O Little Town of Bethlehem Micah 5
How the City of David would become the birthplace of hope for the entire world.
The prophet Micah wrote during extremely difficult days in the history of the Jewish nation. Crime was rampant, greed was everywhere, Judah’s leaders were cruel, and righteousness was nowhere to be found. So God was preparing judgment. Yet despite everything, He inspired Micah to encourage the nation: Someone special was coming, and He will change the world.
Micah 5 begins with a prediction of Jerusalem being besieged by invaders from Babylon1 but quickly moves into one of the most important, well-known Messianic prophecies in Scripture, giving hope and assurance of better things:
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. And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace (Mic. 5:2, 4–5).
The Jewish people were being oppressed, robbed, and defrauded by their leaders. But someday God will give them a righteous leader who will “feed His flock in the strength of the LORD.” Though they broke His covenant, God did not cast His people aside permanently.
Hundreds of years earlier, He had promised to establish King David’s throne forever: “Your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). God reminded His people of this promise. He will, indeed, establish David’s throne with someone born into David’s family in David’s own hometown, the Judean village of Bethlehem.
This prophecy was meant to encourage the Judeans, who would see their brethren in the northern kingdom of Israel being swept into captivity by Assyria in 721 BC. Then 135 years later, the Babylonians would destroy the southern kingdom and take them captive as well.
The prophecy itself is amazing in its detail and provides a wealth of information concerning the Jewish people’s future Ruler—the Messiah.
In Brooklyn, New York, resides 770, headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, the branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism once led by the famous Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who passed away in 1994 without ever setting foot in Israel. Many of his followers believed he was the Messiah—so much so that, after his death, they posted banners in Israel with his picture, telling people to prepare for his return as their “King-Messiah.”
When someone at 770 was asked how Schneerson, born in Ukraine, qualified because Micah 5:2 says the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the man replied, “Well, he probably had a relative who came from there.”
But a “relative” does not count. God intentionally and specifically identifies the Messiah’s birthplace as “Bethlehem Ephrathah,” also called “Bethlehem, Judah” (Ruth 1:2). The ancient chief priests and scribes understood this detail because when Herod the Great asked them where the Messiah was to be born, they replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet” (Mt. 2:5); and they quoted Micah 5:2.
Bethlehem, “little among the thousands of Judah” (Mic. 5:2), was so small it was never listed in the biblical accounts of the conquering or apportioning of the land assigned to Judah. It was too small to make the map.
But God has a way of making insignificant things great. Today, next to Jerusalem, it is the best-known town in the Holy Land because it was the birthplace of Jesus, who will one day sit on the throne of His father David for 1,000 literal years as “the One to be Ruler in Israel” (v. 2).
After naming the Messiah’s birthplace, Micah told the Jewish people their righteous Ruler would be God Himself: “Out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (v. 2). The anticipated descendant of David would be no ordinary man. Wrote Bible expositor David M. Levy, “This One, like God, is eternal. The word everlasting means ‘infinite’ or ‘timeless’ in duration and refers to the Messiah’s eternality. This prophecy clearly states that Messiah’s existence predates the universe’s creation.”2 King David’s heir would be “Immanuel, which is translated ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23; cf. Isa. 7:14). This long-awaited Ruler would be both God and Man.
While Micah was in the countryside telling the farmers a God-Man would be born to them in Bethlehem, Isaiah was in the capital city of Jerusalem, saying the same thing:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isa. 9:6–7).
Unfortunately, the time preceding the Messiah’s rule will not be easy. In Micah 5:3, Israel is pictured as a woman in labor. This same visual appears in Revelation: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth” (Rev. 12:1–2). Israel is in pain, trying to birth the Messiah. This prophecy ultimately will be fulfilled when the “male Child who was to rule all nations” (v. 5), returns to establish His never-ending Kingdom.
When the Prince of Peace arrives, He “shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the Lord….For now He shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Mic. 5:4). As He begins His reign as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16), He will minister first to His Chosen People Israel and then to the entire planet; “and this One shall be peace” (Mic. 5:5). Then Israel will finally have shalom, the peace it has craved for centuries.
At the Second Advent, Israel “shall be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many peoples” (v. 8). Some Jewish people today believe the church teaches Jesus will return to destroy Israel. The opposite is true. He will fight for Israel. The nation will have no need for weapons because “all your enemies shall be cut off….I will cut off your horses from your midst and destroy your chariots…and throw down all your strongholds” (vv. 9–11).
Along with providing peace and protection, the Lord will cleanse the land spiritually: “I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no soothsayers. Your carved images I will also cut off, and your sacred pillars….You shall no more worship the work of your hands” (vv. 12–13).
The Millennial Kingdom will be a blessing to the earth as the Messiah reigns over it with justice and righteousness. Unlike the selfish, wicked rulers of Micah’s day, this Ruler will “execute vengeance in anger and fury on the nations that have not heard” (v. 15). Punishment finally will fall on the evil and disobedient as the One born in Bethlehem sits on David’s throne and truly changes the world.
- John A. Martin, “Micah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Victor Books, Wheaton, IL: 1983), 1:1,486.
- David M. Levy, The Ruin and Restoration of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel, 2008), 200–201.