Micah’s Unique & Unifying Messiah Requirement

Micah the prophet is known for a single Messiah prophecy, one that is unique. Prophecies about the Messiah are rarely as clear and specific as Micah’s.

Rarer still perhaps is anything that is common ground to those of great religious opposition. Strange bedfellows agree both on who the prophecy is about and the exact place where it is to be fulfilled. Image, a preeminent Jewish Rabbi sage; a powerful and ruthless King; Jewish scriptural experts from the era of Jesus; a Jewish religious academy of antiquity; and both Jewish and Christian Bible translations, all of one accord on this prophecy:

Micah 5:2 ( 5:1 in Jewish Bibles):

But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.– Jewish Publication Society[1]

And thou, Bethleem, house of Ephratha, art few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Juda; yet out of thee shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel; and his goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity.– Septuagint LXX[2]

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.– New King James Version[3]

Not appearing in either Christian or Jewish Bible translations is the word “Messiah.” That is because Mashiach, the word for Messiah, does not appear in the Hebrew text.

One exception is Targum Jonathan, the Aramaic Talmud translation once recited side-by-side with the actual Hebrew text to the Jewish synagogue congregations.[4]  Mashiach is used in the translation based on the context of the prophecy (as translated into English): [5]

“Out of thee Bethlehem shall Mashiach go forth before me, to exercise dominion over Israel. Whose name has been spoken of Old from the day of Eternity.”

Translators rely on context during the translation process, especially with ancient Hebrew.[6] Who is the identity of the future Ruler of Israel to be sent by God “Whose name has been spoken of Old from the day of Eternity”? Answering a question with a question – is this a characteristic of a mortal?

Renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi is greatly revered for his commentaries on the Talmud and its Mishnah. Rashi’s phrase-by-phrase breakdown of Micah 5:1 (5:2) is quoted from The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary: [7]

And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah”: [Rashi:] whence David emanated, as it is stated (I Sam. 17:58): “The son of your bondsman, Jesse the Bethlehemite.” And Bethlehem is called Ephrath, as it is said (Gen. 48:7): “On the road to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem.”  

“you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah”: [Rashi:] You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you.  

“from you shall emerge for Me”: [Rashi:] the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.”  

“and his origin is from of old”: [Rashi:] “Before the sun his name is Yinnon” (Ps. 72:17).

Rabbi Rashi said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, the home town of Jesse, King David’s father.[8] The Rabbi took the opportunity to reflect his distaste of Ruth, a Gentile from Bethlehem. Rashi identified the future ruler of Israel to be “the Messiah, Son of David” named “Yinnon,” a Hebrew epithet meaning “be continued.”[9]

After the Magi appeared at King Herod’s palace in search of the newborn King of the Jews saying they had seen his star, Herod immediately consulted all the Jewish religious experts asking where Christos (Greek for Messiah) was to be born. The chief priests and scribes told the King of Micah’s prophecy saying the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah.[10]

Herod not only believed the prophecy, he believed it had been fulfilled sending the Magi to Bethlehem to find the newborn King of the Jews. He believed it so much, according to Matthew, that when the Magi didn’t return to tell him where to find the child, Herod slaughtered the children 2 years and younger in the Bethlehem district in an attempt to eliminate the threat to his throne.

As a contemporary of the more famous prophet Isaiah, lesser known is Micah’s preceding judgment prophecies of utter destruction against Samaria and Jerusalem predicting they would be taken away by Babylon and the Temple would be destroyed. Corroborating his Bethlehem prophecy, he singled out 10 towns and cities by name, including Jerusalem, that would experience God’s wrath – Bethlehem was not one of them.[11]

Bethlehem Ephrathah, instead, was to be an exception. After the judgement of Israel, God promised to restore Jerusalem and the Temple where the little town of Bethlehem would play a prominent role. It is in that context the very first word in the Hebrew text of the Micah 5:2 prophecy, is ‘attah, meaning “you.”[12]

Micah exclaims “you, Bethlehem Ephrathah” emphasized as if pointing a finger at Bethlehem. He then sets the magnitude of his prophecy saying that, although insignificant in the land of Judah, from you a future Ruler of Israel shall come forth “Whose name has been spoken of Old from the day of Eternity.”

Micah’s Messiah requirement prophecy is used as a litmus test by Jews and Christians alike to rule in or out anyone thought to be the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. No other person purporting to be the Messiah has been born in Bethlehem. What is the probability that Jesus is the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy? 

REFERENCES:

[1] Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. “Micah.” <http://www.breslov.com/bible/Micah5.htm#3>
[2] English Translation of the Greek Septuagint Bible. Trans. Brenton, Lancelot C. L. 1851.  “Michaeas (Micah).” <http://www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/Michaeas/index.htm>
[3] Net.bible.org. “Micah 5:2.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mic&chapter=5&verse=2>
[4] “Targum.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14248-targum>Targum Jonathan to the Prophets. n.d. “The Historical Background of the Targm Jonathan,” #47, #79. <https://archive.org/stream/targumjonathant00churgoog/targumjonathant00churgoog_djvu.txt>
[5] Prasch, Jacob. “Jesus in the Talmud.”  Moriel.org. 2015. <https://www.moriel.org/sermons-in-english/5952-jesus-in-the-talmud.html>   “Prophecies of the Messiah – His Birthplace.” Israelite. 2012. <http://www.israelight.org.au/~israelig/?page_id=676>
Deem, Rich.  “Jesus Christ – Messiah of the Rabbinical Writer.” 2011. <http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/messiah.html> Book of Matthew Study.  “Matthew 2:1-23.”  Yasha Net Studies.  3 Mar. 2000. <http://www.yashanet.com/studies/matstudy/mat5.htm>   Killian, Greg (Hillel ben David).  “Bethlehem – Beit Lechem – The House of Bread.”  Betemunah.org.  n.d. <http://www.betemunah.org/bethlehem.html>  “Targum.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  “Historical Jewish Sources.” The Preterist Archive. “Overview:  About Targums.”  n.d. <http://www.preteristarchive.com/BibleStudies/JewishSources/Targums/index.html>
[6] Benner, Jeff A.  “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center.  2013.  <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/2_bible.html
[7] Bolding and brackets added by author.  The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Micah – Chapter 5. http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191>
[8] Yinon (Yinnon).”  eTeacherHebrew.com.  2014.  <http://eteacherhebrew.com/Hebrew-Names/yinon-yinnonInterlinear Bible.  Psalms 72:17. Hebrew text. BibleHub.com. 2017. <http://biblehub.com/interlinear>
[9] CR Genesis 48:7.
[10] Matthew 2.
[11] Micah 1. Gath, Beth Leaphrah, Shaphir, Aaanan, Beth Ezel, Maroth, Jerusalem, Lachish, Achzib, and Mareshah.
[12] Net.bible.org. Micah 5:2, Hebrew text.

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The Magi’s Provocation of King Herod

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi had been traveling on a month’s long quest to find a newborn King of the Jews.[1] All they knew, he was expected to be somewhere in Judea. It made perfect sense to start in Jerusalem with the King of Judea – Herod.

Immediately the Magi gained direct access to the King, their reputation as Magi making that possible. First words spoken by the Magi to Herod in Matthew’s Nativity account set the stage in the palace:

MT 2:2Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?(NASB, NKJV)

No doubt, it was shocking news to the reigning king who knew nothing about this royal birth. After all, this child certainly was not Herod’s son. The question assumes two facts – the child is predestined to be the King of the Jews and he has already been born. Qualifying their revelation, the Magi explained how they knew this to be true saying:

MT 2:2For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.(NKJV)

Now the second shock wave – not the star; no, it was the fact that they came to worship this newborn King of the Jews! No one worshiped the great Herod, yet these Magi traveled hundreds of miles from a foreign land emphasizing their personal conviction – what child would be worthy of such worship? The Magi left the palace without getting an answer.

Stirring the pot tends to cause people to act in peculiar ways. The Magi certainly shook things up with their declaration which undoubtedly also got the attention of everyone else in the palace.  Herod and all of Jerusalem were “troubled” by the news, translated from Matthew’s Greek text word tarasso meaning “to stir or agitate (roil water).”[2]

Throughout history palaces of kings and queens have been notoriously unable to hold their secrets. Servants came from among the general population where they still had family and friends. Many times it was the royal family members who could not keep things to themselves – good gossip is just too hard to keep a secret. Herod’s family was scandalously known for their loose lips.[3]

A newborn king of the Jews – who was the father if not from the House of Herod?  A child worthy of worship by Magi?! Now this was newsworthy! It must have been the hottest topic of conversation in Jerusalem.

Herod was widely hated so the news undoubtedly raised hopes, yet at the same time, it was just as troubling – would the new king be worse than Herod or hopefully a good king? Either way, it would be years before he would begin his reign.

For any king, especially with the personality profile of Herod this whole affair, true or not, would be an embarrassment and no king should ever be embarrassed. As the story unfolds, the King came to quickly view this child’s birth as a threat that must be dealt with such as Herod had done many times before using whatever means necessary.[4]

Processing in his mind the Magi’s alarming news, after they left the palace the King immediately assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people.”[5] Not just a select few, but all of the Jewish religious experts – the King was leaving no stone unturned as was his reputation.

Herod made it clear he believed the Magi’s proclamation by asking the chief priests and scribes to determine “where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.”[6] The King specifically asked “where” – not ifChristos was to be born using the specific Greek word for Messiah. Their consensus response: “In Bethlehem of Judea” citing the prophecy of Micah 5:2.[7]

Up to this point, the actual appearance of the star witnessed by the Magi astronomers had been only incidental information. Had the star been the most attention-getting news from the Magi, a cynical Herod would have been expected to question it, even scoff at it – he didn’t. It was a detail; however, that did not pass his attention.

Matthew’s account does not say Herod was unaware of the star event – it can only be said that he did not know the exact date. Events in the sky would likely have been a relatively petty matter to the King prior the Magi’s visit, especially considering his bigger political problems in the kingdom, with Rome, and his scheming family affairs.

Upon hearing of Micah’s prophecy from the Jewish religious experts, his focus changed. No star was mentioned in Micah’s prophecy nor recorded in the response by the chief priests and scribes although as religious experts they were likely fully aware of Balaam’s prophecy of a star coming forth from Jacob signifying a ruler of Israel.[8] Maybe they mentioned this to Herod, maybe not.

One thing is for certain, Herod had a new fixation:  when did this star appear? There could be only one reason why it was now important – knowing when the star appeared would establish a timeline.

Summoning the Magi back to the palace, Herod wanted this second meeting to be in secret. Since the word was out all over Jerusalem about the Magi’s initial visit to the palace, why did Herod want their next meeting to be secret? It strongly suggests the King had something to hide.

Herod now possessed two details of interest to the Magi – Micah’s prophecy corroborating the birth of a Jewish ruler and the general location of Bethlehem where he could be found. This information would serve as leverage to learn when the star had appeared.

One other thing… Herod wanted the Magi to report back to him with the exact location of the child under the pretense that he, too, of course could worship him. But Herod worshiped no one or thing.

In Bethlehem, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Duped by the Magi who went back to their homes by avoiding Jerusalem, the enraged and paranoid King believed he still had a threat that must be eliminated. Herod ordered all the children 2 years and younger to be killed in the district of Bethlehem based on the timing of the star’s first appearance learned from the Magi.

Hard to believe anyone could be this evil?  This is the same King who, among many murders, killed a chief priest, his second wife, her grandfather and her two sons who were strangled, and would soon execute his firstborn son by his first wife.[9] Moreover, from his death bed he would summon all the principal men of his kingdom to Jericho, lock them in the hippodrome, and give orders to have them killed so as to deny them the opportunity to gloat over his death.[10]

Does Herod’s provocation by the Magi’s declaration ring true that the Messiah, King of the Jews, had been born in Bethlehem?

REFERENCES:

[1] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” 2000. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  “Major Trade Routes of 2nd Century BCE – 1st Century CE.” Smithsonian. Map.  n.d. 2016. <http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  
[2] Net.bible.org. Matthew 2:2 Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “tarasso <5015>”  Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1990.
[3] Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XV, Ch.VII-VIII; Book XVI, Ch. VIII, XI, IX, XIII, XVI. Book XVII, Ch. I, V. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XVIII, XXII, XXIV, XXXI, XXXIII. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Josephus. Antiquities. Book V, Ch. 1; Book XV, Ch. 1, 3, 6, 7; Book XVI, Ch.VII, VIII, X; Book XVII, Ch. IV, VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXVI, XXII, XXIV, XXVI, XXX, XXXI. “Herod the Great.” 2017. Livius.org. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great
[5] Matthew 2:4. NRSV, NKJV, NASB.
[6] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[7] Matthew 2:5. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[8] Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  Kesser.org. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>   Rich, Tracey R.  “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Ch. III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Ch. XI; Book XVII, Ch. IX.
Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXII, XXVII, XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Ch. VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXXIII.

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Rabbi Maimonides and Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah?

Messiah or stumbling block? Famed Medieval Rabbi Maimonides had an opinion about Jesus of Nazareth on this question as well as his lineage, supernatural powers, and a comparison to the Messiah prophecies.

Affectionately known as Rambam in Jewish circles, he brought clarity to Jewish Law with some calling him “the second Moses.” Born in 1135, Moses Ben Maimon, later becoming known as Maimonides, authored Mishneh Torah. Considered a monumental Jewish work, it formulated the 13 principals of Jewish faith.[1]

Two chapters, sometimes called “The Laws Concerning King Moshiach,” focused on Messiah characteristics – what would identify the Messiah and what would disqualify anyone purporting to be the Messiah.[2] Controversial statements to the point they became a victim of the Censor .

King David’s lineage is a key requirement for the Messiah cited in multiple prophecies, by renowned Rabbi Rashi and by Maimonides who went further adding anyone who denies the Messiah is denying the prophets, Moses, and the Scriptures:

“In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty.”

“Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses…”

Calling out Balaam’s (Bilaam) prophecy as messianic, unlike Rashi who stopped short, Maimonides explicitly referred to “Mashiach,” Hebrew for the Messiah:

“Reference to Mashiach is also made in the portion of Bilaam who prophesies about two anointed kings: the first anointed king, David, who saved Israel from her oppressors; and the final anointed king who will arise from his descendants and save Israel in the end of days. That passage Numbers 24:17-18 relates:

‘I see it, but not now’ – This refers to David;

‘I perceive it, but not in the near future;” – This refers to the Messianic king;

‘A star shall go forth from Jacob’ – This refers to David;

‘and a staff shall arise in Israel’ – This refers to the Messianic king…

Maimonides then addressed the supernatural powers of performing miracles, wonders, and resurrection of the dead without directly mentioning the Gospels or Jesus of Nazareth:

“One should not presume that the Messianic king must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena in the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is definitely not true.”

Paying close attention to what the Rabbi said … his view was that performing supernatural abilities would not definitively distinguish the Messiah; however, he did not deny that such miracles had occurred. Pivoting, he went on to describe characteristics that would identify the Messiah:

“If a king will arise from the House of David who diligently contemplates the Torah and observes its mitzvot as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law as David, his ancestor, will compel all of Israel to walk in (the way of the Torah) and rectify the breaches in its observance, and fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.”

Next, he described things that would disqualify anyone who might otherwise be viewed as the Messiah. Maimonides pointedly called out Jesus of Nazareth by name:

“If he did not succeed to this degree or was killed, he surely is not the redeemer promised by the Torah. Rather, he should be considered as all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. God caused him to arise only to test the many, as Daniel 11:35 states: ‘And some of the wise men will stumble, to try them, to refine, and to clarify until the appointed time, because the set time is in the future.'”

“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also alluded to in Daniel’s prophecies, as ibid. 11:14 states: ‘The vulgar among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.'”

“Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity?”

With a key requirement to be born into the lineage of David, Maimonides did not disqualify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah on that basis – and he easily could have, if it were true, using the meticulous Jewish genealogy records maintained in the Temple.[3] Instead, in denouncing “Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach,” Maimonides acknowledged that Jesus was born in the House of David.[4]

Mishneh Torah launched Maimonides into celebrity status prompting Jews to send letters with questions. His response letters, known as Responses (Responsa or Teshuvot), have become additional important texts of Maimonides’ Scriptural interpretations.[5]

One response to Yeminite Rabbi Jacob al-Fayumi is known as the “Epistle Concerning Yemen.” In it, Maimonides established the “My Servant” parashah of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as a messianic prophecy by citing Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2 saying the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders:[6]

“What is to be the manner of Messiah’s advent, and where will be the place of his first appearance? 

…there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and the signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, ‘Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place’ (Zech. Vi. I2). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or mother or family being known, He came up before him, and as a root out of the dry earth, etc.”

“Jesus of Nazareth” as a name broke from traditional Jewish family name association where he would have been called “Jesus ben Joseph,” meaning Jesus son of Joseph.[7] Instead of being known by his family association, he is known for his standalone reputation and image as Jesus of Nazareth devoid of any family association. Moreover, born in the lineage of King David in his home town of Bethlehem, the name of Jesus of “Nazareth” belies his family heritage.

“But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth be thrown in terror at the fame of him – their kingdoms be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands to their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.

All four Gospels report Jesus performed many wonders and miracles; diligently taught the people of Israel to walk in the way of God; despised and reacted to the exploitations of the Temple and the Scriptures by its keepers. The circumstances of his birth and life are consistent with the Messiah prophecies recognized by both Rabbis and Christian authorities. 

Was Jesus of Nazareth a fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies or merely a stumbling block test sent by God?

REFERENCES:

[1] Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.  Moznaim Publications.  Jewish year 4937 (1177 AD). Chabad.org.  2015. “Sefer Shoftim” > “Melachim uMilchamot.” <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>  Rich, Tracey R.  “Jewish Beliefs.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>  “Moses Ben Maimon.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11124-moses-ben-maimon> Furst, Rachel.  “The Mishneh Torah.”  MyJewishLearning.com. 2010.  <http://mobile.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Rabbinics/Halakhah/Medieval/Mishneh_Torah.shtml>  Seeskin, Kenneth.  “Maimonides.”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006, revised 2017.  <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides>
[2] Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.     
[3]  Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book 1 #6-7. The Complete Works of Josephus.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
 [4] Mangel, Nissen. “Responsa.” Publisher:  Kehot Publication Society. 2008. Chabad.org. 2014.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/107783/jewish/Responsa.htm>
 [5] Mangel. “Responsa.” 
 [6] Maimonides, “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p374.  Neubauer and Driver.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1&hl=en#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[7] Rich, Tracey R. “Jewish Surnames.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/jnames.htm>  Weiss, Nelly. “The origin of Jewish family names : morphology and history.” p15. 2002. <https://www.scribd.com/doc/170261214/The-Origin-of-Jewish-Family-Names-Morphology-and-History-ebooKOID>

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