The town of Bethlehem, Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem for “House of Meat” is a place with a long history. Located in the fertile hill country of Judea, Bethlehem has always been a premier spot for shepherding. It was the home of father Jesse of King David of Israel and the site of David’s anointment by the prophet Samuel.
King David came from a shepherd’s family. From ancient times, large numbers of sheep were crisscrossing the countryside. Tending sheep in the Middle East 2000 years ago was a demanding and dangerous job. Wolves were common, and there was no compensation for livestock taken as prey. In general, shepherding was frowned upon as a sub-par profession. Shepherds shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers.
Bethlehem – Israel’s sheep metropolis – this was the chosen location where Jesus was born. Why not a more prestigious place? Why not Jerusalem? Good question! Nobody really knows. As a general observation, God seems to have a knack for the small and despised things in this world – contrary to popular demand. He likes to choose unlikely people, and this may rub us the wrong way; ideally though, God’s way of loving people should inspire all of us to let go of any prejudice we have towards others.
When Israel exited Egypt in 1500 BCE, they were despised slaves. God rose to the occasion, and the nation of Israel was born as they passed through the Red Sea into the Sinai Peninsula. God comes through for us in unlikely circumstances; and He chooses unlikely places to do His work, such as Bethlehem in Judea.
Never underestimate humble beginnings. Don’t despise a small manger in an inconspicuous little town. This manger held a special baby, the King of the universe, the Shepherd of God’s people and the Messiah of the world.