The close connection of this verse with what immediately precedes (Caspari is wrong in considering iv.9-14 as an episode) is evident, not only from the [Hebrew: v] copulative, and from the analogy of the near relation of the announcement of salvation to the prophecy of disaster in the preceding verse (for if the connection with ver.14 be overlooked, the announcement of disaster contained in it remains without a corresponding consolation, -- and this would be against the analogy of vers.9, 10, 11-13); but more strikingly so from the contrast of the [Hebrew: mvwl biwral] with the [Hebrew: wpT iwral]. The Judge of Israel in his deepest abasement, is here contrasted with the Ruler of Israel in His highest divine glory. The connection is seen also in the indication of Bethlehem's natural littleness, as contrasted with the greatness to be bestowed upon it by God. What could have induced the prophet thus strongly to point out this circumstance, had it not been that he considered Bethlehem as the type of the Jewish people in their misery, described in the preceding verse, and the miraculous elevation of the former, to be accomplished by divine omnipotence, as the pledge of a like result for the whole people? There is, moreover, a reference to the beginning of the pretended episode. In iv.9, it was said: "There is no king in thee;" here, it is announced that from Bethlehem there comes forth a glorious Ruler in Israel. But, on the other hand, there is also a close connection with ver.8, as has been rightly perceived by Caspari. This connection and reference are sufficiently indicated by the like form. The address to Bethlehem here corresponds with the address to "the Tower of the flock" there, -- the "Ruler," [Hebrew: mvwl], here, with the "dominion," [Hebrew: mmwlh], there. There, the dominion returns to the house of David; here, the august person is described by whom this return is effected, after the events, described iv.9-14, have come upon the Covenant-people. That the Ruler here comes forth out of Bethlehem, corresponds with iv.8 in so far as there the dominion returns to the Tower of the flock, to the hill of the daughter of Zion, which implies the overthrow of the Davidic kingdom, and the return of the family of David to the condition in which it lived at Bethlehem before the time of David, -- which must necessarily precede its final glory. -- According to Bachiene [Pg 481] ii.2, S.7 ff., Bethlehem and Ephratah are to be distinguished, so that the former designates the town alone, and the latter at the same time its whole environs, -- so that Bethlehem Ephratah would be equivalent to Bethlehem situated in Ephratah. But even if we were to agree with this opinion, we must not, by any means, consider the two words as standing in the stat. constr., any more than the corresponding [Hebrew: bit-lHM ihvdh ] in Judges xvii.9, xix.1, 2, 18. For as a Nomen proprium is equivalent to a noun with the article, it can never stand in the stat. constr. with another noun. We should thus be obliged to assume that, by way of brevity, common in geographical designations, both appellations were placed unconnectedly beside each other, without any indication of their relation, just as in addressing a letter, we would simply write Berlin, Prussia. But if we compare Gen. xxxv.19, where Ephratah is simply declared to be identical with Bethlehem ([Hebrew: aprth hva bit lHM]); -- and if we consider that the prophet had already alluded to the contents of that chapter (compare remarks on iv.8), and that he regards the events which formerly happened in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem as a type of those which were to take place in future; -- that in ver.2 (3) he brings the new birth which is there to happen in parallelism with one which had formerly occurred in its nearest neighbourhood, and that it is just in the account of the latter that the designation occurs, -- we shall have the strongest reason for understanding here also the two names as a designation of the town, without deciding whether the above-mentioned difference, as regards other passages, be well founded or not. Interpreters commonly assert that the sole ground of the twofold designation of the place is the intention of distinguishing it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun; compare Josh. xix.15. But in that case, we should rather have expected the common Bethlehem Judah, instead of Bethlehem Ephratah. There can be no doubt, that the prophet, in choosing this designation, was guided by a regard to that passage in Genesis. One might also suppose that the prophet wished to allude, at the same time, to the appellative significations of these nouns, viz., "house of bread," and "field of fruit," and to lay stress upon their typical import: the place, the blessing of which, as regards temporal things, is indicated by its name, shall, at some [Pg 482] future time, be blessed and fruitful in a higher sense. It is just in Micah, who is fond of making significant allusions to names, that such a supposition is very natural, as is shown, not only by chap. i., but also by vii.18, where he gives an interpretation of his own name. As, however, the two names elsewhere also occur thus connected, without any attention being given to their signification, the prophet would not have omitted giving a hint upon this point. It is not the way of Scripture to make any allusions which cannot be understood with certainty. We shall, therefore, be obliged to suppose that, after the common name, the prophet mentions, in addition, the ancient name rendered sacred by memory from the time of the Patriarch, and by the authority of the most ancient documents of revelation (compare, besides Gen. xxxv.19, Gen. xlviii.7), in order thereby to impart greater solemnity to the discourse, and to intimate what great things he had to say of Bethlehem. In accordance with this designation by two names, is, then, the circumstance that the address is directed to Bethlehem. -- The word [Hebrew: ceir] forms an apposition to Bethlehem: "little to be," instead of, "who art too little to be." If the sense were to be, "thou art little," the [Hebrew: ath] would not have been omitted after [Hebrew: ceir]. The circumstance that Bethlehem is addressed as a masculine (comp. [Hebrew: ath], [Hebrew: ceir], and [Hebrew: mmK]) may be accounted for by the prophet's viewing the town in the image of its ideal representative; compare remarks on Zech. ix.7. In such a case, the gender may be neglected; compare, e.g., Gen. iv.7, where sin, [Hebrew: HTat], appears as a masculine noun, on account of the image of a ravenous beast. Such personifications occur very frequently. Thus, nothing is more common in the Mosaic law than that Israel is addressed as one man. This has been frequently misunderstood, and, in consequence, that which refers to the whole people has been applied to the single individual. Thus it is even in the Decalogue. In Is. v.7, the people of Judah appear as the man Judah.
The littleness of Bethlehem is sufficiently evident from the circumstance of its being left out in the catalogue of the towns of the tribe of Judah, in Joshua (compare Bachiene, Sec.192). This induced the LXX. to insert it in Josh. xv.60 along with several other towns which had been omitted; and, in doing so, they were probably guided, not so much by a regard to its outward [Pg 483] importance, as by the interest which attached to it from the recollection of an event of former times (compare Gen. xxxv.), from its being the birth-place of David, and still more, from the prophecy under consideration, by which the eyes of the whole nation were directed to this place, outwardly so unimportant. The assertion of Jerome, that the Jews omitted the name in the Hebrew text, in order that Christ might not appear as a descendant of the tribe of Judah, has received from Reland (S.643) a more thorough refutation than it deserved. Keil, in his commentary on Joshua, has lately renewed the attempt to prove, from internal reasons, the genuineness of the addition; but, from the whole condition of the Alex. Version, it is very dangerous to trust to such arguments. The very reasons which Keil brings forward in support of the addition, are just those which might have induced the LXX. to make it. The circumstance that they added to Bethlehem the name Ephratah, plainly indicates the reason which induced them to introduce Bethlehem specially. Bethlehem is likewise omitted in the catalogue of the towns of Judah, in Neh. xi.25 ff., and can therefore have occupied among them a very low place only, although it is mentioned in Ezra ii.21, Neh. vii.26. In the New Testament, it is called a mere village ([Greek: kome], John vii.42). Josephus, indeed, occasionally gives it the title of a town (compare Luke ii.4, 11); but, in other passages, he designates it by [Greek: chorion], Ant. v.2, 8. -- [Hebrew: ceir lhivt] means properly, "little in reference to being," instead of, "too little to be," -- the wider expression being used to indicate the relations of the town to the being, where we use the more limited expression. -- Instead of the "thousands of Judah," [Hebrew: wri alpiM] ought to have been employed, as it appears, in order strictly to maintain the personification. The representative of Bethlehem is too small to be numbered among the heads of Judah. Several expositors (J. D. Michaelis, Justi) have thereby been induced to point [Hebrew: balpi] instead of [Hebrew: balpi]. But this supposed emendation is set aside by the consideration that [Hebrew: alvP] is only the special designation of the Edomitish princes, and occurs in a general sense, only by way of Catachresis, in Zechariah, who lived at a time when the Hebrew language was nearly extinct. The most simple explanation is, that the prophet views the thousands, or the families of Judah, no less than the town Bethlehem, as ideal existences; in which [Pg 484] case, the personification is maintained throughout. Moreover, there would not be any insurmountable difficulty in the way of supposing that the prophet had given up the personification; for these are frequently not strictly adhered to by the prophets, who constantly pass from the figure to the thing prefigured. This may be at once seen from the preceding verse, in the first clause of which, Zion appears personified as a woman, while immediately afterwards there follows, "against us." -- [Hebrew: alP], "thousand," is frequently used for designating a family, because the number of its members usually consisted of about a thousand; compare Num. i.16, where it is said of the twelve princes of the tribes: "Heads of the thousands of Israel are they;" Num. x.4; Josh. xxii.14, 21; Judg. vi.15; 1 Sam. x.19. On the division of Israel into thousands, hundreds, etc. -- a division which existed before the time of Moses -- compare what has been advanced in my Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch, ii. p.341 sqq. It is self-evident that the thought here is, that Bethlehem is too little to constitute a thousand by itself. Communities, however, which were not sufficiently numerous to constitute, by themselves, a generation or family, were reckoned with others, and formed with them an artificial generation, an artificial family; for the divisions of generations and families were, owing to the great significance which numbers had in ancient times, connected with numerical relations. An instance of this kind occurs in 1 Chron. xxiii.11, 12, where it is said of four brothers that they had not sons enough, and were, for that reason, reckoned as one family only. Being merely part of a generation, Bethlehem had no place among the generations. The sense is clearly this: Bethlehem occupies a very low rank among the towns of the Covenant-people, -- can scarcely show herself in the company of her distinguished sisters, who proudly look down upon her. -- It is altogether a matter of course that [Hebrew: ica], "to go out," may be used also of "being born," of "descent," inasmuch as this belongs to the general category of going out; compare, e.g., 2 Kings xx.18. We must, however, confine ourselves to the general idea of "going forth," "proceeding," and not consider Bethlehem as the father of the Messiah. In opposition to Hofmann, this is proved by Caspari, from Jer. xxx.21: "And their governor shall proceed from the midst of them;" and from Zech. x.4. [Pg 485] -- [Hebrew: ica] is without a definite subject. It is best to supply "one," which is evidently implied in what follows. The construction, which might otherwise appear somewhat strange, has been occasioned by the desire of making perceptible, by the very words, and their position, the contrast between the divine greatness and the natural littleness of Bethlehem: --
Thou art little to be among the thousands of Judah; -- From thee shall come forth unto me, to be a Ruler in Israel.
From a place which is too little to form a single independent member of the body, the head proceeds. From this contrast appears also the reason why it is said, "Ruler in Israel," while we should have expected to hear of the Ruler of Israel [Greek: kat' exochen], -- a circumstance on which Paulus lays so much stress in opposing the Messianic interpretation. -- Had the prophet adopted the latter expression, not only would this contrast have been less striking, but the other also, which is likewise intended, viz., the contrast with the Judge of Israel, in the preceding verse, who loses his dignity. The prophet was, in the first instance, concerned more about the genus than the individual, -- more about the idea of dominion in general, than about the mode and kind of it. The individual is, afterwards, however, partly in this verse itself, partly in the following verse, so distinctly characterized, that he cannot be by any means mistaken. Nothing more, it is true, is implied in these words, than that, at some future time, there would come forth from Bethlehem a Ruler over all Israel; and if these words stood isolated, and if it could be proved that, after the time of Micah, there came forth from Bethlehem a Ruler over all Israel, besides the Messiah -- a thing which, however, cannot be proved -- then, indeed, it might be questionable which of the two to choose. Caspari's exposition, "Will he come forth," has this against it, that, in the preceding verses, the Messiah was not yet spoken of, and, hence, that He cannot simply be supposed as known; and least of all -- if the acquaintance with Him were to be supposed from other passages -- could He have been introduced with a simple unaccented he: the [Hebrew: hva] could not have been omitted in this case. The case in iv.8 is but little analogous, for the subject in [Hebrew: tath] is there an indefinite one. -- [Hebrew: li] is, by several interpreters, referred to the prophet. Thus Rosenmueller, [Pg 486] following Michaelis, says, "To me, i.e., for my good, the prophet says, in the name of his whole people." But the reference to God is required by the contrast between human littleness and divine greatness. Calvin remarks on it: "By this word, God declares that His decree to give up the people was not such, that Tie should not be willing to restore them after some time. He therefore calls the faithful back to Himself, and reminds them of His counsel, just as if He said, 'I have indeed rejected you for a time, but not so as that I am not filled with compassion for you.'" The import of the [Hebrew: li], viz., that God could exalt that which was low, the believer saw, in a type, in David; and there is no doubt that the prophet was anxious indirectly to refer them to this type, and thereby to strengthen their faith in the promise, which appeared almost incredible. He (David) had been a native of the humble, little Bethlehem, the youngest among his brothers, without power, without renown. In order that the [Hebrew: li] might become the more evident, the Lord, at his election, gave such a direction to the circumstances, that this, his natural lowliness, might be most strikingly exhibited. It was God who raised him from being a shepherd of lambs, to be a shepherd of nations.
In contrast with the Messiah's human and lowly origin. His divine and lofty dignity is prominently brought out in the last words of the verse, -- a contrast similar to that in the case of Bethlehem, to which the prophet thereby refers. Here also, the prophet has so clearly expressed the contrast by the words themselves, that, upon the homines bonae voluntatis among the interpreters of all ages, it has most forcibly impressed itself. Thus, e.g., Chrysostom, demonstratio adv. Judaeos et Gentiles, quod Christus sit Deus, opp. T. V., p.739: "He exhibits both Godhead and manhood. For in the words, 'His goings forth are from the beginning, from the days of eternity,' His existence from all eternity is revealed; while in the words, 'Shall come forth the ruler who feeds My people Israel,' His origin according to the flesh is revealed." A more minute inquiry into the meaning of these words must begin with the investigation of [Hebrew: mvcativ]. The greater number of interpreters agree in this, that [Hebrew: mrcah], the feminine form of the more common [Hebrew: mvca] here denotes the action of the going forth. But this is opposed by the following considerations.1. The use of the plural. Those especially [Pg 487] who here think of the eternal going forth of the Son from the Father, cannot by any means Justify it. Several among them consider it as plur. majest. Thus, e.g., do Tarnovius and Frischmuth, in the Dissert. de Nativitate Messiae, in the remarks on this passage, Jena 1661. But although such a plural exists, indeed, in Hebrew, and many traces of it are to be found (compare my Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch, i. p.267 ff.), it could appear here, of course, in the suffix only, not in the noun. Others suppose that the plural stands here simply for the singular. Now, there are, it is true, three cases in which such does apparently take place: -- the first, when a definite individual out of the multitude is meant, -- when accordingly, not the number, but the general idea only is concerned; -- the second, when a noun in the plural gradually loses its plural signification, because the etymology and original signification have become indistinct; -- the third, when the plural stands for the abstract. Not one of these cases, however, is applicable here. Those interpreters have most plausibly removed the difficulty who understand [Hebrew: mvcativ] to be really a repeated act of going forth, and refer it to the Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of the Lord. Thus Jerome: "Because He had always spoken to them through the prophets, and became in their hands the Word of God." Tremellius and Junius: "The goings forth, i.e., the declarations and demonstrations of, as it were, a rising sun; He from the very beginning revealed and manifested Himself to all created things, by the light of His word, and the excellency of His works; just as the rising sun manifests himself from the moment of his rising, by the light and its effects." Cocceius: "I cannot, however, be persuaded to believe that the plural [Hebrew: mvcativ] is here used without emphasis. For the Son has not gone forth from the Father, like a man from a man, who begins to exist only when he is brought forth from a man, and when he goes forth, ceases to be brought forth and to go out. In all the days of eternity, the Son proceeds from the Father, and is the eternal [Greek: apaugasma tes doxes autou]." But this circumstance is, in general, against this explanation, that the contrast with the going forth from Bethlehem, which is completed in one act, does not admit of the mention of a manifold going forth, and that, in this contrast, the arising, the origin of the existence of the Messiah, can alone be thought of; while, more specially, Jerome, [Pg 488] Tremellius, and Junius, who, with Piscator also, limit the going forth to the relation to created things only, are contradicted by [Hebrew: mimi evlM], by which the going forth is placed beyond the beginning of creation; and Cocceius, by the fact that the [Hebrew: mlaK ihvh] in the Old Testament, differently from the [Greek: Logos] in the New Testament, appears always as going forth from God, in relation to the world only. But although the "time of old and the days of eternity" should be considered as the place of the going forth, yet the plural cannot be explained, as is done by Caspari, from the circumstance that "a person is always descended from several;" for the transferring of such a usus loquendi to a relation, to which in itself it is not applicable, could be admitted only when it could be demonstrated to be altogether common and firmly established. But the plural might indeed, although only with some difficulty, be vindicated and accounted for from the circumstance, that two points of going forth are mentioned, which, as it were, suppose a twofold act.2. But even if the singular were used, the explanation of the act of going forth would not be admissible. It is contrary to the idea of nouns with [Hebrew: m], that they could be used as nomina actionis. It is only with writers living at a time when the language was dying out, that a few instances of this erroneous use can be found. [Hebrew: m] denotes the place where, the instrument wherewith, the time wherein, and perhaps the way and manner whereby, something is done, or is. Further -- It may signify also the thing itself which is done, or is; but, in no writer of the living and flourishing language, does it ever denote the action itself. Caspari, indeed, attempts to prove that "there occurs in the older books a number, by no means inconsiderable, of nouns with [Hebrew: m], which undeniably denote an action;" but what he has advanced on this point requires still to be minutely sifted, and to be more closely examined; compare, e.g., on Num. x.2, my pamphlet on "The Day of the Lord," S.32. But we are quite satisfied with what is granted by Caspari himself (compare Ewald's Lehrbuch d. Hebr. Spr. Sec.160), that it is against the nature and common use of this form to denote the action. Even by this concession, a presumption is raised against the correctness of an interpretation which would ascribe to [Hebrew: mvca], here, and in other passages, the signification of going forth, viewed as an action. The passages quoted by Winer in favour of the signification, egressus, [Pg 489] are the following: 1. Hos. vi.3, where it is said of the Lord [Hebrew: kwHr nkvN mvcav], "firm like the morning-dawn is His going forth." But [Hebrew: mvca] is there, not the action, but the place and the time of the going forth, as is evident from the word "firm" also.2. Ezek. xii.4: "And thou shalt go forth at even in their sight, [Hebrew: kmvcai gvlh]." Several interpreters agree that [Hebrew: mvca] here signifies the kind and mode of the going forth. Vatablus says, "It denotes the deportment of him who goes forth, and means, Thou shalt go forth in sorrow, and indignant." But it is better, with Haevernick, to refer it to the time: "According to the goings forth of prisoners, at the time when emigrants of this kind prefer to go forth from their places." 3. Num. xxxiii.2: "And Moses wrote down [Hebrew: at mvcaihM], 'the places of their goings out.'" 4. Ps. xix.7, it is said of the sun: [Hebrew: mqch hwmiM mvcav], "from the end of the heaven is his going forth," which is tantamount to -- The end of the heaven is the place from which he goes forth.5.1 Kings x.28: [Hebrew: vmvca hsvsiM awr lvlmh mmcriM], which De Wette translates, "And the export of the horses which Solomon had, (was) from Egypt." But a more accurate translation is, "And the place of coming forth of the horses which Solomon had was Egypt," or, more literally still, "from Egypt," -- a concise mode of expression for, "The place from which the horses of Solomon came forth was Egypt," -- just as in the preceding example. In proof of the signification, "action of going out," Ch. B. Michaelis refers, moreover, to 2 Sam. iii.25, where De Wette translates, "Thou knowest Abner, the son of Ner; he came to deceive thee, and to see thy going out and thy coming in, and all that thou doest." But a more accurate translation would be, "The place from which thou goest out, and to which thou art going;" compare Ezek. xliii.11. In all other passages -- and these are rather numerous -- the signification "place of going out," or "that which goes out," is quite obvious. Even Caspari grants that the signification "place of going out" has, a priori, the greatest probability in its favour. -- To this it may be added, that the signification "place of going out" is recommended here, even by the contrast with what precedes, inasmuch as there Bethlehem, is mentioned as the place from which the Euler in Israel is to come forth. With this place of going out, another and a higher one is contrasted. This contrast also shows us how the [Hebrew: MN] [Pg 490] in [Hebrew: mqdM] and [Hebrew: mimi evlM] must be understood, viz., in the same manner as [Hebrew: nN] in [Hebrew: mmK]; for the evident reference of [Hebrew: mvcativ] to [Hebrew: ica li] shows that it must correspond with it. Hence the literal translation would be, "And His places of going out are from the times of old, from the days of eternity," which is equivalent to -- The places from which He goes forth are the times of old, the days of eternity, -- just as in the two passages, Ps. xix.7; 1 Kings x.28. The [Hebrew: mN] might very well have been omitted; but its insertion here has arisen chiefly from a desire to make the reference to the corresponding clause outwardly also more perceptible. This reference shows also, that the explanation of [Hebrew: mN] by prae, which was proposed by Pococke and others, is inadmissible, besides involving an absurdity, inasmuch as nothing can be before eternity; while, on the other hand, this reference alone affords a satisfactory explanation of the plural. According to it, the words, "From the time of old, from the days of eternity," contain a gradation. First, the existence of the Messiah before His birth in time, in Bethlehem, is pointed out in general; and then, in contrast with all time, it is vindicated to eternity. This could not fail to afford a great consolation to Israel. He who hereafter, in a visible manifestation, was to deliver them from their misery, was already in existence, -- during it, before it, and through all eternity.