“Joseph also went up.” There is no indication that the Roman government demanded people leave their homes immediately after the decree was made and begin the journey to their ancestral homes. People were apparently given many months in which to arrange their lives so they could go to their ancestral home to register for taxation. But Joseph took the need to travel to Bethlehem to be registered as an opportunity to escape the social pressure and judgment that certainly must have existed in Nazareth, so he took Mary with him and stayed in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Bethlehem.” It is quite common in Christian teaching today to hear that Jesus was born in a small insignificant town in Israel, a “nowhere town” in “nowhere Israel.” That is simply not true. Although biblical Bethlehem was a small town, it was one of the most famous towns in Israel. Besides, it was not at all unusual for a town like Bethlehem, which was close to the western edge of the Judean Wilderness and quite arid, to have a smaller permanent population.
Bethlehem was seven miles south of Jerusalem, and it was still famous as the birthplace of King David and called “the city of David” (Luke 2:4, 11) nearly 1,000 years after David had died. Furthermore, the eyes of Israel remained focused on Bethlehem through the centuries because the prophet Micah foretold the Messiah would be born there (Micah 5:2). In addition, a major trade route went south from Jerusalem through Bethlehem and then continued south to the famous city of Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived and where David had been anointed king by the tribe of Judah (2 Sam. 2:4). The trade route then continued on south to Beer-sheba, and then southwest to Egypt. So Bethlehem was not some “sleepy little town” that was “out of the way.” It was a famous town on a well-traveled trade route only a couple of hours walk from Jerusalem.
In Hebrew, “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread,” and that was true in more ways than one, for not only was the area of Bethlehem a fruitful place to grow grain that was then ground into bread, but as the birthplace of the Messiah the name “Bethlehem” was typological because Bethlehem was the place where “the Bread of Life” came into the world.