Clay Village, Ky., 1880.
BRETHREN BEEBE AND SON: - I propose writing a little on the name, or names rather, of that celebrated city called Bethlehem Ephratah, as found in Micah 5:2 – “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Although I have written the whole verse, I intend to confine myself to the names, their significance, and some important reminiscences that cluster round that city, made so famous for being the birthplace of the King, the Savior, the Redeemer of Israel. Its situation is about six miles south of Jerusalem, and it is called also “the city of David.” The name Bethlehem signifies “house of bread.” That of Ephratah signifies “abundance; bearing fruit.” I cannot say why it was called by both of these names, unless it was more fully to exhibit its significance. It was the birthplace or residence of David, and at least five of his ancestors, all of whose names were conspicuously significant or typical, as most of those ancient names were. They were as follows: Elimeleck signifying, “My God is King;” Mahlon signifying, “Song; infirmity;” Boaz signifying, “Strength;” Obed signifying, “Servant; workman;” Jesse signifying, “Gift; oblation;” David signifying, “Well beloved; dear.”
In treating on the significance of these names, we will first observe that Christ and his kingdom were the all-important and absorbing themes of the patriarchs and prophets. Abraham rejoiced to see his day; and he saw it, and was glad. John 8:56. And again, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” [Rev. 19:10] in many instances, no doubt; but many of the names given to persons, places and things, were from a prophetic view of future events. In other cases, God evidently caused circumstances to transpire that would suggest and cause certain names to be given. When Abraham and Sarah were told that Sarah should have a son, they laughed, [Gen. 17:17; 18:12;] and when that son was born they called him Isaac, which signifies laughter, or joy. When Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob, were born, the latter had the former by the heel, and they called him Jacob, signifying supplanter, or heeler. He afterwards supplanted his brother.
The first one of those conspicuous characters of Bethlehem Ephratah whose name we shall consider is Elimeleck, “My God is King.” Whatever may have occurred to fix the name on this significant character, it evidently had a particular significant bearing; and I think it doubtless has reference to that majestic, regal Ruler named in the text, that is to be ruler in Israel, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” The mere calling the name of the individual was calculated to direct the mind of the Israelites to that supreme Ruler whose kingly power had been so miraculously displayed in the land of Egypt, in delivering them from bondage, in the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts, in raining bread from heaven when in the barren wilderness, in the terrible display of his majesty when giving them the law on Sinai, in driving out seven nations from the promised inheritance, in bringing them into a land flowing with milk and honey. No wonder, when reviewing these, and many other equally marvelous transactions performed by the King of Israel in behalf of his peculiar people, that one of them should say, in the naming of his son, “My God is King.” I suppose that this name would also prophetically and typically point to the Ruler of the universe as King of kings and Lord of lords, as well as to the King of Zion.
The next name claiming our attention is Mahlon, and it signifies “Song; infirmity.” Songs are indicative of merriment, joy, thanksgiving, and of triumph or victory. I know of no song spoken of in the Bible that would be more likely to suggest this name to an Israelite than that of Moses and Miriam, repeated, the first in Exodus 15:1, and the second in the 20th of the same chapter, where Moses and the children of Israel sing, “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” Miriam and her minstrels “answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” The same name too might indicate the future songs of Zion, as spoken of in the Psalms of David, 28:7, 40:3, 69:30, and many others; and also in Isaiah 26:1, “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; we have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks;” and also in Revelation 5:9, 14:3 & 15:3. But notwithstanding the singing of all these songs of joy, thanksgiving and triumph, “infirmity,” the other meaning of the name, was interwoven in the character of all the songsters.
Then we have Boaz, signifying “strength.” This name seems to exemplify the almighty power of that strong arm or hand that wrought such wonders, not only in the deliverance of the peculiar people from bondage, but also in the acts performed by him in their defense and repeated deliverances from their numerous and potent enemies, proving himself to be emphatically “the strength of the children of Israel,” as the prophet has said, “Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” Isa. 26:4. There also seems to be here a typical portrait of that strong Deliverer that “shall come out of Zion, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Romans 11:26.
Next comes Obed, meaning “Servant; workman.” May not this name refer not only to Moses, who was so frequently called and looked up to by the people of Israel as the servant of God, but also to him as the prototype of him who is spoken of in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth?” Or to him who “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant?” Phil. 2:7. The other signification of the name may have reference to the number of workmen engaged, first in building the tabernacle in the wilderness, then the temple at Jerusalem, which were types of the church; and secondly, of her workmen that “needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth;” or those “who labor in word and doctrine.”
Then we have Jesse, “Gift; oblation.” This is the immediate father of David, and I think that in this significant name is a pointer or typical directory to that unspeakably precious “gift of God,” or bestowment of his dear Son to his people, that infinitely transcends in super-excellence all other gifts, the intrinsic worth of which will remain forever incalculable. And what an oblation! An atoning sacrifice – one offering, that “perfected forever them that are sanctified.” Heb. 10:14. It may have had direct reference to the mere gift of a son to Obed; but I think it undoubtedly had reference as a type to that inestimable gift of God, and that all sufficient oblation that completed the supernatural work of eternal redemption at the tragical scene exhibited on Calvary.
Next we speak of that conspicuous character, David, “Well beloved; dear.” We cannot suppose for a moment that this appellation was accidentally imposed on this individual. David was a brilliant type of Christ, who speaks of him all through the Psalms as of himself, and of whom Christ is said to be “the Son,” repeatedly, and “the seed of David according to the flesh.” Rom. 1:3. He was the anointed [authorized, empowered] king of Israel, and was said to be a man after God’s own heart. I Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22. As the name of David signifies “well beloved,” so Christ was the beloved Son of God, declared to be the beloved Son of his Father, both at his baptism and his transfiguration on the mount. David was “dear” to the people of Israel, and dear to the Lord. He was therefore “well beloved and dear,” as was his Anti-type, to his Father and his people.
Last and greatest of all was born in Bethlehem Ephratah, Christ Jesus – the anointed, empowered Savior. Well might it be called the “House of bread.” “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” “Lord, evermore give us this bread.” John 6:34, 50. It is life-giving bread; yes, eternal life. Then think of its boundlessness, its inexhaustible plenitude! It has afforded a rich and delicious repast for the saints to feast upon in all past ages, and will in all ages to come; and when time shall be no more, eternity will not exhaust or even diminish its fullness. But in order to appreciate this bread we must have both the appetite to relish, and the faculty by which we can feed upon it. The Lord alone can give us the appetite; then we feed upon it, hunger for it. But our carnal nature has no faculty with which we can eat the bread of life. Now let us consider the faculty, personal quality or ability to eat the bread of life which came down from heaven, and was developed in Bethlehem, the “House of bread.” It is by faith only that we can eat the flesh of the Son of man, and except we eat it, we have no life in us. But what is faith? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1. We wish to notice this faculty or qualification, by which this bread is eaten, a little in detail, for it is a matter of vital importance, as we have no life [eternal life] except we eat it.
We have a number of preachers in this country who tell the people the evidence or belief is all that is necessary in order to be saved. “Only believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” they say, is all that is required. Well, the devils believe that, and what would they do if one of those devils should present himself as a candidate for admission into one of their so-called churches, and tell them that he believed that Jesus is the Son of God? They must accept him, or reject their rule, for it is the only test they have for membership. But let us examine this faculty a little further, for its importance requires that the people of God should distinguish between this living faith and one that is dead. See James 2:17,26. It is only by faith that we eat this bread, and we have shown that this living faith is both a substance and an evidence. We will suppose a case. Suppose then, that A is traveling on a wearisome journey, and is very hungry. He meets his friend B, and says, “Friend B, I am hungry.” “Come to my house,” says B, “I have plenty.” Now he has an evidence, but this does not satisfy him. Perhaps he wants a stronger evidence. He goes to the house, and presently sees the table spread, and furnished with all he can desire. That is as strong evidence as he can wish. But does that satisfy his appetite? No. What will? Let him eat, for he would starve to death on the best evidence, without the substance. And when one has “tasted that the Lord is gracious,” the language will be, Lord, evermore give me this bread.
Let us next consider Ephratah, “Abundance; bearing fruit.” How shall we attempt to compute the abundance of this bread? And not only bread, but everything that the most capacious conception of saints can imagine, and still more. Imagination’s utmost stretch in wonder dies away. It pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in him. Col. 1:19. Here is unbounded, illimitable, eternal love in all its abundance. A preacher once said that when he attempted to feed the saints out of this ocean of love, he felt like a child at the edge of the edge of the ocean, dipping it out with a teaspoon; but I ask, where is the edge? Boundless, fathomless. Here is abundance of joy, too. In his presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Psa. 16:11. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory.” I Pet. 1:8. Here is abundance of grace, too. “For if by one man’s disobedience death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Rom. 5:17. “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. But why attempt to itemize? In this blessed One there is everything that can feed, feast, happify or glorify the saints in all places, all time, all eternity.
Ephratah also signifies “bearing fruit.” This I suppose has reference to the fruit of the Vine and its branches, for the branches and fruit come out of the Vine; and what delicious, heart-soothing fruit it is. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, &c. Indeed this fruit permeates all that is good; “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” Eph.5:9. Jesus said to his disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” John 15:16. “The tree is known by its fruit.” How commendable to see the branches manifest their vitality in the Vine by their fruit. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psa. 126:6.
The names of the persons and place treated on in the foregoing remarks indubitably have a momentous significance; but whether the deductions drawn from them are in accordance with the scriptures, others must judge. But the climax of the celebrity of this city was the birth there of Christ Jesus, [anointed or empowered Savior,] a little more than one thousand, eight hundred and seventy-nine years ago. That all-important circumstance should recall to the mind of the people of God a reminiscence worthy of their most profound and solemn meditation. But to undertake now to dwell upon the superlative work, the sublime character, and the majestic mien of that august One, opens a field too expansive for me to enter with my feeble capacities. I therefore submit the preceding remarks to you, brethren editors, to dispose of as you think best.
Brother Beebe, as I have heretofore silently listened to the misrepresentations and calumnies that have been published and circulated through the country against you, brother Dudley, myself and others, perhaps it will not be amiss for me to make a few remarks here on that subject, as my silence might be construed into consent. If I know my own heart, I desire to “recompense to no man evil for evil.” Our false accusers may be brethren misinformed, or they may be open enemies. But in either case, “we should be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done; and there is no respect of persons.” Col. 3:25. Our dear Savior has said, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.” That should be a sufficient solace, without doing or wishing them evil. I have heard of an individual who was pathetically complaining of bad reports circulated through the neighborhood about him. “O,” said his neighbors, “never mind; there are always some who will raise and circulate false reports about us.” “Ah,” said he, “if they were false, I would not mind them; but every word is true.” Those are the reports that hurt. If we can only conduct ourselves in such a way that our enemies shall have nothing bad to say about us that is true, we shall be fortunate indeed. The Lord knows our hearts, and also the hearts of our accusers. If we are really what we profess to be, the Lord works all things for our good, even all the wrongs we may suffer. Then we should bless them that persecute us; bless, and curse not. We dare not shun to declare all the counsel of God, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear, whether they curse or whether they bless us; and then let us calmly and patiently take the consequences. And may the Lord grant us dispositions to pray for and forgive our enemies for his dear name’s sake.
In much humility, your brother,
J. F. JOHNSON.
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No.5
March 1, 1880