One of the oldest churches in Christendom is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is a UN World Heritage Site – the first in Palestine and Israel. Constantine the Great’s mother, Helen, was responsible for building it in 339 A.D. It was constructed over the traditional site of the birthplace of Jesus, a cave below the church.
If we were to climb down into the cave by the circular staircases on either side of the altar, we wouldn’t recognize the grotto below the church as a cave. Today it is hung with tapestries and lit with lamps. There is a simple altar and there on the floor, supposedly over the very spot of his birth, is a fourteen pointed silver star. While it is likely that Jesus was born in a cave (they were used as stables in those days), it is highly unlikely anyone would remember exactly which cave much less exactly which place in the cave was the exact location of the birth of a carpenter’s son almost 400 years earlier!
What is fascinating for Bible students is why they would choose a fourteen-pointed star to mark the place? Why not a six pointed star of David or even a five-pointed star of Solomon? If you’ve been following our suggested daily Bible reading plan for 2014 (copies are available in the foyer), last week you read Matthew chapter 1. Do you remember verse 17? At the conclusion of the genealogy of Jesus Matthew writes:
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”
Thus the silver star has fourteen points, but even that raises more questions. Matthew was wrong! For the fourteen generations from Abraham to David, Matthew had to count both Abraham and David. The make the next group of fourteen generations, Matthew had to skip three kings and conflate Jehoiakim and Jechoniah. The last group had to include Jechoniah and Jesus to get fourteen but since it covers a period of 500 years, Matthew may have omitted a few people.
To our western way of thinking, the genealogy is wrong but Matthew wasn’t one of us. He wasn’t trying to give us an accurate genealogy at all. He was trying to emphasize Jesus is the Son of David. Ancient people used their alphabets to count with. (Do you remember Roman numerals from school?) So the Hebrew name for King David, dwd, has a numeric value: (d = 4) + (w = 6) + (d = 4) = the number 14!
Matthew is trying to emphasize to his Jewish readers: Jesus is the son of David (14), son of David (14), son of David (14). And now you know why there are fourteen points on the Star of Bethlehem.