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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. Bethlehem became the home town of a king, the subject of a unique Messiah prophecy and the town where Jesus of Nazareth was born.

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 is 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[3]

By the time Judea came under Roman rule, Bethlehem had already been a town for millennia.[4] Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died there while giving birth to Benjamin, Israel’s 12th son, some 2500 before the rule of King Herod.  She was buried in the district of Ephrath just outside of Bethlehem where today her tomb is a revered religious site of both Jews and Muslims. [5]

Some 3000 years ago, seven generations removed from Judah, Jacob’s son, 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 in Moab.[7] Ruth wanted to stay with Naomi when she moved back to Bethlehem. Later, Boaz discovered Ruth gleaning for leftovers in his barley field and inquired about her. He discovered Ruth’s connection to Naomi whom was his relative.

Hebrew law allowed Boaz to redeem Naomi’s lost inheritance through marriage to Ruth if the first successor relative declined to marry her.[8] The relative declined and Boaz wed Ruth and they had a son named Obed. His own son was Jesse who is mentioned in two messiah prophecies by the prophet Isaiah.[9]

Samuel, the prophet, 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 surprisingly anointed as God’s choice to be the next king of Israel. The giant slayer went on to become the most iconic king in the nation’s history. Six prophecies by three prophetsIsaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah – would foretell the future Messiah would come from House of David.[11]

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

Micah 5:1 (5:2) But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days. – Jewish Publication Society[12]

A 1000 years after the House of David and in his royal lineage, Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem under bizarre, unforeseen circumstances. His parents, Mary and Joseph, were compelled by a decree of Roman Caesar Augustus to travel 90 miles by 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 detailed by Luke and Matthew. Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger for his crib according to Luke. Later after traveling hundreds of miles, the Magi located baby Jesus and his parents in a house, according to Matthew.

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

 

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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 35:16-19; 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] Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. “Micah.” <http://www.breslov.com/bible/Micah5.htm#3>

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