Appearing nearly 50 times in the Bible from the Patriarchs to the Birth of Messiah, Bethlehem was frequently mentioned during the period of the judges, it was central to King David’s early activities until he conquered Jerusalem, and it is home to Rachel’s Tomb which draws many Jewish pilgrims. But of all those biblical references, the three most compelling accounts of Bethlehem are those prophetically pointing and connected to the advent of the Messiah.
The first is the story of Ruth the Moabitess who married Boaz from the tribe of Judah and was introduced into the bloodline of Jesus the Messiah. Boaz, whose Hebrew name means “IN HIM IS STRENGTH,” is named 13 times in the book of Ruth as the “Kinsman Redeemer,” the only relative who was allowed under biblical law (and who was willing) to redeem the widow of his deceased relative. Taking Ruth as wife, Boaz redeemed the name, the land and the legacy of his dead relative; a picture of the Great Redeemer who’ll also come from Bethlehem years later to redeem His Bride.
Ruth, however, is the hero of the story! Turning her back on her own people and gods, her famous words echo until today in many hearts when she told Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16). It was Ruth’s faith, devotion and courage as a non-Hebrew woman casting her lot with the people of God, which earned her place in Messiah’s bloodline; and Bethlehem is where it all happened.
The next epic appearance of Bethlehem is in Micah’s prophecy, one of the beautiful 300 plus Messianic prophecies foretelling the coming of the Savior. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2). This precise location of Messiah’s birthplace was well known in Israel as we see from King Herod’s search as to where the Messiah was to be born (Matthew 2:5-6). And indeed it was in Bethlehem that the Son of God was born, clothed in human flesh, preparing to offer Himself a perfect sacrifice according to the will of our Heavenly Father.
Think of it, of all the places God could have chosen to bring forth the Savior, Bethlehem was His choice. In the Hebrew language the city’s name means “HOUSE OF BREAD,” Beth-Lehem, and how can we miss the connection to the Lord’s own declaration, saying, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). Surely, Bethlehem is properly named!
Nestled in the Judean hills just south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is home to well-known sites including the Shepherds Fields where the angelic choir proclaimed Messiah’s arrival to the astounded shepherds; the Church of the Nativity which commemorates one of the traditional sites of His birth, and Manger Square which featured many Christian celebrations and services for the last 2,000 years. No doubt, every person of faith will be blessed and encouraged when visiting Bethlehem today, the real “HOUSE OF BREAD.”
See you in Israel,