By Tammie McNully Howell
Reading: Micah 5:2
Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
A ruler is coming from one small town in Judah. Why Bethlehem? What is the significance? This little town was mentioned 39 times in the Bible. Why did God choose Bethlehem to host the arrival of His Salvation toward mankind? Let’s walk through Bethlehem’s story to find our answers.
In Genesis 35:18-19, Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, died after giving birth to her second son in Bethlehem and is buried there. Just before she died, she named her son, Benoni. Benoni means “Son of my sorrow.” Why in all the world’s towns would God send His Son to be born in a place that represented sorrow?
In Isaiah 53 we see that Jesus would one day be called a man of sorrows. Through his suffering and sorrow, we can have the healing He offers. His healing brings us to a place of peace with the Father, no longer His enemies. From the New Testament, we find that He is a present help in our sorrows and because of Him we can sorrow with hope, the confident assurance that one day He will wipe away all tears, sorrow, pain, and suffering. (I Thessalonians 4:13, Revelation 21:4)
Maybe one of the reasons God chose Bethlehem was to show us that even though we may have sorrow now, there will be joy in the morning.
Let’s continue our journey through Bethlehem’s history. Look in the book of Ruth. Two poor, outcast women walk into town. They had no means of their own, but a Kinsman Redeemer, Boaz, paid the cost so that he could restore life to them (4:15), to give them a place and a name, indeed, you’ll find Ruth and Boaz are the grandparents of King David; therefore, in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself.
Like Ruth & Naomi, we are poor, without means of saving ourselves, but God sent His Son to be a man, a Kinsman, who lived His life perfectly where we fall short, to pay the penalty for all of our sins and to Redeem or buy us, if we’ll ask Him to do so. He did all of that, to give us life, hope, a place, a name written down in Heaven for eternity. God sent His Son to Bethlehem to be our ultimate Kinsman Redeemer. Maybe that is a second reason that God chose the little town of Bethlehem.
A third page in Bethlehem’s history is found in I Samuel 16. God sent Samuel to anoint His chosen King of Israel. Historically, the little town of Bethlehem was where the sacrificial Passover Lambs were raised. Shepherds and sheep roamed the hills and valleys about 7 miles outside of Jerusalem. And it is here we find the boy, David, out in the fields, being about the family’s business—sheep.
In fact, David would have missed the visit of the distinguished guest, except he was needed for a key role in God’s story. You see, it is here in Bethlehem that God tells us that He doesn’t look on the outward appearance, but on the heart. God took a boy from the sheep field and made Him a king to rule over God’s people, a shepherd king. We find in II Samuel 7 that God made a covenant with David that his throne would be established forever.
So, why Bethlehem? Because God is faithful. He kept His word. He sent His King born right there in David’s hometown, who would rule and reign forever. He would be the Great Shepherd, leading His people. But before that day would come, this King fulfilled the other part of Bethlehem’s story.
Bethlehem was where the temple lambs were raised. The ones who shed their blood in a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the people. As we follow the steps of Jesus, we see that He is the Lamb of God, and His sacrifice as He laid down His life to once and for all time cover the penalty for our sins. No annual do-over needed. Jesus covered it once for all!
With John we can say, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Of course, God’s Lamb would be born where the temple lambs were born, since His Son was to be the ultimate sacrificial Lamb for our sins.
And finally, Why Bethlehem? The word Bethlehem means House of Bread. Bread—what God’s people cried out for in the wilderness, the sustenance of life. We find the people in Jesus’ Day in John 6 also wanting a sign that He was the Messiah, like the manna. Jesus told them that He was the True Bread from Heaven, who would give life unto the world. Those who would come to Him would never hunger again, and the life which He would give them would be everlasting life.
So, why the little town of Bethlehem? The very history of the town tells the story, because of sin, death, sorrow, pain, and suffering, we were poor and needy people, unable to help ourselves, needing a Saviour. We needed a Kinsman Redeemer, who could pay the cost for our sin. God loved mankind so much that He sent His Son to be a man, a near Kinsman, who would allow Himself to be sacrificed as a Lamb to provide peace with the Father, everything we need for today, hope for the future, and confidence in eternity to all who would believe.
I am in continual amazement at the richness of Your Word to us. Thank You for teaching us and leading us to know you on a deeper level. Thank You so much for sending your Son to be everything that we needed when we were unable. Thank You for the life, hope, and peace that You give. Father, help me to be like Mary and ponder these things in my heart, to see the richness of Your story and help me to be grateful and love You more as a result. Help us to really worship You during this Christmas season.
In Jesus’ name, I pray,