“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old — from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
It is one of those passages we hear every year at Christmas time. Micah’s most famous contribution to the Bible. But, of course, there is much more to Micah and his prophetic work than just that one verse. So, first, let us look a little at Micah’s background and setting, and then look at the book as a whole.
The fact is that we don’t know a lot about Micah for certain. It is believed that he was active about the same time as the great prophet Isaiah (who also has some pretty famous prophecies about the coming Savior) — about 750 years before Jesus was born. Micah seems to be from a small village in southern Judah. He was forceful in his denunciation of the sins and idolatry of God’s people, and foretold the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. The structure of his book alternates between words of doom and words of promise — doom for their sins and lack of faithfulness to God, and promise in the hope of the coming Savior. Which brings us to that verse cited above, Micah 5:2.
Bethlehem will be the birthplace of the Savior. The little town of Bethlehem — whose name means “House of Bread” — will be the place where the Bread of Life comes into our world. Bethlehem, the hometown of great King David, whose greater Son the Savior will be. Bethlehem, which seems so small and unimportant compared with the “great” cities of the world (like Jerusalem, or Nineveh, or Babylon, or Damascus) — reminding us of the apparent weakness and insignificance of the Savior to the world around Him. And yet, God has chosen that little town, those humble citizens, that weak nation to be His own. The Savior — God in the flesh — will be born in a stable, laid to sleep in a manger there. The Ruler of heaven and earth, a tiny little Baby. Almighty and all-powerful God will need mother Mary and step-father Joseph to feed Him, to change Him, to watch over Him. It IS a miracle.
But, even greater, is what this Baby will do. He will grow, to lead the perfect and sinless life required of us — giving US the credit. He will pick up our sin and carry it to the cross, to pay the full debt of the Law for us. He will die, He will endure hell, He will be buried to lay our sin to rest forever. He will rise again on the third day, to prove His conquering of sin/death/devil. He will ascend to heaven, to rule all things and to make ready OUR place. He will come again, on the Last Day, to give us what Adam tossed aside by his sin.
To the world, Micah seemed a “minor” prophet indeed. To the world, Bethlehem seemed a little town of no great account. To the world, that Baby born there seemed as nothing. To the world, we who celebrate His birth seem foolish and silly. But we know the truth, as the angels sang to those Bethlehem shepherds: today is born to you, in the city of David, a Savior; He is Christ the Lord! And that Good News makes Micah and Bethlehem and the shepherds and us great!