Eternal Ruler Out Of Little Bethlehem

December 10, 2006 / No. 3336

Dear radio friends,

     Continuing our series on the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ from the point of view of the power of God to accomplish salvation, we turn today to a beautiful prophecy found inMicah 5:2.   There we read these well-known words:  “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

     Micah the prophet lived during the days of Isaiah and good king Hezekiah, days when the fierce kingdom of Assyria was poised to destroy the ten tribes of Israel.  Assyria had also laid siege to Judah.  We read in Micah 5:1 that “he hath laid siege against us.”

     It was because of their sin, the sins of drunkenness, materialism, and the failure to have compassion for each other.  The people of God at this time were boasting in their name, but their heart was far from the living God.  Their lives were filled with everything except repentance.

     In verse 1 the prophet Micah calls the people to congregate, to come together.  He says, “Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops.”  Then he goes on to say that their judges (or their princes) would be shamed before them, they would be dishonored.  “They shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.”

     In strong contrast to this judgment and to this shame:  “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, out of thee will come forth the eternal ruler.”  God will bring the eternal ruler, who will also bring with Him great blessings.  The prophecy of Christ’s birth in Micah is the prophecy of the coming of the eternal Sovereign of all majesty.  Though He would come out of a lowly and little place called Bethlehem, He would come to reign in power and in great glory.

     Words fail us when we begin to think of the wonder of the gift of Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son in our flesh, of the One whose goings forth are from old, even from everlasting, the eternal Son born in our flesh.  Words fail to express the beauty, the majesty, the wonder of the Sovereign God born in such lowliness, growing up, never sinning, sovereignly choosing to lay down His life for those who hate Him.  Let us be amazed at God’s grace.

     And let us look afresh at His coming in the light of Micah’s words, words that tell us that an eternal ruler came out of little Bethlehem.

     Now the Bible itself plainly links Micah 5:2 to the birth of Jesus Christ.  We have that in Matthew 2:1-6, when the wise men, who had seen His star, appeared in Jerusalem and asked where He, the king of the Jews, would be born.  And the scribes, in answer, quote (or misquote, for they change part of it) from Micah 5:2.   The scribes said, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah.”  But that is not what Micah had said.  They misquoted it.  Micah said, “Though thou be little among the thousands of Judah.”  Now, in a moment I want to show you that this really has to do with the whole point about Bethlehem.  But right now, the chief priests in Matthew 2 took the liberty to change what Micah had said, and they say that Bethlehem is not the least of the towns of Judah.  They said that it was a town of distinction.  But the point that Micah was making about the promised Christ was that He was to be born in Bethlehem, a town of no distinction.

     There was another time that this Micah 5:2 prophecy was quoted.  That is found in John 7, where we read, “Others said, This is the Christ.  But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?  Hath not the scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”  They did not know that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem.  They supposed that He had been born in Nazareth.  They did not understand that Jesus indeed had been born in Bethlehem.  So those who were believing were puzzled because they knew that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, but they supposed, mistakenly, that Jesus had been born in Nazareth.

     But now, if we are to understand and worship, we must see that Micah is emphasizing the unlikelihood of His being born in Bethlehem.  The contrast in the verse is between the insignificance of the place of His birth and the great significance of the One who was born there.  “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah.”  The word Ephratah means “fruitful,” and that is another name for Bethlehem—a fruitful place.  Bethlehem was, literally, house of bread.  That is interesting in itself because it tells us that God has ordained the Bread of Life to be born in Bethlehem.  That is, Bethlehem proclaims that He is the fruitful Bread of Life.  But, going back to the point, Micah makes this observation, that Bethlehem was scarcely worth counting among the towns and villages of Judah.  “Though thou be little among the thousands of Judah.”  There were some noteworthy towns in Judah.  But Bethlehem was not one of them.

     Now the question is, Why?  Why does God do this?  He is always doing things for a purpose.  Why does He choose that Jesus be born in Bethlehem?  We might answer that He chooses Bethlehem because it is David’s city, and Christ was to come out of David.  And we say to that, “Yes.”  But we must remember that Micah is pointing here to a reason a bit different from that.  Micah’s point is that He is born in Bethlehem, not because of its fame as the birthplace of a king, but because it was very unlikely that a king would be born in Bethlehem.  If we do not see that, we miss the whole point.

     Where would we expect an eternal Ruler to be born?  Well, Rome, Alexandria, in some great city of the world, some great city even in Judah—Jerusalem.  But not in little Bethlehem, insignificant Bethlehem.  Not in some little hick town that nobody knows about.  You could list off one thousand towns of Judah in Micah’s day, and Bethlehem would not be in the list.  The point is that the people of Bethlehem would not say, “Well, of course He’s born here.  Look at us!  We have a great city here.”  No, God has picked the insignificant.  God has picked what man would not pick.

     God is free.  He is not impressed by any human achievement or worth.  He is never constrained by any human greatness, to be in our debt.  That is how Paul puts it in I Corinthians 1, where he says that not many mighty after the flesh have been called, but God has chosen the weak and lowly things in order that he that glorieth might glory in the Lord.  And that is exactly the point of Micah 5:2.   God is doing a thing in every generation that will give Him the glory and shut our mouths in taking the credit for anything.  God is choosing a way that is least likely, in order to close our mouths, so that we might find all our boasting in Him and not in our proud accomplishments.  God chose a stable, so no innkeeper could boast.  God chose a manger, so no carpenter could boast.  God put Him in swaddling clothes, so that no seamstress could boast.  God saw that He was born in Bethlehem, so that no town, no group of men, could boast and could say to Him, “Well, of course He’s born in Bethlehem.  Where would you expect the King of kings to be born but in our town, our great village.”  No!  Little Bethlehem, insignificant, not mentioned among the thousands of Judah.  Insignificant Bethlehem is where God chose His Son to be born.

     He chose freely, as He chose all the elect.  That is the deepest meaning.  Every aspect of Jesus’ birth drips with God’s pure grace.  God did not choose us because of some merit in us.  It was not that God said, “Well, after all, they are not like other people.  They are pretty good people down there over where you are.  Look at their respectability, their accomplishments, their industry, their thrift.  Well, of course, I will choose them.”  Oh, no!  You and I do not receive the blessings of Jesus Christ because we deserved it, earned it, merited it, or made ourselves worthy of it, or are of better stock than anyone else.  We do not receive forgiveness and glory and salvation because we have made ourselves squeaky-clean and are better than others.  But this is the message of the birth of Jesus Christ:  The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared (Titus 2:11).   The grace of God appeared in the most unlikely place—in Bethlehem, little among the thousands of Judah.

     But as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem nullifies all human boasting, it magnifies God.  Micah said, “Yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel;whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  God says, “My Son, born there, is the eternal Ruler, the One in whom I have placed all power and authority, the One through whom I shall glorify Myself.”  And again, the contrast is here, the wonder of who He is.  That He comes out of Bethlehem, is told us in contrast to the shame-faced judges of Israel being slapped by the Assyrian generals; in contrast to them, a ruler comes who is eternal God—out of little Bethlehem.  “Through His birth, cross, resurrection, and ascension He shall come to Me.  And He shall be Ruler at My right hand.”  Micah is saying, “He is much more than just a king in Israel.  He is not a local hero.  He is not a Palestinian ruler.  He is not a Jewish idol.  But He shall be great to the ends of the earth (v. 4).  He will be King of kings and Lord of lords.”  Don’t let the familiarity of that truth that He is King of kings and Lord of lords be taken away from you in your heart.  He is King.  He is King of Caesar, over the President, over Iraq, over Antichrist, over every lord—demonic and human.

     Notice two things about Him that Micah tells us.

     First, He is eternal God.  “His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  He is able to say, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  He is able to say ( Prov. 8), “When there were no depths, before the mountains were settled, before he had made the earth, I was there.”  As eternal God He entered time.  He who is unbounded, He who is eternal, now bound Himself in the human body.  Everlasting God is a baby, of which men could ask, “How old are you?”

     Second, He comes out of the counsel of God’s grace and unconditional love.  “He shall be a ruler in Israel,” the One who will redeem with His blood and rule by His power and grace the Israel of God, God’s church.  From eternity God’s Son in God’s counsel gave Himself up without a murmuring word, that He might sweat blood and be spit upon and suffer the pain of death on the cross, the agonies of our hell, that we might be God’s children.

     Now, when we consider the majesty and the immensity, the beauty and the glory of God in Jesus Christ, and the unworthiness, sinfulness, and vileness of ourselves, creatures made from the clay, and then consider that God’s eternal Son would so come and so love us, then we cry out, “Glory to God in the highest.”  Then we pause and we wonder:  Who is this that is born in Bethlehem in such lowly, poor, and awful conditions?  He is the eternal Son of God united with flesh.

     Why is He born so lowly?  Because of something in me!  Because I am a filthy sinner.  Why would God do that?  Out of His incomprehensible and unfathomable and glorious love.  God’s love is cause by itself.  Because He would.  Therefore, let all the earth be silent and let all the earth praise Him.

     We can draw out some implications.

     If He has eternally loved us, will He stop?  Will He change His mind?  Will He grow tired of us?  Will He leave off loving us?  No, no, never.  Eternal knows no end.  “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  Our Savior came out of eternal love.  Will He lose me now?  Will I slip out of His fingers?  No, never.  Our salvation is in the eternal Son and out of the eternal love of God.  So we can say with the poem:  “My name from the palms of His hands eternity cannot erase; and pressed on His heart it remains in marks of indelible grace.”  God has fulfilled His promises.  They are sure.

     Micah’s prophecy is intended to underscore that God is the God who multiplies His blessings and fulfills His promise.  The eternal Ruler came out of little Bethlehem.  At that point, it is very important that we see that that promise was necessary in Micah’s day.  Ten tribes were being obliterated.  Ten out of twelve of the people of God were being wiped away.  And it was at that point that the promise is repeated.  When Assyria is pounding at the door and everything appears black and bleak, it took a lot of courage in Micah’s day, when the Assyrians were laying siege to Jerusalem, to declare that the promise of God in Jesus Christ is going to stand.

     And that is how it comes to us today.  In the darkness of our impossibility, as we see sin mounting up around us, God says, “I have made a promise.  I will keep this promise.”  All the promises of God are utterly sure.  And the promise of His Son and of His Son’s second coming in power and great glory is absolutely sure.  This will stand.

     Micah said in verse 4 of chapter 5, “And he shall stand and feed [or shepherd] in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God; and they shall abide:  for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.”  He will stand!  He will shepherd.  He will not leave us without our needs and without spiritual food.  In the strength of the Lord His God, He will take care of us.  And then we shall abide!  Nothing can remove us from the grace and from the love of God.

     We have wonderful peace.  Micah says, “And this man shall be the peace.”  Micah is not speaking here of political peace.  He is not speaking of peace between nations.  The nation of Judah would never see that type of peace.  The peace that He brings is not that there be no more wars on earth, that there never be a repetition of 9/11, that there be no more stock-market crashes.  No, the peace that He brings is a peace with God.  Micah 7:19 puts it this way:  “He will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”  He shall establish peace with God, for He shall take away the real enemy:  our sin.  He shall subdue it and vanquish it and banish it forever.  For now the eternal Ruler who came out of little Bethlehem sits at the right hand of God, and He gives peace—the peace that God is with us, that God is for us, that God will ever hold us, that God’s promises are unshakably sure.

     So look to little Bethlehem and have the sweet and personal assurance that the eternal Ruler, the eternal Son, through the way of the cross, has brought peace, peace with God.  The blessings in Jesus Christ have been multiplied to us.  God is glorified.  All human boasting is nullified, in order that our rejoicing might be in Him and in Him alone.

     Let us pray.

     Father, as we celebrate the wonder of the birth of Thy Son Jesus Christ at this time of the year, we pray that our hearts may be truly humbled before the revelation of Thy eternal and unfathomable love.  We thank Thee that though we deserved it not, Thou hast given Thy Son to suffer and to die in order that we might live forever with Him.  Seal Thy Word unto our hearts in this day.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.