Friday, December 23, 2011

The Fulfillment of Micah 5:1–5a in Jesus of Nazareth

One of the strongest proofs of the truth of Christianity is the fulfillment of prophecy. There are at least fifty specific prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament, not to mention the many people or objects that function as prophetic parallels to Christ.

Micah 5:1–5a is a particularly good example. Micah is one of the eighth century prophets. He lived in Moresheth-Gath, a town in the south of Judah, about 35 km south-west of Jerusalem. The second half of the eighth century B.C. was a time when the Assyrian empire was exerting increasing pressure in the region. Israel was forced to pay tribute to the king of Assyria, and over time lost territory to the Assyrians until finally, in the year 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, and its citizens deported.

Conducting his ministry in this context, Micah was prophesying at significant time in the history of the people of Israel. His basic message was that the military defeat of Israel was coming as a result of Israel’s rebellion against God. As part of the covenant that God had entered into with Israel at Mount Sinai, God had promised to bless Israel on condition of obedience; but if they didn’t obey, instead of receiving blessing, Israel would experiences the curses of the covenant, bad things like disease, drought, defeat, death, and expulsion from the Holy Land.

Some 700 years after the exodus, God had finally had enough. After 700 years of rebellion and repeated unfaithfulness on the part of Israel, God’s judgment was going to come down against Israel in a serious way. The northern kingdom of Israel would be defeated and deported by the Assyrians, and over a century later the southern kingdom of Judah would be destroyed by the Babylonians.

Micah 5:1 speaks of this judgment. Micah 5:1 goes with the preceding five verses (i.e., Mic 4:9–13). In these verses Micah predicts that Jerusalem, also called the daughter of Zion, will be attacked; Jerusalem’s king will perish; the city will writhe in agony; and her inhabitants will be forced off into exile in Babylon. This is why in Mic 5:1 Micah calls upon Jerusalem to marshal her troops, to get ready for war. Jerusalem would be besieged, and the people would defend the city, but their effort would end in failure.

This defeat is pictured in Mic 5:1 with the ruler of Israel being struck on the cheek with a rod. Israel’s ruler being struck on the cheek with a rod is a picture of the king of Jerusalem being captured and mistreated by his captors. As a result of the sin of God’s people, the king of Israel would suffer. This verse is not primarily a prophecy about Jesus; but it is significant that, when Jesus was arrested, the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by making him wear a royal robe and a crown of thorns (Matt 27:28–29). They made him hold a rod as his royal scepter; then they knelt down and mockingly hailed him as the king of the Jews before snatching away the rod, and spitting on him, and striking him on the head with the rod many times (Matt 27:29–30). The treatment of the king of the Jews at the hands of the Babylonians would foreshadow the treatment of Jesus at the hands of the Romans some 600 years later.

God’s judgment was coming down upon Israel because of her covenant rebellion. The curses of the covenant (including military defeat and exile) were going to be realized against her. But in the midst of judgment, Micah also proclaimed salvation. In fact the book of Micah itself alternates between sections of judgment and salvation. The book contains three cycles with every cycle beginning with oracles of judgment, followed by an oracle or oracles of salvation:

                                            cycle 1: judgment (1:2–2:11); salvation (2:12–13)
                                            cycle 2: judgment (3:1–12); salvation (4:1–5:15)
                                            cycle 3: judgment (6:1–16); salvation (7:1–20)

Micah preached the reality of judgment, but he also proclaimed that after the time of judgment God’s favor would return to Israel. Death and destruction would not be the end of the story for God’s people. Beyond the time of trouble, there would be a time of restoration. But what would this restoration look like, and how would it happen?

Micah 5:2–5a provides a few clues as to what the future restoration of God’s people would look like. It begins with Bethlehem, a small agricultural town, 9 km south of Jerusalem. Micah moves from his concern with Jerusalem to turn to address Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, small among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2a).

But why this sudden focus on Bethlehem? Micah 5:2b tells us the reason: “from you [i.e., Bethlehem] will come forth for me one who will be a ruler in Israel.” At the time of the restoration of God’s people, there would be a ruler who would come from Bethlehem, the home town of King David. Micah seems to be prophesying about a second King David who would arise in the future to rule God’s people. This interpretation is confirmed by the common Jewish interpretation of this verse, an example of which is found in Matt 2:6. When Herod wanted to know where the Messiah was supposed to be born, the Jewish chief priests and scribes quoted Mic 5:2 as biblical proof that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

So there was going to be a future ruler of Israel who would be born in Bethlehem, yet (quite amazingly) Micah prophesies that “his origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic 5:2c). How can this be? Who can be yet to come in the future, but at the same time someone who has been around for ages, since ancient times? Micah is talking about a second King David who would be at the very least thousands of years old by the time he became the ruler of Israel. How is this possible?

Christians point to Jesus as the only possible fulfillment of this prophecy. The historical record is clear that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And after growing up, Jesus went around all of Israel, claiming to be the new Davidic king of Israel, who had existed even before Abraham: “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The early Christians believed that Jesus was the divine Word of God who had existed back in the beginning, back when the world was created, who took on human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). Micah 5:2c implies that the future ruler of Israel would be human (born in Bethlehem) yet divine (being of ancient origin).

Micah 5:3 confirms the idea that sees Jesus as being the fulfillment of Mic 5:2. Micah 5:3a states that (because this king was coming) God would give Israel over to their enemies “until she who is giving birth has given birth.” Israel would be under the power of her enemies until a birth had taken place. Linking Mic 5:2–3 together the implication is that Israel would be under the thumb of her enemies until this future ruler of Israel was born into the world by his mother in Bethlehem.

Once again Jesus makes sense of this prophecy. The Christian gospel proclaims that Jesus came to set God’s people free. Jesus’ birth into the world via Mary in Bethlehem marked the beginning of the end of Israel’s slavery. And Mic 5:3b seems to indicate the time when Israel would be fully free, when “the rest of his brothers return to be beside the sons of Israel.” The language here is intriguing. Who are these brothers of Israel who would join Israel? This could refer to the return of the Israelite exiles, but it could also be a prophecy about the conversion of the Gentiles. A similar ambiguity in the word brothers exists in Isa 66:20, a verse to which Paul seems to allude in Rom 15:16 when writing about his ministry to the Gentiles. If Mic 5:3b is a prophecy about the conversion of the Gentiles, then this is consistent with the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Rom 11 that the salvation of all Israel would not take place until the full number of the Gentiles had “entered in” (Rom 11:25–26).

This salvation of Israel from slavery to her enemies is associated in Mic 5:4 with this ruler of Israel standing to “shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God.” The language of standing can have overtones of resurrection in the Old Testament (e.g., Dan 12:13), and the image of shepherding a flock is an image in the Old Testament language of exercising (ideally benevolent) rule over a people (see Ezek 34:1–10, 23–24; 37:24). After his standing up, this ruler of Israel would rule God’s people with the strength of God himself to the glory of God, the great I Am. This would result in the flock of God’s people dwelling securely, because “he [would] become great to the ends of the earth” (Mic 5:4b).

The idea of his greatness extending out to the ends of the earth is a picture of the Messiah’s rule being extended out from Israel to all the nations of the earth. Christians believe that this is what is happening as the gospel is preached throughout the world. As the message of the lordship of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to the nations, many people from all of the nations on earth are believing the message, and coming into submission to Jesus as Lord. In this way the rule of Christ is being extended throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth.

According to Mic 5:5a, “this is peace.” According to the Old Testament, the peace that this world needs is the peace that only Christ can bring. This is why Mic 5:5a identifies peace with “this” ruler. The masculine singular Hebrew pronoun זה this in Mic 5:5a [MT 5:4a] most likely refers back to the masculine singular subject in the final clause of the preceding verse, which refers back ultimately to one who will be ruler over Israel in Mic 5:2 [MT 5:1]. Hence, the translation: he is peace or he will be peace. This is consistent with the message proclaimed by the angels at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace to those upon whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). The angels understood that this baby lying in a manger was the agent of true peace for God’s world.

Overall, Mic 5:1–5a prophesies that Israel would be under God’s judgment until this ancient ruler born in Bethlehem stood up to rule and bring security for the people of God, as his rule extended to the ends of the earth.

This is a very detailed prophecy that was given over 700 years before the birth of Jesus. If we compare this prophecy with what is known about Jesus in the New Testament, then it is hard to imagine who else could the fulfillment of this prophecy apart from Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Word of God, born to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem. An objective examination and comparison of the content of this prophecy with what is known about Jesus is rather convincing provided that the New Testament record about Jesus is accepted as being more or less historically accurate.

The Christian perspective holds that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Micah prophesied of a ruler born of a woman in Bethlehem, yet whose origins go back into eternity, who would extend his rule throughout the world, to bring all of God’s people back to live securely in the presence of God, to experience peace. This is the truth about Jesus that Christians celebrate at Christmas.


Anonymous said...

It was Zorobabel not Jesus who defended the land against Assyrian incursions, and therefore this prophecy -- which clearly states "this man will be our peace when the Assyrian shall come into our land" -- is about Zorobabel, even if the prophet had some inflated expectations for the man. This is just like Isaiah 7 which in context is clearly a sign of when the two kings opposing Ahaz will be defeated, and which is proclaimed by Isaiah himelf to be fulfilled in Isaiah 8. The Christian twisting of these prophecies will never end, just as the illogical insanity of statements like "the law is not of faith" will never end, because of Pauldolatry and the worship of God essentially as God. This is why I left Christianity and will never return -- it is insane mythological thinking that perverts everything in the Old Testament in order to prop up an immoralist agenda of 'justification by faith alone' so you guys can knock up your neighbor's wife and feel secure that you're still in good with your Almighty Tyrant -- which is all God is in Christianity since he damns people to hell for simply not believing in the ridiculous. The Old Testament was far superior. The writer of Hebrews in his attempt to prove the opposite says that he who broke Moses law died without mercy at the hand of two or three witnesses, but how much worse punishment do you suppose for him who rejects the NT? Eternal hell, of course, which shows the NT is not superior but far inferior to the OT, for the OT does not punish beyond the limits of sanity. Marcion had it exactly backwards -- the God of the OT is good and the God of the NT is the demon.

Anonymous said...

Typo "Pauldolatry and the worship of God essentially as God" -- should be "Pauldolatry and the worship of PAUL essentially as God

Anonymous said...

it should also be pointed out the prophecy says nothing about being born "in" Bethlehem but of being "of" the tribal affiliation Bethelhem-Ephratah. Bethlehem here is not spoken of as least of the 'cities' of Judah but as least of the TRIBES of Judah. This is important, but the need to twist everything in the OT trumps reality for the Christian.

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello beowulf2k8,

If by Zorobabel you mean Zerubbabel then there is no sense in which the historical Zerubbabel’s greatness extended to the ends of the earth as per Mic 5:4.

To say that Paul’s teaching on grace effectively permits sexual immorality is incorrect, and those “Christians” who think they can commit adultery freely would be strongly condemned by none other than Paul himself (see my post “Grace Is Not a License to Sin: An Exposition of Romans 6:1–14”). I have written previously on my blog about the dangers of making Pauline Scripture a canon within the canon (see my post “The Perspicuity of Pauline Scripture”). Treating Paul as God is obviously wrong.

Perhaps the problem you have with Paul is more a case of you objecting to how some Christians have treated and interpreted Paul rather than primarily a problem with Paul per se? You shouldn’t necessarily think that the Christian mainstream has understood Paul correctly in his teaching on law versus grace.

chief gabril said...

It is crazy thinking of the myth, and pervert the law in the Old Testament all in order to prop up confidence in reason alone is to back Germany's agenda, so you can knock on your neighbor's wife, to feel safe, you are pretty good, and yourAlmighty tyrant - all the Christian God as he damns people simply do not believe the ridiculous hell. the Old Testament is far superior.