Bethlehem, a small town located about 5 miles southwest of Jerusalem, is best known as the place where Jesus was born (see Luke 2:4-7). Ephrath (or Ephrathah) is another name for Bethlehem. It can actually be visited today, although it is in Palestinian controlled territory.
Bethlehem in the Bible
The town is first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis 35:16-20. Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died in childbirth, and she “was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” (v. 19). Many years later, when King Herod sought to kill Jesus as a young boy, he executed all the male children in and near Bethlehem “who were two years old and under” (see Matt. 2:16-18). Rachel is specifically named in the prophecy that foretold this event (see v. 18; Jer. 31:15).
Bethlehem is mentioned in other places in Scripture, as well, including the Book of Ruth (vv. 1:19, 22; 2:4; 4:11). It was King David’s hometown (see 1 Sam. 16:1-13; 20:6), so it rightly has been called the “city of David” (Luke 2:11; see also John 7:42). Remarkably and significantly, Bethlehem was identified as the birthplace of God’s Son centuries before Jesus’ arrival on Earth as a newborn child (see Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:3-6). The name Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
B. Nathaniel Sullivan
Christian educator, Bible teacher, and Editor