O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
O Little Town of Bethlehem
How Still We See Thee Lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
“Mobilize! Marshal your troops! The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem. They will strike Israel’s leader in the face with a rod. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world.” Micah 5:1-4 NLT
This scripture in Micah was written 735 years before Jesus arrived on the scene.
Bethlehem was a sleepy little village according to the hymn anyway. But as we look a little deeper into the history of Bethlehem, we find that it was center stage for the greatest story ever to be told. The first we hear of Bethlehem is in the story of Jacob and Rachel. In Genesis 35, we read that Rachel traveled while pregnant from Bethel to Ephrath. Before she reaches Ephrath, she goes into hard labor and dies. Sorrow is the first thing we know of Bethlehem Ephrathah. She tells the midwife to name the child Ben-oni, but Jacob says his name will be Benjamin. When Rachel dies, Jacob buries her and builds a pillar. Scriptures says, “And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.”
The next story we see, however, is a woman for Moab, a Gentile, who gives us more revelation of what Bethlehem is to become. It is a story of celebration. It is the story of the kinsman redeemer. Ruth travels with Naomi, her mother-in-law, to Bethlehem. There, she gleans the field of Boaz, her kinsman redeemer. She marries him and has a son, Obed, who fathers Jesse, who is the father to David. David, we are told, was also the insignificant son of Jesse’s clan. Small and always taunted by his brothers.
Two stories from Bethlehem. One of sorrow, Rachel who dies is buried in a place which will become part of a much bigger story. The other story, Ruth and Naomi, which enlarges the picture of God’s biggest drama the world would ever know. Ruth and Naomi’s story also begins with sorrow and bitterness. The loss of a husband and father would be hard enough but then they lose their sons. There is nothing left in Moab for Naomi so she leaves to go home, Bethlehem. What does Bethlehem mean? The house of bread.
Bethlehem, a sleepy little town that is insignificant by Micah’s words, is the place where God is revealing through the ages his story of man’s redemption. Jesus is born in a manger with humble beginnings. Mary gives birth out of wedlock and eventually loses the son in the most horrendous way piercing her heart as Simon the prophet told her.
Bethlehem Ephrathah, Micah’s prophecy is very specific in what is told. Ephrathah also reveals God’s amazing creativity; for the name means “fruitfulness.” Out of Bethlehem’s sorrowful, bitter loss, and weakness, God has brought forth fruit that will save man from sin and death. “Out of seemingly weakness littleness and weakness, God has perfected strength.” (Barker)
It is amazing to me in my finite mind how God planned all of history with minute details, meticulous in revelation. He is always stirring my excitement in His Word. Each detail small and insignificant or big and magnificent reveals the heart of God. How much he loves His creation and His children is evidenced in all the world around us. But just as it was with Bethlehem, we miss it. We don’t stop to look and meditate on what lies beneath the obvious.
We live in a time where many of the details of scripture can be known to us if we will take the time to study. My love for literature and symbolism began in college with an instructor that used the book of Job to teach students to look behind the obvious to the hidden words. Before you jump up and declare me a heretic, know that there are rules to frame how to interpret passages in writing. Most importantly, when studying God’s word we do not stretch what is not there. Context is always king.
This season of Christmas is a time to reflect on how much God loves the world. He longs to reveal Himself to you and me. He longs for a people to walk with Him and talk with Him and enjoy His presence all the day.
It isn’t about PRESENTS. It is about PRESENCE! Jesus, God Himself, taking on the form of man, humbling Himself to redeem man from eternal death.
Come to Bethlehem.
How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”
(last stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem)
For further study of Bethlehem see, “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ,” by C. H. Spurgeon. One of the greatest preachers in the 18th century.
https://youtu.be/cpHY3jU27dc O Little Town of Bethlehem