We toured to Nazareth, a small town in lower Galilee. Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph (Luke 2: 4) and the Nazareth connection with Jesus is filled with meaning. In Hebrew the name Nazareth, means ‘sprout’ or ‘shoot.’ This is the same name used to describe the Messiah in Isaiah 11: 1. “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11: 1)
How amazing? Isaiah declares the coming of Messiah will not be a new plan of the Father, instead the Branch will come forth from the ancient stump of Jesse, the father of David. The Lord is the Branch and His earthly roots are firmly connected to the Jewish people.
The Lord is known as “Jesus of Nazareth” to this day. The Bible describes Him as ‘the Word who became flesh’ (John 1:14). That Word was communicated to us through the Jewish people and their culture. This is a vital understanding to help us unlock riches from the Hebrew roots in Bible study. This was another new and exciting revelation for me!
Isaiah speaks of David, the shepherd son of Jesse. He came from a humble background to be champion of the people and the King of Israel.
Jesus was birthed in humble circumstances. Even his birthplace Nazareth had a poor reputation. Remember Nathaniel asked John, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
But Jesus would give the title King of the Jews a new dimension and fulfil the ancient prophecies at the same time. (Isaiah 53: 4-6)
Victor H. Matthews wrote: “Tiny, insignificant Nazareth (Jn 1:46) was probably pleased to have the services of the carpenter Joseph and his son (Mk 6:3).
“They probably produced baskets, chests, and furniture, and they would have been responsible for transporting and installing ceiling beams in most of the village homes (Mt 7:4-5).
“Local potters undoubtedly worked in these villages as well, although the finer ware and that which was imported from Greece and Cappadocia would have been purchased in the cities.” (Manners and Customs in the Bible, Victor H. Matthews, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts – Accordance Bible software)
I love that picture.
Northwest of Nazareth is Bethlehem. In 1996 we crossed into Bethlehem through a security check. Our Israeli guides stayed behind and enthusiastic, keen-to-please Arabs replaced them. Tourists were important to their economy.
We were excited to be entering the birthplace of Jesus, known as ‘The City of David.’ Here David was born and grew up as a lad, tending sheep. (I Sam. 17: 12)
It is worth noting, both Bethlehem and Jerusalem have the distinction of being called ‘The City of David.” Bethlehem is mentioned by Luke. “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Jerusalem shares the title simply because David chose it as his capital.
As we entered, the tension in the region was obvious. The Palestinian Authority (PA) had separated Bethlehem from Jerusalem in 1995 and here we were a year later.
Christians in Bethlehem ran hotels, restaurants, souvenir stores and industries, but now the pressure was mounting and within months many evacuated fleeing the brutality and abuse inflicted by terrorists.
This report from 1996 highlights the crisis:
“Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – Death threats are getting nastier for Samir Qumsieh. He is the director and owner of the only private Christian TV station in Palestine. Concerned about his family and his business, he has repeatedly called on the authorities to intervene to little avail.
“In 1996 Mr Qumsieh founded Al-Mahed (the Nativity) TV in Bethlehem. He told AsiaNews that he is forced to live with the constant threats against his life and might have to shut down his TV station, which has been well-receivfed by Christian leaders in the Holy Land. In the past, Mr Qumsieh denounced several times the violence inflicted on Christians in the Holy Land.
“A few days ago he called on Bethlehem governor, Salah Al-Ta’mari, to investigate a serious incident. After midnight last Thursday unidentified people threw cocktail Molotov into the garden of his house.
“We avoided the worst by a miracle. One of the bottles fell on wet grass causing little damage; the other did not explode,” he said. Never the less, the incident is but the latest in a long string of similar episodes.” (http://www.jihadwatch.org/2006/08/molotov-cocktail-against-christian-activists-home-in-bethlehem.html).
These circumstances simply highlight the fallen, desperate world we live in.
Bethlehem first came to note in the Bible as the place where Rachel died and was buried (Gen. 48: 7) Later in my Bridges for Peace radio broadcasts from Jerusalem I would often report on riots and destruction by gangs at the holy sight of Rachel’s tomb, a place of sacred importance for the Jewish people.
Being in Bethlehem at the time of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and his gangs was like history repeating. I was reminded of the intense hatred shown by King Herod during the time of Jesus’ birth. The persecution and abuse of Christians was not a new experience for Bethlehem. Herod set the benchmark for evil when he ordered the massacre of children.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2: 16-18)
The weeping of Rachel continues in Bethlehem today. So many innocents have been brutally persecuted there. This gloom contrasts the bright light of hope the birth of the Saviour offers.
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” (Matt. 2: 6) How sad His Light is so brutally challenged in this select location?
The contest between darkness and light is real and His triumph is assured, so we entered Bethlehem with great expectations. Our hosts treated us to a delicious lunch and hospitality, an outstanding attribute common among the Arab people.