The Expository Files


 The Little Town of Bethlehem

Fulfilled prophecy increases and validates our faith in the power of God. He makes things happen the way He declares they will, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. He will not be defeated in anything. He will do everything He has said He will do, and when you read of the final hour and judgment, know that He will accomplish all. As pointed out in the Book of Job, "Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him? Who could say to Him, 'What art Thou doing?' (Job 9:12).

Fulfilled prophecy also increases our respect for God's wisdom and knowledge, including His foreknowledge. How willing we should be to put our souls and eternal well being into His care. He knows what He is doing! (ISA 46:10) "Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying,' My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:10).

Also, when prophesy speaks of Jesus, fulfillment increases our appreciation of His love for us that led to His willingness to leave heaven and come to our world to become our Savior. The Lord said He cared enough about us that He would send us a Redeemer who would love us enough to suffer for our guilt. The coming of Jesus declares unto us His love for us. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9). In every case, we are reminded of God's power and control, often above human comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-11).

The Man Caesar's Decree

All the world was commanded to be enrolled in a census. (Luke 2:1-3). Augustus, the Caesar who issued this decree, ruled the Roman Empire from 30 B.C. to 14 A.D. The decree required that each one return to their hometown and sign up so that Rome could collect taxes. Augustus does not know Joseph, Mary, the prophets or Jehovah. He was the first Roman emperor to claim the position of a god. He had no idea that his decree was a part of God's mechanism to fulfill prophecy and the promise of a Savior.

The few lines devoted to the telling of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem do not describe the rigorous nature of the trip. It was about 70 miles in length, mostly uphill. Mary is close to giving birth. Perhaps Joseph and Mary had a cart. It was about a one week trip each way.

This obscure couple would go from obscurity to fame. Certainly they had little idea that we, 20 centuries later and thousands of miles away, would know their names. But we do.

They both knew who the Child was because of the angelic messages they had each received (Matthew 1:18-25). If they recalled the prophecies (had they thought about Micah's prophecy concerning Bethlehem?) then they knew full well it was actually God, not Augustus, that was ultimately behind the decree.) Whether they knew or not, we do.

The Prophecy of God

There were many prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, including the circumstances of His birth (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). In addition to Isaiah, the prophet Micah lived about 700 years before Christ and prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah. His business was to call the people to repentance. Since many reforms were made under Hezekiah, probably most of the prophecy was made during the reigns of the first two.

Micah stressed the need for justice in the land and the putting away of immorality; and that these could only be successful when accompanied by a renewed loyalty to God and spiritual revival. He warned that if they did not return to God, that their nation would be punished (it was) but still, there would be a final hope in the Messiah to come.

Micah pinpoints the location of the Messiah's birth which would take place seven centuries later. It would occur in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Isaiah told that a child would be born and gave some unique circumstances so it could be recognized when it happened. Daniel told that it would happen during the days of the 4th empire from the one ruling in his day (That would make it the Roman Empire), and Micah says the birth will take place in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, about 6 miles SW of Jerusalem, was merely a small village at this time. Jacob had buried his wife Rachel there. David, the second king of Israel was from there. Earlier, this is where Boaz and Ruth had made their home. So, the prophecy pinpointed this small village. The problem is that Joseph and Mary live nowhere near Bethlehem. They live in Nazareth. Perhaps no one on earth, except these two, were able to see the working of God in the Augustus' decree. Everyone no doubt grumbled at the inconvenience, except these two. They were privy to additional information!

The Word Made More Sure

"The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed." -attributed to Augustine (not to be confused with Augustus!) He was right about that - it well expresses the relationship between Old and New (2 Peter 1:19-21). Paul tells us that this is why familiarity with the Old Testament is still important for us living under the New (Romans 15:4). That which was written in "days past" gives patience, comfort and hope. How?

In it is the revealed mind and purpose of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-11). Its origin is of God and it equips us (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Consider how Micah's prophecy concerning Bethlehem does this.

Note the selection of a small, rather obscure village, as well as the selection of Joseph and Mary as the parents even though they live far to the north. So unlikely that Mary would give birth in Bethlehem! But God puts all these unlikely events together and that is precisely where Jesus is born! This is comforting because it tells me God is capable of doing what He intends to do; it gives patience and endurance because it shows how just because I cannot always observe God's workings and providence does not mean He's not there, and that He has our best interests at heart, and therefore my hope in Christ is reasonable (Colossians 1:27).

Bethlehem's Rising Star

The wise men followed the star to Jerusalem and inquired where the king was to be born. Herod did not know (Herod didn't care much about spiritual things) but some of his advisors knew (Matthew 2:1-8). It would occur in "the city of David" (Luke 2:4;11; see also 1 Samuel 16:1; 17:12) But David lived 900 years before and not much had happened there since. Jesus would grow up in Galilee, but had been born in Bethlehem.

Caesar Augustus had no idea of the role he was playing in the story of redemption. Often that had been the case in history as God took difficult circumstances and worked His purpose. But you and I know. Joseph and Mary made that journey, and the Messiah came. He lives today for our hope. Do you believe in Him?

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 14.8; August 2007