Micah’s Unique Bethlehem Prophecy
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 in English translations, although in almost all Jewish Bibles the prophecy appears 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
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 
One noteworthy exception is the Targum Jonathan, the Aramaic Talmud translation, which uses the word Mashiach, Hebrew for “Messiah”:
Hebrew text translation of Micah’s prophecy not explicitly saying Mashiach (Messiah) opens the door to controversy over its meaning. 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. 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 one of two scenarios. Would the future ruler come forth from the physical location of the town of Bethlehem Ephrathah or merely a descendant from the Biblical family clan, the firstborn son of Ephrathah named Bethlehem?
Detractors of the prophecy foretelling the the birth location of the Messiah are lined up against some very highly respected Jewish sages. Comments by Rabbi Rashi, revered as a Jewish sage on the Talmud Mishnah, appear in The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary:
“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.” The name “Yinnon” (Yinon) has been his name since before the sun.”
Talmud Nedarim 39b says the name of the Messiah has existed before the world and the Sun and shall endure forever. Talmud Sanhedrin 98b identifies Yinnon along with Shiloh and other names for the Messiah (Moshiach) with a quote from the Isaiah 52-53 parashah considered by many to be a Messiah prophecy.
Medieval era 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. An excerpt of Kimchi’s commentary on the prophecy is translated from Hebrew text using Google Translate: 
“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 prophet to Isaiah, Micah prophesied judgment of utter destruction and singled out 10 towns or cities by name in the land of Abraham that would experience God’s wrath – Bethlehem was not one of them.
Just the opposite, the prophet Micah specifically singled out Bethlehem Ephrathah as the exception, “out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel.” Not merely 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 Jesus in Bethlehem and worshiped the child while Herod sought to kill him.
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, Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy raises the level of difficulty of accuracy to the extreme.
Impossible would be controlling the birth circumstances of one’s own birth. Chances of fulfilling this prophecy without divine intervention…extremely improbable.
Nazareth was the expected location of the birth of Jesus and it appeared nothing was 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 90 miles away.
Meanwhile, Magi, already traveling in parallel time, were destined to arrive in the little town at the single moment in time when Joseph and Mary were temporarily in Bethlehem, too, when Jesus was born. If Micah’s prophecy foretells the Messiah would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, was the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem a fulfillment of that prophecy?
Updated November 25, 2023.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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