Bible Places: Bethlehem

The “little town of Bethlehem” has had a remarkable place in the history of God’s purposes. Its very name is significant, meaning “House of Bread,” no doubt naturally gaining its name from the rich arable lands that surrounded it, of which Boaz’ fields were part (Ruth 2:3). Of course, the deeper meaning is much more important, for it was because Christ was born there, who said of Himself: “I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). In this way, Bethlehem wonderfully set forth the gospel of Christ.

Because there were two places named Bethlehem in the land of Israel (one being in Zebulun not far from Nazareth), the well-known place of the birth of Christ was generally called Bethlehem-Judah.

Its first claim to fame was that it was the birthplace of David. Hence it was often known as “The City of David.” For this reason, when Joseph and Mary went to be “taxed” (or enrolled), they had to go to Bethlehem because they were direct descendants of David. This proved the fulfilment of the LORD’s promise to David that the Messiah would come from his descendants (see also Isaiah 11:1).

Evidently its water was especially pure: for when Bethlehem was besieged, David longed to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem which was by the gate. Three of his mighty men risked their lives to fetch some for him, which when they had done, David refused to drink but poured it out until the LORD. How much more precious is the “deep sweet well of Bethlehem” of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the source and pureness of His gospel and Word! (2nd Samuel 23:13-17).

But, of course, its greatest fame is that the Lord Jesus Christ was born there. This had been prophesied by Micah in his prophecy (Micah 5:2), and when the wise men went to Herod in Jerusalem, thinking to find the baby Jesus in the capitol town, the chief priests and scribes reminded him of the prophecy: “And 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” (Matthew 2:6). How surprising to human reason that such a humble place should be chosen as the birthplace of Christ! Yet God’s ways are not our ways, and this amazing condescension of God in sending His own Son to be a man, reminds us that “He humbled Himself.”

Yet Bethlehem, like the world in general, could find no room for this wonderful gift. It is, then, not surprising to find Herod with all his malice spilling the blood of those innocent babes in his envy at this supposed usurper to his throne. His reaction is but the mirror of the enmity in the hearts of all men by nature. “We will not have this Man to reign over us.”

Yet despite man’s rejection at Bethlehem, and throughout the life of our Lord Jesus until He was nailed to the tree at Calvary, God’s precious purpose was in no way hindered but these things rather mysteriously furthered Hos design “to save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:23)

How thankful, then, should God’s children be for Bethlehem, and.mpre especially for this fact:

“In that dear Babe of Bethlehem I see, my God, contracted to a span for me!”

May God give us each that faith which makes Bethlehem “the House of Bread” to those who believe in His name.


Gerald D. Buss

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