The Bethlehem City
Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread’ in Hebrew and is located 10 kilometers from the main city of Jerusalem and today is an assembly of two towns. Bethlehem is famous for its biblically important to Judaism and Christianity. The largest Palestinian Christian Community in the Middle East lives in Bethlehem as the people retains its markets and country atmosphere of a small town. For the Jews, Bethlehem (Bet Lechem) is the burial place of the matriarch Rachel and the birthplace of King David and the place he was anointed as King by Samuel the prophet (1 Samuel 16:1-3). Jesus’ ancestors Ruth and Boaz meet in Bethlehem in a field and the beautiful story of kinsmen redemption unfolds in its fields. Believers annually still make the 2½ hour walk from Jerusalem to Manger Square beginning at the train station in Abu Tor along the Hebron Road. Most notably Bethlehem is the birthplace of David and Jesus and where Ruth was redeemed by Boaz: King’s were birthed from here.
Jacob’s wife, Rachel was buried in Bethlehem. She was the mother of Joseph and died birthing Benjamin. “And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.” (Genesis 35:18-20). Rachel is the only Matriarch not buried in Hebron. Due to security concerns, the original structure of the Tomb of Rachel been surrounded by a fortress which preserves and protects the tomb. While the original tomb can still be seen in its entirety inside the protection fortress. The tomb’s is restricted access and approval must be obtained for visitors to enter the site when traveling from Jerusalem. Rachel’s Tomb is housed in a building that was built in 1841. The tomb originally consisted of 11 stones laid flat, with one stone above the others for legend holds that Jacob’s 11 sons placed the first stones and their father added the last one. Jewish women, in particular, make pilgrimages to the site to pray for children.
Ruth’s destiny unfolds in scripture in the town of Bethlehem when Naomi returns to her home in Bethlehem and Ruth meets Boaz and they marry. “The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.” (Ruth 1:22). “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 2:4). “Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered him, “The LORD bless you!” (Ruth 4:11). “And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.” (Ruth 4:11).
David was chosen by God from Bethlehem’s fields where he tended his father’s sheep to succeed King Saul. “Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for me the one I name to you.” So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice. So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him! But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” So Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16).
David was summoned to King Saul to play for him as he played before God in the fields. “So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me. Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.” Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep. “And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul. So David came to Saul and stood before him. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer. “(1 Samuel 16:17-21). David proved himself in battle when he rose to fight Goliath in the Name of Lord. “Then, as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine (Goliath), Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” So David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” (1 Samuel 17:57-58).
Bethlehem is the location of Kind David’s Wells on King David Street off Manager Square where three great cisterns were excavated in the rock in Ras Eftais, in an eastern sector of Bethlehem. These mark the site where David’s army broke through a Philistine garrison to bring him water; “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem” (2 Sam. 23:15). “David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless David would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 11:16-18).
The New Testament tells us the story of Jesus. “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child” (Luke 2:4-5). “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:42). “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:” (Matthew 2:16-17). “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)
The Church of the Nativity located on Manger Square in Bethlehem is a citadel fortress-like structure built on top of the cave where Jesus was allegedly born to Mary. It is one of the oldest churches in the world. The first incarnation of the building was erected on the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine I (the Great) in approximately 330 CE. While the layout largely corresponds to Emperor Justinian’s plans from 540 CE (the first building having been destroyed in a 536 CE riot). The church was heavily fortified by the Crusaders and then degraded (mostly through neglect) under Turkish rule. An earthquake in 1834 and a fire in 1869 added to its degrading. The Altar of the Church of the Nativity sits below a silver and gold chandelier with stairways on either side of the main altar lead to a grotto. A fourteen-point silver star embedded in white marble indicates the birthplace of Christ and an inscription reads, Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est (“Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary”) while fifteen lamps burn around the spot continuously. The church is divided into five naves by four rows of Corinthian pillars with pictures of the apostles on them each has their names written in Greek and Latin and graffiti from visitors can be seen as they have carved their own names over the centuries.
“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 is from of old, from everlasting.”(Micah 5:2).