Focus on Jesus Series
Jewish Rites of Passage
by Ed Vasicek
In today's text, we are immediately swept into the world of Jewish (Old Testament) rituals. Jesus was a Jew, from the tribe of Judah and the family of David. He was an observant Jew, raised by a mother and step-dad who were also observant and devout Jews.
Based on the Old Testament Law, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, probably in the local synagogue in Bethlehem. Since most fathers are uncomfortable with this procedure, a mobel (trained specialist) usually performed the circumcision.
Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus a few miles away to Jerusalem to pay the "redemption money" when Jesus was 30 or 31 days old, in accordance with the Law of Exodus 13:2-16. Rather than dedicate every firstborn son to Temple service, this money was paid to "redeem him" and the Levites were allowed to serve in place of all Israel's firstborn. This kept families together. (Note: in the case of Samuel, he was a firstborn son who actually served as a priest even though he was not a descendant of Aaron or Levi).
They may have remained in Jerusalem for another 10 days so they could offer the purification sacrifice mentioned in Leviticus 12:1-8. When a woman gave birth to a male child, she had to offer one of three sacrifices, depending upon her financial state, 40 days after birth, or on the 41st day. Folks who were dirt poor could offer grain, those who had enough to get by on could offer two turtle doves, and those who could afford it offered a sheep (Leviticus 12:6-8). The priest would then offer the sacrifice, and the woman would dip herself in water and be considered ritually "clean."
Because Joseph and Mary (or Yosef and Miryam, as they would have actually been called) offered the doves, it is obvious that this event occurred before the Magi's visit as they could have easily afforded a sheep after their visit. Sequentially, then, we have the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, His circumcision, redemption, and Mary's cleansing. Then the Wise Men appear.
The next main ritual to take place would have been the Bar Mitzvah, generally "made" at the age of 13. Bar Mitzvah literally means, "Son of the Commandment," and marked the passage into manhood, characterized by a young man's responsibility to obey the Law of Moses. Paul may be alluding to this in Romans 7:9, "And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died." From this ritual and the Romans passage, some have postulated an "age of accountability" before God.
When Jesus was 12, He questioned the scholars who patronized the Temple courts in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah at age 13. But that's where our "Jesus series" began!
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