24 December 2014

Micah 5:2-5a

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (v. 2)

Psalm: Psalm 80


Micah is proclaiming his prophetic message to the kingdom of Judah, and its capital city, Jerusalem. It is under threat from the Assyrian army, and Micah has been proclaiming God's judgement on the rulers who have not pursued justice. But woven through the proclamation of doom and punishment is one of comfort and promise. Punishment will not be eternal. Once God's justice is satisfied, there will be peace and divine rule in Jerusalem; there will be a return from exile, and a glorious future.

It is in this second strand - of promise - that our passage belongs. It promises a leader who will be raised up, to bring about this future, and by the first century, it may well have become associated with the idea of a Messiah who would redeem Israel from Roman rule. This is probably its most familiar application for Christian readers, as we are used to hearing it quoted by Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 2:5-6), as part of the story of the coming of the Magi to visit the young Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12).

Bethlehem at this time was, in many respects, a relatively insignificant place. But its one claim to fame is as the town of David's birth. If the Messiah is to be in the line of David, then it makes sense that he be associated also with the town of Bethlehem. Despite its insignificance, it is to have the honour of being the centre of messianic glory.

The image of labour and childbirth in verse 3 refers back to Micah 4:10, where daughter Zion, or Jerusalem, is writhing like a woman in labour. This is a period of pain, of waiting, of suffering. But just as the pain of labour ends with the birth of a new child, the pain of exile and subjection will end with return for the exiles and a new future for the whole people of Israel. And just as a new human life should be a time of hope and expectation, the new beginning for Israel, presided over by the one who comes out from Bethlehem, will be a time of godly rule and of peace.

To Ponder

  • For what have we been waiting? What new possibilities, new beginnings, new hopes might there be in your life and in the life of the Church and world, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem?
  • How might we be faithful followers of one who is "the one of peace" (v. 5)? What does that mean in our world today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.