“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2

As a little boy during the Christmas season, I distinctly remember wondering how the chief priests and scribes in Matthew 2:1–6 knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. After all, the book of Micah is a rather insignificant book, a “Minor Prophet.” And it is only one verse that they alluded to, there was not a trove of verses all pointing to the same little hamlet. Now, as a seasoned adult, I wonder why they did not jump to believe in their Messiah since they were so sure of the place!

Matthew 2 recounts for us, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’” The terrible King Herod was not just shaken by this question but was also visibly trembling at the prospect. He was king, but learned, foreign wise men arrive assuring him that there now breathes a child who has the right to claim King Herod’s throne.

In haste he called the religious scholars together and “He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” Interestingly, nowhere in Matthew’s account is there any debate or confusion among the religious men. Rather, there is nothing but complete harmony. “So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’” (Matthew 2:5f). They were certain!

The scheming, wicked king then turned to the wise men, directing them to search out the Christ and report back to him “that I may come and worship Him also.” Of course, God continued to lead the wise men, and He intervened to protect His Son from the evil intents of King Herod.

There was no doubt in the mind of the religious scholars at the time of Jesus’ birth as to the birthplace of the Messiah. How did they come to such a conclusion? We do well to visit the text to which they pointed.

First, Micah wrote during the dwindling days of the kings of Judah. Assyria was the superpower of the day and had carted off the northern kingdom into captivity. Micah’s prophecy is arranged in three sections (1:3, 3:1, and 6:1). Each part warns of impending doom because of Judah’s sinful disobedience toward Jehovah and also exhorts to hope following God’s punishment of evil. Believers always have hope in the covenant-keeping promises of God!

Our text is found in the second section. Chapter three foretells the punishment that will come because of the sin of the leadership: “Is it not for you to know justice? You who hate good and love evil…. Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins….”

Then, chapter four is full of hope from God. He will establish His Kingdom “in the latter days.” It will be one to which all the kings of the earth will repair for wisdom and “He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths” (4:2). They will learn so well that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (4:3, Isaiah 2:4). Though this verse is quoted on a wall near the U.N. building, it has never been fulfilled, nor will it be until the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom under the just reign of the King of Kings! Jesus is truly the hope of the world in more ways than one!

The nation of Israel will be gathered together from the ends of the earth (4:6–8). But before that day there will be grievous loss. A new world power will arise, Babylon will conquer Judah and her king will be removed, and then the people will be removed. God’s message is that even in their travail they must not lose hope.

The Hebrew fourth chapter division takes place at the end of 5:1 where Micah is describing a siege of troops against Jerusalem. Their chapter 5 begins with Micah 5:2, emphasizing Judah’s greatest hope—the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah will come from the insignificant little town of Bethlehem, not even substantial enough to be listed in Joshua 15 or Nehemiah 11. The ancestor of the Messiah also came from Bethlehem. God uses little things to accomplish great things!

Interestingly, the English Bible places the chapter break where we see it. Chapter 4 ends with the hope of triumph, “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion…you shall beat in pieces many peoples….” Then chapter 5 begins with a siege by many troops (following the Millennial Kingdom prophecies of Joel 3, Zechariah 12 and 14, Ezekial 38 and 39, Revelation 19) and follows up with the victorious One who originates from Bethlehem, “out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel!” This One is God Himself because His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Psalm 90:2, Proverbs 8:22f).

Micah’s contemporary also describes the Messiah in similar terms (Isaiah 9:6f). As is characteristic of the nature of our God, He does everything with predestination, planning, precision, purpose, practicality, and perfection. Your personal salvation is God’s precise endeavor too! Trust and obey.