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Ancient Testaments: 'Before His Manger,' Ch. 47: Message for a princess in Israel

In Chapter 46, Zacharias was visited by a heavenly

messenger. He learned that two history-making sons of Israel would soon be

born. He and Elisabeth would be the parents of one of these sons. The other son

would be the Messiah. Chapter 47 begins at the time of year we would call late

June, and then moves into early July. It is about nine months before the Birth.

Chapter 47 — Message for a princess In Israel

Ehud, a 17-year-old who was no small person and had

very large feet, could squash a lot of grapes in a short amount of time. And he

could think about other things while he did this all day long. He lifted the

knees high sometimes and kept them low at other times, constantly changed

locations in the stone pressing basin, hollowed out of stone generations

before. All this was instinctive to him. Thought was not even needed to make

the occasional pass around the perimeter, pressing the fruit that had oozed to

the side in order to escape him.

His father's processing area was high on the northern slope of

Nazareth. This gave Ehud a commanding view of the village while he worked at

his constant trudging and stomping in the wine press. People in the pathways

down there had no idea how often and how carefully the eyes of Ehud followed

them in their daily walk.

He had his theories about why people where going where they

were going. He was usually right. Not that this takes any great powers of


"Ahh yes," he might say, "there is Rabbi

Shayah, talking to a merchant from somewhere far away. I know just what he is

doing! He is arranging to produce a certain number of pots or other products by

a certain date."

Or, "I see widow Hulda carrying her vessel to the well.

I know exactly why she is going there!..."

Or, "There goes Shushan, Heli's wife, walking slowly to

the baker's, with her son Boaz near her. I know what's happening. Shushan is

coughing and breathing heavily because of her sickness, and Boaz is there to steady

her in case she gets dizzy, so that she won't fall like she did last week. I

saw her fall, before anyone else. And I know that her illness is from the

spoiled fish that a merchant sold Heli's family two weeks ago, and she is not

getting better. I know all about these people...."

This was an especially warm summer, and the first grapes

were already coming to harvest. Ehud's daily slogging routine was under way for

another season. So instead of spending most of the day in the village, talking

to people as they tried to do their work, he had his own work to do. As he saw

it, his work was to keep moving in the press in order to satisfy his father,

and to keep his eye on the people of Nazareth.

Because of the heat, the pathways were mostly empty down there.

Only those who had to be out in the oppressive heat were willing to leave their


Too bad he couldn't see inside their homes. But then, one

could guess at what goes on inside by what goes on outside.

"Ahh, yes," he said, "here comes Heli's daughter,

Mary, right on schedule, finished with her morning chores. The day is hot

already, but she is leaving the coolness of her family's house, with its thick

stone walls. I can be sure about when she'll be out each day. And I know she'll

be visiting or helping someone. But you can't predict that girl. It could be

anyone. They don't even have to be sick to get a visit from everyone's favorite

little angel."

Ehud lifted one of his massive legs up in front of him, and

studied the brown, blood-like stains that clung to him during the pressing

season. "She's nice enough," he said to himself, "that I'm sure

she wouldn't mind marrying a man with discolored legs and feet. She's very


He was quiet awhile, watching her cross the whole village,

stopping to visit with the older people and some of the children along the way,

until she arrive at the home of Shayah and Tova, next to the synagogue.

"Yes, nice enough to marry someone like me," he

reassured himself.

"Only," he grimaced, "she'd need to make some

changes. All the mitzvah — all the good works for God — that could drive a

man crazy! I wonder what that costs Heli to have her doing such things? She

must be an expensive child!"

As Ehud muttered these things to himself, Mary came out of

the Rabbi's house and seemed to be hurrying to get to her next destination.

"Ahh, yes," he nodded, "she has checked with

Tova, and learned of some needy person, and is moving on to her next


"And she'll have to stop singing so much," he

mused. "That's something else to fix. Nice voice. Just like her face, her

hair, her form. So beautiful! These are the reasons why I shall have her to

wife. But too much singing is like too much religion. It could make a man like

me sick after a while."

Ehud could just see Mary disappear around the corner of

widow Hulda's house. She did not reappear on the other side. "Ahh, yes,..."

In the humble dooryards and lanes of Nazareth, children

sometimes relived the stories of Jewish history. They acted out the testing and

triumphs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Fortunate was the boy whose turn it was

to take the part of ancient Joseph, who rose from rejected brother to noble

rescuer. Or to take the part of innocent and fearless David, toppling a

murderous giant. And pity the two boys who, one sitting on the shoulders of the

other, must be the doomed Goliath.

At other times, their fantasies turned to community

experiences. Whatever could make an adult seem sad or serious or excited would

capture their fascination. Girls pretended to be their own mothers about the

home, or conversing at the well or laundering spot. Boys tried to imitate their

fathers in make-believe shops and fields, or in sitting gravely to discuss

solemn matters at the city gate. They played at being teachers, midwives,

tradesmen and mourners. Of course, they sometimes enacted a marriage ceremony,

the little girls especially trying hard to comprehend the most celebrated event

in village life.

Heli was both a tailor and a merchant of every sort of fabric

and thread. He was away for a few days, arranging to buy wool rights from

nearby shepherds. Meanwhile, Yael loved to direct little plays and carefully

planned games. So, while her mother was napping, her older sister was visiting

the sick, and her father's shop was closed, she had time to oversee one of her


She sat alongside her house, sheltered from the midday sun,

with six other youngsters — five boys and another girl. She had worked to get

them together, and already they were losing interest.

"It's so boring," insisted Boaz. He wished he were

at work alongside Joseph. But Joseph had gone to Nain on business.

"Boring?" Yael could hardly believe her ears.

"I think that's just ... blasphemous!"

Boaz looked at the other boys in despair.

"Anyway," she said, "you're lucky we are just

doing the espousal right now. When we do the marriage, it will take all


Now it was Boaz who could not believe his ears. "Ok.

Ok. So what am I supposed to say?" He was pretty young to be remembering

lines that he didn't want to say to begin with.

Yael was too excited to be angry. "Alright, I'll tell

you again. I'm Mary. I am very beautiful and smart, of course. And Boaz, you

are Joseph."

Boaz sat tall and puffed out his chest, to the approval of

his sister.

"And the rest of you are here," she went on,

"because Joseph and I are being espoused."

The real erusin - the formal espousal ceremony - had taken

place only days before. Yael had not been there, but she knew all the important

things that happened.

She gave the children their assignments so intently that

they would probably not forget them even in their old age.

"You two," she said to a little girl and boy from

the house next door, "you're my mother and father, Heli and Shushan.

OK?" The boy, who was 4 years old and not sure of the point of all

this, merely stared at his older sister, who was nodding solemnly.

Joseph's parents were not living, so no one was needed to

take their part. But of course there must be two male witnesses to certify that

the ketubah — the special writing that outlined the husband's obligation — was

read. And there was one little boy who had refused to play in this game unless

he could be Shayah, the rabbi. However, he had become very still, being badly

in need of a nap.

"Now, you all know that Joseph here wishes to marry

me." She turned to look at Boaz. "Is this true, Joseph?"

Boaz, whose chest had forgotten some of its puffiness,

replied, "I guess so."

"No, you don't say 'I guess so.' You are Joseph, the prince, the heir to the throne. You are strong and sure. And besides, you've

been planning on marrying me for years now."

"Marrying you?" Boaz asked. "I thought he

wanted to marry our sister, Mary."

"I am Mary, remember? In the game, I'm Mary!" Yael

wondered how she could recreate the romance and glory of an espousal, if she

must depend on such ... unclever performers. "Now you must look at my

parents here," pointing at the disoriented four year old and his sister,

"and say to them: 'With all my heart I wish to take to myself your

daughter Mary. I promise to care for her according to the words of the ketubah,

and the holy laws of God.' Can you say that?"

Boaz shrugged, wondering if it was worth all this just to be

espoused. Yael helped him say the words. She then turned to the two who

pretended to be her father and mother. "Do you accept this offer?"

They nodded, which Yael decided would be good enough under the circumstances.

Now came the point where the rabbi speaks to the group. He

would review the blessings and laws of matrimony, and suggest how the couple

and their families might use the coming months to prepare for the nissuin, the

final ceremony that would make the marriage complete.

The boy taking the part of Shayah was, at his best moments,

not qualified to give such wise counsel. And just now he was at a special

disadvantage, having slumped against the outer wall of Yael's house, deep in an

afternoon slumber.

So, when Yael said, "Now we will hear a few words from

our beloved rabbi," and discovered that this key player was quite

unavailable, she was baffled to actually hear these words, "Thank you. I

would be happy to say something on this occasion."

All the children, except for Shayah's dozing double, turned

to see the old rabbi himself grinning down at them. "May I sit down?"

he asked. Yael almost laughed out loud at this little surprise. It was so like

Shayah to show up when he was needed, and to so easily insert himself in the

activities of the children.

"Yes, dear Shayah. Will you tell us what you said at

Mary's espousal?"

"Well, I will tell you some of the things,

anyway." Sitting on a large stone in the circle, Shayah looked at each one

of his hearers. He leaned over and gently moved the sleeping one to his lap. In

his heart, he thanked God for the privilege which was his to know and encourage

these innocent souls.

"Now, my friends, we are gathered here to witness a

very great moment — a promise. When we make a promise, I suppose that even the

angels stop and listen."

"Why?" asked Boaz.

"Yes, that is the question. Does anyone know why it is

such a big thing to make a promise?"

Yael spoke up. "If we keep our word, we are like God —

we are truly his children. Right?"

The other children were sure that this answer must be right,

for it seemed wise to them. Shayah looked long at Yael and nodded.

"Yes, daughter of Heli. You have been taught well. Now,

tell me who said this: 'Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the

faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep

his commandments to a thousand generations.' Do you know who spoke those

words?" (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Several of the children stood, their way of saying they had

the answer. Shayah nodded at one of the boys. "The prophet Moses said it."

"Yes, and you know what? Moses knew by many experiences

what he was talking about. The Lord God keeps his promises. So when we keep a

promise," Shayah looked at Yael, "we are his true children.


Everyone nodded.

"So then ... where were we?"

Boaz piped up, "Pretending to be at Joseph and Mary's


"Oh of course! So, people can talk and talk all they

want. But a promise! That makes a real beginning. By this promise, you,..." he said, looking at Boaz and Yael, "you two, Joseph and Mary, are

promised to each other. You will each wear a ring on your finger to remind you.

And you will have a season to prove your loyalty to the promise. Angels will be

watching. I suppose we will all be watching. Everyone wants to know if you will

be true to each other for a while."

"For a whole year?" asked the little girl who was

taking the part of Shushan.

"No, not necessarily. But a season. It takes time. Time

to prepare a home. Time for the husband to be sure he can support a family.

Time to prepare yourself and your habits to live with a particular person. You

know, each person in the world is different from anyone else. So you prepare to

live with that very one, and no one else. And time to make sure you will be

faithful to each other all your lives."

Shayah waited to let that sink in. But he could see that it

wasn't sinking in too well. So he asked, "Have you noticed that important

things take time?"

The older children were nodding, others looked a little


"Like what, children? What things take time?"

"It takes a long time — all night — to soak beans

before cooking them," Yael pointed out.

"How about growing things, like trees and crops?"

asked the other girl.

"Exactly," answered Shayah. "It takes not

only time, but care. "

"It takes time for new sandals to fit your feet,"

said one of the boys. Neither he nor many other boys in Nazareth had sandals,

but he knew about this from his father.

Boaz thought of bonding two wood timbers together to make

one very strong one. "You have to let glue dry for two days," he

said, "or else maybe your house will fall down."

"When it comes to marriage," Shayah chuckled,

"that's truer than you think."

The children brought out other examples of good changes —

slow ones — such as the curing of olives, the drying of lumber, the training

of a young donkey, the aging of cheese, and even making a good friend.

Shayah, who had been nodding slowly at these ideas, suddenly

seized upon that last one. "Ah, making a good friend. That is a good one.

It takes time to make a good friend. That's the point, isn't it?"

The boy on his lap was just waking up, and Shayah sat him up

on his knee. The old rabbi looked into the face of the groggy one, and then

into the eyes of each of the others. "Never forget this, my young

Israelites. Let it be, when you marry, that you marry a friend — a faithful


"So Shayah," Boaz asked, "are Joseph and Mary

waiting for the glue to dry?"

"I couldn't have said it better myself." Satisfied

that his little students understood, Shayah thought it time to summarize.

"So first comes a promise to each other, and next comes a season to be

true and to get ready — to let the glue dry. And then what?"

"Then comes a promise to God," Yael said

confidently, "at the nissuin. That's when you are completely


"Yes, 'completely married.' That's it. First, a promise

to each other; then, a season to prepare; and finally a promise to God."

Shayah stood up. "Thank you for letting me attend your

little ceremony...."

Yael suddenly remembered something. "Oh, the rings! We

forgot to exchange rings!" She held up two fuzzy brown rings, woven from

remnants of wool twine from her father's shop, and handed them to Shayah.

While the children, even the youngest boys, waited for his

direction, Shayah looked down at the rings, his eyebrows slightly furrowed in

thought. "Yes, when Joseph and Mary made their promise to each other a few

days ago, they gave each other a ring." He cradled the rings in his hand

and held them out for all to see.

"But I have a suggestion. Instead of pretending, why

don't you all wait until the day comes for real?" His face suddenly spread

into a great warm smile. "It won't be so very long from now, you


Yael nodded and he handed the rings back to her.

"When you give your ring, you are promising to give

everything — the full circle of your life, all you ever have." He paused

and then said with emphasis, "And you promise to give your whole eternity.

Forever! Don't you do that until the time is right."

"And," Boaz added, "don't do it until you

have found your friend...?"

Yael finished for him. "....Like Mary and


"Yes," Shayah agreed. "Like Mary and


Two days later was the Sabbath. It had been a full day for

Mary, and now it was coming to a close. A passage from Isaiah, read by Shayah

in the synagogue that morning, had held the attention of her thoughts all day:

"For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given."

Shayah had said, "I believe that this son will be

different than any other in history." He had looked out over those in the

synagogue for a time, and then explained, "What I mean is, he must come

from outside our world, outside our low estate, our condition."

The rabbi had repeated the thought in various ways,

struggling to make clear an idea Mary had never thought of before. She knew it

was very important, but was still working to see it clearly. It helped when

Shayah added this: "The Messiah, who is the son Isaiah spoke of, will not

be able to save us if he is a part of the system that holds us bound."

There had been another long pause. As Mary watched her old

friend, she guessed that he was debating in his mind about whether to come

right out and say something that was in his heart.

At last, the debate seemed to be over. Shayah tilted his

head to the side and said in a calm, powerful way, "He will have to be

divine. A divine son. A son of the Great One. Only then can he save us."

Mary's mother was still ailing, and slept all that afternoon.

Heli was still away on business. Mary had read to her brother and sister until

they had about enough of Isaiah for one day. The sun had almost disappeared

below the hills. Mary knew that any moment, the Sabbath would be passed, and

she would need to go fill a water pot for their evening meal. And there was

still yarn to be spooled for tomorrow's labors.

But oh! how her heart dwelt upon the thought of that coming

Messiah. And if the reckoning of every pious Jew in her circle of friends was

correct, he was coming soon. Would she be of the blessed generation who would

receive him, worship him in person?

And oh how she thought again and again of Shayah's words,

"He will have to be divine. A divine son. A son of the Great One himself.

Only then can he save us."

Then, in her mind burned another declaration that came from

that same passage of Isaiah: "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform


There was a family tradition that the "zeal of the

Lord" had led their clan to Nazareth years before. But now she saw that

this "zeal" — the concentration of God's every power — would

safeguard Messiah to her people. And in someway, he would be different from all

other sons of earth.

She wondered how the miracle of her family's relocation to

this little village two generations ago could be related to Messiah's special

arrival. Her heart burned as she pondered this.

The water vessel would have to wait in the corner until

Nazareth was dark, for Mary too was a vessel, as we all are. She dropped to her

knees, begging and thirsting — pleading with the great Father that she might

understand these holy things.

Mitzvah — pure righteousness, worthy of God himself! Mary's

whole young life of generosity — praying for the children and adults around

her, even praying for her people Israel, doing what lay in her power to help

God answer the prayers she offered — her whole life was mitzvah!

How readily she did inconvenient things simply because they

were right. Thousands were the hours of her short life already lived in service

— never stinting her gift of time or cheer when it was needed. Doing what came

to hand.

Mary was a definition of mitzvah. For she would act while

others halted and thought about things.

To those who knew her best, the fabric of her soul seemed to

have no flaw. The mitzvah of Mary the seamstress, daughter of Heli, was all of

a piece, whole, seamless.

Thus it was that this young woman of a simple, impoverished

village was endeared to heavenly beings. Thus it was, while lesser things wore

on and ground away at mankind, Gabriel came to visit the chosen vessel.

The blazing shaft of white light entered the home of Heli.

It descended next to the petite, unheralded and humble Jewish girl whose life

was a round of goodness, and who hungered yet for more. In the light stood the

mighty messenger.

"Hail," he said to her, in kindly greeting.

He spoke the thrilling reassurance for which most every soul

longs at some time: "Thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee."

And then he said something peculiar, though it would make

sense soon enough — something that would explain how the Messiah could keep

his ties to a higher world and yet still enter into ours: "Blessed art

thou among women."

Next would come the greatest news ever announced in 4,000

years of history.

Notes on Chapter 47

"Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God,

the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and

keep his commandments to a thousand generations" (Deuteronomy 7:9).The words of Isaiah about a son —"6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:

and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called

Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of

Peace."7 Of the increase of his government and peace there

shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it,

and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for

ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7).Regarding a "precious and chosen vessel" —9 But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me,

saying: Cry unto this people, saying-Repent ye, and prepare the way of the

Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of

heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth."10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem

which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen

vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost,

and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God."11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and

afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be

fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his

people." (Alma 7:9-11)"Chosen" because of lineage, yes. But also because

of her faith (1 Nephi 1:20). "Precious" because of virtue developed

in the long premortality and then confirmed and expressed hour by hour during

the thousands of days of her mortal years. That is quite long enough to become

renowned to heavenly beings as precious."He selected the most worthy and spiritually talented

of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son"

(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:85)."Apocryphal writings of the early Christian era present

a significant and recurring theme about a substantial period of spiritual

preparation in Mary's life in the years before she conceived Jesus. They speak

of her being tutored by angels and having other spiritual manifestations. (The

Lost Books of the Bible, chapters 1 and 4-9; see also 'The Gospel of

Bartholomew," part 2, The Apocryphal New Testament, M. R. James, pp. 170-72.)

These manifestations were also said to have occurred prior to the visit of the

angel Gabriel. Many details of these writings assuredly are not accurate; even

so, the idea is probably correct that Mary received spiritual preparation and

education for some time prior to the angel's announcement to her"

(Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews: Gospel Scholars Series, p. 230).She was "fair" — pure, radiant, glorious, filled

with light (1 Nephi 11:13,15). She was one with the Source of all beauty.

Though imperfect, she was sufficiently pure to be the mother of that Perfect

One who would redeem her and all others.Regarding Luke 1:28 — "Blessed art thou among

women" —She would not only associate every day with her own

Redeemer, but would teach him his own truths. She would see the greatest of all

history. Indeed, she would help to create it. She would give herself, as a

mother-servant, to the One who in turn would give himself to all mankind.

Though she would doubtless know persecution and indignities, poverty and

privations and anguish of heart; though she would in time lose Joseph and

witness the unspeakable brutality imposed on Jesus; and though her name would

for centuries be encumbered with myriad mistakes and distortions, yet it would

all be outweighed by the "blessed"-ness of her role: she would help

to provide a Lamb for God.Regarding Luke 1:28 — "Thou hast found favour with

God" —This no doubt refers not only to her mortal purity, but her

premortal valiance.Regarding the ancient tradtions of betrothal —See Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of

Christ, pages 143 -144.Regarding rings associated with the marriage covenant —Genesis 41:42; Luke 15:22.

Regarding the name Mary —Mary was a vital hero in history and in the plan of

salvation. She was seen by prophets and her name was known long before she came

on the scene (see Alma 7:10). It is interesting that, around the time when many

Jews expected the Messiah to arrive, many parents chose to name their daughters

Read Chapter 48.