But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah - I have considered this subject in great detail in the notes on Matthew 2:6, to which the reader will be pleased to refer. This verse should begin this chapter; the first verse belongs to the preceding chapter.
Bethlehem Ephratah, to distinguish it from another Beth-lehem, which was in the tribe of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15.
Thousands of Judah - The tribes were divided into small portions called thousands; as in our country certain divisions of counties are called hundreds.
Whose goings forth have been from of old - In every age, from the foundation of the world, there has been some manifestation of the Messiah. He was the hope, as he was the salvation, of the world, from the promise to Adam in paradise, to his manifestation in the flesh four thousand years after.
From everlasting - עולם מימי miyemey olam, "From the days of all time;" from time as it came out of eternity. That is, there was no time in which he has not been going forth-coming in various ways to save men. And he that came forth the moment that time had its birth, was before that time in which he began to come forth to save the souls that he had created. He was before all things. As he is the Creator of all things, so he is the Eternal, and no part of what was created. All being but God has been created. Whatever has not been created is God. But Jesus is the Creator of all things; therefore he is God; for he cannot be a part of his own work.
But - (And) thou, Bethlehem Ephratah With us, the chequered events of time stand in strong contrast, painful or gladdening. Good seems to efface evil, or evil blots out the memory of the good. God orders all in the continuous course of His Wisdom. All lies in perfect harmony in the Divine Mind. Each event is the sequel of what went before. So here the prophet joins on, what to us stands in such contrast, with that simple, And. Yet he describes the two conditions bearing on one another. He had just spoken of the “judge of Israel” smitten on the cheek, and, before Micah 4:9, that Israel had neither king nor “counsellor;” he now speaks of the Ruler in Israel, the Everlasting. He had said, how Judah was to become mere bands of men; he now says, how the “little Bethlehem” was to be exalted. He had said before, that the rule of old was to come to “the tower of the flock, the daughter of Jerusalem;” now, retaining the word, he speaks of the Ruler, in whom it was to be established.
Before he had addressed “the tower of the flock;” now, Bethlehem. But he has greater things to say now, so he pauses, And thou! People have admired the brief appeal of the murdered Caesar, “Thou too, Brutus.” The like energetic conciseness lies in the words, “And thou! Bethlehem Ephratah.” The name Ephratah is not seemingly added, in order to distinguish Bethlehem from the Bethlehem of Zabulon, since that is only named once Joshua 19:15, and Bethlehem here is marked to be “the Bethlehem Judah”, by the addition, “too little to be among the thousands of Judah.” He joins apparently the usual name, “Bethlehem,” with the old Patriarchal, and perhaps poetic Psalm 132:6 name “Ephratah,” either in reference and contrast to that former birth of sorrow near Ephratah Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7, or, (as is Micah‘s custom) regarding the meaning of both names.
Both its names were derived from “fruitfulness;” “House of Bread” and “fruitfulness;” and, despite of centuries of Mohammedan oppression, it is fertile still..
It had been rich in the fruitfulness of this world; rich, thrice rich, should it be in spiritual fruitfulness.: “Truly is Bethlehem, ‹house of bread,‘ where was born “the Bread of life, which came down from heaven” John 6:48, John 6:51.: “who with inward sweetness refreshes the minds of the elect,” “Angel‘s Bread” Psalm 78:25, and “Ephratah, fruitfulness, whose fruitfulness is God,” the Seed-corn, stored wherein, died and brought forth much fruit, all which ever was brought forth to God in the whole world.
Though thou be little among the thousands of Judah - Literally, “small to be,” that is, “too small to be among” etc. Each tribe was divided into its thousands, probably of fighting men, each thousand having its own separate head Numbers 1:16; Numbers 10:4. But the thousand continued to be a division of the tribe, after Israel was settled in Canaan Joshua 22:21, Joshua 22:30; 1 Samuel 10:19; 1 Samuel 23:23. The “thousand” of Gideon was the meanest in Manasseh. Judges 6:15. Places too small to form a thousand by themselves were united with others, to make up the number. So lowly was Bethlehem that it was not counted among the possessions of Judah. In the division under Joshua, it was wholly omitted. From its situation, Bethlehem can never have been a considerable place.
It lay and lies, East of the road from Jerusalem to Hebron, at six miles from the capital. “6 miles,” Arculf, (Early Travels in Palestine, p. 6) Bernard (Ibid. 29) Sae, wulf, (Ibid. 44) “2 hours.” Maundrell, (Ibid. 455) Robinson (i. 470)). It was “seated on the summit-level of the hill country of Judaea with deep gorges descending East to the Dead Sea and West to the plains of Philistia,” “2704 feet above the sea”. It lay “on a narrow ridge”, whose whole length was not above a mile, swelling at each extremity into a somewhat higher eminence, with a slight depression between.: “The ridge projects Eastward from the central mountain range, and breaks down in abrupt terraced slopes to deep valleys on the N. E. and S.” The West end too “shelves gradually down to the valley”. It was then rather calculated to be an outlying fortress, guarding the approach to Jerusalem, than for a considerable city.
As a garrison, it was fortified and held by the Philistines 2 Samuel 23:14 in the time of Saul, recovered from them by David, and was one of the 15 cities fortified by Rehoboam. Yet it remained an unimportant place. Its inhabitants are counted with those of the neighboring Netophah, both before 1 Chronicles 2:54 and after Nehemiah 7:26 the captivity, but both together amounted after the captivity to 179 Ezra 2:21, Ezra 2:2, or 188 Nehemiah 7:26 only. It still does not appear among the possessions of Judah Nehemiah 11:25-30. It was called a city (Rth 1:19 ; Ezra 2:1, with 21; Nehemiah 7:6, with 26), but the name included even places which had only 100 fighting men Amos 5:3. In our Lord‘s time it is called a village John 7:42, a city, Luke 2:4, or a strong. The royal city would become a den of thieves. Christ should be born in a lowly village.: “He who had taken the form of a servant, chose Bethlehem for His Birth, Jerusalem for His Passion.”
Matthew relates how the Chief Priest and Scribes in their answer to Herod‘s enquiries, where Christ should be born, Matthew 2:4-6, alleged this prophecy. They gave the substance rather than the exact words, and with one remarkable variation, art not the least among the princes of Judah. Matthew did not correct their paraphrase, because it does not affect the object for which they alleged the prophecy, the birth of the Redeemer in Bethlehem. The sacred writers often do not correct the translations, existing in their time, when the variations do not affect the truth.
Both words are true here. Micah speaks of Bethlehem, as it was in the sight of men; the chief priests, whose words Matthew approves, speak of it as it was in the sight of God, and as, by the Birth of Christ, it should become.: “Nothing hindered that Bethlehem should be at once a small village and the Mother-city of the whole earth, as being the mother and nurse of Christ who made the world and conquered it.”: “That is not the least, which is the house of blessing, and the receptacle of divine grace.”: “He saith that the spot, although mean and small, shall be glorious. And in truth,” adds Chrysostom, “the whole world came together to see Bethlehem, where, being born, He was laid, on no other ground than this only.”: “O Bethlehem, little, but now made great by the Lord, He hath made thee great, who, being great, was in thee made little. What city, if it heard thereof, would not envy thee that most precious Stable and the glory of that Crib? Thy name is great in all the earth, and all generations call thee blessed. “Glorious things are everywhere spoken of thee, thou city of God” Psalm 87:3. Everywhere it is sung, that this Man is born in her, and the Most High Himself shall establish her.
Out of thee shall He come forth to Me that is to be Ruler in Israel - (Literally, shall (one) come forth to Me “to be Ruler.”) Bethlehem was too small to be any part of the polity of Judah; out of her was to come forth One, who, in God‘s Will, was to be its Ruler. The words to Me include both of Me and to Me. Of Me, that is,, by My Power and Spirit,” as Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God” Luke 1:35. To Me, as God said to Samuel, “I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided Me a king among his sons” 1 Samuel 16:1. So now, “one shall go forth thence to Me,” to do My Will, to My praise and glory, to reconcile the world unto Me, to rule and be Head over the true Israel, the Church. He was to “go forth out of Bethlehem,” as his native-place; as Jeremiah says, “His noble shall be from him, and his ruler shall go forth out of the midst of him” Jeremiah 30:21; and Zechariah, “Out of him shall come forth the cornerstone; out of him the nail, out of him the battle-bow, out of him every ruler together” Zechariah 10:4. Before, Micah had said “to the tower of Edar, Ophel of the daughter of Zion, the first rule shall come to thee;” now, retaining the word, he says to Bethlehem, “out of thee shall come one to be a ruler.” “The judge of Israel had been smitten;” now there should “go forth out of” the little Bethlehem, One, not to be a judge only, but a Ruler.
Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting - Literally, “from the days of eternity.” “Going forth” is opposed to “going forth;” a “going forth” out of Bethlehem, to a “going forth from eternity;” a “going forth,” which then was still to come, (the prophet says, “shall go forth,”) to a “going forth” which had been long ago (Rup.), “not from the world but from the beginning, not in the days of time, but “from the days of eternity.” For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Same was in the beginning with God.” John 1:1-2. In the end of the days, He was to go forth from Bethlehem; but, lest he should be thought then to have had His Being, the prophet adds, His ‹goings forth are from everlasting.‘” Here words, denoting eternity and used of the eternity of God, are united together to impress the belief of the Eternity of God the Son. We have neither thought nor words to conceive eternity; we can only conceive of time lengthened out without end.: “True eternity is boundless life, all existing at once,” or, “to duration without beginning and without end and without change.”
The Hebrew names, here used, express as much as our thoughts can conceive or our words utter. They mean literally, from afore, (that is, look back as far as we can, that from which we begin is still “before,”) “from the days of that which is hidden.” True, that in eternity there are no divisions, no succession, but one everlasting “now;” one, as God, in whom it is, is One. But man can only conceive of Infinity of space as space without bounds, although God contains space, and is not contained by it; nor can we conceive of Eternity, save as filled out by time. And so God speaks after the manner of men, and calls Himself “the Ancient of Days” Daniel 7:9,, “being Himself the age and time of all things; before days and age and time,” “the Beginning and measure of ages and of time.” The word, translated “from of old,” is used elsewhere of the eternity of God Habakkuk 1:12. “The God of before” is a title chosen to express, that He is before all things which He made. “Dweller of afore” Psalm 55:20 is a title, formed to shadow out His ever-present existence.
Conceive any existence afore all which else you can conceive, go back afore and afore that; stretch out backward yet before and before all which you have conceived, ages afore ages, and yet afore, without end, - then and there God was. That afore was the property of God. Eternity belongs to God, not God to eternity. Any words must be inadequate to convey the idea of the Infinite to our finite minds. Probably the sight of God, as He is, will give us the only possible conception of eternity. Still the idea of time prolonged infinitely, although we cannot follow it to infinity, shadows our eternal being. And as we look along that long vista, our sight is prolonged and stretched out by those millions upon millions of years, along which we can look, although even if each grain of sand or dust on this earth, which are countless, represented countless millions, we should be, at the end, as far from reaching to eternity as at the beginning. “The days of eternity” are only an inadequate expression, because every conception of the human mind must be so.
Equally so is every other, “From everlasting to everlasting” Psalm 90:2; Psalm 103:17; “from everlasting” (Psalm 93:2, and of Divine Wisdom, or God the Son, Proverbs 8:23); “to everlasting” Psalm 9:8; Psalm 29:10; “from the day” Isaiah 43:13, that is, since the day was. For the word, from, to our minds implies time, and time is no measure of eternity. Only it expresses pre-existence, an eternal Existence backward as well as forward, the incommunicable attribute of God. But words of Holy Scripture have their full meaning, unless it appear from the passage itself that they have not. In the passages where the words, forever, from afore, do not mean eternity, the subject itself restrains them. Thus forever, looking onward, is used of time, equal in duration with the being of whom it is written, as, “he shall be thy servant forever” Exodus 21:6, that is, so long as he lives in the body. So when it is said to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” Psalm 45:6, it speaks of a kingdom which shall have no end. In like way, looking backward, “I will remember Thy wonders from old” Psalm 77:12, must needs relate to time, because they are marvelous dealings of God in time. So again, “the heavens of old, stand simply contrasted with the changes of man” Psalm 68:34. But “God of old is the Eternal God” Deuteronomy 33:27. “He that abideth of old” Psalm 55:20 is God enthroned from everlasting In like manner the “goings forth” here, opposed to a “going forth” in time, (emphatic words being moreover united together,) are a going forth in eternity.
The word, “from of old,” as used of being, is only used as to the Being of God. Here too then there is no ground to stop short of that meaning; and so it declares the eternal “going-forth,” or Generation of the Son. The plural, “goings forth,” may here be used, either as words of great majesty, “God,” “Lord,” “Wisdom,” (that is, divine Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 9:1) are plural; or because the Generation of the Son from the Father is an Eternal Generation, before all time, and now, though not in time, yet in eternity still. As then the prophet saith, “from the days of eternity,” although eternity has no parts, nor beginning, nor “from,” so he may say “goings forth,” to convey, as we can receive it, a continual going-forth. We think of Eternity as unending, continual, time; and so he may have set forth to us the Eternal Act of the “Going Forth” of the Son, as continual acts.
The Jews understood, as we do now, that Micah foretold that the Christ was to be born at Bethlehem, until they rejected Him, and were pressed by the argument. Not only did the chief priests formally give the answer, but, supposing our Lord to be of Nazareth, some who rejected Him, employed the argument against Him. “Some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said, that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” John 7:41-42. They knew of two distinct things: that Christ was:
(1) to be of the seed of David; and
(2) out of the town of Bethlehem.
Christians urged them with the fact, that the prophecy could be fulfilled in no other than in Christ.: “If He is not yet born, who is to go forth as a Ruler out of the tribe of Judah, from Bethlehem, (for He must needs come forth out of the tribe of Judah, and from Bethlehem, but we see that now no one of the race of Israel has remained in the city of of Bethlehem, and thenceforth it has been interdicted that any Jew should remain in the confines of that country) - how then shall a Ruler be born from Judaea, and how shall he come forth out of Bethlehem, as the divine volumes of the prophets announce, when to this day there is no one whatever left there of Israel, from whose race Christ could be born?”
The Jews at first met the argument, by affirming that the Messiah was born at Bethlehem on the day of the destruction of the temple; but was hidden for the sins of the people. This being a transparent fable, the Jews had either to receive Christ, or to give up the belief that He was to be born at Bethlehem. So they explained it, “The Messiah shall go forth thence, because he shall be of the seed of David who was out of Bethlehem.” But this would have been misleading language. Never did man so speak, that one should be born in a place, when only a remote ancestor had been born there. Micah does not say merely, that His family came out of Bethlehem, but that He Himself should thereafter come forth thence. No one could have said of Solomon or of any of the subsequent kings of Judah, that they should thereafter come forth from Bethlehem, any more than they could now say, ‹one shall come forth from Corsic,‘ of any future sovereign of the line of Napoleon III., because the first Napoleon was a Corsican; or to us, ‹one shall come out of Hanover,‘ of a successor to the present dynasty, born in England, because George I. came from Hanover in 1714.
At the time of Christ's first advent the priests and scribes of the Holy City, to whom were entrusted the oracles of God, might have discerned the signs of the times and proclaimed the coming of the Promised One. The prophecy of Micah designated His birthplace; Daniel specified the time of His advent. Micah 5:2; Daniel 9:25. God committed these prophecies to the Jewish leaders; they were without excuse if they did not know and declare to the people that the Messiah's coming was at hand. Their ignorance was the result of sinful neglect. The Jews were building monuments for the slain prophets of God, while by their deference to the great men of earth they were paying homage to the servants of Satan. Absorbed in their ambitious strife for place and power among men, they lost sight of the divine honors proffered them by the King of heaven. GC 313.1
With profound and reverent interest the elders of Israel should have been studying the place, the time, the circumstances, of the greatest event in the world's history—the coming of the Son of God to accomplish the redemption of man. All the people should have been watching and waiting that they might be among the first to welcome the world's Redeemer. But, lo, at Bethlehem two weary travelers from the hills of Nazareth traverse the whole length of the narrow street to the eastern extremity of the town, vainly seeking a place of rest and shelter for the night. No doors are open to receive them. In a wretched hovel prepared for cattle, they at last find refuge, and there the Saviour of the world is born. GC 313.2
Heavenly angels had seen the glory which the Son of God shared with the Father before the world was, and they had looked forward with intense interest to His appearing on earth as an event fraught with the greatest joy to all people. Angels were appointed to carry the glad tidings to those who were prepared to receive it and who would joyfully make it known to the inhabitants of the earth. Christ had stooped to take upon Himself man's nature; He was to bear an infinite weight of woe as He should make His soul an offering for sin; yet angels desired that even in His humiliation the Son of the Highest might appear before men with a dignity and glory befitting His character. Would the great men of earth assemble at Israel's capital to greet His coming? Would legions of angels present Him to the expectant company? GC 313.3Read in context »
The prophet Micah writes of Him, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” LHU 17.5Read in context »
The Sovereign of the universe was not alone in His work of beneficence. He had an associate—a co-worker who could appreciate His purposes, and could share His joy in giving happiness to created beings. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” John 1:1, 2. Christ, the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father—one in nature, in character, in purpose—the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God. “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6. His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2. And the Son of God declares concerning Himself: “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting.... When He appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.” Proverbs 8:22-30. PP 34.1
The Father wrought by His Son in the creation of all heavenly beings. “By Him were all things created, ... whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him.” Colossians 1:16. Angels are God's ministers, radiant with the light ever flowing from His presence and speeding on rapid wing to execute His will. But the Son, the anointed of God, the “express image of His person,” “the brightness of His glory,” “upholding all things by the word of His power,” holds supremacy over them all. Hebrews 1:3. “A glorious high throne from the beginning,” was the place of His sanctuary (Jeremiah 17:12); “a scepter of righteousness,” the scepter of His kingdom. Hebrews 1:8. “Honor and majesty are before Him: strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” Psalm 96:6. Mercy and truth go before His face. Psalm 89:14. PP 34.2
The law of love being the foundation of the government of God, the happiness of all intelligent beings depends upon their perfect accord with its great principles of righteousness. God desires from all His creatures the service of love—service that springs from an appreciation of His character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience; and to all He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service. PP 34.3Read in context »
With amazement the heavenly messengers beheld the indifference of that people whom God had called to communicate to the world the light of sacred truth. The Jewish nation had been preserved as a witness that Christ was to be born of the seed of Abraham and of David's line; yet they knew not that His coming was now at hand. In the temple the morning and the evening sacrifice daily pointed to the Lamb of God; yet even here was no preparation to receive Him. The priests and teachers of the nation knew not that the greatest event of the ages was about to take place. They rehearsed their meaningless prayers, and performed the rites of worship to be seen by men, but in their strife for riches and worldly honor they were not prepared for the revelation of the Messiah. The same indifference pervaded the land of Israel. Hearts selfish and world-engrossed were untouched by the joy that thrilled all heaven. Only a few were longing to behold the Unseen. To these heaven's embassy was sent. DA 44.1
Angels attend Joseph and Mary as they journey from their home in Nazareth to the city of David. The decree of imperial Rome for the enrollment of the peoples of her vast dominion has extended to the dwellers among the hills of Galilee. As in old time Cyrus was called to the throne of the world's empire that he might set free the captives of the Lord, so Caesar Augustus is made the agent for the fulfillment of God's purpose in bringing the mother of Jesus to Bethlehem. She is of the lineage of David, and the Son of David must be born in David's city. Out of Bethlehem, said the prophet, “shall He come forth ... that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2, margin. But in the city of their royal line, Joseph and Mary are unrecognized and unhonored. Weary and homeless, they traverse the entire length of the narrow street, from the gate of the city to the eastern extremity of the town, vainly seeking a resting place for the night. There is no room for them at the crowded inn. In a rude building where the beasts are sheltered, they at last find refuge, and here the Redeemer of the world is born. DA 44.2
Men know it not, but the tidings fill heaven with rejoicing. With a deeper and more tender interest the holy beings from the world of light are drawn to the earth. The whole world is brighter for His presence. Above the hills of Bethlehem are gathered an innumerable throng of angels. They wait the signal to declare the glad news to the world. Had the leaders in Israel been true to their trust, they might have shared the joy of heralding the birth of Jesus. But now they are passed by. DA 47.1Read in context »