Perhaps you’ve seen a sketch of Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, which depicts the amazing symmetry of the human body and shows a beautiful merging of art, science and math. In case you’ve forgotten what you learned in high school art class, symmetry is the balance and consistency of pattern on opposite sides. If you drew a vertical line down the middle of DaVinci’s drawing above, there would be correlating parts on each side that matched up with one another. You see symmetry in art, architecture, interior design and living beings.
Recently I came across a different kind of symmetry that is more about stories and events in Scripture that balance and complement one another. I wanted to learn about the town of Bethlehem by looking at the different places it’s mentioned. What I discovered were some parallels between the Old and New Testaments I hadn’t noticed before. It appears that the One who designed us to have beautifully symmetrical bodies also orchestrated symmetrical events in Scripture. Here are a few that stand out to me:
Ruth and the Shepherds
The book of Ruth tells the story of a Moabite woman who traveled to Bethlehem with her Israelite mother-in-law to live there after the deaths of their husbands. As a poor, foreign widow, Ruth was about as low in social status as a person could be. Her means of survival came from picking up leftover grain in a field just outside the town of Bethlehem owned by a kind and godly man named Boaz. He would later become her husband and father a child that would be in the line of King David and ultimately, the Messiah.
Now fast-forward in history to the book of Luke, where we read that on the night of Jesus’ birth angels appeared to startled shepherds tending their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Like Ruth, these men would have been societal outcasts. In spite of their unimpressive status, God chose to send angels to them to announce the birth of his son, the Messiah.
It’s beautiful symmetry set up over a thousand years apart. In both cases, God revealed himself to lowly people in a field outside Bethlehem. In that place he showed his provision to Ruth and his glory to the shepherds. And in both instances, he revealed his accessibility to all people, regardless of their social standing or nationality.
David, Mary & Joseph
Bethlehem appears again in the story of David, one of the most prominent kings in Israelite history. In 1 Samuel 16 we learn that David’s original home was in Bethlehem. Later in 2 Samuel 7 God promised David that through him he would establish a family line that would endure forever, ultimately producing the Messiah.
About a thousand years later, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for a census. Since both were from the family line of David they were required to register there. Soon after arriving, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the One who would save the world from sin and fulfill God’s promise that David’s family line would endure forever.
I love the symmetry of this ancient promise to a powerful king from Bethlehem being fulfilled in that very place through a humble and willing peasant girl.
Micah and The Magi
Micah prophesied about the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem roughly 800 years before it occurred saying, “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)
Eight centuries later, an unusual star appeared in the sky, catching the notice of a group of scholars from the east (Matthew 2 refers to them as Magi). These men traveled to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews that the star heralded, logically assuming that a king would be born in the capital city. After arriving, they inquired of King Herod: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Because he was not a Jew, King Herod consulted with the chief priests and scribes to learn where the Messiah was to be born. They answered by quoting Micah 5:2, the same passage written above. Despite being gentiles, the Magi had come to worship the Jewish king, revealing their understanding that he was accessible to Jews and non-Jews alike.
Don’t miss the beautiful symmetry of Micah’s prophesy in the Old Testament and the fact that it is quoted in the New Testament to guide the Magi to Jesus. Also, think of the symmetry between the Magi, who were wealthy, educated gentiles from a foreign land and the shepherds who were poor, uneducated locals with Jewish blood running through their veins. God revealed himself to people at opposite ends of the spectrum, showing us that Jesus is the Savior of all and available to all regardless of any human distinctions such as race, creed, nationality, social status, financial status, or education level. He welcomes all who genuinely seek him with humble hearts.
For me, seeing the bigger scope of God’s plan makes the miracle of Christmas even more powerful. Recognizing that events in the Old Testament have direct and specific links to ones in the New Testament inspires awe, reminding me that the original concept of symmetry came from the Creator himself. I pray that like me, you will find moments to be awe-struck by God this Christmas as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah for all people.
I understand so much more about “the hopes and fears of all the years” after studying Bethlehem’s significance from Old Testament to New. Click on the link and enjoy a new version of an old favorite: “O Little Town (The Glory of Christmas)” by Matt Redman.
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