Micah 5:2
But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall he come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
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(2) But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah.—This is a passage of immense significance, through the interpretation given to it by the chief priests and scribes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Beth-lehem Ephratah: the two names, modern and ancient, are united, each of them having reference to the fertility of the country. In the Gospel the scribes quote, evidently from memory, the passage from Micah, in reply to Herod’s question; and their first variation is in the title of the town—“Thou, Beth-lehem (not Ephratah, but), land of Judah.” So also the people protested against Jesus on the ground of His being from Galilee, for, “Hath not the Scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:42.)

Though thou be little.—Strictly, art little among the thousands, or chiliads: a word analogous to our “hundreds;” a division of the tribes. In St. Matthew the word is paraphrased by princes, as representing the chiliads.

Yet out of thee.—St. Matthew—“for out of thee,” the illative conjunction—helps to show that the quotation is really a paraphrase, conveying the ultimate intention of the prophet’s words, which contrasts the smallness of the chiliad with the greatness of its destiny.

Whose goings forth have been from of old.—The nativity of the governor of Israel is evidently contrasted with an eternal nativity, the depth of which mystery passes the comprehension of human intellect: it must be spiritually discerned. The Creed of the Church expresses the article of faith as “Begotten of His Father before all worlds.” He came forth unto Me to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting, from the days of antiquity.

Micah 5:2. But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah — Here we have evidently the beginning of another subject, quite different from any thing that the first verse can relate to, and with which it seems to have no connection. The word Ephrah, or Ephratah, is here added, to distinguish Beth-lehem in the tribe of Judah, from another Beth-lehem in the tribe of Zebulun. It is called Ephratah, from the fruitfulness of the land where it stood: the word whence that term is derived importing fruitfulness. Though thou be little —

The word though is not in the Hebrew, but supplied by our translators. And the sense of the sentence, it seems, is unnecessarily altered by its introduction. Many interpreters render the clauses interrogatively, thus; Art thou little among the thousands of Judah? The expression, the thousands of Judah, seems to have been used in allusion to the first division of the people, into thousands, hundreds, and other subordinate divisions. The rendering of the clause thus, Art thou little, &c., which implies the contrary, thou art not little, is certainly the right way of rendering it, because St. Matthew understood it, and quotes it, in this sense, chap. Micah 2:6, And thou Beth-lehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah. Bishop Newcome’s translation of the clause accords still more exactly with St. Matthew’s, “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, art thou too little to be among the leaders of Judah? Out of thee shall come, &c.,” the word אלפו, rendered thousands, often signifying heads of thousands. Yet out of thee, &c. — The word yet also is not in the Hebrew; and if the preceding clause be rendered, as is here proposed, interrogatively, it is not necessary to complete the sense of the verse; indeed, it would only obscure it. Out of thee shall come forth, &c., that is to be ruler in Israel — This prophecy can be applied, with no propriety, to any other but the Messiah. The words must be very much wrested and changed from their natural meaning, or deprived of their full force or signification, before they can be applied to any other person. The Jews, even the most learned ones, before and at our Saviour’s time, understood this to be spoken of the Messiah; for St. Matthew informs us, Matthew 2:5-6, that when Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes, assembled together, to give him information where Christ should be born, they agreed unanimously that it was in Beth- lehem of Judea, alleging these very words as a certain and undeniable proof of it. And so did the generality of the Jews of that age, who speak of it as an undoubted truth, that Christ was to come of the seed of David, and of the town of Beth-lehem, where David was, John 7:42. The Chaldee agrees with their sentiments, and expressly applies the prophecy to the Messiah; and our Lord was born at Beth-lehem by an especial act of Providence, that this prophecy might plainly be fulfilled in him: see Luke 2:4. The expression, come forth, is the same as to be born. Whose goings forth have been of old from everlasting — Hebrew, מימי עולם מקדם, rendered by the LXX., απ αχης, εξ ημεων αιωνος; and exactly in the same sense by the Vulgate, ab initio, a diebus æternitatis, from the beginning, from the days of eternity. So these Hebrew expressions must of necessity signify in divers places of Scripture, being used to signify the eternity of God: see Psalm 55:19; Psalm 90:2; Proverbs 8:23; Habakkuk 1:12. The words naturally import an original, distinct from the birth of Christ mentioned in the foregoing sentence, which original is here declared to be from all eternity.5:1-6 Having showed how low the house of David would be brought, a prediction of the Messiah and his kingdom is added to encourage the faith of God's people. His existence from eternity as God, and his office as Mediator, are noticed. Here is foretold that Bethlehem should be his birthplace. Hence it was universally known among the Jews, Mt 2:5. Christ's government shall be very happy for his subjects; they shall be safe and easy. Under the shadow of protection from the Assyrians, is a promise of protection to the gospel church and all believers, from the designs and attempts of the powers of darkness. Christ is our Peace as a Priest, making atonement for sin, and reconciling us to God; and he is our Peace as a King, conquering our enemies: hence our souls may dwell at ease in him. Christ will find instruments to protect and deliver. Those that threaten ruin to the church of God, soon bring ruin on themselves. This may include the past powerful effects of the preached gospel, its future spread, and the ruin of all antichristian powers. This is, perhaps, the most important single prophecy in the Old Testament: it respects the personal character of the Messiah, and the discoveries of himself to the world. It distinguishes his human birth from his existing from eternity; it foretells the rejection of the Israelites and Jews for a season, their final restoration, and the universal peace to prevail through the whole earth in the latter days. In the mean time let us trust our Shepherd's care and power. If he permits the assault of our enemies, he will supply helpers and assistance for us.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 (Ruth 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.


2. Beth-lehem Ephratah—(Ge 48:7), or, Beth-lehem Judah; so called to distinguish it from Beth-lehem in Zebulun. It is a few miles southwest of Jerusalem. Beth-lehem means "the house of bread"; Ephratah means "fruitful": both names referring to the fertility of the region.

though thou be little among—though thou be scarcely large enough to be reckoned among, &c. It was insignificant in size and population; so that in Jos 15:21, &c., it is not enumerated among the cities of Judah; nor in the list in Ne 11:25, &c. Under Rehoboam it became a city: 2Ch 11:6, "He built Beth-lehem." Mt 2:6 seems to contradict Micah, "thou art not the least," But really he, by an independent testimony of the Spirit, confirms the prophet, Little in worldly importance, thou art not least (that is, far from least, yea, the very greatest) among the thousands, of princes of Judah, in the spiritual significance of being the birthplace of Messiah (Joh 7:42). God chooses the little things of the world to eclipse in glory its greatest things (Jud 6:15; Joh 1:46; 1Co 1:27, 28). The low state of David's line when Messiah was born is also implied here.

thousands—Each tribe was divided into clans or "thousands" (each thousand containing a thousand families: like our old English division of counties into hundreds), which had their several heads or "princes"; hence in Mt 2:6 it is quoted "princes," substantially the same as in Micah, and authoritatively explained in Matthew. It is not so much this thousand that is preferred to the other thousands of Judah, but the Governor or Chief Prince out of it, who is preferred to the governors of all the other thousands. It is called a "town" (rather in the Greek, "village"), Joh 7:42; though scarcely containing a thousand inhabitants, it is ranked among the "thousands" or larger divisions of the tribe, because of its being the cradle of David's line, and of the Divine Son of David. Moses divided the people into thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, with their respective "rulers" (Ex 18:25; compare 1Sa 10:19).

unto me—unto God the Father (Lu 1:32): to fulfil all the Father's will and purpose from eternity. So the Son declares (Ps 2:7; 40:7, 8; Joh 4:34); and the Father confirms it (Mt 3:17; 12:18, compare with Isa 42:1). God's glory is hereby made the ultimate end of redemption.

ruler—the "Shiloh," "Prince of peace," "on whose shoulders the government is laid" (Ge 49:10; Isa 9:6). In 2Sa 23:3, "He that ruleth over men must be just," the same Hebrew word is employed; Messiah alone realizes David's ideal of a ruler. Also in Jer 30:21, "their governor shall proceed from the midst of them"; answering closely to "out of thee shall come forth the ruler," here (compare Isa 11:1-4).

goings forth … from everlasting—The plain antithesis of this clause, to "come forth out of thee" (from Beth-lehem), shows that the eternal generation of the Son is meant. The terms convey the strongest assertion of infinite duration of which the Hebrew language is capable (compare Ps 90:2; Pr 8:22, 23; Joh 1:1). Messiah's generation as man coming forth unto God to do His will on earth is from Beth-lehem; but as Son of God, His goings forth are from everlasting. The promise of the Redeemer at first was vaguely general (Ge 3:15). Then the Shemitic division of mankind is declared as the quarter in which He was to be looked for (Ge 9:26, 27); then it grows clearer, defining the race and nation whence the Deliverer should come, namely, the seed of Abraham, the Jews (Ge 12:3); then the particular tribe, Judah (Ge 49:10); then the family, that of David (Ps 89:19, 20); then the very town of His birth, here. And as His coming drew nigh, the very parentage (Mt 1:1-17; Lu 1:26-35; 2:1-7); and then all the scattered rays of prophecy concentrate in Jesus, as their focus (Heb 1:1, 2).

But, Heb.

And. Beth-lehem; not in the tribe of Zebulun Joshua 19:15, but in the tribe of Judah, styled therefore Beth-lehem of Judah, Matt. it. 1,


Ephratah; so called, say some, from Caleb’s wife; but that is not probable, for it had the name long before Caleb’s wife was thought of, as appears, Genesis 35:19. It is more likely to be called Ephratah from the richness and fruitfulness of the land where it was situate, the Hebrew word whence this is derived importing fruitfulness, whence also it was called Bethlehem, the house of bread.

Though thou be little: some read this as an interrogation, Art thou little? which ought to be resolved by a negative, Thou art not little, and so reconcile Matthew 2:6 to this of the prophet. Some read it in the neuter gender, It is a little thing for thee to be among the thousands, to have a captain, or ruler of a thousand in Judah; it is much greater honour, which shall be put upon thee; out of thee shall come he that is to be chief Ruler and Head of all the people of God, the Messiah. Much like phrase is, that 2 Kings 20:10 Isaiah 49:6; there is an exposition of the word Tsair in the text, as denoting the contrary to our usual notion of it: so Jeremiah 48:4. The Chaldee paraphrase explains it by sultans or princes, but I question whether one instance from the Scriptures can be given in which Tsair signifies great, notable, or chief; our translators have better rendered it with supplying the adversative though, and make the sense plain and easy: As for Beth-lehem Ephratah, she is so little that she is scarce to be ranged among the cities of Judah which go out by a thousand, or are led out by one that is head, prefect, or captain of a thousand.

Among the thousands of Judah: this was the royal tribe from which the Messiah was to rise; this (as other tribes) was divided into thousands, and a head appointed to each thousand; and of these the thousand, or, in our language, the regiment, of Bethlehem was one of the least to the eye.

Out of thee shall he come forth; out of the tribe of Judah, and out of the city Bethlehem, shall he come, i.e. be born.

Unto me; for to do that great work God hath designed to do by the Messiah.

That is to be ruler, King and Sovereign, in Israel; amidst the Israel of God, the whole Israel, as well that after the faith as that after the flesh. Christ the Lord in the midst of them, Micah 4:7.

Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting; whose generation, as he is the Son of God equal with his Father, is eternal: this asserts the eternity of his Divine nature. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah,.... But though Jerusalem should be besieged and taken, and the land of Judea laid waste, yet, before all this should be, the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem, of which this is a prophecy, as is evident from Matthew 2:4; the place is called by both the names it went by, to point it out the more distinctly, and with the greater certainty, Genesis 35:19; the former signifies "the house of bread", and a proper place for Christ to be born in, who is the bread of life; and it has the name of the latter from its fruitfulness, being a place of pasture, and as we find it was at the time of our Lord's birth; for near it shepherds were then watching over their flocks; and it is here added, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15; from which tribe the Messiah was not to come, but from the tribe of Judah; and in which this Bethlehem was, and therefore called, by Matthew, Bethlehem in the land of Judah; as it appears this was, from Ruth 1:1; and from the Septuagint version of Joshua 15:60, where, as Jerom observes, it was added by the Greek interpreters, or erased out of the Hebrew text by the wickedness of the Jews: the former seems most correct;

though thou be little among the thousands of Judah; this supplement of ours is according to Kimchi's reading and sense of the words; which, in some measure, accounts for the difference between the prophet and the Evangelist Matthew, by whom this place is said to be "not the least", Matthew 2:6, as it might, and yet be little; besides, it might be little at one time, in Micah's time, yet not little at another time; in Matthew's; it might be little with respect to some circumstances, as to pompous buildings, and number of inhabitants, and yet not little on account of its being the birth place of great men, as Jesse, David, and especially the Messiah: or the words may be rendered with an interrogation, "art thou little?" &c. (d); thou art not: or thus, it is a "little thing to be among the thousands of Judah" (e); a greater honour shall be put upon thee, by being the place of the Messiah's birth. Moreover, Mr, Pocock has shown out of R. Tanchum, both in his commentary on this place, and elsewhere (f), that the word signifies both "little" and "great", or of great note and esteem. The tribes of Israel were divided into tens, hundreds, and thousands, over which there was a head or prince; hence, in Matthew, these are called "the princes of Judah", Matthew 2:6;

yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; not Hezekiah, who very probably was now born at the time of this prophecy; nor was he born at Bethlehem, nor a ruler in Israel, only king of Judah: nor Zerubbabel, who was born in Babylon, as his name shows, was governor of Judah, but not of Israel; nor can it be said of him, or any mere man, what is said in the next clause: but the Messiah is intended, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Kimchi confess, and other Jewish writers. The Targum is,

"out of thee shall come forth before me the Messiah, that he may exercise dominion over Israel.''

Jarchi's note is,

"out of thee shall come forth unto me Messiah, the son of David;''

and so he says, "the stone which the builders refused", &c. Psalm 118:22; plainly suggesting that that passage also belongs to the Messiah, as it certainly does. Kimchi's paraphrase is,

"although thou art little among the thousands of Judah, of thee shall come forth unto me a Judge, to be ruler in Israel, and this is the King Messiah.''

And Abarbinel (g), mentioning those words in Micah 4:13; "arise, and thresh, O daughter of Zion", observes,

"this speaks concerning the business of the King Messiah, who shall reign over them, and shall be the Prince of their army; and it is plain that he shall be of the house of David: and it is said, "O thou, Bethlehem Ephratah", which was a small city, in the midst of the cities of Judah; and "although thou art little in the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall come forth unto me" a man, a ruler in Israel, "whose goings forth are from the days of old"; the meaning is, the goings forth of the family of that ruler are from the days of old; that is, from the seed of David, and a rod from the stem of Jesse, who was of Bethlehem Judah.''

So Abendana (h), a more modern Jew, paraphrases the words thus,

"out of thee shall come forth unto me a Judge, that is to be ruler in Israel, and this is the King Messiah; for because he is to be of the seed of David, from Bethlehem he will be.''

To which may be added R. Isaac (i), who, having cited this passage, observes, and, he, the ruler in Israel, is the King Messiah, who shall come forth from the seed of David the king; who was of Bethlehem Judah, as in 1 Samuel 17:12. Wherefore Lyra, having quoted Jarchi, and given his sense of the passage, remarks, hence it is plain that some Catholics, explaining this Scripture of King Hezekiah, "judaize" more than the Hebrews. Though some of them object the application of it to Jesus, who they say ruled not over Israel, but Israel over him, and put him to death; which it is true they did; but God exalted him to be a Prince, as well as a Saviour, unto Israel, notwithstanding that, and declared him to be Lord and Christ; besides, previous to his death, and in the land of Israel, he gave abundant proof of his power and rule over universal nature, earth, air, and sea; over angels, good and bad; and over men and beasts: all creatures obeyed him; though indeed his kingdom is not of this world, but of a spiritual nature, and is over the spiritual Israel of God; and there is a time coming when he will be King over all the earth. Now out of Bethlehem was the King Messiah, the ruler in Israel, to come forth; that is, here he was to be born, as the phrase signifies; see Genesis 10:14; and here our Jesus, the true Messiah, was born, as appears from Matthew 2:8; and this is not only certain from the evangelic history, but the Jews themselves acknowledge it. One of their chronologers (k) affirms that Jesus the Nazarene was born at Bethlehem Judah, a parsa and a half from Jerusalem; that is, about six miles from it, which was the distance between them: and even the author of a blasphemous book (l), pretending to give the life of Jesus, owns that Bethlehem Judah was the place of his nativity: and it is clear not only that the Jews in the times of Jesus expected the Messiah to come from hence, even both the chief priests and scribes of the people, who, in answer to Herod's question about the place of the Messiah's birth, direct him to this, according to Micah's prophecy, Matthew 2:4; and the common people, who thought to have confronted the Messiahship of Jesus with it, John 7:41; but others also, at other times. The tower of Edar being a place near to Bethlehem Ephratah, Genesis 35:19; Jonathan ben Uzziel, in his Targum of Genesis 35:19, says of the tower of Edar, this is the place from whence the King Messiah shall be revealed in the end of days; nay, some of them say he is born already, and was born at Bethlehem. An Arabian, they say (m), told a Jew,

"the King Messiah is born; he replied to him, what is his name? he answered, Menachem (the Comforter) is his name; he asked him, what is his father's name? he replied, Hezekiah; he said to him, from whence is he? he answered, from the palace of the king of Bethlehem Judah.''


But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be {b} little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose {c} goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

(b) For so the Jews divided their country that for every thousand there was a chief captain: and because Bethlehem was not able to make a thousand, he calls it little. But yet God will raise up his captain and governor in it: and thus it is not the least by reason of this benefit. See Geneva Mt 2:6

(c) He shows that the coming of Christ and all his ways were appointed by God from all eternity.

2–4. The Messiah’s birth and world-wide rule

2. But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah …] (See the application of this passage by the Jewish Sanhedrin in Matthew 2:6; comp. John 7:42.) To the deep abasement of the actual king the prophet, in this and the following verses, opposes the Divine glory of the ideal King. Mean as Bethlehem may be in outward appearance, it has been selected as the birthplace of the Messianic Deliverer. ‘Ephratah,’ or rather ‘Ephrathah’ (a fuller form of Ephrath), was another name for Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17:12, Ruth 1:2; Ruth 4:11, 1 Chronicles 2:50-51): its meaning (‘fruitful’) suggests that it originally belonged to the valley which leads up to Bethlehem, and which is still richly adorned with vines and olive-trees. The Septuagint rendering is peculiar, ‘And thou Bethlehem, house of Ephratah,’ which looks very much like a combination of two different renderings, which presuppose two different readings of the Hebrew text (the one, ‘And thou, Bethlehem;’ the other, ‘And thou, Beth-Ephratah’). Some scholars indeed prefer the latter reading on exegetical grounds, and suppose that the present reading of the Hebrew text is incorrect, and that lehem in Beth-lehem is an interpolation, due to a confusion between the two meanings of Ephratah. This makes a little difference in the exegesis of the passage. ‘House’ in ‘house of Ephratah’ will have to be taken in the larger sense of the word, viz. for a subdivision of the ‘thousand’ or ‘family.’ This will very well suit the following words (as generally explained), which will then contain a statement that the people or households of the district of Ephrath (see above) were not numerous enough to form a ‘thousand’ or ‘family’ by themselves. The context also shews the essential point of the prophecy to be, not that the Deliverer shall be born at Bethlehem, but that he shall belong to the Davidic family. If we retain the received reading of the Hebrew text we may refer to the analogy of Isaiah 9:1, which (when rightly translated) mentions a particular region of Palestine as in some sense the object of special favour from the Messiah: the one prediction is not more circumstantial than the other. There remains however a difficulty connected with the compound form of the name. Why Bethlehem Ephratah, and not simply Bethlehem? It is hardly enough to reply that there was another Bethlehem in the territory of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15), for the danger of confusion would be more naturally guarded against by giving the full name ‘Bethlehem-judah’ (Jdg 17:9; Jdg 19:18). Nor can we attach much weight to the remark of Delitzsch, that the prophet substitutes Ephratah for Judah, because the former name “awakens so many reminiscences from the primitive history of Israel (Genesis 35:16) and the Davidic kingdom (Ruth 4:11).” Messianic Prophecies (by Curtiss), section 45.

though thou be little …] The Hebrew text according to most scholars, requires a different rendering—art too small to be, &c. This however is not strictly in accordance with grammar, and it is very possible that the Auth. Vers. is correct; only it requires us to suppose that one of the Hebrew words in this verse (li-h’yoth) has been written twice over, and that it has thus intruded into a wrong clause.—As a matter of fact, Bethlehem was a small and unimportant place. It is omitted in the list of cities of Judah in the received Hebrew text of Joshua 15 (though, together with ten other towns, it is found in the text of the Septuagint), and also in the list, Nehemiah 11:25. It is also spoken of in John 7:42 as κώμη. Yet poor, insignificant Bethlehem was to have the honour of giving birth to the Messiah.

“O sola magnarum urbium

Major Bethlem, cui contigit

Ducem salutis cœlitus

Incorporatum gignere.”

Prudentius, Hymn. Epiph. 77.

thousands] A ‘thousand’ is another name for a ‘family’ (in the larger, technical sense of the word, = ‘clan’), see Numbers 1:16; Numbers 10:4, Joshua 22:14; Joshua 22:21, &c. Several ‘thousands’ or ‘families’ went to make up a ‘tribe.’

unto me] Rather, for me, in pursuance of my will.

whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting] The meaning of the word rendered ‘goings forth’ is doubtful. If we keep this translation, we must explain it of the revelations of Jehovah to the early Israelites and to the patriarchs. In Isaiah 9:6 one part of the great compound name of the Messiah is ‘God the Mighty One’ (or, Hero), from which we may infer that the Messiah is the permanently visible manifestation of the delivering or punishing, or, in a word, world-governing aspect of the Deity. So too in Isaiah 63:9 we are told that in ‘the days of old’ (the same phrase which is here rendered ‘everlasting’) Jehovah, or the Angel which represented Him, sympathized with the trouble of His people, and delivered them; and in Micah 5:15 of the same chapter that the attributes of Jehovah, regarded under this aspect, are ‘jealousy’ and ‘heroism’ (Auth. Vers., loosely, ‘zeal’ and ‘strength’). We can hardly be wrong in inferring that in all these passages one and the same essential aspect of Jehovah is meant, and that the Messiah may be said, in harmony with prophetic teaching, to have been revealed at intervals from the patriarchal history onwards. In favour of this translation, it may be observed that it produces a striking antithesis between the former and the latter half of the verse; ‘he shall come forth’ being a part of the same verb from which the word rendered ‘goings forth’ is derived. But it is also permissible to render this word ‘origins,’ and to explain the plural as that of ‘excellence’ or extent, just as we find ‘dominions’ for ‘dominion’ in Psalm 114:2 (literally rendered), and ‘habitations’ for ‘habitation’ in Isaiah 54:2. The passage will then become a statement either of the pre-existence of the Messiah in the eternal purposes of God (comp. Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26); or, which is more obvious and perfectly suitable to the context, of his descent from the ancient Davidic family—comp. Amos 9:11, where ‘the days of old’ evidently refer to the reign of David. (David was already three centuries behind Micah.) In the latter case, we ought to render the passage before us, Whose origin hath been from aforetime, from the days of old. There is, in fact, properly speaking, no word in Hebrew exactly answering to ‘everlasting.’ See also Micah 7:14; Micah 7:20, where Auth. Vers. rightly has, ‘the days of old.’Verse 2. - At the time of Zion's deepest distress, and when her earthly king is suffering the grossest degradation, reduced as it were to the shepherd house at Bethlehem, a Deliverer shall arise thence who shall do wonderful things. This passage was quoted by the Sanhedrin to answer Herod's question where the Christ was to be born (Matthew 2:5, 6; comp. John 7:42). But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah. Ephratah (Ephrathah, or Ephrath), "fruitfulness," is another name for Bethlehem, "House of bread" (Genesis 35:19; 1 Samuel 17:12; Ruth 1:2); from its position it is also called Bethlehem Judah (Judges 17:7), being situated in the tribal lot of Judah, about five miles south of Jerusalem, and thus distinguished from a town of the same name in Zebulun(Joshua 19:15). Septuagint, κιὰ σὺ Βηθλεὲμ οῖκος Ἐφραθά τοῦ Ἐφραθά Alex.]. "And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrathah." The rest of the clause is best translated, too little to be among the thousands of Judah. Each tribe was divided into "thousands," which would be equivalent to clans, with its own head. Probably the reckoning was made of fighting men (see note on Zechariah 9:7; and comp. Numbers 1:16; Numbers 10:4; Joshua 22:21, 30; 1 Samuel 10:19). Bethlehem, called in the text Bethlehem Ephratah for solemnity's sake, was a small place (κάμη, John 7:42), of such slight importance as not to be named among the possessions of Judah in Joshua 15, or in the catalogue of Nehemiah 11:25, etc. Yet out of thee shall he (one) come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel. In spite of its insignificance, this birthplace of David shall be the birthplace of Messiah. "Shall some forth" is spoken sometimes of birth and descent, as in Genesis 17:6 and Genesis 35:11; at other times it contains merely the notion of proceeding from, as in Jeremiah 30:21. In the present ease both ideas are suitable. Unto me (Jehovah is speaking). To my praise and glory, to do my will. Micah by these words would recall the announcement concerning David made to Samuel, "I have provided me a king" (1 Samuel 16:1), and thus show the typical relation of David to the Messiah (Keil). Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. The meaning of the word rendered "goings forth" (motsaoth) is somewhat doubtful. Septuagint, ἔξοδοι: Vulgate, egressus. The Fathers see in it a declaration of the eternal generation of the Son: he who was born in time at Bethlehem hath an eternal existence. In this case the plural form of the word is a plural of majesty, or an abstract expression (comp. Psalm 114:2, "dominions;" Isaiah 54:2. "habitations"). To Christians, who believe in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the plural would express the continual generation or the Son from the Father from everlasting and to everlasting, never beginning and never ending; as the Council of Lateran says, "Without beginning ever and without end, the Father begetting, the Sen being born (nascens), and the Holy Ghost proceeding." Many commentators take the "goings forth" to be the ancient promises, the revelations of the Angel of the covenant to the patriarchs, the various preparations made in type and history for the appearance of the great Son of David in due time; but this is a forced interpretation of the word. Granted that Micah's contemporaries understood the prophecy to state merely that a Saviour should arise from the lineage of David who traced his descent from hoar antiquity, and might be said to have lived in the days of old, this fact (if it be a fact) does not preclude us, with our more perfect knowledge, from seeing a deeper meaning in the inspired utterance, an adumbration of the nature of that Prince whom Isaiah calls "Everlasting" (Isaiah 9:6), the Word who "was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1, 2). We may note certain contrasts in these two first verses. Zion, "the daughter of troops," is contrasted with the mean and insignificant Bethlehem; yet the former shall be shamefully handled, the latter highly honoured; that one's king shall be dethroned and disgraced, this one's Ruler is from everlasting and to everlasting. To this vision the prophet attaches the last admonition to the rich and powerful men of the nation, to observe the threatening of the Lord before it is too late, impressing upon them the terrible severity of the judgment. Amos 8:4. "Hear this, ye that gape for the poor, and to destroy the meek of the earth, Amos 8:5. Saying, When is the new moon over, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may open wheat, to make the ephah small, and the shekel great, and to falsify the scale of deceit? Amos 8:6. To buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and the refuse of the corn will we sell." The persons addressed are the השּׁאפים אביון, i.e., not those who snort at the poor man, to frighten him away from any further pursuit of his rights (Baur), but, according to Amos 2:6-7, those who greedily pant for the poor man, who try to swallow him (Hitzig). This is affirmed in the second clause of the verse, in which שׁאפים is to be repeated in thought before להשׁבּית: they gape to destroy the quiet in the land (ענוי־ארץ equals ענוים, in Amos 2:7), "namely by grasping all property for themselves, Job 22:8; Isaiah 5:8" (Hitzig). Amos 8:5 and Amos 8:6 show how they expect to accomplish their purpose. Like covetous usurers, they cannot even wait for the end of the feast-days to pursue their trade still further. Chōdēsh, the new moon, was a holiday on which all trade was suspended, just as it was on the Sabbath (see at Numbers 28:11 and 2 Kings 4:23). השׁבּיר שׁבר, to sell corn, as in Genesis 41:57. פּתח בּר, to open up corn, i.e., to open the granaries (cf. Genesis 41:56). In doing so, they wanted to cheat the poor by small measure (ephah), and by making the shekel great, i.e., by increasing the price, which was to be weighed out to them; also by false scales (‛ivvēth, to pervert, or falsify the scale of deceit, i.e., the scale used for cheating), and by bad corn (mappal, waste or refuse); that in this way they might make the poor man so poor, that he would either be obliged to sell himself to them from want and distress (Leviticus 25:39), or be handed over to the creditor by the court of justice, because he was no longer able to pay for a pair of shoes, i.e., the very smallest debt (cf. Amos 2:6).
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