BORN IN BETHLEHEM. When Jewish scholars 2,000 years ago wanted to find out where the coming Great King would be born, the Messiah, they turned to the prophet Micah.
About 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem,
a little-known Bible prophet wrote about Israel’s leaders being “insulted, slapped in the face.”
He told them not to worry because God was going to turn it all around:
“Israel’s new ruler is coming.
He’ll come from Judah’s smallest clan.
And from Bethlehem, called Ephrathah.
His story started long ago,
In very ancient times…
The new ruler will lead Israel
Like a brave shepherd leads the flock.
It will be a wonderful time
For he’ll lead with God’s strength,
And in honor of the LORD.
People will live in safety because of him.
And his reputation will spread.
The whole world will recognize him
As leader of the peace.”
Some 700 years later, wise men from an Eastern country arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the birth of a new king. They saw a sign in the stars that led them to the capital of the Jewish homeland. (See video Star of Bethlehem.)
They didn’t go to Bethlehem, six miles further south. They went to where anyone would expect the next crown prince to be born—in the king’s palace.
No baby boy in the palace
King Herod didn’t have a baby son. And even if he had, he wouldn’t have been thinking about a successor. Paranoid, he had already executed two of his sons and one wife for suspected disloyalty.
Herod decided to target, identify, and destroy the child the wise men came to honor. Jews were living at a time of national humiliation, insult, and slaps in the face. Romans ran their world. Herod might have been king, but Rome was the Kingmaker.
Jews were clinging to prophecies about a coming king who would free them and bring joy and peace back into their lives. They were looking for a Savior, someone they called the Messiah, from a Hebrew term that means “anointed one,” as in a king formally anointed by God.
Israel’s Great King from a small town
Herod asked his scholars if they had any idea where this “great king” was supposed to be born.
They consulted their Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament or, perhaps more respectfully, the First Testament.
Jewish scholars gave Herod this report.
“One of the prophets predicted he would be born in Bethlehem, in Judea. Here’s what the prophets wrote: ‘Bethlehem of Judea, you’re no smalltime prince of a town. You’re going to produce a king who will lead my people of Israel like a shepherd’” (Matthew 2:5-6).
Matthew’s story says Herod ordered all the Bethlehem boys ages two and under executed.
There’s no known report in history of Herod doing that. But given the drama in Herod’s reign, a few dead babies in a Bethlehem burg might have been just a filler in the Jerusalem Times Roman.
On a happier note
Every time I add a book like this, with maps, I have to update the Casual English Bible Comprehensive Bible Atlas, which has over 700 maps…every map we include in this online Bible. We’ll easily produce over 1,000 maps before we’re finished. The high resolution edition is currently a whopping .8GB. But we also have a more practical version that’s optimized for mobile devices.
I’m nearly finished with what scholars call the Minor Prophets, but I decided to take a quick diversionary leap into Lamentations. That’s the book where the prophets warned Jews were headed.
That insight should help me as I finish the remaining books of prophecy and then wrap up with the books of history. I’ll save those stories for last.
I wait to eat dessert after the meal, too.
Merry Christmas to all of you—the happy, the sad, and those stuck somewhere in the middle.
May we all find time and reason this holiday to celebrate this moment in life.
As I type this, I can feel the bite of bitter cold seeping through insulated walls and settling on my thighs and the tips of my toes. Do I really need a lap blanket?
Our rescue dog Maizey is sleeping on a warm doggie pad in my office closet six feet away.
I’m thinking of loved ones who have reason to be sad. I’m thinking of the 13-year-old dog my son had to send to the Beyond a few weeks ago. Of Mom, blind and frail from a series of strokes. Of both of my brothers gone, one to COVID and another to a heart attack.
But I’m grateful for this moment, with Maizey nearby. Buddy the Dog and Linda downstairs. My grown kids and grandkids a few minutes away and scheduled for a Christmas Eve dinner after church.
Grateful for supporters
I’m thinking, too, of a few kind people who are helping support my work of paraphrasing and mapping the Casual English Bible.
One patron recently sent me a Bible passage of encouragement, knowing that I sometimes struggle with the workload and with trying to promote this easy-reading paraphrase in a crowded sea of other Bible translations. The one I’m working on by myself sometimes seems relatively unimportant.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, New Living Translation).
I haven’t paraphrased Zechariah yet. But my paraphrase of this wonderful thought might read something like this:
“Don’t think little of yourself as you begin something new. The LORD doesn’t. He loves to see you launching a new work.”
Christmas story freshly told