Monday, December 18, 2006

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Now that I have been to Bethlehem (Israel, not Pennsylvania), Micah 5:2-3 has taken on even greater meaning. This is the passage in which the prophet predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. What do we know about this wonderful city?

What does “Bethlehem” mean and where was it located?

The word literally means “House of Bread.” How fitting this is since Jesus is called the “Bread of Life” in John 6:35. Bethlehem was located 5 miles southwest of Jerusalem, 2550 feet above sea level, in the hill country of Judea

When was it called “Ephrathah” and what does it mean?

It was called this during Jacob’s lifetime. The word means “Fruitful.” Again, how fitting since Jesus is the “first fruits” of resurrection meaning that He we was the first to be resurrected never to die again. His resurrection guarantees that more will follow.

By what other names was this city known?

It was sometimes called “Bethlehem-Judah” to distinguish it from Bethlehem Zebulun which was located 7 miles northwest of Nazareth. It is also called the “City of David” due to it being the birthplace of King David. How fitting, since Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

What Old Testament individuals were associated with this city?

Rachel (Genesis 35:16, 19; 48:7) who was the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin was buried by her husband, Jacob, in Bethlehem; Ibzan (Judges 12:8-10) who was the 10th judge of Israel with 30 sons and 30 daughters was born in Bethlehem; Elimelech, Boaz and Naomi (Ruth 1:1, 2; 2:1, 4) were all born in Bethlehem. Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab. His wife, Naomi, and her daughter in law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem where Boaz became Ruth’s Kinsmen Redeemer. How fitting is this since Jesus has become our Kinsmen Redeemer?

But notice how insignificant this city was. Micah calls it “little.” In fact, it is not even mentioned among the cities of Judah when mentioned in Joshua 15 and Nehemiah 17. In John 7:42 it is described as simply a village or a hamlet. Yet, out of this insignificant city came a very significant child. The “One” that Micah speaks of is the Christ, the Messiah. It is obvious from Matthew 2:4-6 that the Rabbi’s understood Bethlehem to be the birthplace of the Messiah. Luke specifically declared Christ as the Messiah (Luke 2:1-11). This Messiah came to carry out the purposes of God. The Messiah came in the will of the Father to accomplish the plan of the Father (John 5:30). And though His humble birth was in a cave in the insignificant city of Bethlehem, This Messiah existed long before Bethlehem.

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see the lie!”

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