“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.” (Micah 5:2)
I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the places frequently mentioned in the Bible, a sort of Lockdown Tour of the Holy Land, so over the next few Mondays we’ll look at some ancient sites, beginning with Bethlehem.
Given the fact that Bethlehem plays such a large role in the accounts of the birth of Jesus it is easy to assume it is a large, or at least important, town. Not so! All of the archeological evidence points to the fact that it was always a small village, probably because of the lack of natural resources in the area. Even though small, it is not insignificant. The book of Ruth, deals with a family from Bethlehem and the great King David also hails from that small village.
The village is set on a spur of land high up in the hills, about 2,500 feet (or 762m) above sea level. At its east end the land falls into a basin, which has rich soil and can sustain the growth of grain. In fact the name “Bethlehem” translates as “house of bread”. A little beyond that area the rainfall is not so good, and so the land deteriorates into the wilderness of Judah. This is shepherd country, and some have suggested that the lambs used in the Temple sacrifices were reared around Bethlehem.
All these facts converge on Jesus in a remarkable way. He is the “bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41) and the “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14), one from the line of David. Bethlehem, then, is the perfect place for Jesus’ birth. A small village with a rich legacy.