“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little
to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be
ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
A Ruler from the Tribe of Judah Born in Bethlehem
There were two Bethlehems, one in the south of Israel and one in the north. The adding of Ephrathah indicates that this is the Bethlehem that is approximately five miles south of Jerusalem and is the ancestral home of Ruth and King David (Ruth 1:1-2; 4:11). The word Bethlehem literally means the “house of bread,” and it is possible that the city was somehow linked to the baking of bread. Bethlehem was known as a city close to Jerusalem where animals for sacrifice were raised.
Micah alludes to the passage in Genesis 49:10 where Jacob predicts that the ruler of Israel would come from the tribe of Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Judah was the fourth son of Jacob, not the first. So God is apparently upsetting the usual order of inheritance by telling the Jewish people that their ultimate ruler would come from the descendants of the fourth son of Israel.
Although the Hebrew Bible uses two different terms which are translated as “ruler” in Genesis 49:10 and in Micah 5:2, the point is clear. Whoever this ruler is would profoundly impact the Jewish people since he would be the predicted ruler of Jacob’s prophecy and the royal son who would rule the Jewish people forever (2 Samuel 7:13ff). The first word, “mikedem” may be translated, “from ancient times”, and the second term, “olam”, as “eternal”, which often describes the everlasting character of the God of Israel (Psalm 25:5, 90:2, Habakkuk 1:12). The use of the term in Micah 5:2 speaks of the eternality of the coming ruler which was fulfilled in the person of the Messiah Jesus, the eternal Son of David, spoken of in the New Testament.
The New Testament Fulfillment
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, Land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)
The Gospel writer indicates that Jesus is the promised ruler. He is the son of David from the tribe of Judah who was born in the traditional Davidic homeland, and He will prove Himself to be the eternal Son of God and Messianic King through His perfect character and miracles. The “bread of life” would be born in Bethlehem as He would be both the bread of life and ultimate sacrifice for our sin—born to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.