“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 have been from old, from eternity.” – Micah 5:2
We are now at the end of another Christmas celebration. This year’s 12-day celebration began December 25th, with the birth of Jesus Christ in the manger, and ends tomorrow on January 6th, with the Incarnation, when Jesus Christ the Son is given. Although I often hear my skeptical friends say “I’m waiting for proof that God exists – then I would believe”, every Christmas highlights God’s proofs that He physically entered our world to live among us and then die on the Cross for us. I don’t understand for what they are waiting.
This week’s verse is one such example of the proofs God offers. It is one of the most famous predictive prophecies in the Old Testament. What makes this prophecy such a proof text for Jesus Christ as Messiah is that the prophet Micah, in 740BC, actually names the exact Bethlehem for His birth! To be Messiah, Jesus must be born in the right Bethlehem. You see, there are two towns called Bethlehem. In Joshua 19:15-16, after Joshua has led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, he details out the land for the tribe of Zebulun. One of the cities Zebulun inherits is called Bethlehem, which is in northern Israel. This is not the Bethlehem Ephrathah in this week’s verse, which is near Jerusalem. It is a stunning proof of Jesus’s claim to be God in the flesh, since He couldn’t orchestrate where He will be born. But it gets better.
Now we turn to the Old Testament book of Ruth, written about 1170BC, where this small town of Bethlehem Ephrathah plays an even greater role in predictive prophecy to demonstrate Jesus Christ is the long-awaited Messiah. In verses 1-2 of chapter 1, we are introduced to Elimelech, who was an “Ephrathite from Bethlehem”. His wife was named Naomi. Elimelech died, leaving Naomi with her two sons, who each took wives from the Moabites, who were enemies of Israel. Both her sons later died, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, whose names were Orpah and Ruth. Because of their dire situation, Naomi tells them to leave her and return to their mother’s land in Moab. Orpah does. Ruth refuses to leave Naomi.
Ruth makes a stunning announcement to Naomi in verse 16: “Urge me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” So Naomi and Ruth traveled together, back to Bethlehem Ephrathah. And it is here, during the barley harvest time, they meet their “kinsman redeemer”, the man who was related to Naomi’s husband, who then delivers them from their poverty. His name was Boaz.
We read in Ruth 4:11-22 that Boaz marries Ruth in Bethlehem Ephrathah, and they have a son named Obed. In the closing verses of Ruth, the full genealogy from Perez (a son of Judah) to David is given. Obed will have a son named Jesse, and Jesse will have a son named David, the famous King of Israel.
This is critical because prophecy requires that Messiah must not only be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah but must also be from the line of King David: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool (Psalm 110:1).”
“The days are coming says the Lord that I will raise up to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth… This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:5-6).”
In Matthew 1:5-6, Matthew details out the lineage of Jesus Christ, corroborating Ruth’s genealogy given to us over 1100 years ago: “Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king.”
Naomi understood that the God she had trusted all her life had been watching over her even when her life became desperate, giving her a grandson through Ruth and Boaz to carry on the family name. But even greater beyond the story of Ruth was that through the birth of Obed God was laying the lineage for the birth Israel’s greatest king, David. Then, the prophets predicted that it would be through this King David that the ultimate King, the “Branch” of righteousness, King Messiah, Savior of mankind, would be born.
Matthew traces the stories of Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, Obed, and David to the birth of Jesus Christ. This, again, is the Christmas story and the intellectual persuasiveness of that little town of Bethlehem Ephrathah.
But there is a deeper intellectual persuasiveness to Ruth and Naomi’s story: just because you can’t see what God is up to doesn’t mean He isn’t actively working in your life. This is part of the Christmas story.
The Evidence of Faith’s Substance – Article #328