“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.”- Micah 5:2
God acted in space and in time to save His people, giving many specific predictions regarding where and when He would send His Messiah. When it comes to the place where the Messiah would arrive, no text is more important than Micah 5:2, which explains that the promised ruler of Israel would be born in one of the humblest towns in the nation: Bethlehem (see Matt. 2:6).
Micah spoke these words during the eighth century BC when the northern kingdom of Israel was about to fall and the southern kingdom of Judah was in the midst of a long decline. The prophet gave his oracles to warn the people of the consequences of their sexual immorality and their failure to show kindness and justice to the impoverished. The people of God were buying and selling justice, showing favor to the rich and ignoring the poor in the legal setting. All of these things are forbidden in the law of God, and Micah said they would lead to the greatest and final covenant curse of exile from the promised land, just as the law promised (Mic. 4:10; see Lev. 26:27–33; Deut. 28).
That promise of judgment, however, was not the last revelation of God through Micah to His people Israel. The Lord said that a new king would come and would be born in Bethlehem. This king would save the Israelites from their enemies (Mic. 5:2, 7–9). The birthplace of Bethlehem is notable because that is the town where David was born. Thus, the promised king and Messiah would be a Davidic ruler. The hopes for David’s line would be restored in the same place where David was born and raised, the little town of Bethlehem.
Compared to other cities and towns in Israel, Bethlehem was insignificant in size and influence (v. 2). This made it a perfect place of origin for David’s line and the birthplace of the Messiah. God often chooses what is small and lowly in order to reveal His glory and power, so Matthew 2:6 gives an interpretative gloss of Micah 5:2 that reveals how its “leastness” was only apparent. Despite Bethlehem’s humble state, it was not “least among the rulers of Judah,” for it was the birthplace of both David and the Messiah. By sending His Son to be born in a manger in Bethlehem, God exalted that town before the world. It was there that God Himself would arrive, being made incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for the sake of our salvation. The child of Mary was from “ancient days,” eternal according to His divine nature.
God does not often choose what is exalted and honored in the eyes of the world. Instead, He loves to choose what is lowly and apparently insignificant in order to accomplish His purposes, just as He did when He chose Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah. None of us, therefore, should think that God cannot use us. Even if we are not well known or important in the world’s eyes, God can still do great things in and through us.
Passages for Further Study