ADVENT nr 1
Theme: From Cave to Manger
Scripture: 1 Samuel 22: 1-5
What do you think: What stage would God the Father have used to present the opening scene of the greatest drama of all time? The salvation drama in which His Son is involved? Where would the opening scene take place?
Surely either Rome or Jerusalem. Rome was the political capital of the world at that time, and Jerusalem the religious capital.
Answer: Neither! God the Father chose Bethlehem, the most insignificant little hamlet, for the opening scene. The prophet Micah already foretold it. The Son who was to be born, would be the Son of DAVID/ the greater David, and Bethlehem was the city of David. It was here where centuries earlier, a Gentile woman (Ruth) gave birth to the grandfather of David. Bethlehem was also the place where David hid in the cave of Adullam and where he was in the Lord’s school of life, training to be king.
Yes, the opening scene of the greatest drama in the history of man, would take place at Bethlehem. The other great and important cities were merely used by the Lord to get all the actors on the stage. These great cities were only pawns. But see: Suddenly Rome decides to take a census in the entire Roman Empire. The powerful wheels of Roman bureaucracy start to turn, but they turn only in order to get one couple (Joseph and Mary) to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, to bring Micah’s prophecy into fulfilment.
And while Jerusalem was bustling with activity, and king Herod was unable to find an answer to his question about WHERE the Saviour would be born, a few Gentiles turn up and soon found the answer in one single verse in the Bible (Micah) and depart for Bethlehem.
Can you see how the Lord uses government institutions and religious leaders merely as vehicles to place His actors on the stage at Bethlehem exactly at the right time!! These super powers are only the means He uses.
And, when the first act of the heavenly salvation drama began, everything took place in a manger. A feeding-trough for animals. In peace, quiet and simplicity. Few witnesses. No tourists making videos. No TV coverage. No live streaming. It is as if the living God is holy-shamed. In complete peace the Greater David is placed in a manger.
But why exactly a manger?
One can have a better understanding when you notice the connection between the manger at Bethlehem and the cave of Adullam (close by the same Bethlehem: 1 Chron 11:16) where David hid hundreds of years previously. There is a brilliant connection between the two. Close to Bethlehem, David hides in the cave of Adullam. Many centuries later the Greater David is lying in a manger in the same Bethlehem. Could there be any connection between David-and-the-cave and the Greater-David-and-the-manger?
To David the cave of Adullam was a symbol of rejection. Indeed, he is hiding in the cave because he had to flee for his life from king Saul. Secondly, he was in the cave because his own people have rejected him. The only safe place was a lonely cave near Bethlehem. King Saul – who was possessed by an evil spirit – lived in a palace, and David – who was filled by the Holy Spirit – was in a cave. The Holy Spirit in David was literally a threat to the powers of darkness. If you look at 1 Sam 22 again, you will see that – in the very next scene – Saul murdered all the priests of Nob for fear that they might be on David’s side.
And when the Greater David was lying in the manger at Bethlehem? A small Boy who is a threat for the forces of darkness. He must be kept hidden from the evil Herod. Not long but Herod has 1000s of babies murdered for fear that Jesus may be one of them. On the first Christmas day every family in Bethlehem – where there was a little boy – felt the evil of satan. The boy-babies were murdered in front of their mothers. But, out of reach of the evil Herod and rejected by the world, the Greater David is safe in a manger. The manger was literally a refuge against the world and evil.
The cave of Adullam was (secondly) a sanctuary for David where he was deeply connected with God. One can read that in Psalm 142, which David wrote from his experience in the cave of Adullam. Read Ps 142 and you will see that David’s stay in the cave cut him off from people, but connected him closer to God. There he learned what prayer was. There he learned to trust God more than his relationship with people. The cave of Adullam was the place where David became devoted to the Lord in a particular way.
And the Greater David in the manger? From birth already He was set aside for His Father. The manger was the place of seclusion for God. Later Jesus would declare that He has no place to lay His head while jackals have holes and the birds have nests. But the MANGER was the sanctuary where Jesus was set apart for His Father alone.
What is the FRUIT of this? Yes, the Father dealt with Jesus by way of the manger, and He therefore was protected against the evil powers and devoted to God. But what was the fruit of that? It resulted in that PEOPLE were drawn close. One sees that in the third instance. The manger was also a gathering place of people. It seems to contradict the fact that the manger was a sanctuary of seclusion from people. No, it is not contradictory. Precisely this Jesus who was set apart from the world in the manger, DREW people to Himself. Herod – who wanted to kill Him – could not find Him, but those who wanted to worship Him, found Him. Those who gave heed to one verse in the Bible (Micah) found Him. The Magi from the East. It was not so difficult to find the manger – you only had to listen to the Scriptures.
There were also shepherds who gathered at the manger. Those people who were rejected from society. Lowest class. Dirty and unreliable. In Judea at that time, there was a law that forbade shepherds to testify in court. They were regarded as absolutely unreliable. They were super-strugglers. Exactly they were gathered at the manger. The first class super sinners. Because God has such great pity for people who are real sinners. Christmas was the way how God began to show mercy and saved those people. Christmas is not a reward for the pious holy people’s devotion and repentance. The manger is God’s salvation for strugglers – ONLY because He has pity on them. It was they who were gathered around the manger. The manger is the gathering place for people who are obstinate sinners that cannot save themselves in any way.
Significant what took place at the cave of Adullam long before.
Saul – who so relentlessly (with a whole army) looked for David to kill him – could not find him in the cave. But, OTHER people were gathered in the cave with David. They were drawn to David as if to a magnet. Who were they? Except for a few members of his family, it was people rejected by society. Struggling and embittered. People in distress or in debt or discontented. And interesting: They did not go to David because they wanted to get away from their problems. In 1 Chronicles 11-12 the same events are recorded (in more detail) and there one can see that it was the SPIRIT OF GOD who had opened the eyes of these people to see in David the true anointed king. In 1 Chron 12:18: “The Spirit of God came upon Amasai and he said: “We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse!” Yes, the cave of Adullam and the manger at Bethlehem were the gathering places of struggling sinners. People who were magnetically drawn close by the Spirit.
Do you know what else took place at the manger? Fourthly. A LOVE for Jesus were kindled in the hearts of people there. A passion burst into flame. In whom? In the poor sinners who turned up there.
Just think for a moment what a risk it was for the shepherds and the Magi to go to the manger. The shepherds were prepared to leave their flock and thus their bread and butter. The Magi were prepared to take a dangerous journey – during winter – to bring gifts to the Son in the manger. A flame was kindled in the hearts of these people. A flame of awe and love.
It happened also at the cave of Adullam. 1 Chron 11 informs us of 3 of the men with David in the cave, who were prepared to risk their lives to fetch water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem, where the Philistines were encamped. Only because David longed for water from that well. Their hearts were so filled with passion for David, that they went and fetched the water for him – behind the lines of the Philistines. He did not drink it though, because the men risked their lives in fetching it.
Jesus having been placed in a manger – but what does it mean for us? A deeply joyful meaning. God the Father has by way of the manger protected Jesus against evil powers. He also gave Jesus a sanctuary in which He set Jesus aside.
By doing that, the Father by way of the same manger did something with poor decrepit sinners: He gathered the irretrievably wicked to Jesus. And He kindled a flame of love for Jesus in their hearts. A passion – that is prepared to sacrifice.
Can you understand HOW God the Father, by way of the manger at Bethlehem, works with us? It is not merely a nice story that beautifully fit in with the month of December. When one discovers that you yourself IS an irretrievably super wicked sinner (and you are prepared to acknowledge it), the manger of Bethlehem becomes your only hope upon which you can trust. It urges you: Look, God gathered ME at the manger. He gave ME a love for Jesus. It was not Magi and shepherds. It is ME. Praise Him! Now at last I can start to LIVE!
Translated by Marthie Wilson