Light for the Last Days

What do you know about Bethlehem?

SHORT TALK

First of all the name Bethlehem. It means something. Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread’. It’s also described as Bethlehem Ephratah which means fruitful. So, out of this place is going to come someone who brings the bread of life and who is going to make His people fruitful.

Scripture

This place seems then to have a relationship to Yeshua. It’s a place which appears various times in the Hebrew scriptures, in the Tanach or Old Testament.

In Genesis 35 we have the first first mention of Bethlehem. It’s the place where Rachel died while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. And so it was a place of great sorrow because Rachel was Jacob’s favourite wife. And today, there is a tomb for Rachel just outside Bethlehem.

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel laboured in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear; you will have this son also.” 18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.

Genesis 35.16-20

So it’s a place of sorrow but also a place of birth.

Tourist guide

Further on in the scriptures, you find Bethlehem is a place where the story of Ruth is worked out. Boaz and Ruth were ancestors of David. We read about that in the Book of Ruth. It’s a place where this gentile woman was redeemed and brought into the house of Israel by her kinsman/redeemer husband known as Boaz.

Therefore the close relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” So he took off his sandal. And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. 10 Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day.”

11 And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem12 May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the Lord will give you from this young woman.”

Ruth 4.8-12

And, in doing that, Boaz becomes a type of Yeshua / Jesus bringing people into the family of God through redeeming them, and Ruth then became the ancestress of King David and therefore, of the Messiah.

Bethlehem is also the place where their grandson Jesse lived and had eight sons, the youngest of whom was David, whom Samuel anointed as King in place of Saul at a time when David was the youngest son tending sheep in Bethlehem and became King of Israel.

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
חֹטֶר מִגֵּזַע יִשָׁי וְנֵצֶר [ḥōṭer miggēzaʿ yišāy wǝnēṣer] And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord וְנָחָה עָלָיו רוּחַ יְהוָה [wǝnāḥâ ʿālāyw rûaḥ yhwh] shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.

10 “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious.”

Isaiah 11.1-10

David and wrote the Psalms Psalm 23,

The Lord יְהוָה [yhwhis my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה לְאֹרֶךְ [wǝšabtî bǝbêt-yhwh lǝʾōrek].

Psalm 23

and he became an ancestor of the Messiah of the Lord:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord ἄγγελος Κυρίου [angelos Kyriou] stood before them, and the glory of the Lord δόξα Κυρίου [doxa Kyriou] shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David πόλει Δαυίδ [polei Dauid] a Saviour Σωτήρ [Sōtēr], who is Christ the Lord Χριστὸς Κύριος [Christos Kyrios]. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe βρέφος [brephos] wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel ἀγγέλῳ [angelō] a multitude of the heavenly host praising God Θεὸν [Theon] and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις Θεῷ [Doxa en hypsistois Theō],
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem Βηθλεὲμ [Bēthleem] and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord Κύριος [Kyrios] has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

Luke 2.8-16

So, putting all these things together, Bethlehem is associated with the high points and the low points of life, with death, birth, marriage. It is also the place of anointing of Israel’s greatest King.

In the death of Messiah we can be born again to New Life in Yeshua / Jesus the Messiah. We can be betrothed to Messiah our Kinsman, our Redeemer who brings us into the family of God just as Ruth was redeemed.

Jesus, born in Bethlehem according to the ancient Hebrew scriptures, was anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring Good News of the Gospel just as David was anointed to become the King of Judah, King of Israel. Similarly, we can be anointed by the Holy Spirit in a New Birth.

Therefore, Bethlehem is a significant place that points us towards Yeshua / Jesus the Messiah. Now, according to the prophecy of Micah 5 verse 2, something special was going to happen at a future time in Bethlehem.

“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

Notice that Micah’s prophecy has a little bit that is not mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

Matthew 2.5-6

It says, His origins, of this One, are ‘from of old, from everlasting’. We are going to pick up on that and see what the significance of that is.

Is this prophecy a prophecy we can apply to Jesus? Does it apply to the Messiah? As I said, rabbis often say that Christians just interpret these scriptures, that we take these scriptures out of place and that we interpret them the way we want to in order to try and make them fit with Jesus.

Article

Interestingly, there are a number of rabbinic sources which do point to this One who comes out of Bethlehem being the Messiah.

Here is one from the Targum. The Targum are Jewish re-writings, a Jewish paraphrase, of the scriptures. This one is the Targum of Micah 5, and says:

But you oh Bethlehem Ephrata, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before me the Messiah to exercise dominion over Israel. Who is He whose name is mentioned from before from the days of creation.

Here we have an amazing interpretation. This is an interpretation of the scripture and it tells you that One is coming coming out of Bethlehem who is the Messiah, and that His origins are from of old, from everlasting, from before the days of creation.

וְאַתָּה בֵּית־לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה צָעִיר לִהְיֹות בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא לִהְיֹות מֹושֵׁל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל[ûmôṣāʾōtāyw miqqedem mîmê ʿôlāmוּמֹוצָאֹתָיו מִקֶּדֶם מִימֵי עֹולָם׃ (whose going forth, from of old, from everlasting)

מִיכָהַ (Micah) 5 (WLC) – וְאַתָּ֞ה בֵּֽית־לֶ֣חֶם אֶפְרָ֗תָה צָעִיר֙ לִֽהְיֹות֙ (blueletterbible.org)

Another quote from Rashi who is one of the most influential Jewish commentators says,

And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah: whence David emanated, … you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you. From you shall emerge for Me: the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.” And his origin is from old: …

Rashi commentary of Micah 5

Therefore, Rashi tells you that the Messiah is going to come out of Bethlehem and that His origin is from of old. So, you have Jewish sources here (these are NOT Christian sources by any means – these are Jewish sources) telling you that there is a connection between the One who comes out of Bethlehem and the Messiah.

Of course, it would be problematic if the Messiah, today, came out of Bethlehem, because today Bethlehem is a town in the the Palestinian Authority, about 8 miles south of Jerusalem, and it is a wholly Arab town.

If the Messiah had to come out of Bethlehem today, then He would have to be an Arab, which doesn’t really work!

Let’s have a look at the phrase, the unusual phrase, about the origins of Messiah which is which is of this One who is prophesied here, whose origins are from of old, from everlasting.

Whose origins are from of old? From everlasting? In Hebrew, it says, מִקֶּדֶם [miqqedem] which means from the East. So it implies that He comes from ‘the rising of the sun’, from of old. מִקֶּדֶם מִימֵי עֹולָם׃ [miqqedem mîmê ʿôlām] .from the days of eternity, from everlasting’.

If His origins are from the days of eternity, you have to ask the question: Whose origins are from the days of eternity? Does any human being have their origins in the days of eternity? No! Each one of us can tell the the date when we were born, and we can’t tell the date when we’re going to die, but we do know that we are not eternal beings, and that we don’t start from an eternal place. We start from a moment in time.

Does anyone here have an eternal nature? Who starts from eternity? In fact, Messiah doesn’t start from eternity, He has always been there. He is God and the scriptures.

In Psalm 90, God’s existence is described as being from eternity to eternity.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God וְתֵבֵל וּמֵעֹולָם עַד־עֹולָם אַתָּה אֵל׃ [wǝtēbēl ûmēʿôlām ʿad-ʿôlām ʾattâ ʾēl].

Psalm 90.1-2

So, He has always been there; God has always existed.

This is one of the things which we find it hard to understand because we can’t conceive of One who has always existed. And people ask: ‘Well, who made God?’ To which we have no answer, we don’t know, we can’t tell because God has always been there.

God made us. But it is implied in scripture that the One who is going to come from eternity has to be a divine person. Only God has His origins in eternity. Therefore, this does raise an interesting question to say the least!

27 The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms מְעֹנָה אֱלֹהֵי קֶדֶם וּמִתַּחַת זְרֹעֹת עֹולָם [mǝʿōnâ ʾĕlōhê qedem ûmittaḥat zǝrōʿōt ʿôlām];
He will thrust out the enemy from before you,
And will say, ‘Destroy!’
28 Then Israel shall dwell in safety,
The fountain of Jacob alone,
In a land of grain and new wine;
His heavens shall also drop dew.
29 Happy are you, O Israel!
Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord,
The shield of your help
And the sword of your majesty! עַם נֹושַׁע בַּיהוָה מָגֵן עֶזְרֶךָ וַאֲשֶׁר־חֶרֶב גַּאֲוָתֶךָ [ʿam nôšaʿ ba-yhwh māgēn ʿezrekā waʾăšer-ḥereb gaʾăwātekā]
Your enemies shall submit to you,
And you shall tread down their high places.”

Deuteronomy 33.27-29

When you come on to the New Testament, it tells us very clearly that people in Jesus’ day understood that this prophecy was about the the coming of the Messiah.

He was to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew Chapter 2 tells us:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων  ? [Pou estin ho techtheis basileus tōn Ioudaiōn ?] For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας [Bēthleem tēs Ioudaias], for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler ἡγούμενος [hēgoumenos]
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

Matthew 2.1-6

This tells you that it was the common understanding of people in Israel and beyond that the Messiah was going to come out of Bethlehem. So, when the 3 kings from the East come and ask where’s this One who is going to be born, who is going to be a ruler of Israel, they in fact say, He is going to be born in Bethlehem.

Of course, when you read the New Testament you find that that’s exactly where Jesus was born. Luke Chapter 2,

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου [dogma para Kaisaros Augoustou] that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου [hautē apographē prōtē egeneto hēgemoneuontos tēs Syrias Kyrēniou]. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλεέμ [polin Dauid hētis kaleitai Bēthleem], because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2.1-7

We’ll leave out ‘the room for the inn’ which is another interesting story, but notice there that they had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order for Jesus to be born. Why did they have to do this? Because Caesar Augustus issued a decree that there should be a census, and because Joseph was of the line of David and they had to travel down from Nazareth some 90 miles to Bethlehem.

Now that’s an interesting fact in itself because God was overruling through the decree of the Roman Emperor to get Joseph and Mary from Nazareth where the Messiah was originally due to be born down to Bethlehem where he was actually born. So, you can see God overruling even in these events as Caesar Augustus thought he was the ruler of the world and making all the decisions, God was actually overruling his decision in order to get Joseph and Mary into the right place for Jesus to be born.

Everything works together in God’s plan. In fact, later on, in one of the disputes about Jesus in the Gospel, in Chapter 7 of John, an argument arises about whether Jesus is the Messiah.

But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people because of Him. 44 Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

John 7.40-44

That is quite a humorous scripture in some ways because here’s the opposition saying Jesus can’t be the Messiah because He comes out of Galilee. The Messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem. Well, had they tried to look a little bit further into it, they would have found that even though that Jesus came out of Galilee and was known as Jesus of Nazareth, He was really born in Bethlehem.

And often the opposition does that, don’t they? They sort of make up some objection but they don’t follow it through far enough, because there is an answer to their objection if they were to look into it, which would actually point to them to believing in Yeshua.

So, in the Gospels, you see how God overruled the events through the Roman census to bring Joseph and Miriam down from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order for Yeshua to be born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of the prophecy.

And Matthew also tells us about the fulfilment of the prophecy in the Messiah’s birth and about the satanic attempt to kill him at birth through the wicked Herod.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem Βηθλέεμ [Bēthleem] and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”

Matthew 2.16-18

That is the nature of God’s provision and deliverance. There is no doubt that what was operating through Herod’s mind was Satan who wanted to destroy Jesus. Yet, God overruled and brought deliverance by sending them down to Egypt and then calling them out of Egypt.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.

כִּי נַעַר יִשְׂרָאֵל וָאֹהֲבֵהוּ וּמִמִּצְרַיִם קָרָאתִי לִבְנִי׃ [kî naʿar yiśrāʾēl wāʾōhăbēhû ûmimmiṣrayim qārāʾtî libnî] Hosea 11.1

13 … an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, …” 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Matthew 2.13-15

“Remember this, and show yourselves men;
Recall to mind, O you transgressors.
Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other כִּי אָנֹכִי אֵל וְאֵין עֹוד [kî ʾānōkî ʾēl wǝʾên ʿôd];
I am God, and there is none like Me אֱלֹהִים וְאֶפֶס כָּמֹונִי׃ [ʾĕlōhîm wǝʾepes kāmônî],
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times וּמִקֶּדֶם [ûmiqqedem]things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
11 Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
Indeed I have spoken it;
I will also bring it to pass.
I have purposed it;
I will also do it.

12 “Listen to Me, you stubborn-hearted,
Who are far from righteousness:
13 I bring My righteousness near, it shall not be far off;
My salvation תְשׁוּעָתִ [tǝšûʿāti/Yeshua] shall not linger.
And I will place salvation in Zion בְצִיֹּון תְּשׁוּעָה [bǝṣiyyôn tǝšûʿâ],
For Israel My glory לְיִשְׂרָאֵל תִּפְאַרְתִּי [lǝyiśrāʾēl tipʾartîv].

Isaiah 46.8-13

Tony Pearce

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