Q.

I’ve been thinking about the story of Jesus’ birth lately. Wasn’t it cruel of God to force Mary to go 90 miles in her advanced pregnancy on a donkey over rough roads to Bethlehem?

A.
God used world events in a special way to fulfill prophecy regarding the birth of Jesus Christ. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem resulted from a decree made by the ruler of the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus. He ordered the registration of all the people, or “the world,” that the Empire controlled. The King James Version uses the word “taxed,” but actually the event was a census-taking. In partial answer to your question, always keep in mind that political events often dictate a response, especially if we are law-abiding citizens. For example, how many individuals, even Christians, do you suppose have lost their lives in wars after they complied with the draft? Did God not care? Of course, He did. But His care does not exempt His people from danger and even tragedy in this sin-ravaged world.

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was undoubtedly difficult for Mary. However, why should we not believe that the God Who performed the virgin birth and the other miracles of the “night of miracles” could also bring Mary safely to her destination—even over 70 to 90 miles of rough roads, riding on a donkey, and facing who knows what else? Remember, God’s fulfillment of prophecy was at stake. Mary was actually safer than anyone else!

I think of the true saying, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” I can’t think of a better example of a person in that spot than Mary on the road to Bethlehem. At that time, she was about to fulfill Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

We do not know the extent of the action God had to take on Mary’s behalf. I am amazed at what I have seen pregnant women do right up until they give birth. Also, many people picture a painting of Mary and Joseph barely getting to town that evening as Mary was about to give birth, rapping on the door of the inn and receiving the curt news that the innkeeper had no room. We don’t know exactly when the couple arrived. If we inspect Luke 2:6 more carefully than we may have before, we begin to surmise that they may have been in Bethlehem a while.

The question always comes up, Why did Mary have to go? The question has some validity since women usually weren’t required to register. However, it seems that in Roman life, the husband and wife accompanied each other on such occasions. Some have speculated that Mary needed to represent an extinct family, since she also came from David’s lineage. In addition, Joseph, no doubt, felt reluctant to leave Mary behind. After all, she was his wife. Furthermore, Mary loved Joseph, and she loved the city of David. Joseph was also a sensitive man and longed to protect Mary from the many tongues that would gossip about the miraculous conception people didn’t seem to understand.

Surely Joseph and Mary calculated the time Joseph would be gone and realized the babe was due at the same time. They wanted to be together for the birth. Nevertheless, I can’t help but believe the real reason for both of them going to Bethlehem is that they knew Scripture! We find evidence that Mary was an astute student of God’s ways and purposes (see Luke 1:26‒56; 2:19). She knew the Savior was to be born through her. If she knew Micah 5:2 (and she likely did), she could have sensed the urgency and need to get down to Bethlehem. She might have viewed the enrollment as the nudge.

On the other hand, it could even be that God spoke audibly to her, as He had before, about going with Joseph to Bethlehem and that God didn’t see fit to have that particular message recorded for us (see John 21:25).

The main objective was that Mary get to Bethlehem safely, which she did. Certainly her trip impacted the course of the whole world and every person who has lived.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (December 1994).
© 1994 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.