this amazing character. As we all know, Abraham was a man of faith, following God unquestioningly – and in this sense, many things in his life were supernatural, clearly marked by God’s direct intervention. On the other hand, the Bible never embellishes its characters, never presents them as some spiritual superheroes – and since Abraham was a regular human, we learn a lot from the biblical stories about his struggle between natural and supernatural.  Today, we are going to see in Hebrew some examples of this struggle (of course, completely lost in translation).

Minor Change, Major Impact  

A very peculiar detail about Abram is his natural name. The original name “Abram,” אַבְרָם (avram), is composed of two words: av and ram; together they mean something like “exalted father”. The irony of this name is lost on those who don’t know Hebrew: we all know that to be a father was the deepest desire of Abram’s heart – and yet, for a very long time, he could not become a father at all!

Let us open Genesis 15. Here  we witness one of the most dramatic conversations in the whole of Scripture: the Lord bringing Abram out of his tent and telling him, as He points to the glorious sky: “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them…. So shall your descendants be.”[1] The gorgeous night and the shining stars are a uniquely impressive scene, indeed; and yet, he had already heard a very similar promise: “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.”[2] Certainly, the shining stars are a much more picturesque image than the dust of the earth; however, the essence of the promise had not changed between then and now: Abram knew that he was destined to become a great nation. He knew he was to have many successors; he had known it for a long time already. But a question had arisen that had begun to plague him at some point: Who would those successors be if he didn’t have any children?

The entire conversation in Genesis 15 is amazing. That night, for the first time ever, Abram expressed his pain to the Lord. For the first time ever, he complained. We do not know whether it was a decision consciously made in advance that made him say these words or the fact that he just could not hold back his pain and disappointment. All we know is that when God tells Abram: “Your reward is exceedingly great,” instead of humble, meek gratitude, we actually hear a resentful complaint: “Lord God, what will you give me? I am going childless.” This is how the English translation reads. In Hebrew, however, it is even worse: “Anohi oleh ariri!” The word ariri (when spelled with the letter ayin) means “childless, lonely, abandoned.” But this word also sounds so close to the word “cursing” (ariri spelled with the letter alef), that the bitterness of this statement is truly overwhelming: I am cursed by being childless and You are talking about reward?! “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.”[3]

Moreover, Abraham repeats this complaint twice, as if to make certain that his pain and disappointment are clearly conveyed to the Lord. Thus, the third verse of chapter 15 merely reiterates the second, with the same resentful and almost angry attitude: “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir.”[4]

And now, the conversation becomes truly groundbreaking, because here Abram learns, for the first time ever, that not only does his obedience matter to God, but his pain does as well. There is no greater revelation of God’s love than to realize that when you cry, He cries also. I believe that this was just such a moment for Abraham, because even now, after his painfully bitter speech, instead of the expected rebuke and reproach, he hears these wonderful words: “One who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”[5]

Probably, at this point, Abram is starting to sob. He has been waiting for so long, both encouraged and humiliated by his natural name. “Exalted father”? He is 85 years old and still childless. Can it still happen that he will have a child of his own, after all? Not just a multitude of descendants in some vague future, but his own child, from his own body; his own child, whom he will be able to hold with his own hands.  Can it be that he will become the “exalted father”, after all?

Then we read that Abraham was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abraham.[6] Can you imagine the feelings of an 86-year old man who has been childless his whole life, who has dreamt of a son for a very long time, and finally, a son is born to him?! How blessed and how fulfilled he must have felt holding in his hands this living proof of God’s faithfulness to His promises! Remember, even though we know that Ishmael was not the son of the promise, Abraham did not know it. For thirteen years, from the moment he was born, Abraham saw Ishmael as his spiritual and physical heir and was absolutely content with this heir.  He loved his son dearly, he enjoyed every single moment with him, and during those joyful years, somehow a “small” fact seems to have skipped his attention: God wasn’t speaking to him anymore!

Only in Genesis 17, after thirteen years of silence, does God appear to Abram again. We find several crucial changes here. The incredible promise—that Abram would have another son besides Ishmael—comes in verse 16. Before that, God announces to Abram that He will make a covenant with him and his descendants forever and changes his name: No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham[7]. The change seems very minor: God is changing his name by inserting only one letter ה into his natural name – but the meaning of this change is huge. It signifies the transition from natural to supernatural.

God is saying: “your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”[8] Thus, the new name,אַבְרָהָם  (avraham), reflects God’s supernatural  plan and promise: “a father of many nations ,אַב־הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם,  (av hamon goyim). Now, that Abram has actually become a real, natural father, God is revealing to him His plan that goes far beyond his natural fatherhood: Abraham is to become a supernatural Father.

Guest or Guests?

Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre…[9] 

According to Jewish commentaries, just a few days had passed between God’s appearance to Abraham in chapter 17 and His appearance before Abraham’s tent in Chapter 18. Abraham wasn’t even completely recovered from his circumcision at the end of chapter 17. If we read this text in Hebrew we do find something amazing and unexpected here – something that reflects the struggle in Abraham’s heart after his previous encounter with God in Chapter 17. The well-known beginning of chapter 18: “the Lord appeared to Abraham,” is followed by the conversation of Abraham with his guests. The very first word of Abraham’s speech here is “Adonai” (אדוני) – and there is controversy over whether Adonai here should be read as a sacred singular word, “My Lord”, or as a regular plural word, “lords”. It sounds as if Abraham himself was not sure exactly who he saw; as if the Torah reflects Abraham’s initial uncertainty over whether the visitors were natural or supernatural, human or divine—whether they were mere men, or represented God.

In the following verses, the Hebrew sentences are couched alternatively in singular and plural: in verse 3, there are only singular forms, while verses 4 and 5 use the plural. Abraham is saying: “do not pass on” in singular, and then “wash your feet”, and “refresh your hearts” in plural. I believe that here, right after Chapter 17, with its breaking news, this interplay between singular and plural comes as an expression of Abraham’s hesitation and inner struggle between natural and supernatural—whether he could and wanted to believe the supernatural promise of Chapter 17.  This hesitation, this inner struggle, is completely lost in translation.

[1] Gen. 15:5

[2] Gen. 13:16

[3] Gen. 15:2

[4] Gen. 15:3

[5] Gen. 15:4

[6] Gen. 16:16

[7] Gen. 17:5

[8] Gen.17:5

[9] Gen. 18:1