Minor Prophets: Micah, Bethlehem’s Promise


Micah has been likened to a horse, thinking of the warhorses of Assyria pounding towards Judah. However, I see Micah more associated with the cow, because this prophet talked about banging swords into plows.

Horses and mules were pretty scarce in Judah, but there were plenty of bulls and cows, so the farmer usually had his plow pulled by oxen.

Chapters 4-5 offer near-term and far future prophecies, some of which are still to be fulfilled. In the Hebrew Bible, Micah 5:1 turns out to be 4:14, so the fifth chapter actually begins with the second verse. And with chapter five, Micah moves into a closer view of the largescale predictions he had made in chapter four about the Lord delivering God’s people from this final world battle.

One of the more famous prophesies in the Hebrew scriptures, Micah foretold specific details that would identify the one God would send to deliver Israel, and ultimately rule victoriously.


Prophesied Messiah

God’s people were to be mindful of the prophecies, so they could be ready when their Messiah came.

There were specific prophecies, a baby boy, begotten by God, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, who would be heralded by a star coming out of the house of Jacob. In order, those prophecies were delivered by some heavy hitters: King David, Isaiah, Micah, and Moses. Not only that, the prophet Daniel had predicted a particular point in history when this Messiah would be born, so the whole known world was breathless with anticipation.

Daniel had written his book during the Babylonian Exile, and it is reasonable to think his work remained in the Babylonian, and later Persian courts in the palace library for scholars to study.

Unknown to the prophets, there would be not one, but two advents.

FIRST ADVENT

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.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
    to the people of Israel.

Micah 5:2-3 (NRSV)

Place and Time

The timing of this prophesied birth would be written in the stars, an event God ordained from the beginning of time.

During the creation of the universe, God had said,

Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…let them be for signs…

Genesis 1:14 (NRSV)

Before there were satellites and other sophisticated technologies, the stars and planets were used for navigation, clocking the seasons, measuring large distances on the earth for map-making purposes, and so on.

But during the time of Moses, God said a specific sign would come,

A star shall come out of Jacob…

Numbers 24:17 (NRSV)

King David himself had written

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1 (NRSV)

Ancient people understood this to mean that God would literally reveal signs of what lay in the immediate, and far future in the sky, in the alignment of the stars and planets, so they made a close study of the patterns in the night sky.

But only astronomers from the east, who recorded the movement of stars, comets, and planets, who were also scholars familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, had taken God’s word seriously. There was evidently an unusual phenomenon in the sky these men recognized as being directly connected with the prophecy concerning this prophesied ruler.

About a dozen or so other ancient historians, representing cultures and religions from the entire region, had also recorded this very same phenomenon, and the Roman historian Tacitus in the days of Caesar wrote about the expectation of a ruler being born near the province of Judea.

When magi from the east, who had come to Jerusalem in search of this prophesied king, confronted Herod with the question, “Where is he?” the Nabatean ruler turned in great consternation to his own advisors and biblical scholars.

The Gospel of Matthew relates the story, writing that all Jerusalem was in turmoil.

After much searching, they finally located a prophecy recorded six hundred years before Jesus was born: written by Micah.

Position and Person

According to Micah, this predicted ruler would be unique among all human beings.

  • The Deliverer would come forth from God, and his origins would be from of old, from ancient days.
  • He would be of the tribe of Judah, born in King David’s birthplace, Bethlehem.
  • This Deliverer would rule in Israel.
  • Yet, though having come from God in heaven, and from eternity, this person would enter into the world as an infant, born of a woman—when she who is in labor has brought forth.

It is called dialectical thinking to have two seemingly opposite concepts held together as true. Micah prophesied of one who would be of the same essence as God, an eternal, divine being who would also somehow be human, born in the line of King David.

All four gospels speak to this dialectic, though it took the church several councils and four hundred years to understand how to describe the Person of Christ, as fully God and yet also fully human, a member of the Godhead, Three-In-One.

The Gospel of John, I think, brings these two concepts together beautifully.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

John 1:1-3 (NRSV)

And also addresses the lineage of Christ.

Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?

John 7:42 (NRSV)

Purpose

Micah indicated Israel would be given up until this person was born. But once arrived, the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.

It would be natural, in the scheme of things, for the people who received these words, and in antiquity studied them, to imagine God meant the Diaspora, all those who had been scattered through exile, would be gathered back to the nation of Israel and once again enjoy the riches of the Promised Land as a mighty nation under God.

Certainly, this is how the first century Judean would have thought about this prophecy, during Jesus’ ministry. However, the gathering in God intended during the first advent of Messiah was of an eternal nature.


[Bethlehem, 1890 Christmas Pilgrims | Félix Bonfils, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

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