Have you been accounted for? Have you partaken in a census? Do you know why a census is taken? Would you prefer not to have to worry about being accounted for? Would you like to better understand the difference between a census of the first century and today’s census?
Census taking has been going on for thousands of years. Governing authorities have taken them for a variety of reasons, which have included taxation, military, and voting. Most of us do not think about the census when its time comes around. We simply fill out the form and go on.
In the first century, a census was primarily dictated for taxation purposes. This was especially true of those areas of the world ruled by Roman Emperors. If Caesar wanted to build a new coliseum, he would get an estimate of the cost and conduct a census. The cost would be paid for by taxation of the people and spread across the Roman empire. It didn’t matter if the people lived in Israel or Spain or Gaul, they paid taxes to build a new coliseum in Rome.
The Jewish custom was to be accounted for in your family’s original hometown. So, since Joseph was of the lineage of David, he and Mary traveled to Bethlehem to be accounted for in the census as dictated by Caesar Augustus. If we remember well, or go back to 1 Samuel 16, we know that David’s father was Jesse and Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to anoint God’s chosen, David, to be the future king of Israel.
It was no small trip for Joseph and Mary in those days from Nazareth to Bethlehem. If you could travel a straight line, it was about 70 miles between the two. However, as we know, roads are not straight, making it a much longer distance. Not only that, but the road was dangerous for anyone traveling alone, riddled with thieves. Joseph and Mary likely traveled along with a caravan for safety reasons.
Today, we might worry about family members traveling alone. Though we can travel much faster, we also travel much further. In the time it would have taken Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we could drive from New York to Los Angeles. If our child were to take on that type of challenge, we would want them calling us every few hours to ensure things were going well. But God is with us as we go about our daily lives, just as he was with Joseph and Mary.
I pray we all follow the laws of the land, just as Joseph and Mary did. I pray we realize God is at work, even in those we least expect. I pray each one of us trust that God is with us at all times. Obey the authorities. Trust God is at work. Know that God is with you.
Luke 2:1, 3 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…. And everyone went to their own town to register.