Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-2)

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

The book of Ruth is about a Moabitess who follows her Jewish mother-in-law (Naomi)   back to Israel. The city Naomi goes to is Bethlehem, and the majority of Ruth is set within Bethlehem’s jurisdiction. It is a beautiful book, talking about the redemption of one of Israels’ most hated enemies (Moab), set in a place that has a long and colorful history in the Old Testament. Bethlehem was the same place that Joseph and Benjamin’s mother, Rachel (the favourite wife of Jacob, aka Israel) died some thousands of years earlier. It was the place the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to pick out a new king. As 1Samuel declares, “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”    

From such things we can gather that Bethlehem is both a place of reconciliation and the birthplace of the king of God’s people. The writer of the book of Ruth subsequently notes this about Ruth’s son, “And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  Jesse is specifically named 25 times in 1Samuel alone. Jesse is important for the same reason Bethlehem is – it is from these unlikely origins that the Messiah will rise. As Isaiah prophesied some 700 years before Christ, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”

Matthew 2 begins, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”” In these two verses, Matthew tells us where Jesus was born, what time Jesus was born, and that the circumstances of His birth included Gentiles coming to worship Him.  Each of these is a fulfillment of prophesy, but the most obvious is Jesus’ birthplace. Not only because of Isaiah (quoted above), but because Micah 5:2 specifically called it out as the birthplace of Messiah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  

So that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is a fulfillment of much prophesy. It is clear that God long ago planned it. Before the days of king David, before David’s grandfather, even before Jacob’s lifetime. As one Bible writer put it, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 

It should astonish us all that just as the time and place of Jesus’ birth was predetermined and planned by the Father, so was ours. That you were born, and when you were born, and where you were born, and the manner in which you were born, are also part of His plan!  For the Word also says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” This He did for His own purpose, just as He did with Christ’s. 

Being born in such humble circumstance was not a blessing to Jesus, but it was and still is a very great honour for the people of Bethlehem, just as it was and is a sign to all peoples everywhere that God cares for the lowly in heart. Sometimes the more challenging circumstances of our lives are not for us per se. They are for those who will look back at our lives, that those who come after us might glorify God all the more!

Marcus Verbrugge

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Meditate on this truth: God has had a plan for your life from before the creation of the world. That is a wonderful truth. It is an even more wonderful truth to realize that He is committed to accomplishing His plan and purpose for you. As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Amen.

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