In announcing the birth of Jesus the Messiah, Matthew wrote:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah1 was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:1-6).
The wise men from the East told Herod that the prophet who had prophesied that the king of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem was the prophet Micah. This was Micah’s prophecy about the coming of the new king:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2).
Micah prophesied in the days of King Ahaz of Judah. Ahaz was an evil king who introduced many practices that were contrary to God’s will. Micah’s prophecy was a condemnation of Ahaz as king. In this study I explain why Bethlehem would become the place where the new king would be born.
Ahaz’ commitment to the God of Israel was not very strong. As a result, he introduced some pagan practices into the religious life of Judah. According to the writer of the book of Kings, Ahaz “did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his ancestor David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:2-4).
In his book, Micah condemned several of these pagan practices. His condemnation of these idolatrous practices may be a reference to these religious innovations introduced by Ahaz. Micah proclaimed that Israel’s new ruler would act powerfully to destroy these pagan practices:
“I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more soothsayers; and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you and destroy your towns (Micah 5:11-14).
Micah also proclaimed that since Ahaz had been unfaithful to the demands of the covenant and had abandoned the laws of God and introduced sorceries, witchcraft, and the worship of pagan deities, the Lord would raise another ruler in Judah who would bring the nation back to God. Micah’s hope for the future was the coming of this new leader.
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
Most Christians who read this prophecy about the coming ruler do not grasp the full intent of Micah’s words. When Micah proclaimed the coming of a new king, the king of Judah was ruling from his throne in Jerusalem.
In fact, all the kings of Judah were the descendants of David and all of them ruled from Jerusalem because David had conquered the city and had established Jerusalem as the capital of his kingdom.
But, according to Micah, the new king would not be born in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem, the city where David was born. What Micah is proclaiming is a judgment on the king who lived in Jerusalem. God was bypassing the present king and going back to Bethlehem, to begin again.
Thus, the new king will be a new David. God was beginning the process all over again because the present king had failed to represent the true interests of God.
According to Micah, when the new king comes, he will accomplish several things.
First, he will reunite the nation: “then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel” (Micah 5:3). This oracle indicates that the people who were taken into exile will return and Israel will be united.
Second, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD” (Micah 5:4). Ahaz had failed to provide leadership to God’s people in times of crisis, but under the new leader, the people will live in peace and security.
Third, the new ruler will defeat those who threaten God’s people. In Micah’s day the enemy was Assyria, but in Micah’s vision, this ruler will destroy all nations who seek the destruction of God’s people.
Fourth, Israel will purify the religion of Israel by removing all kinds of pagan practices (Micah 5:12-14). These pagan practices had been introduced by the kings of Judah, but this new ruler will bring the people back to God.
When one reads Micah’s book, one realizes that Micah is critical of the religious and political life of Judah. To Micah, the immediate future is filled with gloom and distress, but, with the coming of the new ruler, the distant future will be bright and glorious.
Micah’s preaching is simple but compelling. As long as the people follow the ways of the Lord they receive God’s favor: “My words do only good to anyone living uprightly” (Micah 2:7). However, when they reject God’s words, they remain under God’s judgment.
Micah had high hopes for the future of Israel, but this hope rested on the coming of a new David. Under this new ruler, a remnant would be saved and God’s people would enjoy a life of permanent peace and prosperity.
The coming of the Messiah was the hope for a better future for the people of God. Unfortunately, Micah did not live to see his vision become a reality. The time of peace and prosperity which Micah foresaw was in the distant future, beyond the ability of human eyes to see.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4).
My book Divine Violence and the Character of God will be published in January 2022. The book deals with God’s violent acts in the Old Testament in light of God’s character as a gracious and merciful God. You can order a pre-publication copy of the book at 40% discount. If you want to order the book at 40% discount, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Divine Violence in the subject line and I will send you information on how to order a pre-publication copy of the book at 40% discount. This discount will be available only on pre-publication orders. Once the book is published, the 40% discount will no longer be available.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Loved this brief but enlightening study, especially the concept of God starting over by having the Messiah born in Bethlehem.
Thank you for your comment. The God of the Bible is a God of new beginnings. In my forthcoming book, Divine Violence and the Character of God, I study in detail God’s four new beginnings. God had to begin the work of redemption again because of human violence and because of human sin. I hope you will have an opportunity to read my book.
Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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I am glad you want to study the Old Testament. Look at the Archive section of my blog. There you will find many good studies on the Old Testament.
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