Eight Biblical Figures Associated with Bethlehem
Bethlehem (Hebrew = “house of bread), the city in which Jesus was born is located in the hill country of Judah. It lies along the Patriarchal Highway (the highway the patriarchs traveled, running north-south between Shechem and Beersheba) about 6 miles south of Jerusalem.
The Bible records the names of several people who were either from Bethlehem or who lived there. Eight of them are of particular significance:
1) Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion.
This family, originally from Bethlehem, went to live in Moab when there was a famine in their homeland. While in Moab, Elimelech died, and after marrying Moabite women, his sons Mahlon and Chilion also died. (That is not to imply that their choice of wives caused their deaths!) (See Ruth 1:1-5.)
2) Ruth the Moabitess.
Ruth was the wife of one of Elimelech and Naomi’s sons. After the deaths of the men, Naomi decided to return to her home of Bethlehem. Ruth returned with her mother-in-law and made Bethlehem her home as well. As widows having no sons in a patriarchal society, both Noami and Ruth were without means of support. (See Ruth 1:6-22.)
3) Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi from Elimelech’s family.
Boaz was a rich and honorable man. It was in his fields that Ruth gleaned in order to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. (For more information about gleaning, see Deuteronomy 24:14-24.) Following the risqué threshing floor scene in which Ruth goes to the threshing floor, uncovers Boaz’s feet and lies down, Boaz assures Ruth that he will act as her kinsman redeemer. Being a man of his word, Boaz does as he says and Ruth becomes his wife. (See Ruth 2:1-4:12. For more on the kinsman redeemer and the removing of the sandal, see Deuteronomy 25:5-9.)
4) Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth.
Obed, was the son of Ruth and Boaz and the father of Jesse. (See Ruth 4:13-17.)
5) Jesse, the son of Obed, the father of David.
After the Lord had rejected Saul from being king over Israel, he sent his prophet Samuel to Jesse the Bethlehemite because the Lord had chosen one of Jesse’s sons as king. Jesse’s seven oldest sons passed before Samuel, but there was one more, the youngest who was keeping the sheep, the one whom the Lord had chosen. (See 1 Samuel 16:1-13.)
6) David, son of Jesse, king of Israel.
The story of David is told in 1 Samuel chapter 16 through the book of 2 Samuel. So much could be said about David—his occupation as a shepherd in Bethlehem, his defeat of Goliath, his service to and his later flight from Saul, his military conquests, his adultery with Bathsheba, his repentance over that sin, his heart of worship evidenced in the Psalms—but perhaps the most important thing was that David was the one to whom the Lord promised “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16 NRSV).
7) Joseph, a descendent of “the house and family of David”
As a descendent of David, Joseph was required to return to his own town of “the city of David called Bethlehem” to be counted in the registration during the days of Caesar Augustus. He and his expectant wife-to-be Mary traveled to Bethlehem, and while they were there, she gave birth to a son. (See Luke 2:1-7.)
8) Jesus, “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham”
Jesus, the firstborn son of Joseph and Mary,(Matt. 1:1 NRSV), born in Bethlehem, as the prophet Micah announced “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah…from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2 NRSV). Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7 NRSV).
Today, the Church of the Nativity stands in Bethlehem above the cave in which tradition holds is the cave where Jesus was born. The main entrance to the church is called the Door of Humility through which one must crouch in order to enter the church.