Bethlehem Ephrathah

Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.– Micah 5:2 (HCSB)

If you’re like me, this passage is interesting at Christmas time – but there is a certain fog of ambiguity surrounding it. We all know that the baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem because there was no room at the Inn. But what in the world is this “Ephrathah” of which the prophet Micah speaks?

This word Ephrathah is almost as ambiguous to our church members as are the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3. When we get to the Christmas story after Thanksgiving every year, rarely does a pastor start with Matthew 1:1-17. And if we get all the way through the first 3 chapters of Luke in a sermon series, we usually end right after the baptism of Jesus in v. 22 and skip on over to Jesus’ wilderness temptation in Luke 4. But surely the authors of these two gospels took time to pen the lineage of Jesus for a reason. And surely God’s prophetic revelation to Micah with the specificity of Bethlehem Ephrathah is of some significance to the Christmas story…

There are two Bethlehem’s mentioned in scripture. One is the Bethlehem of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15) and the other is the Bethlehem of Israel…

In both genealogies (Matthew’s and Luke’s), you will find that Jesus was a descendent of Abraham, Jacob, Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and David. Let’s look at these characters individually:

Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people. Genesis 12:1-3 is God’s instruction to Abraham to leave his people, his land, and his life of comfortability, and GO… to be obedient to God by faith. It is this faith that saved Abraham as Hebrews 11:8 and Romans ch. 4 so elaborately explain. Because God’s plan to save not only the nation of Israel, but also that “all the people groups on the planet will be blessed,” would come specifically from the loins of Abraham (Gen. 12:3), it is vitally important that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, be a descendent of Abraham.

Jacob was Isaac’s son and Essau’s twin brother. The family blessing was passed on to Jacob who married sisters b/c of their father’s trickery and exploitation of Jacob’s strong work ethic – Leah (the older), and Rachel (the younger). Jesus’ lineage progresses through Leah’s son Judah, but Rachel also bore Jacob two sons (Joseph and Benjamin). The Lord renamed Jacob, “Israel,” in the city of Bethel, and then the family set off toward the city of Ephrath. While the family was on this road trip, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. She was buried on the way to Ephrath (otherwise known as Bethlehem see Gen. 35:16-20), close to which, Jacob set up a marker for her grave.

Boaz was the family redeemer who married Ruth the Moabite after her first husband, Naomi’s son, died in the land of Moab. When Naomi and Ruth traveled back to their hometown from the land of Moab, do you know where the rest of their story (the book of Ruth) takes place? … yep… In Bethlehem Ephrathah. At the marriage of Boaz (the Hebrew) and Ruth (the Moabite), the city elders proclaimed these words: “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel. May you be powerful in Ephrathah and famous in Bethlehem,” (Ruth 4:11).

Ruth bore a son to Boaz and Naomi named him Obed (which means, “servant”).

Obed fathered Jesse. Jesse’s youngest son, as a shepherd/musician, was the least likely to defeat the giant of the Philistines, but we all know how that story went. Samuel was the prophet of God during this time, and he had apprehensively anointed Saul as king – at the desire of the people and the direction of the Lord. When Samuel broke down in a hissy fit over Saul’s failure as king, the Lord told him to go to… guess where… Bethlehem Ephrathah… because He (God) had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king over Israel. That anointed one, found in Bethlehem (later known as “The City of David“), was David.

David was the king who unified the nation of Israel once again, and ruled over God’s people with righteousness and justice. One of the expectations of the coming Messiah was that He would be a “King like David.”

So there you have it. Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah – King David’s hometown, Ruth’s redeemer’s (Boaz’s) birthplace/home, the location of Rachel’s (Jacob’s beloved young wife’s) grave. So much more to the story and history of Jesus’ birth than any of us will ever realize.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:4-7 (NASB)

Grace and Peace… and Merry Christmas…

Tony