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Bethlehem – An Amazing Small Town Story

Bethlehem, one of the oldest cities in the world, should be as anonymous, if not forgotten, as nearly all the other small Judean towns of ancient Palestine. But a string of connected events over hundreds of years would not allow that to happen. It became the home town of a king, the subject of a very famous prophecy, and the town where the Gospels say Magi came to worship the child Jesus.

Sometimes called Bethlehem Ephrathah in the Old Testament or Tanakh, Bethlehem means “house of bread” or “the dwelling of bread” while Ephrathah means “fruitful.”[1] Practically a suburb of Jerusalem, it is located just 5 miles to the south.[2] Today’s Bethlehem in many ways seems to be no different than it was while under Roman rule:

“…Bethlehem, today as it was 2,000 years ago, grottoes are used as livestock pens.  Mangers are carved out of rock.  Here, in the bulls-eye of this volatile place, ringed by Jewish settlements, imprisoned within a wall, encircled by refugee camps, hidden amid a forest of minarets, tucked below the floor of an ancient church, is a silver star.  This, it’s believed, is where Jesus was born.” – National Geographic, December, 2007.[3]

By the time Judea came under Roman rule, Bethlehem had already been a town for over a 1000 years.[4]Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died there some 2500 earlier while giving birth to Benjamin, Israel’s 12th son, and was buried in the district of Ephrath just outside of Bethlehem.[5]

Seven generations removed from another of Jacob’s son, Judah, was born Boaz of Bethlehem, famous in Hebrew lore for his story of redemption, a goel.[6] The story involved another Bethlehem resident, Naomi, and her Gentile Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth.

Naomi’s husband and both sons had all died leaving Naomi and Ruth as widows.[7] Boaz discovered Ruth gleaning in his barley field and, through this encounter, Hebrew law allowed Boaz to redeem Naomi’s lost inheritance through marriage to Ruth.[8] To Boaz and Ruth was born Obed who would have a son named Jesse mentioned in two messiah prophecies by the prophet Isaiah.[9]

Samuel, the prophet, some 3000 years ago was sent by God to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem. His mission was to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the king-in-waiting to replace King Saul who had rejected God.[10]

Jesse’s youngest son, David, was anointed as God’s choice to be the next king of Israel. The giant slayer went on to become the most famous king in the nation’s history. Six prophecies by three prophets would say the future Messiah would come from House of David.[11]

Generations after David’s reign Micah, the prophet, would again shine the spotlight on Bethlehem Ephrathah prophesying the future Messiah would come from that little town of the tribe of Judah. Translations of the Micah prophesy in both Jewish and English Bibles are in harmony… 

Micah 5:2 “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah,, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” – Harkavy Jewish Translation[12]

A 1000 years after King David’s rule, in his royal lineage Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem under bizarre, unforeseen circumstances. His parents were compelled by decree of Roman Caesar Augustus to travel 90 miles on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem just days before his mother was to give birth.

Today, some 2000 years later, the famed little town of Bethlehem is the backdrop for the Christmas Nativity scene where Jesus was born in a stone enclave used as a barn and laid in a manger for his crib, according to the Gospels.

Bethlehem – an unbelievable small town story with a legacy going back three millennia. Home town of King David, the place of a messianic prophesy and the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, the most controversial personage in human history. An improbable coincidence or a fulfillment of prophecy?

REFERENCES:

[1] Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard.  Moody Press. 1978. Footnote on Micah 5:2.   The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Micah – Chapter 5 commentary.
[2] Map of Israej (untitled)l.  Google Maps.  n.d.  <https://www.google.com/maps/@31.743205,35.21307,13z?hl=en>  Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter XII. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Finkel, Michael.  “Bethlehem 2007 A.D.” National Geographic.  December, 2007. 
[4] Matthew 1:5; 1 Chronicles 2:10; Ruth 4:21.
[5] Genesis 35:10; 48:7. “The Story of Abraham.”  The History of Israel.  n.d.  <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/story-of-abraham.html>  Pratt, John P.  “Divine Calendars Testify of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”   JohnPratt.com. <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2003/abraham.html> “Rachel’s Tomb.” Chabad.org. n.d. <http://www.chabad.org/special/israel/points_of_interest_cdo/aid/602502/jewish/Rachels-Tomb.htm
[6] “Salvation” and “Hosanna.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  link Isaiah 44:6,  23, 48:20, 52:9, 59:20.   NKJV. Net.bible.org. Ruth 2:20 Hebrew text “wnlagm.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=01350>
[7] Ruth chapters 1-4.  Ryrie. “Introduction to the Book of Ruth.” Matthew 1:1-5. 
[8] Net.bible.org..Ruth 2:20 Hebrew text. “goel.” Dictionary.com
[9] Isaiah 11:1-2; 10.
[10] I Sam. 16: 4. 2 Samuel 16:11-13. I Chronicles 2:13.
[11] Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:14-17; 33:20-26; Zechariah 12:10-12. 
[12] “Micah 5:2.” Jewish Awareness Ministries. 2012. <http://www.jewishawareness.org/wp-content/uploads/Micah-5-2-notes6.pdf>

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