The Ruler from Bethlehem

“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 5:1–5

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God” (Lev. 26:44). This promise of the Lord through Moses certainly gave the faithful remnant of His people a reason to hope as they went into exile along with the entire old covenant community, the majority of which were flagrant, impenitent violators of the covenant. So, as we have seen in our study of the Old Testament prophets thus far, exile was never seen as the last word for Israel and Judah. The people would be restored, as represented in the restoration of David’s line to the throne, and even the Gentile nations would benefit (Isa. 9:6–7; 53:10–11; Amos 9:11–12; Mic. 4:1–5).

Prophets such as Isaiah and Micah expected this restoration to be glorious, with Isaiah even predicting that it would usher in the renewal of creation (Isa. 65:17–25). So, the first-century Jewish leaders did not err in looking for a conquering descendant of David to reign over them. They failed, however, to take into account that the kingdom would have a humble beginning, that its initiation would be barely discernible. Isaiah taught as much when he spoke of the shoot coming forth from the stump of Jesse (11:1–5). David’s line would be all but left for dead in the exile, so humbled that the future King would come from obscurity, just as David came from the apparently insignificant family of Jesse in the unremarkable town of Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:1–5).

Micah concurs, making it clear that the glorious Son of David for which the nation hoped would have an origin so humble that he would also be born in Bethlehem, a town so insignificant that it was hardly reckoned among the “clans of Judah” during the eighth century BC (Mic. 5:2). But the prophet also foresaw that this humble beginning would veil a most incredible truth, namely, that the apparently lowly Messiah would actually be one “whose coming forth is of old, from ancient days” (v. 2). We have here what commentators throughout church history have regarded as an allusion to the Messiah’s preexistence, the idea that the Christ, at least in some sense, was present in eternity past. John 1:1–18 sheds further light on this, showing that the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, has always existed, even before He took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and was born in Bethlehem as the Messiah (Luke 2:1–40).

Coram Deo

The scribes in Matthew 2:1–6 answer Herod with an interpretive gloss that says Bethlehem is not the least of the clans of Judah because of the Messiah. Though many of them would reject Jesus, this interpretive reading implicitly recognizes the truth that humble Bethlehem’s status would be changed forever because of the Messiah’s birth there. In turn, the Messiah’s origin in Bethlehem shows us that God exalts the humble and humbles those who exalt themselves.

Passages for Further Study

Ruth 4
Romans 15:8–13

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