A visit to Bethlehem by famed Boston preacher Phillips Brooks inspired him to write a carol for a Christmas Sunday school service. And folks in 1868 sang this carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” for the very first time. This beloved song draws attention to the wonderful fact that the Everlasting Light came down into the dark streets of Bethlehem that first Christmas night. However, are there any other reasons God chose Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Son of God?
The Savior’s birth in Bethlehem Ephratah, a town “little among the thousands of Judah,” reminds us that our God uses small things for big purposes (Mic 5:2). Just as God chose the younger Jacob instead of Esau, Gideon was the youngest member of the smallest family within his tribe, and Saul was from the littlest family in the littlest tribe. True to form, God chose a little town as the birthplace of the great King David and the greater Son of David. Bethlehem then evokes smallness and greatness.
When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews, the chief priests and scribes quote Micah’s prophecy from centuries earlier to show where the Christ would be born. Micah’s name means, “Who is like Yahweh?” and a read through this prophetic book makes it abundantly clear that Judah was not. Micah preached in a time of extreme uncertainty. David’s kingly line was disappointing, Assyria was a dangerous world power, and God was about to judge Israel and Judah. Yet, as the Lord so often does in prophecy, He also offers hope. There is hope to be found in the foretelling of the Messiah’s birthplace.
God promised David that one of His descendants would rule for eternity (2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:35-37). Who can forget the mighty King David’s humble origins as a shepherd boy? Now, through Micah, God promises the Son of David will be a perfect Shepherd over His people. This Ruler will do what no other ruler could. At His second coming He will provide perfect security. The entire earth will know of His fame and success. That means the end of uncertainty for Israel or Gentiles—the end of disappointment for God’s people.
The Messiah’s origins were humble, but they were also royal! Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” Ephrathah means “fruitful.” The town’s name just makes it sound like someone great is bound to hail from it. Someone great really does! The future Ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ, will one day return to establish His perfect rule. Singing of Bethlehem should remind us of our Savior’s lowly birth on earth, but let it also remind you of His future greatness upon this earth!
This post originally appeared on Proclaim & Defend in December 2018.
Image Credit: Free Bible Images contributed by Jill Kemp and Richard Gunther.