O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;

Micah 5:2
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

The town of Bethlehem isn’t very noteworthy as far as biblical history is concerned. No great battles took place there. It isn’t a seat of government. It isn’t even a large city. It is an old city however. It is first mentioned as the place where Rachel was buried by Jacob. Bethlehem is later mentioned in the book of Ruth. The prominence of Bethlehem in the book of Ruth is important because Ruth and Boaz were the parents of Obed who was the father of Jesse who was the father of David. In other words, Ruth and Boaz are David’s great grandparents and only 3 generations removed from the kingly line.

Until the birth of Christ Bethlehem’s claim to fame was that it was the town that David was born in. 1 Samuel 16 records Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem to anoint a king to replace Saul.

Samuel 16:1-13
1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.”
The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

David wouldn’t chose to rule from Bethlehem however. He would rule from nearby Jerusalem and it is that city that is prominent throughout Israel’s history.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his Heav’n.

Why would God chose a city such as Bethlehem to introduce His Son into the world? There’s obviously nothing special about the city itself, nothing that makes it holy. Obviously Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a fulfillment of prophecy but it could have been prophesied anywhere or no birth location needed to be given at all.

God does not do things the way we expect Him to do things. There are many reasons. One is our human nature. We’re sinful. We’re capable of doing good things but often even our good deeds have bad motives. We want a pat on the back, we’re expecting people to think better of us, we feel guilty about something so we attempt to make up for it by doing something good. When God does something that we don’t understand we sometimes can’t figure it out because we wouldn’t do it the same way because if we did it our sinful nature would play a part in the decision.

Sometimes we just don’t understand God. This isn’t even a failing on our part, just a matter that we can only comprehend so much. We have 70-75 years here on earth. If we’re extremely lucky we make it to 100. That simply isn’t enough time – if we had the mental capacity even – to comprehend an infinite God who has always existed. We can’t comprehend infinite.

The last verse of amazing grace says “When we’ve been there 10,000 years…” Ten thousand years is a long time. Ten thousand years spans all of recorded human history. Ten thousand years may be longer than the earth has been in existence. (If you take a literal view of the genealogies and add them up the earth was created in 4004 BC.) Even though ten thousand years is a long time, I think we’ve sung Amazing Grace so often that it has lost meaning.

What about instead of singing when we’ve been there ten thousand years, you sing ten billion years, ten trillion years. That’s eternity. That’s how long we’ll spend in heaven. That’s how long God has been around. If we don’t understand why God chooses to do something, it’s ok. We cannot fully comprehend God.
Another reason why God may have chosen Bethlehem over a larger, more important city is that God doesn’t play politics. Jesus was to be born in David’s lineage but God could have done so in many different ways. As He worked it out both Mary and Joseph were descended from David but through different lines. God could have had Jesus born into a religious leader’s family. He could have been born into Herod’s own family!

But God did not want people anointing Jesus as the Messiah because he had been born into a certain family or raised in a certain place. God wants people to authentically come to Him.

Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.

Meek souls look at their life and realize they have nothing. I’m not talking about being in need although often those types of needs drive people to God. Rather there comes a point where we must examine ourselves and ask what is going to happen when I die. And if God asked, why do I deserve to get into heaven.

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