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Thursday, December 22 2011
Bethlehem In History And Prophecy
Bethlehem, from a Hebrew word that means house of bread, is located about 5 miles / 8 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem in the hill country of Judea (Bethlehem is approximately 2,550 feet / 777 meters above sea level - about the same as Jerusalem) on the way to Hebron. It is believed to have existed at least 1,000 years before the Messiah was born there, according to prophecy. Bethlehem is variously translated or rendered (in the KJV, and others) as "Ephrath" (Genesis 35:16), "Bethlehem Ephratah" (Micah 5:2), "Bethlehemjudah" (1 Samuel 17:12), and "the city of David, which is called Bethlehem" (Luke 2:4).
The first major Biblical mention of Bethlehem occurred when Jacob, who the LORD had just before renamed as "Israel," returned from Syria after his over twenty years (Genesis 31:38) living in refuge (from his bother Esau i.e. Genesis 27:41-46) there with his uncle Laban (see The Syrian Marriage Wells) - and the birth of all of his twelve sons and one daughter, except one, Benjamin. That birth occurred near Bethlehem, where Rachel died and was buried. Rachel's death became a matter of both Bible history and prophecy, as we will read.
"35:9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. 35:10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.
Years later, after Jacob / Israel had moved to Egypt (see Why Did They Go To Goshen?; also Abraham's Seed: From The Nile To The Euphrates) and was himself about to die, Jacob adopted (in effect, promoting them from grandsons to sons) the sons of Joseph, the firstborn son of Rachel, as a surrogate means to have more children with Rachel. Ephraim and Manasseh became tribes of Israel because of the death of Rachel.
"48:1 And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 48:2 And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.
"Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel"
The book of Ruth begins with a journey of a family from Bethlehem.
"1:1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 1:2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
Only Naomi returned to Bethlehem, but with her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth.
"1:19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? 1:20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. 1:21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?" (Ruth 1:19-21 KJV)
The purpose of the journey and the return with a "foreigner" was that the Messianic line, through Judah, would include representative people from all nations (just as the LORD had been doing all along i.e. Abraham was born in Iraq of Iraqi parents, all but one of the children of Israel were born in Syria to Syrian mothers, Ephraim and Manasseh were born in Egypt from an Egyptian mother; see also The Joppa Lessons Of Jonah And Peter) because the Messiah is the Messiah of all nations. It was from that union of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz that Bethlehem was firmly established was the "city of David" - and of his Messianic line (see The Messianic Role Of Naomi, Ruth And Boaz).
"2:1 And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. 2:2 And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. 2:3 And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech." (Ruth 2:1-3 KJV)
It was at Bethlehem that the LORD sent Samuel to anoint David as the King of Israel.
"16:1 And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul [see The Civil War Kings], seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons." (1 Samuel 16:1 KJV)
Notice that David was personally chosen by the LORD ("And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he"), who Himself, centuries later, would be born in Bethlehem as the prophesied Messianic descendant of King David (again, see The Rock Of The Church).
"16:6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD anointed is before him.
When the time came for the Messiah to be born, the stage had been set for Bethlehem to fulfill its role as "the city of David."
"2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus [see The Politics Of Rome and Pax Romana: The Birth Of The Roman Empire], that all the world should be taxed. 2:2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 2:3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
The Messiah was not born on December 25 (on the Roman pagan calendar) or anytime in the winter season at all (listen to our Sermon The Truth About Christmas). Shepherds did not leave their sheep, or themselves, overnight in their pastures in the often cold, wet winter nights of Bethlehem. The local shepherds were given to be the first witnesses of the birth of the Messiah.
"2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Later, the "wise men" from the East were miraculously directed to Bethlehem (the "star" was likely an angel; actual stars, comets, or other natural objects don't do what the "star" of Bethlehem did - including hovering over just one specific house of a city) to become the first representatives of the "gentile" world to witness the birth of the Messiah (see Why Did The Magi Come?).
"2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
As quoted in the verses above in Matthew ("thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel"), the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy in 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." (Micah 5:2 KJV)
The "slaughter of the innocents" by Herod, in Bethlehem, was also prophesied, by Jeremiah - referring back to Rachel.
"2:13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
Fact Finder: As written in the verses quoted above, was the flight from Bethlehem also prophesied?
This Day In History, December 22
640: The Saracens under Amrou conquered Alexandria, having invaded Egypt two years earlier.
1135: Stephen of Blois was coronated as the king of England.
1216: Pope Honorius III approved the establishment of the Order of Preachers, more commonly known as the Dominicans.
1681: New England colonists revoked a 22 year-old ban on Christmas celebrations; the ban on the pagan-based festival was soon observed again (listen to our Sermon The Ho-Ho Hoax).
1715: James Stuart, the "Old Pretender" and claimant to the British throne, landed at Peterhead from exile in France to start a rebellion.
1807: The U.S. Congress passed the Embargo Act. While it banned all U.S. trade with all other countries, it was directed primarily at Britain and France. The Act was repealed a few years later due to the devastating effect that isolationism had on the U.S. economy itself i.e. it "defended" jobs and business that were negatively affected by competition from imports, but it destroyed U.S. jobs and business that were dependent upon exports.
1894: Alfred Dreyfus, French artillery officer, was convicted of selling secrets to Germany and sentenced to imprisonment on Devils Island. He was completely exonerated in 1906.
1896: An arbitration tribunal in Paris ruled that the Bering Sea (a vast area of the north Pacific Ocean between the continents of Asia and North America was international waters, not a U.S. possession.
1942: After his NAZI air force consistently lost to the Royal Air Force in air combat over Britain, Adolf Hitler signed an order to develop rockets as a weapon that could be safely launched from Europe onto Britain (beginning the modern age of combat-from-a-desk, "push button" no-courage-required warfare).
1968: The 82-man crew of the U.S. spy ship Pueblo were released after being seized by North Korea. The ship itself remains in North Korea to this day.
1988: A Pan Am 747 airliner was blown up by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 295 people on board, and 11 people on the ground, were killed.
1989: A revolution in Romania overthrew communist leader Nicolea Ceausescu after 23 years as president.
1990: Former "Solidarity" union leader Lech Walesa became Poland's President.