O Little Town Of Bethlehem

Bible Book: Micah  5 : 2
Subject: Significance; Christmas; Prophecy; Jesus, Birth of;

Bruce Springsteen released a song in 1984 called “My Hometown”. Jesus could look at Bethlehem and call it “My Hometown”. The Lord addressed his hometown three times through the prophet Micah. We will use the word “you” in our text to divide the verse into three parts.

I. A Positive Identification

In December 2004, Dr. Greg Potts, one of my fellow seminarians from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, became pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. Almost automatically you assume I am referring to the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas; but I am referring to the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Georgia.

Another pastor that I have known for many years, who also attended seminary with me is the Rev. James H. Cook, Jr., longtime pastor of New Canaan Baptist Church in Dallas, Georgia. When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Houston several years ago, he told people that he was pastor of the second largest church in Dallas. They were impressed until they heard him say “Georgia” instead of “Texas” in a whisper.

Which “Bethlehem” is the birthplace of Jesus? Students of the Bible know that there are two places named “Bethlehem”.

One “Bethlehem” is located near the Sea of Galilee in the northern kingdom mentioned as a part of “the inheritance of the children of Zebulun” (Joshua 19:15, 16). The other “Bethlehem” located about 5 miles from Jerusalem is in the southern kingdom of Judah. Genesis 35:16, 19; 48:7; Ruth 1:2; and 4:11 refer to this second “Bethlehem”. Matthew records the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy when he writes, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea" (Matthew 2:1).

Do you know what the word after “Bethlehem” in Micah 5:2 means? W. Murray Severance, an internationally recognized authority on the pronunciation of Bible names, shares in That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names, that the proper pronunciation for this name is “EF ruh tuh”.1 “Ephrathah” means “fruitful”. There are variant spellings of this Biblical location. It can be spelled "Ephrathah" or "Ephrath".

Dr. David R. Reagan writes, “Our God knows the future and has the audacity to proclaim it (Isaiah 46:10). He also has the power to see to it that what He proclaims will come to pass (Isaiah 46:11). Most important, He is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9), so we can rest in His promises.

Let's rejoice that the Bethlehem birth so long ago is proof positive that the one born there will soon return in glory as the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).”2

II. A Pitiful Estimation

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / Though you are little among the thousands of Judah. . .” (Micah 5:2b).

Charles L. Allen (1913-2005) and Charles L. Wallis (1921-) make the following observation, “Even the setting for the nativity was commonplace. A sequestered town astride a limestone ridge, where once Jacob gently laid to rest his beloved Rachel, where Boaz claimed Ruth as his bride, and where the prophet Samuel anointed the head of the shepherd lad, David—but now, overshadowed by the splendors of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, ‘little among the thousands of Judah’ (Micah 5:2), is a spent candle.”3

The word “little” infers insignificance. Paul Simon laments in his popular song titled “My Little Town”: “Everything’s the same / Back in my little town / Nothing but the dead are dying / Back in my little town.’” 4

In John 1:46 we read, “Nathanael said to Philip, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’” Commentator William Hendricksen explains: “Though some are of the opinion that this scorn for Nazareth must be interpreted as springing from town-rivalry—a possibility which cannot be denied— yet, in view of the immediate context here ([John] verse 7:52), it is more probable that Nathaniel meant to say, ‘Is it possible, indeed, that the Messiah can come out of Nazareth?’”

Philip’s answer is startlingly simple, “Come and see.” He encourages Nathanael to consider the evidence.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth - another “little” place. An unknown poet reminds us that big things often happen in little towns.

"Father, where shall I work today?

And my love flow warm and free.

Then he pointed me out a tiny spot

And said, Tend that for Me,

I answered quickly, Oh, no, not that,

Why no one would ever see,

No matter how well my work was done,

Not that little place for me."

And the word He spoke, it was not stern;

Ah, little one, search that heart of thine;

Art thou working for them or me?

Nazareth was a little place,

And so was Galilee.” 5

Charles L. Allen and Charles L. Wallis conclude, “Christmas came to Bethlehem that we might know that no place is unknown to God. . .” 6

III. A Prophetic Revelation

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, / Yet out of you shall come forth to Me / The One to be Ruler in Israel, / Whose goings forth are from of old, / From everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

The word “yet” indicates that a change is to come in the sentence. Notice, Micah, the prophet of the Lord, affirms to Bethlehem Ephrathah, “Out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting” (Micah 5:2c). They knew this Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, but Micah refers to David’s greater son, one “greater than Solomon”.

In Matthew 12:41-42 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”

Tupelo, Mississippi claims to be the birthplace of the King—The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley on January 8, 1935. Although Elvis Presley moved at age 13 with his parents to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948, and he died at Graceland in Memphis, on August 16, 1977; over 50,000 visitors from all around the world come to the humble home in Tupelo, built for $180, where Elvis was born. Tourism brochures captivate the imagination of potential guests with thoughts of standing where this legend took his first breath.

A tourist once asked, “Were any great men born here?” The reply, “No ma’am only babies.” Micah reveals the only exception to this statement. He writes: “Yet out of you shall come forth to Me / The One to be Ruler in Israel, / Whose goings forth are from of old, / From everlasting” (Micah 5:2c).

Dr. Robert B. Hughes and Dr. J. Carl Laney explain in the Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary: “The last sentence of [Micah] 5:2 affirmed the existence of this messianic Ruler before his birth (cf. John 1:1). Micah 5:2 provided the answer to the Magi's question in Matthew 2:1-6. The solution to the leadership problem will be a perfect Ruler of the Davidic line.” 7

“Phillips Brooks looked down on Bethlehem and later wrote of his experience ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. Brooks wrote about the birthplace of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Brooks wrote about his horseback journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he assisted with the midnight service on Christmas Eve, 1865: ‘I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.’ 8

Brooks penned these meaningful words:

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,

While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,

And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.

No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,

Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;

Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,

The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!” Phillips Brooks, 18679

Rick Stanley and Michael K. Haynes write in The Touch of Two Kings about the experiences of Rick Stanley. From the book description we read, “The Touch of Two Kings is the true and never-before- told story of the special relationship between two stepbrothers - Elvis Presley and Rick Stanley. Rick teamed with noted author Michael K. Haynes to relate the experience of being taken from a Virginia orphanage to live and grow up at the Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. Following Presley's death, the story continues to unfold Stanley's miraculous conversion to [the] King of Kings.” The ‘king of rock ‘n roll and the King of kings touched Rick Stanley. 10


“One Solitary Life” is actually a story, first told by Dr. James Allen Francis at the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California, in a sermon titled “Arise, Sir Knight.” He delivered it on July 11, 1926 to the National Baptist Young Peoples Union. Later, Dr. Francis included it as the last sermon in his book, The Real Jesus and Other Sermons published in Philadelphia by Judson Press in 1926.” 11

Dr. Francis begins, “Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.

Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…” 12

May we look down on the humble birthplace of Jesus Christ our Lord with sanctified imagination and exclaim in the words of Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem!”

1. W. Murray Severance, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1997).

2. Dr. David R. Reagan, Lamplighter Volume XXII Number 6 November/December 2001. Available from: http://www.lamblion.com/articles/prophecy/fcp/fcp-001.php Accessed: 12/20/07

3. Charles L. Allen and Charles L. Wallis, When Christmas Came to Bethlehem (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1963), p. 12.

4. Available from: http://paul.simon.org/lyrics/chords/mytown.html Accessed: 12/14/07

5. Available from: http://main.nc.us/spchurchofchrist/WorldEvangelism.htm Accessed: 12/14/07

6. Charles L. Allen and Charles L. Wallis, When Christmas Came to Bethlehem (Westwood, NJ:


Fleming H. Revell, 1963), p. 13.

7. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, eds. Robert B. Hughes & J. Carl Laney (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001).

8. Available from: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/l/olittle.htm Accessed: 12/14/07

9. IBID.

10. Available from: http://www.faithbasedcounseling.com/resources.htm Accessed: 12/14/07

11Dr. James Allan Francis, The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1926), pp. 123-124. Available from: http://www.sjvls.org/bens/bf007sl.htm Accessed 12/14/07

12. Available from: http://www.anointedlinks.com/one_solitary_life_original.html Accessed: 12/14/07 By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor

First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527 Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice

http://www.webspawner.com/users/franklinlkirksey Available on Amazon.com and WORDsearchbible.com

“Giving the Bible a Voice” on WNSI Sundays @ 10:30 AM http://www.wnsiradio.com click “Launch Player” to listen on Streaming Internet Radiofkirksey@bellsouth.net (251) 626-6210 / ©December 23, 2007 All Rights Reserved