Glimpses of Israel - Bethlehem

by Joseph Hunting

Apart from Jerusalem no city in Israel is more meaningful to world Jewry and Bible-believing Christians than is Bethlehem. The Patriarchs once passed through this town nestling in the rugged Judaean hills, and it was here Rachel was buried. Also, the beautiful story of Ruth is centred round Bethlehem.

There are two Bethlehems in Israel both of which date back to the occupation of Canaan by Joshua. This is why Micah designates "Bethlehem Ephratah" as the birthplace of the Messiah in his prophecy. "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2)

This Bethlehem is also immortalized in Scripture as the birthplace of David as well as that of the Messiah. However, in order to be the latter it was necessary that Caesar Augustus should issue a decree that all the 'world' should be taxed, and in so doing all his subjects were required to register in the place of their birth. Ponder the significance of Luke's account of the event. "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria). And all went to be taxed, every man to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David which is called Bethlehem: (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife being great with child ..."And she brought forth her firstborn son." (Luke 2:107)

Whilst David and his illustrious descendant were both born in Bethlehem and both died in Jerusalem only David's bones rest somewhere in the Holy City, whereas Messiah's tomb is empty. David himself wrote: " ... my flesh also shall rest in hope, for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." (Psalm 16:9-10)

Oddly enough, Bethlehem today is predominately Arab and one needs to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of tourism to recapture the destiny that has made this small Judaean town so sacred to Jews and Christians alike.