“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 NIV
700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah pinpointed the exact location of his birth: the little town of Bethlehem, where David, king of Israel, was born and grew up tending his father’s sheep in the surrounding fields. When the wise men came before Herod, they asked “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2). Prophecy had already made it clear, many generations prior, that this ruler would be born in Bethlehem, out of all the towns in Israel.
To gain a better understanding of why Bethlehem was chosen as the birthplace of God’s only son, we need to go back to Micah 4:8, which specifies that kingship would come from and former dominion would be restored to Jerusalem at the watchtower of the flock.
Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock, was where the lambs set aside for temple sacrifices were raised. The flocks in the surrounding fields were vast, because there was an estimated population of around 5 million people in that area. During Passover, the annual celebration of the Hebrew nation’s deliverance from captivity in Egypt, one lamb was needed for every household. An estimated 250,000 sheep were needed every year to accommodate the Passover sacrifices and feast. The tower of Migdal Eder provided the perfect vantage point from which the shepherds could, quite literally, watch over their flocks from above.
Every firstborn male lamb was considered holy and was set aside for sacrifice in Jerusalem. Sheep herding was a hereditary occupation, and generations of shepherds were trained to care for these special lambs. They literally risked their lives to protect the sheep from predators, and keep them from falling into the many crevasses and ravines in that rocky hill country.
The newborn lambs would be wrapped tightly… swaddled… in specially designated temple cloths, and they would be laid in a manger to keep them contained while they were being examined for blemishes. At the appointed time, the shepherds would separate the lambs, selecting only the firstborn males that were without mark or blemish, and would lead them to Jerusalem, where they would be purchased by people wanting to present a sacrifice before the Lord to atone for their sins.
When the angel appeared to the shepherds in the fields, he told them that they would find the newborn King wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger. They knew exactly where He would be found, because swaddling cloths were only used in one particular location, and for one particular purpose… Migdal Eder, the place where sacrificial lambs were wrapped and examined for perfection before being set apart for the slaughter that would atone for sin and make peace with God.
Three decades later, the apostle John pointed out his cousin Jesus and said “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”. And more than two millennia later, Jesus is still taking away the sins of all who accept His sacrifice that makes peace between them and God.