Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Insignificance of Bethlehem

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
    in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.

- Micah 5:2-5a
A logical next step after talking about Ruth… and David.

Why was it so significant that Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Why wasn’t he born in Nazareth where Mary and Joseph were living at the time?

Throughout Scripture, we see that lineage is important. It was important to the patriarchs and remained so at the time of Mary and Joseph. Matthew even took great pains to accurately record Jesus’ ancestry at the beginning of his gospel.

An easy answer is that the prophecies said so. This passage, Micah 5:2, but also
2 Samuel 7:12-16, Jeremiah 23:5-6, and finally the familiar Isaiah 11—where it talks about a shoot from the stump of Jesse—all refer to a righteous king who will come from David’s line.

But why did God choose Bethlehem? I think one answer lies in the picture we see emerging from the beginning of Micah 5. Paula Gooder writes, “The word that Micah uses to describe Bethlehem literally means ‘insignificant’ or ‘youngest’ and seems to be a deliberate reference to David, who was himself the most insignificant and youngest of the brothers. True kingship, Micah seems to be saying, lies in the humble, insignificant roots of David, not in the arrogant, power hungry courts of the king (p. 70)

The Messiah, though a king, was to have humble beginnings, a Shepherd even. He was to be a ruler like David. But the Davidic line was tied directly to the lowly place of Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” not the royal courts of Jerusalem.

Paula Gooder concludes, “This prophecy is not so much a romantic reminder of the special place of Bethlehem in God's plan, as it is a radical proclamation of the unsettling truth of God's plan for the world; a plan that insists on justice, steadfast love, and on walking with God in humility” (p. 72).

Jesus could have been born on the side of the road between Nazareth and Joseph’s hometown, but God loves weaving a rich plan of redemption too much for the symbolism of Bethlehem to go to waste.

In Bethlehem we see the birth of a servant king. It is the manifestation of Immanuel—a Savior—that God had been planning since the beginning. And along the way, He handpicked “young” and “insignificant” players such as we, to join in the telling. Thanks be to God.

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