Chapter 3.1 Light to the Nations
Simeon: “Lord, Now Let Your Servant Depart in Peace,” engraving from original painting by William C. T. Dobson, 1817-1898
Simeon: “Lord, Now Let Your Servant Depart in Peace,” engraving from original painting by William C. T. Dobson, 1817-1898
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Jewish rituals and the Law of the Lord represented the Covenant between God and Abraham and his offspring. In Bethlehem, on the eighth day the infant Savior was circumcised according to the Law and given the name Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.

It was also written in the Law that every first-born male child should be called holy to the Most High and accordingly must be redeemed from a priest for a token price, thirty-one days after the birth of the child at the earliest. A second provision called for the rite of purification of the mother after childbirth, after forty-one days following the birth of a son, eighty-one days after the birth of a daughter.

When the required days of Mary’s purification according to the Law had passed, Joseph took her and the child to Jerusalem to celebrate the twofold rite—redemption of the child and a sacrifice of purification for the mother. Both ceremonies could have been performed before the leader of the congregation at the Bethlehem synagogue; but since they were very devout and only a short distance away, they went to the fountainhead of their faith, the Temple, recently rebuilt by King Herod.

Whatever evil Herod had done—and his faults were many—in its Temple complex he had given Israel one of the most beautiful structures in the entire world. The Temple Mount covered almost thirty acres. Space for it had been gained by excavating and flattening the hilltop and erecting a broad foundation of solid masonry walls.

The outer Temple area formed the Court of the Gentiles in which anyone could enter. It was surrounded by colonnades roofed over with timbers hewn from cedar. The area was a shady cloister where teachers, called rabbis, spoke daily to anyone who would listen.

In the center of the Court of the Gentiles, the Temple’s inner courts were set off by a low stone balustrade around the Jewish area, and Gentiles were not allowed beyond this point. Past this balustrade a high wall with nine gates surrounded the Jewish holy area. One led to the Court of Women, beyond which was the Court of Israel, and still farther the Court of Priests. In the center of this latter court was the Altar of the Burnt Offering. The actual Temple stood behind the altar. In the Temple proper was first a vestibule next the Holy Place, and finally the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, and then only on special occasions.

The structure was built of white marble and its roof, towering to a height of nearly a hundred and fifty feet, was covered over with gold. True indeed was the saying, “He that has not seen the Temple of Herod has never known what beauty is.” It was a tourist attraction; foreign kings, merchants, and servants alike visited this court and gazed in wonder at the building.

Since the redemption of the first-born child could be carried out by any priest, Joseph and Mary chose one who stood at the entrance to the Court of Priests in a booth devoted to this purpose. First came the formal presentation of the baby, with the strips of swaddling cloth of fine wool removed so the priest could see that he was free of all blemishes which would disqualify him for the priesthood. As the Passover sacrificial lambs had to be free from all blemish, so did all the male children destined for priesthood. Jesus, destined to be the Lamb of God and our great High Priest, must be doubly free from any blemish. Next, two short benedictions were pronounced, and redemption money was then paid. As Mary wrapped the infant Jesus once again in the swaddling cloth, her happiness was very great, for he had now been offered ceremonially to the Lord and had been ritually redeemed.

Leaving the baby with Joseph, she went to the Court of Women for her rite of purification. There she deposited the price of a pair of turtledoves in the third of the thirteen chests, or “trumpets” set along one wall. Her ceremony of the incense offering was quickly performed, the prayers of purification intoned, and the ceremony completed. Thus they fulfilled all righteousness according to the Law.

Homage of Simeon

In the Temple at the same time was a man named Simeon who lived in the city. He was a righteous man, very devout, and filled with the Holy Spirit. It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, and he eagerly expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel at any time. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple and at once he knew which of all those babies was his Lord and King.

Mary had just returned to the outer court where Joseph stood waiting for her with Jesus in his arms, a blanket around the swaddling cloth. As she once again held her son close, she saw an old man coming towards them and did not know what such attention from a stranger might mean.

“Shalom,” he said courteously to both. “My name is Simeon.”
They returned the greeting politely for they could see that he was quite at home in the Temple and judged him to be a priest.

With a great cry of joy Simeon exclaimed, “I shall not see death before I have seen my Lord and Savior!” He expectantly held out his arms to take the child. After one glance at his transfigured face, Mary put Jesus into his outstretched arms. The old man looked down and studied the face of the sleeping infant, then lifting his eyes upward he cried aloud and blessed God in prayer,

“Lord, now I can die in peace!
As you promised me,
I have seen the Savior
you have given to all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Joseph looked at Simeon in astonishment, as it was strictly forbidden for a pious Jew to reveal anything of his faith to a Gentile or have any near contact with the heathen. Yet he was familiar enough with the sacred writings of the prophets which were read each Sabbath in the synagogue to know that he was referring to the words of Isaiah concerning the Expected One.

Simeon gave Jesus to his mother again, and blessed her and Joseph. Looking at Mary he said to her, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” He saw in that moment how the presence of the Christ among them would test mankind. The holiness of God would shine out from him; and in that light they would see themselves for what they were, and would not like the darkness it revealed. Seeing Mary in her youth and happiness, he looked into the future and saw her as she would be when the time of the second offering came; when her youth had gone and her happiness had turned to anguish. Then his face grew grave as he concluded, “A sword shall pierce through your soul.”

His unexpected appearance, deed, words, and that most unexpected form in what was said of the infant Savior filled his parents with wonderment, as if the whole history of Christ upon earth was passing in rapid vision before them; but they did not yet realize what the prophecy meant for themselves or their child.

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