This verse is quoted in the NT (New Testament) as a prophecy about the Messiah. And so it is. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and fulfilled the prophecy contained in this verse. The verses following extend the prophecy out into the End Times, but this verse; this prophecy is fulfilled. While that does trigger my memories and get me thinking, that is not what I see emerging from this verse this morning.
God refers to Bethlehem as [too] little to be among the clans of Judah. Bethlehem was not, I guess, a terribly important city in the sense that Jerusalem is important. The city seems to be an unassuming little place. And I am reminded of how often God will use places and things as metaphors for people. King David was unassuming, too. Samuel had to have him brought in from the fields where he was working in order to anoint him king. David did not go out against Goliath and say that he (David) was going to put Goliath in the hurt locker, but that God was going to smack down the giant. Paul was also pretty unassuming. In his letters, he writes that people are talking about him while he is not present. Those folks are saying that he is not all that impressive in person and not a great speaker, but that his writings are weighty and impressive. That, I think, is as it should be. The words that God gives should have weight whereas the messenger need not. God delights in using the little; the unassuming to accomplish great things.
Which leads nicely into the other name given in tandem with Bethlehem: Ephrathah. Looking it up in the concordance, it seems that the word means fruitful. Often, Bethlehem is noted for being on the way to Ephrathah; on the way to fruitfulness. Am I reading too much into this? Maybe. But the truth of the matter is that humility is on the path to fruitfulness, whether this passage was intended to communicate that or not. More than once, God states that He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God says that those who humble themselves in His sight will be lifted up by Him. Winston Churchill once described another man as “A modest man who has much to be modest about.” The same could reasonably be said of all of us, if we wish to be great in God’s kingdom. We, all of us, have much to be modest about. And, as it turns out, Churchill had cause to say later that the same man was “an honorable and gallant gentleman, and a faithful colleague who served his country well at the time of her greatest need.” Humble little men and women; modest people can and often do accomplish great things in the hands of a great God.
The last thing to note about Bethlehem is that the Ruler mentioned will go forth for God. That is, the Ruler will go out and do what God has commissioned Him to do. When Jesus came to the Earth, He did exactly what the Father had commissioned Him to do. But I think it can be taken a step further. If I am little in the eyes of the world and fruitful in the eyes of God then the Ruler will also go forth from me; will reach out and touch lives around me.
Perhaps I am being too metaphorical in my reading of this verse. It would be neither the first nor the last time I had done so. But these truths are scattered throughout The Bible and this verse brought them to mind. The truths remain utterly true, regardless of whether or not this verse was intended to communicate them.
To clearly communicate Jesus to the world around me, it helps if my life is fruitful; abounding in all that the Holy Spirit brings — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. To have a fruitful life, I must first humble myself before God. Then I can be a fruitful little sender of the message that God is a Great Big Provider.