The Purpose of Wisdom Literature

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (v. 2)

- Micah 5:1-9

Today we will conclude our brief study of some of the key Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah with a look at Micah 5:1–9. This famous text foresees the Messiah’s birth in the city of Bethlehem, and it is cited in Matthew 2:6 as a prophecy fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus in that city.

Micah’s prophecy was originally delivered during the eighth century B.C., when the northern kingdom of Israel was in its final stages of decline and the southern kingdom of Judah was not faring much better. Moral transgressions such as the oppression of the poor and sexual promiscuity even in the priesthood were rampant. Furthermore, justice was being bought and sold. The old covenant community was not upholding the covenant, so the Lord sent Micah to charge them with their crimes and pronounce the covenant curses upon the chosen nation. In light of their impenitent sin, Micah foresaw the exile of the people, which was the greatest and final covenant curse (Micah 4:10; see Lev. 26:27–33; Deut. 28).

God’s final word to His people through Micah, however, was one of blessing. Restoration would follow the judgment to come. A new king, born in Bethlehem, would deliver His people from their enemies (Micah 5:2, 7–9). You will remember, of course, that Bethlehem was David’s hometown (1 Sam. 16:1–13). By placing the birthplace of a king in Bethlehem, Micah saw that the one who would rescue God’s people from all their foes would be a Davidic ruler.

The Lord’s choice of Bethlehem as the hometown for ancient Israel’s greatest king was astounding enough, for the city was small and insignificant, from a human perspective, in comparison to other population centers in the Holy Land (Micah 5:2). From God’s perspective, however, Bethlehem was not insignificant at all, not because of any inherent greatness on Bethlehem’s part but because of His choice of that city as a key part of achieving His redemptive purposes. That is why Matthew 2:6 gives an interpretative gloss of Micah 5:2 and says that this town was “by no means least among the rulers of Judah” even though Micah said the town was too little to be numbered among Judah’s clans. Humanly speaking, Bethlehem was nothing. Divinely speaking, Bethlehem was among the most significant cities on the planet, a truth Micah anticipates by stating that the Messiah to be born there would be “from ancient days.” That is a clear reference to the Messiah’s preexistence and deity. Bethlehem was significant because there the incarnate Son of God would enter the world.

Coram Deo

Scripture tells us again and again that God delights to humble those who have exalted themselves and exalt those who have humbled themselves. His choice of Bethlehem is an example of this principle. The Lord chose a small, overlooked town as the birthplace of the King of kings and Lord of lords. None of us should therefore think that we are so insignificant that God cannot use us. He can use even ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 29:23
John 7:42

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