Micah, the Messiah, and the Little Town of Bethlehem
Confusion Over the Christ
The crowds murmured while the critics lurked in the shadows. Complaints, compliments, and confusion over the Man from Galilee spread among the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles like political opinions circulate today on social media during election time.
- “Some said, ‘He is good’; others said, ‘No, on the contrary, He deceives the people’” (John 7:12).
- In response to Jesus’ question, “Why do you seek to kill Me?” The people answered and said, “You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?” (7:19-20). Yet others said, “Is this not He whom they seek to kill?” (7:25).
- “[S]ome of them from Jerusalem said… ‘Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?’” (7:26).
- The officers (whom the Pharisees and chief priests sent to arrest Jesus) came back empty-handed, saying, “No man ever spoke like this Man.” Yet, the Pharisees arrogantly responded, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (7:46-48). “Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (7:52, NASB).
- “Some of the people therefore, after they heard these words [of Jesus], were saying, ‘This truly is the Prophet.’ Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ.’ But others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not coming from Galilee, is He? Has the Scripture not said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So a dissension occurred in the crowd because of Him” (7:40-43, NASB).
The hard-hearted, egocentric Pharisees and chief priests did not know the Old Testament as well as they professed. They chided the common people for their ignorance of the Law (7:48) and then contemptibly challenged Nicodemus to “[s]earch and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (7:52, NASB). Yet, the prophet Jonah was from Gath Hepher of Zebulon (2 Kings 14:25; Joshua 19:10-13), which is in Galilee. Furthermore, in the desperate, dark days of Assyrian dominance in Galilee in the late eighth century B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 15:29), the prophet Isaiah foretold of the everlasting Prince of Peace coming as a “great light” in “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali…in Galilee of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 9:1-7). Who was this “great light”? Jesus of Nazareth, Who “came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet” (Matthew 4:13-14). Indeed, in one sense, the greatest Prophet of them all, the Messiah, came “out of Galilee.”1
Bethlehem of Judea—“The City of David”
In another real sense, the “commoners”2 were right, too. “Scripture said…that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was” (John 7:42). David may have dwelt in Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem once he became king and conquered the Jebusite city (2 Samuel 5:6-7), but it seems most any Jew knew that David’s heritage was in Bethlehem.
This Bethlehem was not the Bethlehem of Zebulon (Joshua 19:15; in Galilee), but the Bethlehem of Judah, also known as Ephrath or Ephrathah.3 People of Bethlehem were known as “Ephrahthites” (Ruth 1:1-2; 1 Samuel 17:12). David’s great grandfather, Boaz, “came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4; 4:11). David’s father, Jesse, was an “Ephrathite of Bethlehem Judah” (1 Samuel 17:12,15; 16:1,4). Prior to his 33-year reign in Jerusalem, which became known as “the city of David” (2 Samuel 5:7-9), David himself referred to Bethlehem as “his city” (1 Samuel 20:6). In this sense, even Luke referred to Bethlehem of Judah as “the city of David” (Luke 2:4).
Why did Joseph and Mary travel all the way from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea? To be registered in the Roman census (Luke 2:1-2). But why Bethlehem? Because “all went to be registered, everyone to his own city” (Luke 2:3), and Joseph “was of the house and lineage of David,” and Bethlehem was “the city of David” (Luke 2:4,11,15).
The Star of Bethlehem
In about 1,400 B.C. God used a non-Jewish, Mesopotamian soothsayer named Balaam to prophesy to the Moabites about, among other things, how “a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Some 400 years later, this prophecy had an “immediate” application in Israel’s great King David. But 1,400 years later, Balaam’s prophecy would have its remote application and ultimate fulfillment in “the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16; cf. Isaiah 11:1,10; Revelation 5:5). [And He has the greatest of all scepters—having “all authority…in heaven and on Earth” (Matthew 28:18).]
Amazingly, one of the first signs of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah was the appearance of “His star” (Matthew 2:2,9), which “wise men [or “magi,” NASB] from the East” followed all the way to Judea (Matthew 2:1).4 The wise men stopped in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). But Herod, the ruthless king of Judea, knew nothing about these things and inquired of “all the chief priests and scribes…where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4). What these men knew was the same thing the crowd knew 30-plus years later in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7): The Messiah was to be born “[i]n Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” (Matthew 2:5-6).
The Dark days of Micah
What “Scripture” is this that says “the Christ comes from the town of Bethlehem, where David was” (John 7:42)? Who was this prophet who wrote that “a Ruler” will come from “Bethlehem, in the land of Judah” (Matthew 2:5-6)?
His name was Micah and he was from the country town of Moresheth (about 20-25 miles southwest of Jerusalem). Micah himself refers to the town as “Moresheth Gath” (1:14), likely implying that for a time, it “had fallen under the power of the neighboring Philistines of Gath.”5 Micah lived during the same period as other eighth-century prophets, including Amos (1:1) and Hosea (1:1), who prophesied to the Northern Kingdom, and Isaiah (1:1), who prophesied along with Micah in the Southern Kingdom. It was “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” that Micah received “the word of the Lord” (Micah 1:1). These three kings reigned a combined 56 years (from about 742-687 B.C.). “Jotham…reigned sixteen years…and did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:1-2). Hezekiah, though not perfect, was also a great king, one of the greatest in Judah’s long history, serving for 29 years (2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33). Sandwiched between these two rulers was the cowardly, repulsive King Ahaz, one of the worst, most wicked kings in Judah’s history, reigning for 16 dark years. Among other things, he “sacrificed to the gods of Damascus,” “burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel,” “shut up the doors of the house of the Lord,” and overall, “encouraged moral decline in Judah” (28:23,3,24,20).
Sadly, whether during the reigns of wicked or righteous kings, the people of Judah, like their northern counterparts (Micah 1:5-13), mostly “still…acted corruptly” (2 Chronicles 27:2). Repugnantly sinful behavior was especially characteristic of those in positions of authority. But the mighty prophet Micah did not hold back. He was given “[t]he Word of the Lord” (Micah 1:1), and as a good steward of the Divine revelation, he let the “high and mighty” have it.
I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Now hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity. Her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money (Micah 3:8-11).
“[H]er rich men are full of violence” (6:12). Speaking hyperbolically, Micah professed, “The faithful man has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood; every man hunts his brother with a net. That they may successfully do evil with both hands—the prince asks for gifts, the judge seeks a bribe, and the great man utters his evil desire; so they scheme together” (7:2-3). In short, they “hate good and love evil” (3:2).
Tragically, Jerusalem was a repugnant center of spiritual disease (as was Samaria in the North). The courageous prophet Micah boldly confronted all manner of abusive leaders and prophesied of their eventual demise. “For behold, the Lord is coming…. The mountains will melt under Him…. I will make Samaria a heap of ruins” (Micah 1:3,4,6). And “Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins” (3:12). Indeed, the brutal Assyrians conquered Samaria in 722 B.C. And though Jerusalem was spared for a time following the fearless prophesying of Micah and Isaiah and the righteous reforms of King Hezekiah (cf. Jeremiah 26:18), the capital city of the Jews would fall calamitously at the hands of the Babylonians in 587 B.C., approximately 100 years after Micah pronounced the Lord’s judgments.
Hope…And Honing In on the Hero
But not all is lost. There is Hope from Heaven. A Hero is on the horizon. Yes, God and His faithful prophets have condemned sin from the beginning,6 but the story never ended there. Even as Adam and Eve were lurking in the midst of sinfully-minded blame games (Genesis 3:11-13), God boldly announced to the devil His gracious plans to save humanity through “the Seed” of woman, Who would deal a crushing blow to the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15). “Since the world began,” God “spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” about the Hope, the “horn of salvation,” Who would save His people from sin and its fatal consequences (Luke 1:67-70).
Remarkably, the Bible writers did not speak in mere broad generalities about the coming Christ. Throughout the Old Testament, God announced that the Deliverer of humankind (and the sinful mess that humanity made) would be a male descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David.7 Notice the spectacular specificity of the prophets! The Messiah, Who would bless “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3), would come from Abraham (not his brothers Nahor or Haran). The Savior would come from Isaac (not Ishmael, and not Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishback, or Shuah, the other sons of Abraham—Genesis 25:2). He would come from Jacob (not Esau, the father of the Edomites). He would come from Judah (and not one of the other 11 sons of Jacob, not even Levi, the father of the Levitical priesthood). The ultimate “anointed One” (i.e., Christ) would come from the anointed King David (and not the other sevens sons of Jesse—1 Samuel 16:1-13; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Jeremiah 23:5-6). And from where did the greatest king in Israel’s history hail? Not Hebron, Jerusalem, or Jericho. Not Dan, Bethel, or Beersheba. And not Bethlehem of Zebulon (Joshua 19:15). Not anywhere in all of Palestine except from “the little among the thousands of Judah” (Micah 5:2)—the town of Bethlehem of Ephrathah.
Micah’s Messianic Prophecy
Micah chapter 5 begins with a doom-and-gloom statement seemingly about the siege that Sennacherib’s ruthless Assyrian army would lay against Jerusalem and King Hezekiah.8 Hezekiah (the most powerful “judge of Israel”) would be openly insulted by Sennacherib’s spokesman, the Rabshakeh, who would come to the door of Jerusalem, shouting taunting words of mockery in the Hebrew language for all to hear.9 In the words of Micah, Assyria would “strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek” (Micah 5:1).
Though the household of David in Hezekiah’s day would face humiliation,10 “the true Israel will come forth triumphant.”11 How? Because “the One to be Ruler in Israel…shall come forth” (Micah 5:2). The One long-awaited descendant of Abraham and David was coming (Matthew 1:1). And though His presence on Earth would still lie in the future, the Messiah, Micah testified, already had a past!His goings forth are “from of old;” “from long ago” (NASB).12 How long? Micah said, “From the days of eternity” (5:2, NASB).13 But that must mean that the Messiah is…God. Indeed, as Isaiah, Micah’s fellow 8th-century prophet in Judah, said, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
According to Micah and Isaiah, God Himself would step out of the splendors of heaven to be the Prince of Peace, the Ruler in Israel.14 And where would He first make His appearance? Centuries before the Messiah’s birth, the prophet Micah gave us one more piece of the puzzle. Micah (and only Micah) precisely revealed the place from which the Messiah would come forth: the little town of Bethlehem in the region of Judea.
The scribes and chief priests in King Herod’s day (Matthew 2:4-6) knew of the Messianic nature of Micah 5:2. The elitist Pharisees, as well as the “commoners,” knew it some 32 years later (in John 7). And yet, though the Messiah stood in their midst, most missed, ignored, or refused to accept the amazing, fulfilled fact that Jesus was born just five miles down the road in Bethlehem of Judea—just as Micah, the proven inspired prophet (cf. Jeremiah 28:9), promised He would 700 years earlier.
1 Jesus grew up in Galilee and remained in this region during much of His ministry.
2 The “crowd” whom the Pharisees claimed did “not know the law” (John 7:49).
3 Which is “the name either of Bethlehem itself or of a district in which Bethlehem was situated” [Ernest Masterman (1996), “Ephrath; Ephrathah,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Electronic Database: Biblesoft)]. Moses wrote that after Jacob’s wife Rachel died, she was “buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)”—Genesis 35:19; cf. 48:7.
4 From where did these men receive such knowledge? How did they know that one particular “star in the East” indicated the Messiah’s entrance into the world? No one can know for sure, but it seems they had Divine direction, perhaps similar to what they later received in Matthew 2:12.
5 “Moresheth Gath” (1996), Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
6 Genesis 2:17; 3:8-19; 4:5-15; 6:3-8; Luke 11:49-51; 2 Peter 2:5.
7 Genesis 3:15; 12:1-4; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 49:10; Isaiah 11:1,10; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Jeremiah 23:5-6.
8 Cf. 2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 32; Isaiah 36-37.
9 “[T]he Rabshakeh said… ‘What confidence is this in which you trust? You speak of having plans of power for war; but they are mere words. And in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me? Now Look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt…. [G]ive a pledge to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses—if you are able on your part to put riders on them!… Have I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land, and destroy it!”… Has my master sent me to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, who will eat and drink their own waste with you?… Do not listen to Hezekiah’” (2 Kings 18:19-31).
10 As well as Babylonian captivity roughly 100 years later.
11 Homer Hailey (1993) A Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Religious Supply), p. 208.
12 The Hebrew term qedem literally means “ancient time, aforetime” [Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, studylight.org/lexicons/eng/hebrew/06924.html]. It is used of God in Deuteronomy 33:27 and Habakkuk 1:12 where the term is translated “everlasting” or “eternal.”
13 This Hebrew word (olam) often refers to “for ever, ever, everlasting, evermore” (Brown, et al., https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/eng/hebrew/05769.html). Often it is used in reference to the eternality of God, including in Micah 4:7 where the prophet referenced the Lord’s eternal reign.
14 Cf. John 1:1; 20:28; Philippians 2:5-11.
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