Summary: Let's talk about the beauties of Bethlehem from Ruth 4 and Matthew 1 (Ties in with hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem)
The story of Christmas brings with it scenes of peace and tranquility. So when the church gathers and sings the beloved hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem, we do so with a certain vision in mind. The reality of Bethlehem, however, is much different. It was a small insignificant town; a town on the outskirts hidden within the shadows of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was a watering hole for shepherds. Bethlehem was a blue collar town filled with transients and those who provided basic services for people who could not afford a night in the big city.
Today, Bethlehem suffers from much the same identity crisis. As drivers park buses filled with tourists alongside narrow streets, curious vacationers pile into the Church of the Nativity hoping to stand in the spot where Jesus was born and have their picture made marking their visit to this holy place. Street vendors pedal their wares to anyone with a desire for a souvenir and an open wallet. And lest any of these unsuspecting tourists notice, interspersed throughout the crowded streets is a well armed militia keeping watch. This is Bethlehem, touristy, grimy, noisy and caught between two warring peoples.
Rachel- Ruth 4:11: May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah
When Jacob came to Laban, his uncle’s family, Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban’s daughter. “Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel ...” Genesis 29:16-18, NIV. Jacob worked for Laban 7 years to have Rachel as his wife. But when the time had passed, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel. When Jacob protested, Laban gave him Rachel also, on condition that Jacob serve 7 years more.
After Jacob and Rachel were married, Rachel had no children for many years. Leah had several children. The evil of having more than one wife we see here through the rivalry arising between these two sisters, each seeking by means of children to win the heart of Jacob.
When Jacob had enough of Laban and his cheating ways, he loaded up his family to go back to Canaan. Rachel stole the household gods (for fertility) and this was a source of conflict when Laban finally caught up them. In spite of all of this, she continued to be the favorite of Jacob. When they were meeting Esau, Jacob assigned to her the place of greatest safety. Also he loved Joseph, the son of Rachel, more than his other sons which lead to problems.
After the arrival in Canaan, while they were quickly on their way from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem), we find this. Genesis 35:16-20.
Even though Jacob favored Joseph and Benjamin, we find that in Abraham’s tomb. “There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah.” Genesis 49:31, NIV.
Rachel’s tomb near Bethlehem (Ramah, 4 miles south from Jerusalem and one mile north of Bethlehem) is spoken of by Jeremiah and then used by Matthew in describing what happened to the babies in Bethlehem. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according to the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”” Matthew 2:16-18, NIV.
Rachel’s character shows the traits of her family, cunning and covetousness. Though a believer in the one true God, she was given to superstitions like the household gods. The love and faith of her husband were the means of purifying her character.
We have no descriptions of Rahab’s beauty but many times she is mentioned as a harlot or prostitute. When Joshua and the Israelites came near Jericho in Joshua 2, the two spies sent by Joshua came into Rahab’s house and lodged there. She refused to betray these spies to the king of Jericho, and when he demanded them, she hid them on the roof of her house with stalks of flax that she had laid out to dry. She pretended that they had escaped before the shutting of the city gate, and this threw the pursuers off the track. She then told the spies- Joshua 2:9-13
The spies promised to spare all of them provided they would remain in her house and provided she would keep their business secret. The sign of this was a scarlet cord through her window since her house was built into the town wall. She then gave directions to make good their escape. True to their promise, the Israelites under Joshua spared Rahab and her family. “So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.” “But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho--and she lives among the Israelites to this day.” Joshua 6:23, 25, NIV.