As we get closer to the time of Christmas and remembering the birth of Jesus, there are some key elements that we often forget or overlook in the Christmas narrative. Jesus was Jewish, born in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria and into a Hebrew speaking culture. His birth followed some very “Jewish themes” that were prophesied by Jewish prophets. Unfortunately, because the New Testament was written in Greek and our popular Christmas traditions are western church traditions, many of this themes and signs surrounding the Messiah’s birth are often lost. In the next few weeks, we will look at Jesus’ birth, the prophecies, and the events surrounding them from a Hebrew perspective in hopes of shining some new understanding on this well known account.
In Biblical history, Bethlehem was a special place to the Jewish people. Rachel was buried there. God raised up judges from there. Boaz was from Bethlehem and welcomed in Ruth, a Gentile, into Israel. Israel’s greatest king, David, was raised there. And most promising, the Messiah was prophesied to come from there.
As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. – Micah 5:2
This would not just be any leader from Bethlehem, but one whose “goings forth are from eternity.” This seems to confirm the promise made to a previous bethlehemite, David, that an heir would rule on his throne and establish the kingdom forever. Both of these are unique as usually terms like “man” and “forever” don’t fit together. Yet, this was later again confirmed by Gabriel as he said to Mary about her Son Jesus “…the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:32-33) All of this coming from Bethlehem, but why?
In ancient Hebrew thought and culture, a name was not simply a unique identifying title as we use it today but also spoke of the person or place’s destiny. In Hebrew, Bethlehem is pronounced “Beit-lehem.” “Beit” means house; “Lehem” means bread. Bethlehem — a location that brought Jew and Gentile together — gave us David “a man after God’s own heart” and the promised Messiah, whose days are from eternity, is literally the “House of Bread.”
It is no accident that Jesus would later say “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35;48), “I am the manna that came down out of heaven…” (John 6:51) and later break the bread then tell his disciples “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Matt 26:26). Why is “house of bread” (Bethlehem) significant? It is town that where Gentiles were married into the Jewish nation and where the Jewish king and “bread of life” was born for the world to be nourished from His body. That’s something to chew on for a while.