Bethlehem: Back to the Beginning

The Prophesy of Micah

Study by Bob Burridge ©2019
Study 7: Micah 5:1-5a

Bethlehem: Back to the Beginning

About a year after Jesus was born an intimidating entourage entered Jerusalem. A group of wise men, scholars, arrived after traveling about 800 miles probably accompanied by a military escort. Contrary to popular tradition the Bible does not teach that there were only three wise men and though they were clearly not kings such groups of dignitaries were never known to travel unescorted.

Their arrival was seen as a threat to the jealous King Herod. More than 30 years ago he was able to use his friendship with Rome to be proclaimed “King of the Jews.” Over the years he had scores of political rivals killed including 45 Hasmonean priests, his wife and her mother, his brothers, his own sons, and several others.

How alarmed Herod must have been to see these highly respected scholars arrive in Jerusalem seeking one they said was born King of the Jews! They had seen a star that made them take that long journey. The star was something special, unique. They knew it meant the promised one had been born, but where? Again, the Bible did not say they had followed the star up to that time. They came to the logical place to find a Jewish king, Jerusalem.

Herod was interested to help them find this new born king, but for a different reason. He wanted his rival for the throne dead. He called in his Jewish advisors, the chief priests and scribes, and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
They knew right where to look!

They turned to our text,

Micah 5:1-2, “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

Based on this reference the wise men from the East set out to the south to travel the remaining five miles to Bethlehem. It was only then that the star miraculously appeared again and guided them, not only to the city, but to the very house where Jesus was then living.

This fact of Old Testament prophesy tells us a lot about our Savior.

God promised that the Messiah will come from little Bethlehem.

5:2a, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah …”

Ephrathah, or Ephrath, is an old name for Bethlehem. It means, “fertile ones, fruitful fields” “an everlasting source”. Moses wrote about the time of Jacob in Genesis 35:19 “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

That name is added here to distinguish is from other cities with the same name such as the Bethlehem in the territory of Zebulun. The more familiar name, Bethlehem, literally means “house of bread”. It’s significant that Jesus, the Bread of Life, would be born there. Bethlehem was an everlasting source of blessing to all the world.

Bethlehem was little among the clans of Israel. The word “clans” is literally “thousands.” A clan is one of the tribal divisions. It refers to a group of about a thousand families each with a male head serving as its Elder. Bethlehem was too small to have 1000 Elders. Yet from this small town, God’s Messiah would come forth.

God often uses the small to confound the large. At times he reduced his armies before great battles. He chose the weak to defeat the strong (like the time He used young David to defeat Goliath). He honored the lowly to humble the mighty and proud. It would show that their victory wasn’t secured by their own strength, but by the power of the God who was with them. Messiah’s kingdom would not rise from Jerusalem, Samaria, or Rome, but from little Bethlehem!

But why Bethlehem, the city of King David? History is woven together by the God of history. The line of David was in trouble. Its glory had become obscured, but it will reach its promised restoration of glory in the Messiah.

So — Get ready for a battle!

Micah 5:1, “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.”

This verse connects chapter five with the previous chapter. Israel’s judges had become corrupt, and will be judged by the nations. The Gentiles will overrun the fallen Jewish nation and smite her judges. Their ill-treatment will show the shame of Israel. There is an old Dutch saying, “When the need is greatest, deliverance is at hand.” It was time for reformation, a remolding back to the original form. It was time to melt down and re-pour into the mold to restore the form in which it ought to have remained.

Messiah would bring Israel back to her roots. God established by covenant that the dynasty representing his sovereign rule was the line of David. God promised that the Greater King who would rule God’s people forever would be born of David’s line. God would begin this restoration in the city where things originated. Back to the city of David.

Something exciting was about to happen! This was the next step in God’s plan of redemption.

The promised Messiah is coming!

He will bring you back to the beginning, to Bethlehem. God had already promised that a descendant of David would come to rule on his throne forever.

But the Messiah’s work didn’t start there. He had been active from all ages past, eternally (:2b-3), “… from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.”

God has been active, implementing his plan in stages forever. Going back not only to Bethlehem and David, but also back to Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, even to Adam! Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

At the proper time, the Eternal One stepped into our frame of history. He came to rule on David’s throne forever. The struggle and pain of Old Zion was to give birth to the New Zion (4:10) The old covenant of Israel would be expanded into a New Israel, the church. The narrow scope of the kingdom of symbols and predictions would be broadened through the Messiah to encompass all the nations. Even today his rule is by the gospel extending to the ends of the earth.

Messiah came to shepherd God’s people (5:4-5a), “And he shall stand and shepherd 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. And he shall be their peace. …”

He comes in contrast to the corrupt shepherds of Israel. Israel’s rulers had not led well. They obscured God’s dominion when it was their job to declare it. Jesus comes as a good shepherd to lead his people in strength, majesty, greatness, and peace.

1. Jesus comes in the strength of the LORD.
When we discover the depth of our weakness (as with rebellious Old Israel), we more appreciate our need for strength in Christ. In our weakness, his strength becomes most visible.

When Israel became weak, it was time to go back to the beginning, back to Bethlehem. it was time to take the promise one more step. Today we live in that greater Zion, that new Jerusalem. We serve the greater David who sits on a greater throne. Jesus has come, and he is strong.

Our King reigns with a strength that enables the weak to overcome. In Christ we overcome those who are against God’s people. Fallen people hurt other fallen people. They give them a hard time when they stand for God’s ways. Political power seekers want you to keep quiet about God’s truths and moral principles. Humanist teachers don’t want you to consider the words of Christ. Unsaved bosses and managers at work disregard the biblical work ethic. They want service from you for their own gain, they see little room for working for God’s glory. Ungodly neighbors want their communities to be free from being confronted with the guilt of their sins and their neglect of godliness. Vandals and violent criminals want to be protected from the police and the courts by presuming a right to be set free from all charges because of legal technicalities or by blaming others for their misfortunes.

Remember the promise of the Messiah who comes in the strength of God. 1 John 4:4, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

In Christ we find the strength we lack to return to God’s ways. He helps us learn the right response to our emotions, neither to deny them nor to become slaves to them. He helps us restrain our lusts and find true satisfaction by
living the way the Creator designed us to live. He enables us to overcome our lazy neglect of our duties to God.

Remember the promise of Messiah who comes in the strength of God. 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

2. He comes in the majesty of the name of the LORD.
We learn of his Royal and Kingly glory. There is no majesty in tyranny. Corrupt leaders usurp their duty and office to serve themselves. Their royal scepter becomes a rod of dictatorship. A new king was needed for Israel, one ready to display God’s majesty.

King Jesus ascended after his resurrection (Acts 1), and he sat on the throne of heaven (Revelation 4-5). He began opening the seven seals revealing the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption.

Today we live in that Majestic Kingdom of Christ. His majesty must be seen in us, as individuals and as his church. His scepter should be our rod of comfort. Psalm 23:4, “… your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ”

3. He will be great everywhere: Universal Sovereignty
God’s angel promised Mary about the child she would bear, “He will be great” (Luke 1:32). The greatness of God is a most fundamental teaching of the Bible. If he is God, there can be nothing outside of his Sovereign control. There can be no conditions or choices of men that can change his plan. There can be no oppression or tragedy that can’t become an occasion for showing God’s greatness at work in us.

This one simple truth rules out most of the foolish heresies and false doctrines that have troubled the church for ages. Why has the church been troubled? Certainly not because the Bible is unclear. But because fallen men hate its teachings. It has been opposed, modified, and denied constantly. The most brilliant minds have tried to change it. But all that comes from their theories is confusion and frustration. God is great. He is the Sovereign Lord over all he made. You may not understand how it all fits together. It’s impossible that a mere creature could comprehend all of it (Deuteronomy 29:29). Nevertheless it is what God has said. He is great!

4. He will be our peace.
In the days of Micah, Israel faced war and eventual captivity. But there was going to be deliverance and victory in the Messiah. Isaiah 9:5 calls the coming Messiah “the Prince of Peace”. Many of the gentile nations that stood ready to attack would one day be converted by God’s grace and become a part of Messiah’s spiritual kingdom. The gospel of the New Kingdom calls not only the Jews but people of all nations to become children of God’s covenant and lay down their arms to find peace, to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Micah 4:3).

Today wars rage, and neighborhoods have become violent and dangerous. But there is peace for those of God’s kingdom, his peace. Not freedom from conflicts, harm, and problems. But freedom from the results of conflicts, an inner confidence and peace that hearts without Christ can’t know.

Our age is an era of conflict.

There is the counterfeit kingdom of Satan. It has no real power, but is good at deception and distortion. Its spiritual leader is committed to obscuring God’s truth. Those who are not Christ’s see nothing but growing chaos and depravity all around them. They are blind to God’s promise of justice and can’t comprehend the peace promised to God’s true children.

But in the kingdom of Messiah, there is a growing peace and victory. He brings real power, the strength of the Sovereign God. We must display the glorious Majesty of the Creator of the Universe. We must stand confidently in the God who is great. We are part of a kingdom that actually brings peace to our troubled hearts.

We are living today in that new kingdom, in the blessing that came out of Bethlehem. Our confidence is not based on size, human power, or any earthly standard. It rests upon God’s promise and Almighty strength.

Our duty as citizens of Christ’s greater kingdom is both outward and inward.
1. As we talk and act we show outwardly that Jesus is Lord of his kingdom. We bear witness that his laws and ways govern our lives and attitudes.
– Display Christ as LORD, wherever you go
– Invite people to Christ, whenever you have opportunity
– Represent Christ by caring for needs, whenever you can

2. As we think inwardly we can glorify God in ways no one will ever see or know. You don’t need a human audience to glorify Christ. When you’re alone, or quietly at work, the attitude of your heart, of your inward thoughts, show without hypocrisy what you care about. This is a true test of your motives in doing good things. Do you do them for the recognition and approval of people? or do you do them for the glory God receives when his people love and obey him?

If we forget we are weak – we will not look to God for our strength.
If we neglect the glory of his majesty – we will become self-centered and proud.
If we forget that he is great and Lord over all – we will see chaos instead of God’s order.
If we look for peace in outward circumstances – we will not find inward rest.

(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
Index to the Studies in Micah

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