How have we been affected by our place of birth? Would our personality or upbringing have been significantly different if we were born or raised somewhere else? We would have gone to different schools, made different friends, and perhaps our values and life choices may have been influenced by such factors to a degree that is difficult to determine.
What about Jesus? He was a Nazarene, but born in Bethlehem. How did these two places shape His life? Well, at the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem was a small village in Judea about eight kilometres southwest of Jerusalem. It sat beside the Ridge Route that connected the important population centres of Judea and Samaria, about 4.8km south of the important east-west crossroads of the country.
Because of its strategic location, King Rehoboam fortified Bethlehem to guard the southern access to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 11:5-6). Also, while most of the Judean hill country is difficult to farm, Bethlehem is an agriculturally productive place, with softer slopes and broader valleys. This cultivability is reflected in the name Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” It was also prophesied that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) – a prophecy that Jesus’ birth fulfilled.
Nazareth, on the other hand, had a much lower profile. Even smaller than Bethlehem with only about 400 residents, this village was situated in a small valley on a high ridge in Lower Galilee. It was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else, perhaps a bit too well. It is unmentioned in the Old Testament; no one significant came from there, and nothing important had ever happened there.
This insignificance was what Matthew was alluding to when he wrote, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). There is no specific prophecy that says this of the Messiah; instead, as indicated by Matthew’s unique use of the plural “prophets,” we need to look for a prophetic theme.
The common perception of Nazareth can be seen from Nathanael’s exclamation, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). And the prophets foretell that the Messiah would have exactly this kind of insignificance: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
Materials from this page are adapted from “Discovery House Bible Atlas” by John A. Beck, Chapter 9: Birth and Early Years of Jesus, pages 223-235 and used with permission.
Father, you have a purpose in everything, even in details such as my birthplace and hometown. Indeed, it is mind-boggling to ponder your design for my life. Jesus willingly came into this world in flesh and blood, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, to reveal your heart to us. Father, this Christmas season, I offer myself to you: my history, my strengths, and my brokenness. I do this with a willing and available spirit, trusting that you will enable me if only I am available for your purpose. Amen.
SHARE THIS WITH OTHERS
Play our role to be encouragers and missionaries in the digital world.