Many people, at this time of year, rightly associate Bethlehem with the birth of baby Yeshua (Jesus). Although this was an epic event, the story of Bethlehem goes much further back in time.
A few years ago we looked at the Biblical footprint of the Hebrew word Bethlehem (which literally means House (bet) of Bread (lekhem)) and highlighted the key points:
- Rachel died and was buried in Bethlehem (Genesis 35:16-20)
- Ruth met Boaz in Bethlehem (Ruth 2:4-6)
- King David was born and raised in Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17:12)
- Micah prophesied that the future Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
For more on the House of Bread and its connection to the Messiah, click below to read the original post on the word…
However, revisiting the word gives us an opportunity to dive deeper into the Hebrew place name, Bethlehem. The Bible tells us that there were two Bethlehems. Along with Bethlehem Ephrathah of Judah (Yeshua’s birthplace), there was also Bethlehem of Zebulun in the Galilee area, referred to in Joshua 19:15-16.
We know that of the twelve judges listed in the Book of Judges, one of them, Ibzan, was from Bethlehem and was aslo buried in Bethlehem (Judges 12:8-10). Unfortunately, which Bethlehem that Ibzan was from was not clearly identified.
Most references to Bethlehem point to the little town just 10 kilometres south of Jerusalem. Although it has been most famous for Yeshua’s birth, it actually had an ancient tumultuous history.
To start with, a Levite priest from Bethlehem became a priest for hire to a man who housed idols, only to betray him, support the theft of the idols, and become a priest of the rebellious tribe of Dan (Judges 17 & 18).
Years later, one of David’s soldiers, Asahel, died in the civil war between Judah, under kingship of David, and the Northern boundaries of Israel, under kingship of Ish-bosheth (Saul’s son). Asahel, loyal to David to the death, was buried in his father’s tomb, in Bethlehem (2 Samuel 2:18-32).
King Rehoboam, who led the people away from God and supported pagan worship and male prostitution cults, built up Bethlehem as a defensive city in Judah (2 Chronicles 11:5-10).
Perhaps the most surprising reference to Bethlehem was from the most appalling and horrific story found in the Bible:
Now it came about in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, who took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine found him repugnant, and she left him and went to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah, and remained there for a period of four months. Then her husband set out and went after her to speak gently to her in order to bring her back, taking with him his servant and a pair of donkeys.
The story started off rather innocently, but it took a terrible turn for the worst, and the concubine became a victim of rape, murder and dismemberment. You would be hard pressed to find a more graphic and disturbing story in the Tanakh (Old Testament).
Sexual dominance, war and death, the desire for power, and the worshipping of “things” rather than YHWH, all had their place in the tranquil little town of Bethlehem. Every place on the planet has had it’s problems and Bethlehem was no different.
You would have thought that YHWH’s Anointed one would be born in a palace, but Yeshua was born in a stable in a town with a tumultuous history… and that makes perfect sense, because He came to protect the weak and victimized (such as the concubine of Bethlehem) and stand up against hypocrisy of religious elite (such as the Levite from Bethlehem); He came not to bring war (as in the time of David and Asahel) but to bring peace; and He came to be a righteous King devoted to His people (unlike Rehoboam).
Bethlehem was a little town that housed a birth, which sparked a revolution of love, sacrifice and salvation. Big things can happen in little, turbulent, places. Yeshua came and walked amongst the people… and when He left He sent the Spirit to dwell with in us. We may be little specks on this planet, but through us, no matter how out of control our lives are, God can do big things… and that’s worth remembering.
Next week: To the Ends of the Earth