Bible Exposition

Bethlehem, though you are small!

Bethlehem (Hb לֶ֣חֶם (bayth leh’-khem) – “place of bread”, “house of food”, a city in Judah, a city in Zebulon)

The first time Bethlehem occurs in scripture was when Jacob and his family were traveling from Bethel when Rachel died while giving birth to her second son who ‘in her dying breath’ named him Ben-oni (Hb אוֹנִ֑י (’ō·w·nî) ‘son of my sorrow’), but Jacob named him Ben-yamin (Benjamin – ‘son of the right hand’) from Ben (Hb בֵּן (ben) – son) and yamin (Hb יָמִין (yamin) – right hand).

The word yamin is closely associated with Abraham, and the first time is appears in scripture was when Abraham chose the right side (hand), and continued to sojourn as a nomad in Canaan the land of promise, while his nephew Lot chose to settle in the left side (hand), in the well watered plains of Sodom. The verb form yaman (Hb יָמַן (yaman) – to go to or choose the right, to use the right hand) has the sense of being right handed, or doing with your right hand (of your strength) and is the basis for words like emunah (em-oo-naw’) – faith, faithfulness, steadfastness [Habakkuk 2:4], omnah(om-me-naw’) – pillar, doorposts [II Kings 18:16].

David would “feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem”[I Samuel 17:15] and would have been the place where “there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:”[I Samuel 17:34] and by God’s strength (right hand) that he was able to kill the lion and the bear, and he confessed that it was YAHWEH that “delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear” so that he could save the lamb

God sent Samuel to Bethlehem, where David was born and where he lived with his family [I Samuel 16:1–4]. Bethlehem is called “the city of David” [Luke 2:4,11), and scripture describes David as “the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah” [I Samuel 17:12]. The scripture specifically mentions Ephrath (Ephrathah) and Judah along with Bethlehem to distinguish it from another town named Bethlehem that was in region of Zebulun. David’s faithful great-grandparents (Ruth and Boaz) also lived in Bethlehem, and it was there they raised their son, Obed [Ruth 4:11] who became the father of Jesse, the father of David [Ruth 4:21–22]. Jesse is called “Jesse of Bethlehem” by one of King Saul’s servants [I Samuel 16:18].

Historically, Bethlehem was considered a rather unimportant place, and was not a major city by any measure. During the time of Joshua and the conquest of the promised land, ninety-six towns allotted to Judah are listed by name—but Bethlehem is not among them [Joshua 15:20–61]. After the return from Babylon exile, Nehemiah lists 17 cities of Judah, but the town of Bethlehem is not on that list, either (Nehemiah 11:25–30].

Micah’s prophecy would have surprised many at the time it was written: “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” [Micah 5:2], yet despite the seeming insignificance of Bethlehem, God chose it as the backdrop of Ruth and Boaz, as the birthplace of King David, and as the birth-place of Jesus the Anointed, the Savior of the world, thus elevating the little town of Bethlehem to a status of great significance in the God’s plan and purpose.

Micah prophesied in Judah from before the fall of Israel in 722 BC and experienced the devastation brought by the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC. Micah foretold of Messiah who would be ruler over Israel, that he would be born in Bethlehem. When the magi (wise-men) from the east came to Jerusalem looking for ‘he that is to be born king of the Jews’ and inquired of Herod, it was Micah’s prophecy that was used as the basis by which the chief priests and scribes were able to inform Herod as to where the Messiah would be born [Matthew 2:2-6].

Bethlehem was in deed a “place of bread” and “house of food”, for it is from there that we derive many spiritual lessons(food), and it was from there that Jesus the Anointed, “the bread of life” has origins[John 6:35]. Jesus was of humble beginnings, born in a manger in the insignificant town of Bethlehem according to the scriptures, but grew up in Nazareth. Jesus was ‘the son of David'[Matthew 1:1] who the Father ‘shall give unto him the throne of his father David:'[Luke 1:32], to restore the kingdom to Israel[Acts 1:6]. Jesus was he who would be the one to deliver all of mankind from the terrible foe: sin -> death [I Corinthians 15:26].

The prophet Isaiah echoes how Rachel named her son Ben-oni when he spoke of Messiah as “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him[Isaiah 53:3], and yet Jesus is “the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.”[Psalm 80:17] as Jacob renamed his son Ben-yamin, through who the Father “hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.”[Psalm 98:1] The change from ‘son of my sorrow’ to ‘son of the right hand’ also teaches the principle out of weakness and death came forth life and strength[Hebrews 11:34], by the power of Jesus’ sacrificial death and his resurrection to the right hand of YAH the Father[Acts 2:33].

The Father often chooses people, places, and things of apparent triviality to accomplish His divine purposes, for the Father often “chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” [I Corinthians 1:27–29].

Casmon Gordon.

Do you want to be saved? You have to believe in Jesus and his message of salvation.

Click to complete our free preparing for baptism lessons on the gospel here and we will personally keep in touch with you as you grow in faith.