Journey To Bethlehem
Luke 2: 1, 3-5
1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
3. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5. To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem
When Joseph Went to Bethlehem
Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, sent out a decree that everyone in his empire had to be taxed. Each man was to pay taxes in the city of his ancestors, so Joseph and Mary had to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was a difficult trip for Mary because her baby was about to be born.
They would probably have made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by one of two routes. One would have taken them south across the Jezreel Valley, then through the hills of Samaria into Judaea. This is the more direct route in straight-line distance—but there are two reasons it probably was not the way Joseph and Mary went: It is physically demanding, with constant ups and downs through the hills—and it took the traveler directly through Samaritan country, and “the Jews [had] no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
The other possible route is the one Joseph and Mary more likely traveled. It would have taken them southeast across the Jezreel Valley, connecting with the Jordan Valley, then level or slightly down in elevation all the way to Jericho, then up through the Judaean Desert to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Both routes are about ninety-two miles long. Normal walking pace, even with a camel or donkey, is three miles per hour. So a traveler can usually walk between seventeen and twenty-four miles each day. Each route took about thirty hours to walk—seventeen to twenty miles a day for five days.
At that rate, the journey would have taken Joseph and Mary at least four to five days. We wonder where they stayed each night, where and with whom they camped along the way. It would have been a wearying journey for anyone, but especially for a pregnant woman soon to give birth. It was early spring, which can still be very chilly at night in the hill country. However, in the Jordan Valley—which is below sea level—the temperatures would have been mild and pleasant.
The last leg of the eastern route would have been the hardest of all. Jericho is the lowest city on the globe, and Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated right in the top of the hills. From Jericho’s desert to Bethlehem is an uphill hike of 3,500 feet. How exhausted Mary must have been! How anxious Joseph must have been to find a comfortable room at the inn! Desperate to find adequate shelter, they may have resorted at last to a limestone cave used for a stable.
When Joseph Went to Bethlehem
Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” In fulfillment of ancient prophecy, Jesus, who is the “bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), was born in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:4–6; Luke 2:15–16).