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Jewish Awareness Ministries
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Israel's Messenger,

Bethlehem: Birthplace of the King..

Rev. Mark Robinson

     The night sky is calm and serene. In a way it mirrors, at least outwardly, the condition of the nation. Everywhere the comfort of wealth is evident. Little seems to be lacking in this nation that has been so blessed of God. The inhabitants have houses, transportation, food, luxuries, and abundant monetary resources. 

     In the midst of the complacency and comfort of the nation, the Lord raises up godly men to confront the real condition of the people. Outwardly there is prosperity, but inwardly there is corruption and sin.

    Those who have spiritual discernment see the problems that beset the nation; lack of justice, worship of materialism, and immorality, are just some of the sins of the people.

     Into this spiritual cesspool will come the judgment of God. But before judgment will be executed, God’s messengers will warn the people to stop trusting in their riches and to turn from their sinful practices.

     Perhaps you are thinking that the above appraisal is a commentary on the United States. In one sense you would be correct in that it certainly is applicable to our country. But actually a different nation is being spoken of – one beset with the same sinful problems presently permeating the United States in all realms; political, religious, and social, and that nation is Israel – eighth century B.C. Israel. Men of God such as Isaiah and Micah were raised up to confront the people of Israel with their sin and the coming judgment of God. Yet, in the midst of this impending catastrophe, there was the ever present message of hope. 

Micah: Prophet of God 

     Micah lived during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This covered the time period of approximately 750 B.C. to 687 B.C. Living about 25 miles from the city of Jerusalem, Micah was from an agricultural area close to the border of Philistia. The Philistines were the sworn enemies of Israel. Micah pronounced judgment on the cities of Israel and Jerusalem in Judah with his primary audience being the southern kingdom of Judah and its capitol, Jerusalem. Micah ultimately saw the captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel and was well aware that the same judgment would come upon the southern kingdom if she didn’t repent.

     Micah is distressed with the hypocrisy and sins of the political and religious leaders of the nation. He represented a holy God who would punish the nation for her sins. Much of the book is given over to Micah’s denunciation of the sins of the leaders and the people and the threat of judgment from God. 

     Micah denounces the syncretism of the people. For example, in Israel and Judah, there existed a compromise between Jehovah and Baal (1 Kings 12:32). In Israel, after Solomon’s reign, Jeroboam instituted worship of a golden calf (1 Kings 12:28). In Judah, syncretism took the form of worshiping God in high places (1 Kings 14:22-23).

     Yet in the midst of the decadence and impending doom, Micah realizes that the God he serves and loves is also a God of mercy and forgiveness. We see the hope of Micah in the final thoughts of his book:

Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.     Micah 7:18-20

Birthplace of the Messiah   

     The great hope of Micah is the promise of the coming King and is found in that great prophecy of Micah 5:2

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. 

    The Messianic promise of this verse is that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. Some 700 years later this would be fulfilled, as we know from the record of the Gospel writers, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. 

Captivity and Deliverance 

    One needs to go back to Micah 4:8 and the following verses to put Micah 5:2 into context.           

And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.  

     The site mentioned as “tower of the flock” (migdal edar in Hebrew), according to Jerome, was 1,000 paces from Bethlehem. The Talmud (Shekalim 7.4) states Migdal Edar was where lambs were raised for Passover. Targum Jonathan, a translation or paraphrase of some portion of the Old Testament Scriptures in the Chaldee or Aramaic language or dialect, states: “This is the place where, in the last days, Messiah will be revealed.”

     This site is identified as Bethlehem in 5:2 (“and thou”). Here the shepherds received the announcement of Messiah’s birth (Luke 2:8 ff). The “first” or “former” dominion will be restored as the descendant of David arrives there.

     The collapse of the monarchy and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon in 586 B.C. is prophesied in 4:9-10. At the end of verse 10 God promises “there shalt thou be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.” The Jewish people will return from Babylonian captivity. God will bring them back into the land of Israel.

     Verses 11-13 speak of a future day when all nations will fight against Israel, Rev. 16:14, Zech. 12:1-3. They will seek to destroy her because of their hatred of her. Their attempt to destroy Israel will be futile since God will fight on the side of Israel and destroy the nations, Zech. 12:8-10.

     The implication of verses 10 and 11 is that the Jewish people will go into worldwide captivity and then return to their land as a nation again, from that captivity. At that time all nations will come against her. History has shown us the beginnings of this fulfillment, but the entirety of the prophecy will come to pass in the future Tribulation period.

     What we have in these verses are “mountain peaks” of prophecy where a near term and a long term event are in juxtaposition with each other. It is not uncommon to have “mountain peaks” of prophecy such as you have here with both the first and second coming of Jesus placed side by side. We see this in Daniel 9:26 and 27; Isaiah 61:1 and 2; and Zechariah 9:9 and 10.

     In chapter 5 verse 1 we have a promised siege against Jerusalem. This is probably not the Babylonian siege because a “judge” will be struck and there was a “king” not a “judge” at the time of the Babylonian captivity. It is also probably not the end time siege of 4:11-13 because that is referenced in 5:3 where the oft used illustration for the last days of “labor pains” is used. This siege, more than likely, is the Roman one of 70 A.D. 

The Hope of Israel

     We can understand Micah 5:2 as a positive parenthesis between 5:1 and 5:3, introducing a reminder of hope. Not all is lost because a Ruler will come as the Shepherd King.

     We are told that this King is from “Bethlehem Ephratah.” Ephratah means “fruitful” and parallels the meaning of Bethlehem, “house of bread.” Ephratah was an ancient name for this town (Genesis 35:19; Ruth 1:2).”Ephratah” is used in Micah 5:2 to differentiate this Bethlehem from the other Bethlehem in the northern part of Israel (Joshua 19:15).

     Bethlehem was a small, in many ways insignificant, village in Israel. When the prophet says, it is “little among the thousands of Judah” he was referring to the districts and towns each tribe’s land allotment was originally divided into (Numbers 1:16; 10:4; 1 Samuel 23:23). So insignificant was Bethlehem it was not even mentioned in Joshua’s listing of the towns of Judah. (Joshua 15)

     Although an insignificant city, God promised that “out of thee [will come the]…ruler in Israel.” Nondescript, trivial, unimportant, yet the greatest ruler of Israel would be born in her pastures. We are told that he will “come forth unto me [God],” i.e., He would be born to do God’s work and will.

     Bethlehem was the town of royal line (see David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16). Yet this verse obviously doesn’t speak of David since Micah prophesied 250 years after David died.

     The traditional Jewish interpretation is that this is the “messianic King.” The ancient scribes affirmed this (Matthew 2:4-6), the common people of Israel understood this (John 7:41-42), and ancient Jewish sources also believed this. Rabbi David Kimchi, mid-twelfth century to early thirteenth century French Rabbi, known especially for his commentaries on the Prophets, stated: “Although thou art little among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall come forth unto me a Judge to be Ruler in Israel, and this is the King Messiah.”     

     The phrase “whose goings forth . . . from of old, from everlasting” gives us an amazing insight into this King. “Goings forth” refers to his activities and ministries. “From everlasting” is the same wording used for God in Psalm 90:2 and Psalm 93:2. The work of this One began in eternity past because He is God.

     The teaching of this verse is that the king born in Bethlehem is actually the eternal God. In time He came from Bethlehem – His humanity. Beyond time, He came from eternity – His deity.

The Hope of the World

    Living in the midst of a corrupt and sinful political and religious establishment, it is sometimes difficult to have hope. The entrenched powers oftentimes seem to be unmovable. It is in this context that the believers of Israel were given the promise of the hope of a righteous King whom one day will reign with justice and equity providing peace for all.

    The great promise of Micah 5:2 parallels Isaiah 7:14. It is a sign – a message of hope to a nation led by sinful, rebellious political and spiritual leaders. There is a righteous King coming, One who is both God and Man, and He will establish justice and peace.

     This message of hope is also ours today. Someday the One who fulfilled Micah 5:2 will return to this earth. At that time He won’t be born in a stable in Bethlehem. No, this prophecy was fulfilled about 2,000 years ago. Our hope is that He is returning as the Lord of this universe. He will destroy the wicked of this world and establish His kingdom of peace and prosperity.

     At that time Jesus will reign and righteousness and peace will prevail. Hallelujah! 

..

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