When the Magi asked King Herod where the new king of the Jews was to be born, Herod called the Bible scholars of the day together. Herod, too, wanted to know where. The scholars searched the Scriptures and came up with a location associated with the coming Messiah: Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6; Micah 5:2). The entire Micah segment (5:1-6) is rich with Messianic overtones and resonates with Isaiah 7:13-17 and 9:1-8 (Leslie C. Allen, NICOT, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 339-351). The striking thing is the pinpoint accuracy of an out of the mainstream location from which this unusual ruler will come. Matthew, the Gospel writer, was eager to substantiate almost everything he knew about Jesus the Christ with Old Testament quotations, prophecies and allusions (R. T. France, NICNT, The Gospel of Matthew, 10-14).
The Divine Word With the Micah 5 prophecy, we are in touch with the declaration of God to provide a new kind of ruler, a shepherd who will bring shalom, actually to be shalom for his people. Squeeze the text and an amazing number of messianic descriptions drip out. Micah 5:2-5 is pregnant with hope for a future without violent military oppression and disappointing government. The time references ending verse 2 most likely refer back to the Davidic era (Allen). The parallels with Isaiah 7 and 9 are evident. But we must not lose touch with the Magi’s and King Herod’s core question “Where?” The birthplace of the “king of the Jews” is Bethlehem of Judah.The Human Decree How does Israel’s God, Yahweh, fulfill this prophecy? Here the story gets intriguing. In Luke 2:1-4, Caesar Augustus called for a world-wide census in order to calculate and levy head or poll taxes (France). Caesar Augustus, the “Supreme Ruler,” a god to the Roman world, makes a choice, issues a decree. What this edict does is up-root Joseph and Mary in Nazareth and compels them to Bethlehem, the city of David, because Joseph was in the line of David. So, a mortal man who thinks he’s a god turns out to be a mere agent, a servant to the purposes of the LORD of history, the God of Israel. The traveling required by Joseph and Mary was not convenient or comfortable. On a human level, a political, empirical command moves the world. On the salvation-history level, God is simply fulfilling Micah’s promise. Bethlehem is the intersection of divine, good purpose and human (oppressive) power. On the one hand, a fallen, power-hungry ruler flexes his muscle and unsettles the world. On the other hand, God works all things together for good to those who love God and who are called according to God’s purpose.
Bethlehem Space Let’s go to and live in the little town of “Bethlehem.” Let’s not live in Rome, thinking we rule our own lives and maybe even the lives of others. Let’s not allow mocked “Nazareth” to define our identity (John 1:46). When life gets turbulent and wildly upsetting, let’s remember the place where divine purpose and human choice meet: Bethlehem. Let’s trust the LORD of history. Let’s live beyond the obvious