But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)
Bethlehem. The name means “house of bread” and Ephratah means “fruitfulness.” The additional moniker served to distinguish this town from another of the same name in Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). By worldly standards, Bethlehem was a humble and insignificant little hamlet, a home to wheat and sheep farmers. Bethlehem is first mentioned in Genesis 39:19 as the burial place of Jacob’s beloved Rachel. One of Israel’s judges, Ibzan hailed from Bethlehem (Judges 12:8-10). Ruth, the Moabitess, met and married Boaz in Bethlehem and became the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17-22). Thus Bethlehem gained acclaim as “The City of David,” yet it remained “little among the thousands of Judah.”
Out of the little town of Bethlehem the prophet proclaimed would come forth He “that is to be ruler in Israel.” God promised David, “thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever” (2 Samuel 7:16). That promise was repeated for David’s son, Solomon, with the condition that he continue in that pattern modeled by his father (2 Chronicles 7:17-19), but beginning with Solomon, that condition was unmet until at last Jeconiah (a.k.a. Jehoiachin and Coniah) caused the Lord to curse Solomon’s line saying “Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30). Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, was from this cursed line (Matthew 1:11). But in this, God did not fail in His promise to David, for Mary too was of “the house and lineage of David” through another branch that did not include any of Solomon’s descendants (Luke 3:23-31). Her line was free of the curse, establishing Jesus’ right to the throne both legally and by inheritance.
So it was that in the “House of Bread” the Bread of Life (John 6:48) came into the world – He “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” i.e. He is eternal. He said, “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). He also compared Himself to the vine and His followers as the branches. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Bethlehem Ephratah – the Fruitful House of Bread – birthplace of the Fruitful Bread of Life.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. (Matthew 2:10)
Black was the sky of the oriental night
Bejeweled as an empress displaying her might.
Lost in the tedium of nocturnal watch,
The wisest of wise appraised a new sight.
High in the heavens and brighter than most
A dazzling new object had joined the host.
The astrologers pondered and ventured a guess:
“A mighty new monarch this beacon does toast.”
Consulting their sources and making their plans
The seekers trekked westward across the hot sands.
They followed the beacon that showed them the way
To the City of David, and the Savior of man.
By day and by night they followed the trail
Of their guiding light with much travail,
For a curious sight its beams had revealed
— The form of a cross in full detail.
For two years they followed their stellar guide
Until it rested, and shown with pride
O’er a humble house and the family there
Who with the Mighty King did abide.
So they offered their gifts, their praise to assign
As the cross and the star continued to shine,
And knowing not why, their burden was lifted;
The child in the house did their sorrow consign.
Some thirty years later, on a cross made of wood
The child, now a young man, there hung in the nude,
And the bright Star of Bethlehem continued to blaze,
The King of all kings gave His life to conclude.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)
One of the best arguments against the birth of Christ having taken place in late December is this fact recorded by Luke in his Gospel. There were shepherds out in the fields watching over their flocks. By late December, there is not sufficient grazing to sustain large flocks of sheep. Jerusalem is near the same latitude as Dallas, Texas where I live. By the middle to the end of November, there is not much left for cattle to graze on, so they need to be fed on hay or “cake.” So it seems very unlikely that shepherds would be out in the fields in the winter time.
The shepherds around Bethlehem generally kept the sheep and goats that were used for sacrifice in the Temple in nearby Jerusalem. Some have suggested that Jesus’ birth was around late September which coincides with the Jewish Fall Feasts: Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoths). These were feasts that required all Jewish men to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The fact that this requirement happened to coincide with the decree from Caesar Augustus for the census (Luke 2:1) may explain why “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7) for the expectant couple. In fact, His birth may have occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles making John’s statement that “the Word was made flesh, and [tabernacled] among us” (John 1:14) even more significant. Interestingly, if one counts back nine months from the end of September, one arrives at a date sometime in late December. It could be that rather than celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25, we are actually celebrating His conception!
Regardless, it was to these simple shepherds that this paramount announcement was delivered. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). To these shepherds who were known for feeding and protecting their flocks; who sought out the lost sheep, and rescued those that were attacked. It seems appropriate that to these the news of the arrival of the “Shepherd of Israel” should be first delivered. He who would later say, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) had come. So without hesitation they said, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (Luke 2:15). They came “with haste” Luke tells us, “and found Mary, and Joseph, and the [Lamb of God] lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). His name was Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This little Lamb of God, who was to be the Shepherd of shepherds, had finally come to them.