“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small … out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old …” (Micah 5:2).
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the LORD” (Luke 2:11).
The town celebrated as the birthplace of Jesus Christ nestles some 2600 feet above the Mediterranean Sea, among the mountains of southern Israel. Today it is a sprinkling of white buildings set on a white landscape, about six miles southwest of Jerusalem.
Bethlehem was an early Canaanite settlement. Established on an ancient caravan route, the town has been host and home to people of all cultures and Mideast nations since its founding. It looks pretty much like every other little town around it. Yet two of the greatest Kings in the history of the world were born here … one in a wealthy house, the other in a lowly stable.
King David’s father Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth the Moabitess, who came to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi. Boaz had been a prince of the people, a governor of sorts, and the family was not poor, though David tended his father Jesse’s sheep when he was a boy.
According to Luke’s Gospel, the census decreed by Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus called for every Roman citizen to go and register in the town or city of their origin. Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, came originally from Bethlehem but had settled in Nazareth in the North near the Sea of Galilee. The trip from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea is about 60 miles, which would have taken at least four days, more probably a week, to make on foot. Yet, it had to be done to stay within Roman law. But it also had to be accomplished so that the Messiah would be born in the Town of David, Jesus’ ancestor through both Mary and Joseph, Mary being his earthly mother and Joseph His adoptive father.
Some 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Micah wrote down his prophecy of hope for the nation of Israel.
Micah had been born into a very dark time in Israel’s history, a time of brutal warfare. A divided kingdom for some years already, the two sides bitterly fought one another. Then, Assyria, the superpower of the day, after a three-year-long siege, smashed the northern kingdom, capturing the northern capital of Samaria. Only a miracle kept them from taking Jerusalem, too.
Micah writes about the North’s descent into idolatry and wickedness, including child sacrifice, magic and sorcery. Now, he saw the South adopting the same attitudes and sins. The LORD’s judgment on the Northern kingdom of Israel was about to be levied as well on the kingdom of Judah in the south. All looked very bleak for both the Israelites and the Jews.
But in the midst of this great dark tunnel, the LORD God showed Micah a bright light at the end of it. There would be a heavy judgment on Judah. But from a small town in the south of Judah would come a Messiah … an anointed One who would save His people.
Our verses begin with Micah’s acknowledgment that a conqueror would marshal his troops and strike against Israel. But the LORD God inspired Micah to prophesy about the coming of one unlike any before Him. And He would arise out of the most unlikely of places … Bethlehem. Little Bethlehem, one of the most insignificant of places, other than, at Micah’s time, being known as the birthplace of King David, Bethlehem Ephrathah would give rise to a great ruler, “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
It is worthy to note here that this prophesy does double duty from this point on. It is not just hope for the people living through a very dark time in 700 BC; it is hope for all humanity, for all of history. It pertains not only to the time of the Messiah’s first appearing but also to His second coming, as the verses of Micah’s prophecy reveal.
So why Bethlehem? Why did Jesus, the Messiah of all the nations, need to be born in the little town of Bethlehem? The answer becomes transparent when we examine both names, Bethlehem and Ephrathah.
These two names are Hebrew, and all Hebrew names of towns as well as people have meanings that transcend the mere name. So let’s take a look at that.
Reading from right to left, we see the first syllable is BEIT, and the second is LECHEM. BEIT LECHEM … softened by English pronunciation becomes Bethlehem. But what does it mean? Beit is the Hebrew word for house, and Lechem is the Hebrew word for bread. The simple translation for Bethlehem is House of Bread. Ephrathah translates as fruitfulness or ‘blessings.” The House of Bread is a house of fruitfulness or blessings.
Now, among Our Saviour’s various names for Himself is this one: “I am the Bread of Life” John 6:31-35, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
And about Ephrathah? Blessings? Isaiah 55, verses 1-5, are known as the Messianic Blessings. See how they resonate with the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.”
The LORD God speaks to us in the clearest possible terms that Micah’s and Isaiah’s prophecies are about Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, the Town of David, His ancestor on both sides of his earthly family.
He is the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life, born in the House of Bread. His blessings abound in His everlasting covenant with those who believe in Him and love Him.
In the Isaiah passage, we hear Jesus saying, “Lay up not treasures on earth where rust and moth can destroy. Rather, lay up treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy.
For where your treasure is there your heart is also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
We hear Jesus telling the 12, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts, no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.”
We hear Jesus telling Martha to stop worrying about her chores and to come and sit and learn what cannot be taken from her, as her sister Mary is doing (Luke 10:41-42).
We hear Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, to the rich young man who wanted to follow Him, and, ultimately, to us, living in the 21st century, that His love extends His covenant with David to include everyone who will listen to Him and believe that Jesus is indeed the Saviour of the World, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, and the Shining Beacon of Hope for the hopeless.
The rest of Micah’s verses speak specifically of Jesus’ birth and ministry on earth and His reign on earth at His Second Coming. “She who is in labour bears a Son. He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the Name of the LORD His God.”
We know that Jesus’ Second Coming is referred to in the prophetic words of Micah 5:3: “Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a son … and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.”
Most of the world’s Jews were scattered in the diaspora that lasted from 70 A.D. until 1948! Only a handful of Jews managed to stay in Judea for the duration. When Israel was declared a nation once more on May 14, 1948, “the rest of his brothers returned to join the Israelites.”
The end times prophecy (Micah 5:4) includes the reign of the King of Kings during the millennium … “And they will live securely, for His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.”
The only way this prophecy could ever make sense was for the LORD God to inspire Micah to write the exact words he did. As we read the Word of the LORD, we, too, are inspired to understand it. And James 1:5 says we indeed ought to ask the LORD for this wisdom.
The Hope of the World, Jesus Christ, Yeshua Ha’Maschiach, arrived in this world in the one place that would explain for all people and all time, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see … that the Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread, that the source of all blessings, was born in the town of the same name. There are no coincidences or accidents with God’s Holy Word. Every word in the Bible is purposeful, meaningful, and is for our instruction.
Now you know the rest of the story about why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This Christmas, may your heart fill with the HOPE that our Messiah Yeshua will come again soon and bring the LOVE, JOY and PEACE that are promised through Him and in Him.
LORD GOD of all Hope: Thank You for the sure hope we have in Your Amazing Grace to save us through Our LORD Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. Praise be to You, O God of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Glory to You forever and ever, in Jesus’ strong and precious Name. Amen.
If anyone reading this article has not yet received Jesus as their Saviour, but God has touched your heart by His Holy Word, please email me (email@example.com) or find a Bible-believing local church and ask the Pastor what you must do to be saved in Grace. In the meantime, please consider the ABCs of Salvation, and may GOD bless you.
A – Admit
Admit what you have done wrong and ask forgiveness.
Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.”
I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
B – Believe
Believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again as a payment for your sins.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
C – Confess and Choose
Confess and choose to allow God to be in charge of your life.
Matthew 16:24 “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:13 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”