(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
“Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie….” We sing about it in this famous Christmas carol, but do you know why this insignificant town was the place of birth for the King of Kings?
Why Bethlehem? Both Joseph and Mary were residing comfortably in Nazareth, about 90 miles north of Bethlehem, and Mary was well into the ninth month of her miraculous pregnancy! Why? Because it was prophesied in Micah 5:2:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
First, before we start to look at the reasons ‘why’, consider the name of the town designated in Micah’s prophesy: “…Bethlehem Ephrathah….” There were two Bethlehems in Palestine in Jesus day:
- Bethlehem in northern Palestine in Galilee, about 20 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.
- Bethlehem in southern Palestine, about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. To distinguish it from the northern Bethlehem, it was known as Bethlehem Judah or Bethlehem Ephrathah (see Psalm 132:6), or Ephrath (see Genesis 35:19).
✡ Bethlehem means “house of bread” according to Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary. ✡ Ephrath or Ephrathah means “fruitfulness” (ibid.).
The southern town of Bethlehem was the home of King David and his ancestors (see I Samuel 16:1, 13). It is written in Luke 2:1 through 5:
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Qui- rinius was governing Syria. ...So all went to be reg- istered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethle- hem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife....
Both Joseph and Mary were descended from David! Matthew 1:6 through 16 traces Joseph’s lineage to David through David’s son King Solomon. Luke 3:23 through 31 gives Mary’s lineage back to David through another son named Nathan. Since both Joseph and Mary were descended from David, and since their ancestral home of David’s family was Bethlehem Ephrathah, Caesar’s registration (census for the purpose of taxation) necessitated that they both travel the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem!
Who cared that Mary was almost nine months pregnant? Certainly the distant emperor in Rome didn’t! The couple from Nazareth were not planning to birth Jesus elsewhere. But they had to obey the order from the emperor. So they precariously traveled to Bethlehem Ephrathah, where Mary gave birth. Jesus, “…the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting…,” was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, in a stable, and laid in a manger!
God used the decree of a distant Roman emperor to fulfill a prophesy Micah had written seven and a half centuries before!