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Micah’s Unique Bethlehem Prophecy

Prophecies throughout the Scriptures foretell many things about the Messiah, but only one prophecy specifies the location from where he would come forth – Bethlehem Ephrathah.[1]

Micah 5:2 “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

Translations of the Micah prophecy in the Jewish and Greek Bibles are in harmony with English translations; in Jewish Bibles one verse earlier: 

Micah 5:1 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[2]

Micah 5:2 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 [3]

One noteworthy exception is the Targum Jonathan, the Aramaic Talmud translation, which uses the word Mashiach, Hebrew for “Messiah”:[4]

“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.”

Hebrew text of Micah’s prophecy not explicitly saying Mashiach (Messiah) opens the door to controversy. Counterviews, in essence, contend the future ruler of Israel would possess no messianic qualities.

Some argue the “ruler of Israel” refers to a future general or that Bethlehem Ephrathah refers to a family clan, not a town location.[5] Others claim the meaning of the “days of old” and “ancient times” refers to the golden area of David’s reign some 300 years earlier. A few even go so far as to say Targum Jonathan was mistranslated.

All sides agree it is a prophecy about a future ruler of Israel who will come from the lineage of David leaving the controversies to hinge on two questions. Would the future ruler come forth from the physical location of the town of Bethlehem Ephrathah or as a descendant of the Biblical person, Bethlehem Ephrathah?[6] Who is the true identity of the future ruler of Israel?

Detractors of this being a Messiah prophecy are lined up against some very highly respected Jewish religious authorities. Comments by Rabbi Rashi, revered as a Jewish sage on the Talmud and its Mishnah, appear in 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.”

“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).

Rashi identified the future ruler of Israel as “the Messiah, Son of David” and “Yinnon” (Yinon) has been his name “before the sun.” The Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b identifies Yinnon along with Shiloh and other names for the Messiah (Moshiach) including one with a quote from the Isaiah 52-53 parashah Messiah prophecy.[8] Reflected in Rashi’s commentary, Talmud Nedarim 39b says the name of the Messiah has existed before the Sun and shall endure forever.[9]

Medieval Rabbi David Kimchi (Kimhi or Radak) is highly regarded by Jewish authorities for his written comments in the margins of the Torah 1347 edition, The Prophets.[10] An excerpt of Kimchi’s commentary on the prophecy is translated from Hebrew text using Google Translate: [11]

“And this is King Christ and it means to be you avoided in the cities of thousands of young Judah now against them and though yes from you Christ came to me because of David’s seed. Who was from Bethlehem will be and that is what he said and his origins promoted from the world because the origins of the Messiah at that time would say that a long time ago were from Bethlehem it is David because there is a long time between David and the King of Christ and it is to him that he was from ancient times…”

Further evidence of a special status for Bethlehem is found earlier in the Book of Micah. A contemporary of Isaiah, Micah prophesied judgment of utter destruction and singled out 10 towns or cities by name in Israel that would experience God’s wrath – Bethlehem was not one of them.[12]

Just the opposite. Micah specifically pointed to Bethlehem Ephrathah, “out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel.” Not just any ruler, but one described with divine characteristics, “whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.”

King Herod’s expert Jewish religious council of chief priests and scribes believed Micah’s prophecy foretold the future “King of the Jews” or Christos would come forth from the location of the nearby town, Bethlehem Ephrathah. According to Matthew, the Magi did indeed find and worship the child, Jesus of Nazareth, and Herod sought to kill him there.

Foretelling the location of the birth of the Messiah far into the future sets a standard of predictability that seems virtually impossible. In a small town of little significance, in a land disdained by its rulers, raises the level of difficulty of accuracy to the extreme. Impossible is controlling the circumstances of one’s own birth. Chances of intentionally fulfilling this prophecy without divine intervention…

Nazareth was the expected location of the birth of Jesus, nothing seemed to be able to change that – except for a Roman Caesar. Months in the making, the decree of Augustus announced by the Town Crier set in motion the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem where Magi, already traveling in parallel time, were destined to arrive in that little town at a single moment in time. If Micah’s prophecy foretells the Messiah would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, was the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem a fulfillment of that prophecy?

 

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REFERENCES:

[i] Killian, Greg (Hillel ben David).  “Bethlehem – Beit Lechem – The House of Bread.”  Betemunah.org.  n.d. <http://www.betemunah.org/bethlehem.html>  “Bethlehem.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=hebrewlexicon&isindex=bethlehem>[2] Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation. 1917. Benyamin Pilant. 1997. <http://www.breslov.com/bible/Micah5.htm#5>
[3] English Translation of the Greek Septuagint Bible. Trans. Brenton, Lancelot C. L. 1851.  <http://www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/Michaeas/index.htm>
[4] “Targum.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14248-targum>  “Historical Jewish Sources.” The Preterist Archive. “Overview:  About Targums.”  n.d. <http://www.preteristarchive.com/BibleStudies/JewishSources/Targums/index.html>
[5] “Jesus Christ is a False Messiah.”  Ed. Chris Thiefe.  EvilBible.com. Point #8, A & B. <https://www.evilbible.com/do-not-ignore-the-old-testament/jesus-is-a-false-messiah>  “Jesus of Bethlehem.” MessianicJewishTruth.com. n.d. <http://web.archive.org/web/20131103080951/http://www.messianicjewishtruth.com/Jesusbethlehem.html>  “Who will emerge from Bethlehem.” Teshuvas HaMinim. 2011. <http://web.archive.org/web/20120902023316/http://www.teshuvashaminim.com/michah51.html>
[6] I Chronicles 2:19, 24,50; 4:4.
[7] Bolding and brackets added by author.  The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. Micah – Chapter 5.
[8] Sanhedrin 98b. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html> “Nedarim 39b.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Steinsaltz, Adin. “Masechet Sanhedrin 98a-104b.” Orthodox Union. 2010. <https://www.ou.org/life/torah/masechet_sanhedrin_98a104b>
[9] “Nedarim 39b.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/nedarim/nedarim_39.html#39b_11>
[10] “Kimhi” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9320-kimhi>  Marlowe, Michael.  Editions of the Hebrew Text of the Bible. Bible Research. “The Incunabula.”   2012. <http://www.bible-researcher.com/hebrew-editions.html>  Rosenau, William. Jewish Biblical Commentators. 1906. pp 87-91. <http://www.archive.org/stream/jewishbiblicalco00rose/jewishbiblicalco00rose_djvu.txt>  Mindel, Nissan. “Rabbi David Kimchi – RaDaK.” Chabad.org. 2019.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111880/jewish/Rabbi-David-Kimchi-RaDaK.htm>
[11] “Redak on Micah.” Micah 5:1. Sefaria.org. Hebrew text translated using Google Translate. <https://www.sefaria.org/Radak_on_Micah.5.1.1?lang=bi>  CR Yehoshua, Avram. “Messiah’s Diety and Micah 5:2.” Quote cited from Mikraoth Gedoloth. n.d. <http://seedofabraham.net/Messiahs-Deity-and-Micah-5.2.pdf>
[12] Micah 1: Gath, Beth Leaphrah, Shaphir, Aaanan, Beth Ezel, Maroth, Jerusalem, Lachish, Achzib, and Mareshah. Wood, Leon J. “Eighth-Century Prophets: Isaiah and Micah.” 1979. <http://www.ldolphin.org/isaiah/woodisaiah.html>  Miller, Fred P. “The Prophecy Of Micah.” 2016. <http://www.moellerhaus.com/Micah/micahcom.htm>

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