The City of Bethlehem

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 2 The City of Bethlehem

God used the decree of the pagan emperor Caesar Augustus to move the chosen family to the place planned eternally in the mind of God.

Luke 2:4-5 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:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Bethlehem has a long history. It was a village for 2000 years before the time of Jesus. It had always been a small town of hard working people. Its rich fields were good for growing grain, raising sheep, and producing grapes, figs, and olives. The name, Bethlehem, or baet-lekhem (בת לחם) means “house of bread”. It was the town where Israel’s King David was raised.

It was sometimes called Bethlehem-Judah or Bethlehem Ephrathah to distinguish it from another Bethlehem which was in the territory of Zebulun.

This Bethlehem was about 5 miles south of Jerusalem, a little over an hour’s walk. The daily offerings in the Jerusalem temple required the sacrifice of sheep every day of the year. The shepherds of Bethlehem were kept very busy raising sheep to supply the priests with the sacrifices. That was the job of David and his family before God made him Israel’s King.

Jerusalem was a busy place every day with the markets, the work at the Temple, the meetings of the Sanhedrin, and debates by the scholars and well known Rabbis. So Bethlehem became a sub-urban town where some priestly families chose to live away from the busy pace of Jerusalem.

To comply with the decree of Rome, and in God’s providence, Joseph and Mary came there when their baby was due.

The traditional Christmas story imagines these two as lone travelers coming to a town where they didn’t know anyone. A little thought sheds some doubt on that idea. The very reason they were going to Bethlehem was to be registered in the city of their family’s origin. It was the city from which all their relatives had come. They would all have to visit during the enrollment.

It is more accurate to picture Mary and Joseph along with at least all the heads of homes of all their relatives and loved ones converging on Bethlehem to be enrolled in the City of David. They would likely have traveled in a caravan with their fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, and any other family members that chose to go with them.

We ought to remember that family ties were much closer in the Jewish culture than they are now in our modern Western civilization. They would hardly have been alone in a strange city. It was more like a family re-union, than two lone travelers in a cold uninterested town.

Next Study: An Unexpected Messiah

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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