The Little Town of Bethlehem

By Tim Sullivan


The carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (words and music by Phillips Brooks and Lewis Redner) has long been a staple of the Christmas holiday season. The "little" message of this sermon will explain a little about the significance of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem of Judaea is located about five miles south of Jerusalem. It is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 35 as the burying place of Rachel, the wife of Jacob and younger sister of Leah.

Genesis 35:19-20
19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.
20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.

Bethlehem was the hometown of Boaz, the husband of Ruth:

Ruth 2:4a
And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem...

When the townsfolk gathered to give Ruth their blessing, the biggest thing they could imagine was that she would be famous in Bethelem. How surprised they would be to know that centuries later she is revered around the world!

Ruth 4:11
And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem:

Obed, the son born to Boaz and Ruth, was the grandfather of King David:

Ruth 4:16-17
16 And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.
17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

David was also born in Bethlehem.

John 7:42   
Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?

It was in Bethlehem that David was anointed by Samuel the prophet.

1 Samuel 16:1  
And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.

The inspiration for the lyric "O little town of Bethlehem" came from this prophecy:

Micah 5:2
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

As much as the famous star, it was the prophecy of Micah that guided the wise men from the east as they journeyed to worship the Christ child.

Matthew 2:1-6  
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Because it was David's birthplace, Bethlehem is called "the city of David."

Luke 2:4
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:)

Luke 2:10-11
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Zion (or Jerusalem) is also called the city of David. It got this name after David captured Zion for the Lord's use.

2 Samuel 5:7   
Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David.

Just as there are two "cities of David," there is another Bethlehem in the region of Galilee. This was one of the cities assigned to Zebulun when the Promised Land was divided amongst the tribes of Israel.

Joshua 19:15-16
15 And Kattath, and Nahallal, and Shimron, and Idalah, and Bethlehem: twelve cities with their villages.
16 This is the inheritance of the children of Zebulun according to their families, these cities with their villages.

The two places called the city of David and the two cities called Bethlehem are the kind of things that keep Bible students "on their toes" as they study the Scriptures. These are interesting facts and not contradictions. The Word of God cannot be broken. As we see God's faithfulness to his Word, we grow in confidence that he will be faithful to his promises in our present and future as well.


Here is a link to my PowerPoint presentation that accompanied this message.


Presented December 6, 2015