“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be rule over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2
I love everything about living in a small town.
I never dreamed I would say that growing up – I was sure I would be a big-city girl, living in some high-rise amidst the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis. But after five years in Ozark, I am used to taking back roads and seeing cows and rooting against the next town over in every imaginable sporting event. (Sorry about the big loss to Nixa last night, guys. We’ll get ’em next year!) I cannot imagine living any other way.
Bethlehem was a small town, too, situated in in the tract of land God allotted to the tribe of Judah, although if you’ve grown in up in church (or even just singing Christmas carols) you’ve heard of it.
It’s the birthplace of Jesus, and of King David. But it also is a pretty big player in the story of Ruth.
The story opens with this sentence: “In the days when the judges rule, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. “ Ruth 1:1
Now, the word “Bethlehem,” means “house of bread, so I’m sure its inhabitants thought that it was the last place a famine could strike. But yesterday we talked about how the Israelites living in abundance was conditional upon their obedience to God. The bread basket was empty in Bethlehem because they had not been doing a very good job of obeying him.
This story took place during the time of the judges. If you have read through Judges, you know it’s a pretty gruesome book. After the death of Joshua, who had led the chosen people to their homeland, the leadership vacuum was awful. At first, some godly men stepped up to the plate, but over time things got worse and worse. Whenever the Jewish people were being oppressed by their enemies, and things got desperate, they’d cry out to God and he would raise up a warrior to deliver them.
But even the judges were less and less righteous as generations passed. Given that Ruth’s son Obed was the grandfather of David, the second king of Israel, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the events that unfold in the book of Ruth happened toward the end of the period when judges ruled Israel. So things were probably pretty bad. People were worshiping the gods of all the nations around them. And they wanted to be even more like those nations than they were–they wanted a king. They were fed up with having God as their king. They wanted a man to wear a crown and lead them into battle.
No wonder God sent a famine.
But it did not last forever. Mourning and destitute, Naomi catches wind that there’s bread in Bethlehem again, and so she returns to her hometown with nothing to her name except a daughter-in-law she couldn’t shake along the journey. But by the end of the story, the blessings God had rained down on Bethlehem during Naomi’s absence had been extended to her and Ruth by the grace of God and his servant Boaz.
The two widows came to the house of bread empty, but God filled them up.
Several generations later, he would do it again for two other pilgrims to Bethlehem.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him, and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” Luke 2:4-7
“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35
Are you hungry today? Come to the bread of life!
This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.