And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet,
‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’ “ Matt 2:3-6 (NAS)
Our Old Testament quote this week found in the gospel of Matthew is very familiar to many of us, particularly in light of the Christmas season that has just passed which is celebrated throughout the world. It’s also one of the passages that were presented to us and we in turn present to others, as part of the process of demonstrating that fulfilled prophesy concerning the Christ is proof that the Bible is the word of God.
Although the birth of Christ, celebrated in December by modern cultures, occurred sometime in late September to mid October according to all the data available from the Bible, there is no dispute among “theologians” regarding the birthplace of the Christ according to prophetic utterance.
The citation noted by Matthew is of course from the prophet Micah, found in the book of the same name in chapter five, verse two. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
Many of us as residents in the United States have heard this verse from Matthew quoted in numerous nativity reenactments or heard it read when we attended a “Christmas Eve” service of some sort. However, the impact of this fulfilled prophesy at the time it occurred is not properly appreciated. First though, some historical background regarding when Micah prophesied the coming Ruler.
Recompense and a Ruler
Near the end of Micah’s ministry (735-700BC), Judah and Benjamin were the remaining two tribes of Israel in existence as a nation. The Assyrians, as the world power, were sweeping through the region of the Middle East decimating the nations and subjugating them as vassals. The Assyrians were used by the LORD to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and carry them off into captivity as recompense for their idolatry. Judah, also infected head to toe with idolatry, hung precariously in the balance as the armies of Assyria moved through the rural regions of Judah towards Jerusalem. Things looked bleak. However, because of the righteous king Hezekiah and the intercession of the prophet Isaiah, Jerusalem would be spared and Judah would be given a reprieve from the armies of Sennacherib. It would not be Assyria who would be used to chasten the city of Jerusalem and Judah as a nation, rather it would be Babylon that would ultimately wield the LORD’s recompense (Micah 4:10).
For the faithful remnant that relied upon the LORD, the promise of a restored Jerusalem comprised of “peoples” and “many nations” coming to the mountain of the LORD, Zion, (Micah 4:1-2) in the last days, ruled by the LORD (Micah 4:7) offered real hope of future peace (Micah 4:3) and cessation of hostilities between nations.
A rebellious Ruler and the Eternal Ruler
Fast forward to about 4BC. The magi have arrived from the east looking for the newborn King of the Jews. Wait, how did the magi knew about the great King prophesied to appear in Palestine? Through the proclamations of the prophecies concerning the Christ in the Jewish synagogues which were established during the Babylonian exile.
The prophecies of the coming Messiah, including His birth, had such great influence upon these star gazers that when the new star appeared in the heavens, they knew something of great importance was happening and they needed to locate and acknowledge the foretold birth of this Ruler who is “from the days of eternity.” There is abundant proof available now that the star’s appearance was a real astronomical event, and not something of legend or myth made up by early Christians.
These magi believed the prophecy and acknowledged the Child born for Who He was, the eternal Ruler. Now contrast that with the rebellious ruler seated as king in Jerusalem at this time. So drunk upon his own power and self-importance, Herod uses the truth of the Scripture to determine where the prophesied Child is to be born while simultaneously rejecting the thrust of the same Scripture that defined Him to be the Eternal One! This tool of Satan’s not interested in worshipping the Child, but seizing the opportunity to eliminate any competition.
According to Micah, this One that would be born in Bethlehem would also be our peace (Micah 5:5) Herod was not interested in being at peace with God, but trying to take a piece out of God! How insane is that?!! Did Herod really think he’d be able to outflank the LORD? Yup! He gave the orders to slay all the children two years old and younger in the regions of Bethlehem, fulfilling another prophesy from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:15).
The Eternal Ruler became flesh as prophesied, the Bread come down out of heaven born in the “house of bread” (the meaning of Bethlehem). He then fulfilled all the other prophetic utterances spoken by Micah by ultimately sacrificing Himself so that we would have peace. He raised spiritual Jerusalem into heaven and through the gospel calls “peoples and many nations”, those who acknowledge Him as the ruler in spiritual Israel, to Him in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:22-24). Amen!