Before heading off to a new destination, it can be interesting and inspiring to pour over the guide books. To check out the attractions offered, to find out any historical significance about the place and to look at a map to survey the layout of the town, all this information can help prepare the way before your arrival.
Each day this week, let’s look at some information about the little town of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem still exists today, situated southwest of Jerusalem about five miles. It is known for being a fertile area that produces corn, figs, and olives, as well as boasting fruitful vineyards.
It is first mentioned in Scripture at a crossroads in Jacob’s life. He and his family are returning to his homeland. On the way he encounters God at Bethel, where God reminds him that He plans to bless Jacob with the land and inherited promise of his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. The promise reaffirms that Jacob's descendants would increase and from his lineage would come kings. (Genesis 35:11-15)
On the way back home, his wife Rachel gives birth to Benjamin:
Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, "Don't be afraid, for you have another son." As she breathed her last — for she was dying — she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.
So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb. (Genesis 35: 16-20 NIV)
A death and a birth introduce this little town. And later a birth darkened by the death of “Rachel’s children” will accompany the introduction of our Savior. This little town will be marked by both tragedy and majesty.
Rachel prophetically names her son, Ben-Oni, “son of my sorrow,” foreshadowing the Man of Sorrows. Jacob renames him, Benjamin, “son of my right hand,” which also prefigures a role of Christ, as the triumphant Son of God, who now sits at His right hand.
This tragic association appears to offer little hope. Yet Benjamin will be a solace to Jacob in the days ahead, just as Jesus' presence comforts us in our broken worlds.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
for the help of His presence.
(Psalm 42:5 NASB)