Location, location, and location. These are the three most important things to consider in a real estate deal. You can change just about anything about a home or building you buy—except what? Its location. In both writing and reading, how the details fit together in relation to one another prove that “context is king.” And when it comes to the King who would come to rule our hearts in peace (Micah 5:5), the setting of His birth really does matter.
For some reason, though, we often miss these details when we read Scripture. In even the most familiar stories, names and places fly by us as we read. The Christmas story is no exception. We sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and of shepherds and mangers and stars, but it’s easy to miss the context of the location. And in God’s plan for redeeming the world, the place is vital.
Hundreds of years before the hymn “Silent Night” was written, the prophet Micah pointed to a little town just south of Jerusalem as the place from which One would come to be the ruler of Israel. This one, this ancient king, would one day come to shepherd God’s people. It’s such an appropriate image for a king coming from a land of shepherds and in the line of David—the same David who was a young, overlooked shepherd before God made him king, and the same David who first made Bethlehem famous.
Bethlehem was “small among the clans of Judah” as a city of shepherds (Micah 5:2). It then went on to become the city of David, and eventually, the city of the Savior. It was the birthplace of men who cared for sheep: David, the shepherd boy who would become king and rule over the people of Israel; and Jesus, the God-man, Good Shepherd, and our eternal King. He cares for His people, gathering them from the ends of the earth into one flock, and ultimately, laying down His life for any who would repent and believe the good news of His coming (Mark 1:15).
When we read of Joseph and Mary going “up from Nazareth to the City of David” we see a 70-mile fulfillment of God’s prophecy of place. We see a trudging, dusty fulfillment of God’s plan of context—both historical and geographical. We see the setting shifting as characters moving from one little town to another, and Bethlehem as the birthplace of shepherds, kings, and now the Savior. And with Him, came everlasting hope and peace.
“And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4).
Written by Barnabas Piper