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Bethlehem: Light in a World of Unbelief

The Bible does not say when Jesus was born, but it does tell us where and why.

The prophet Micah wrote, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

This is one of the most specifically detailed one-verse prophecies in the Old Testament. Let’s consider what he says. 

This ruler would come out of Bethlehem. This Bethlehem is in Judah—it was “among the thousands of Judah.” Why is this important? There was another Bethlehem in the Old Testament, but it was in Zebulun (Josh. 19:15)! That is specific! Prophecies were not vague, general predictions about the future.

Bethlehem was a small, humble town. This fits perfectly with what Isaiah said about the Messiah in Isaiah 53. Isaiah said He would have a humble beginning: “He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground” (Isa. 53:2). Isaiah also wrote that He would not be surrounded by show and celebration like an earthly king: “He has no form or comeliness (the word “comeliness” means majesty or splendor). “And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:2-3).

This is a prophecy of a future Ruler in Israel.  Some ancient commentators said Zerubbabel was this Ruler; more recent expositors have claimed it was Hezekiah. But these guesses are wrong. This ruler in Israel was to be One “whose goings forth are from of old,” that is, from old or ancient times. 

If Micah had stopped here, there might have been a question about how this Ruler was connected to the past. But he explains: the coming Ruler in Israel has been “from everlasting,” literally, from days of eternity. No human king has proceeded from eternity. This can only mean One who had no beginning because He is from eternity. Jesus came to the earth and took on human form. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).

Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb was not His beginning. His birth was not His beginning. He is the “I am” (John 8:58) who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

This is a prophecy of an individual person, not a prediction about the Jewish nation. Even the Jewish leaders in the first century understood this. When king Herod asked where the Christ would be born, the chief priests and the scribes quickly responded, “In Bethlehem of Judea” and then quoted Micah 5:2! 

This amazingly pointed prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus: “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child” (Luke 2:4-5).

We are living in times of great departure from the Bible. Young people are leaving the faith and turning to atheism and agnosticism. Adults have been hammered with questions from skeptics and have grown weary and doubtful of what they believe. Christians of all ages need to spend some time reading and meditating on prophecies of Jesus to build their faith!

This time of the year millions of people who rarely attend church suddenly get religious as the holidays approach. How many of them have ever considered what the Bible actually says and does not say or emphasize about Christ’s birth? And how many times during the holidays do they hear why Jesus was born—to save sinners (I Tim. 1:15)?

Kerry

West End church of Christ bulletin article December 17, 2023

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