Stan - No Room at the Inn

In Luke 2:7, we read, "And she brought forth her first born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." This verse records the greatest event that has ever occurred since time began, for it was this day that made the day of crucifixion and redemption and the day of resurrection and eternal hope possible.


It is what is clearly implied but not written in this verse that is not only deeply touching, but provides a valuable lesson of the fullness of God's provision for those that are in submission to His will. This event was precipitated by the issuance of an Imperial decree by the Roman Emperor Augustus that "all the world should be taxed" (Luke 2:1). This "taxation" was in reality an enrollment that determined the property holdings and financial status of all the subjects of the empire. This enrollment would then be used to identify those from whom the Empire could collect taxes, and the amount of tax that should be paid.


The vastness of the Roman Empire and the slowness of the available communication methods suggest that there would have been many months, perhaps up to a year, that elapsed from the issuance of the Imperial Decree at Rome and its implementation at the local level of the provinces of the Empire. There would have had to be considerable planning by the local officials to implement the "taxation," and it is likely that Augustus was moved to issue this decree before the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary.


The Imperial decree was the motivating event that caused Mary and Joseph to be far from their home at a time when they ordinarily would not have been. It was this decree that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem just prior to the birth of Jesus, thus fulfilling scripture (Micah 5:2). This illustrates the power of God to implement precision plans far, far into the future so that His will could be accomplished and that scripture would be fulfilled.


Impelled by the Imperial decree of Augustus, Joseph and Mary left their home to travel a distance of approximately one hundred miles. Whether they traveled by foot or by donkey, this distance translates to about five to seven days journey to reach Bethlehem, where the decree required them to be. This would have been within the last two weeks of Mary's pregnancy, and after the tiring journey of five to seven days, they reached the city, and sought for accommodations for the event they knew was imminent. Contrary to what many have said, it was not the callousness of the innkeeper they encountered, for "there was no room" available. The innkeeper could not evict an already accepted guest, in spite of the compassion he may have felt for their plight.


It is not difficult to understand why "there was no room in the inn," for the little town of Bethlehem was bursting at the seams with all the returning members of the house of David required by the Imperial decree to be there for the enrollment. More than forty generations had lived and passed from the scene since David was a young shepherd in Bethlehem. In the aftermath of his generation when the descendents of the eight sons and one daughter of Jesse gathered on that occasion after more than forty generations had passed, it would be clear that thousands of members of the house of David would be present in that little town.


For thousands of years, most of the inns that accommodated travelers in that part of the world possessed two characteristics. They provided food and shelter for not only the travelers but also for the animals accompanying them. The most usual form of the structure of such inns consisted of a two story building, usually built around a central enclosed courtyard. The innkeeper's office and living quarters would have been on the first level and at the entrance to the courtyard. The inside periphery of the courtyard on the lower level would be divided into stalls, open to the courtyard but divided from each other by separating walls on each side. The guests would be given one or more of these stalls on the first level in which they could leave the animal, or animals, that were accompanying them. The stall in which the animal would be tethered would be enclosed on three sides and open to the courtyard on the fourth side. For the duration of their stay, the guests would then be given access to a room on the upper level that also faced toward the court yard.


Examples of such inns can be seen in Israel today that are nearly one thousand years old. These were built according to local custom during the time of the European Crusades that reclaimed the "Holy Land" from its Saracen conquerors. The inn to which the Samaritan man brought the man who was wounded by thieves would probably have been of this type. It is likely that the innkeeper of Bethlehem was so moved by the plight of Mary and Joseph that he led them to an unused stall off the courtyard, which was the best he could supply to them under the circumstances. The "manger" was an animal feeding trough on the stall wall farthest from the courtyard. It was under these circumstances that the Christ Child entered this world a few days after they found these emergency accommodations.


One could not help but be deeply moved by the despair that would have filled the hearts of Joseph and Mary as they entered the empty stall so generously provided for them. Knowing the imminence of the birth, no doubt they carried with them from their home in Nazareth the "swaddling clothes," and whatever else they foresaw could be needed. Perhaps they could have obtained a measure of privacy for their stall by hanging clothing or other objects at its opening to the courtyard.


We understand from the Biblical record of the experience of Israel in Egypt that births usually occurred with the help of a midwife. But here, this couple was alone, strangers in a strange city, and facing an experience totally unknown to them, for which nothing in their previous experience could have prepared them. We know from our own experience in facing circumstances for which nothing in our past experience could have prepared us, that the presence of God was with them, and they were given the understanding of how to face and cope with what was ahead of them.


After having successfully accomplished what they had never faced before, they were left with a deeper faith and greater gratitude to the One that had provided the necessary help in the time of greatest need. It is in facing unknown traumatic experiences that the present help of God is proven, and it is by such experiences that faith grows exceedingly. The testing of faith which has eternal promise (I Peter 1:7) is far more valuable than gold which will perish when this earth shall melt with fervent heat (II Peter 3:10).