posted on Dec, 20 2016 @ 05:01 PM
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephratah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel”.
Micah ch5 v2
This prophecy is quoted in Matthew as the clue which points the wise men towards the place where Jesus has been born.
But the verse was originally part of a more extended prophecy, addressed by Micah to the people of his own time.
The message of the full prophecy was full of encouragement for these people, and it might be useful to draw it out and complete Matthew’s intended
The context in Micah is a reflection on the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, which begins in the previous chapter.
“Now many nations are assembled against you, saying ‘Let her be profaned, and let our eyes feast upon Zion’” (ch4 v11)
“Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us.”
Then the city falls, and the king is humiliated;
“With a rod they strike upon the cheek of the ruler of Israel” (ch5 v1).
Therefore the city is in misery;
“Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you?...
Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail;
For now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country” (ch4 vv9-10)
Jeremiah uses the same image in the same situation;
“For I heard a cry as of a woman in travail, anguish as of one bringing forth her first child” (Jeremiah ch4 v31).
In Jeremiah, “the woman in travail” is a way of describing the people’s pain, and that’s the first meaning in Micah.
But then the language begins turning to thoughts of hope;
“You shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies” (ch4 v10).
This points towards the return from exile.
(The ambiguous phrase in the AV is “There shall you be delivered”, which gives the impression that the baby will be born in Babylon)
The low point for the kingdom was the moment when the ruler of Israel was struck on the cheek.
The verse quoted by Matthew (ch5 v2) introduces the contrasting figure of a new and stronger ruler.
He will come out of Bethlehem, which was David’s birthplace. This implies the restoration of the kingdom.
At the same time, his origin “is from of old, from ancient days”.
For Micah, this would have to mean that he is God or from God.
Then there shall be a return from exile;
“The rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel” (v3).
A gloss in the first part of v3 explains that God will give up his people only until the time “when she who is in travail has brought forth”.
It isn’t clear whether this refers to the literal birth of the ruler, or to the metaphorical birth of “redemption for the exiles”.
Finally, Micah exalts the reign of the new ruler.
“And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (v4).
Obviously Matthew’s first interest is in the birth in Bethlehem and the association with David.
But we might also look to the overtones which can be found in the rest of the prophecy.
“God’s people are in exile”.
The immediate compatriots of Jesus had not been taken away from the land.
However, they were self-exiled from their God, because of their disobedience.
“God’s people are suffering”.
For the Jews of the time of Jesus, Roman authority was the source of oppression which had succeeded the Babylonians.
But the New Testament is concerned with a much more fundamental oppression, that whole complex of sin-and-death which goes back to the beginning of
“Their king will experience humiliation”.
When Jesus has been arrested, he will be struck in the face in front of the Sanhedrin, and the Roman soldiers will strike him again while mocking him
as “King of the Jews”.
“The kingdom will be restored”.
And of course “the Kingdom of God”, or “the Kingdom of Heaven” was the running theme of the gospel teaching.
“God’s people will return from exile”.
It would be the mission of Jesus to bring them back to God.
Thus he described himself as a shepherd looking for lost sheep.
Ultimately, the effect of his work would also bring in the Gentiles, “sheep not of this fold”.
“There will be a new king with power”.
For the New Testament, Christ is already “standing and feeding his flock in the strength of the Lord”, and the power of his kingdom already
reaches “to the ends of the earth”.
But we are obliged to wait until the return of Christ, before it is fully true that he and his flock will “stand secure”.