When Israel exited Egypt in 1500 BCE, they were despised slaves. God rose to the occasion – the nation of Israel was born as they passed through the Red Sea and traversed the Sinai Peninsula where they received God’s law written in stone. He comes through for us in very unlikely circumstances and chooses unlikely places, such as Bethlehem in Judea, to do His work.
The town of Bethlehem, Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem for “House of Meat” is a place with a long history. It was King David’s hometown; he came from a shepherd’s family. From ancient times, large numbers of sheep were crisscrossing the fertile hill country of Judea, a premier spot for shepherding. 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 His eye on common people. He likes to choose the unlikely, and this may rub some of 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 outsiders.
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.