And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
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.
And thou Bethlehem!
Art not the least!
This suggests a comparison!
Scripture, so it seems, loves to speak in comparison. And especially in this so when it speaks of the works of God, and of things related to the kingdom of heaven. Think of the Lord’s parables, those earthly stories with heavenly meaning. And listen to Paul in I Corinthians 1:27 —”But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” Or page through the Epistle to the Hebrews, where you find again and again your attention is called to that which is better and greater.
So also comparisons are brought to our attention in the Scripture verses appearing above this Meditation.
Thou art not the least!
This implies that Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, is greater than the least among the princes of Judah.
Though thou art little among the thousands of Judah!
This implies that Bethlehem in comparison with the thousands was very small.
To be noticed, too, is that the comparisons made by Micah and Matthew appear to conflict. While Micah, on the one hand, specifies Bethlehem’s smallness—”little among the thousands of Judah,” Matthew, on the other hand, stresses Bethlehem’s greatness—”not the least among the princes of Judah.” The apparent conflict is cleared up when you consider the viewpoint. Micah points up the fact that when the Ruler shall come forth out of Israel He will come out of Bethlehem little among the thousands of Judah, while Matthew’s Gospel points up the fact that though Bethlehem was smallest among the princes of Judah, yet when God fulfills His Word and the Governor is actually born in this little town, it shall no longer be considered little, but great. Unto the end of the ages Bethlehem shall be known for the greatness of the part it played in the scheme of redemption.
Nor should it pass our notice that the text of Matthew is supposed to be a quotation of the text in Micah as it was expressed by the scribes and elders of the Jews.
For wise men from the east had appeared in Jerusalem and before Herod the king with the question: “Where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” And Herod, and all Jerusalem with him, being troubled, demanded of the chief priests and scribes where Christ should be born. And they reply: “In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet—And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah. . .”
Awful indictment against the Jews!
Forced they are to admit that the Christ of Bethlehem is born according to their own Scripture, or they must tear from their Scripture this wonderful prophecy. The latter they cannot do. So they answer for all the Jewish race that Christ is born in Bethlehem according to the Scripture. When they therefore condemn Him of Whom the prophet did write, they condemn themselves in that there can be no other Messiah they could possibly have expected.
Out of Bethlehem shall come forth a Governor!
A Governor Who shall rule over Israel!
Hence, the Ruler out of Bethlehem!
In the fulness of time all things wend their way to Bethlehem!
First of all, God Himself is on His way to Bethlehem in the Person of His Son! He came down from the glorious heights of heaven, and makes Bethlehem the focal point in the universe, according to His all-wise counsel.
Then, because of this, Caesar Augustus, though he knows nothing of the purposes of God, unwittingly issues the decree that must send all who were born of the generations of David to this, little town nestled in the Judean bills to be enrolled for the tax.
Therefore Joseph and Mary proceed from Nazareth of ill repute to comply with Caesar’s decree, in order that Mary’s Child, conceived without the will of man, and God’s Son, may be born there.
Likewise angels, those shining messengers of good tidings, fly swiftly to hover, though it be for a moment, over Bethlehem’s fields to announce the birth of the Saviour, and to preach the very first Christmas sermon, accompanied by a heavenly chorus of alleluias at the birth of the Christ-child.
This glorious announcement sends lowly shepherds, who had been watching over their flocks by night and no doubt often wondering when the promise of redemption would be fulfilled—sends them looking for the Babe that would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger of the smelly cattle stall.
Moreover, lest these lowly of the stock of Israel be the only human witnesses of the miracle of Bethlehem, the God of the universe causes the Star of Jacob to make its appearance in the heavens of the east to Gentiles, to magi, whose vocation it was to study the heavens. And they in turn are sent on a long trek to the land of Judah, via Jerusalem, where they would lay precious gifts at the feet of Him Who is the Lion of Judah’s tribe and to worship before Him.
Yea, even the wicked must eventually go to Bethlehem in the persons of the army of Herod who are bent on slaying the Christ Child Who must be found among Rachel’s children, that the prophecy spoken by Jeremy the prophet might be fulfilled. “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
To Bethlehem, the House of Bread!
From whence, in the days of the Judges, Naomi and her family had gone because there was no bread, evidently believing that God would not be able to supply them, but who is impelled on returning to exclaim: “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty,” in order to return to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest.
Bethlehem of Judah!
Out of the house of David must the Ruler be born! Of David’s seed, and in the royal line of the covenant! This was God’s promise to this man after God’s heart. Of his seed would One rise up Who would sit on the throne of David forever.
And that royal line must come from the tribe of Judah. Thus Jacob in the pronouncement of blessings to his sons had spoken when his fourth son stood before him. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
O, indeed, of Judah Bethlehem is not the least!
So it at first appeared, when in the days of Micah the prophet of the Lord had said that Bethlehem was little, least among the thousands of Judah. Because the Lord was there telling apostatizing Israel whom He would completely vanquish, that out of that little Bethlehem Ephratah would come forth One Who would be Ruler.
But when the Gospel of Matthew points to the fulfillment of that prophecy, Bethlehem is no longer considered among the least. Suddenly Bethlehem comes into prominence. And unto the end of the ages the little town of Bethlehem will be renowned for its gift to the world, even if the enemies of Bethlehem’s Ruler must attest to it.
Out of thee shall come forth one Whose government shall shepherdize my people Israel!
Whose goings forth is from everlasting!
He is not of time, though He is born in the fulness of time. The Scribes and chief priests failed to tell Herod all that Micah had said. Emphatically the prophet had foretold that He would someday come forth out of Bethlehem, out of the land of Judah, thereby suggesting that He would be born out of David’s line. Hence, He would be a Babe-Ruler. But the Person of this Son is not human and a child of time. He is the eternal Son of God. He is of the generations of our race, but He is also before our generations. He is the everlasting God!
He is of God!
He is of God because He is God. He is also of God because He is ordained of God in the eternal decrees. Thus His goings forth have been from everlasting.
Ruler of God’s people!
O, to be sure, there is a sense in which He is Lord of all! For was He not to obtain a Name which is above every name? And was it not so that after He h performed the feat of perfect obedience, obedience even unto death, that He was to have all things subjected to Him, both of things in heaven and things on earth? And every knee would bow before Him and acknowledge that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father? Indeed, He is even now, Lord and Governor of all!
Yet there is a sense in which He may be said to be the Ruler of His people; a people in distinction from all the world, whom God had chosen when He ordained that His Son should be born of a woman and in David’s royal line in the little town of Bethlehem. A people whom He would form for Himself, and which He would call the lot of His inheritance, His portion forever. A people born out of sovereign grace, who had been born in trespasses and sins, and were children of wrath even as the rest. A people who would be born of His Spirit, who would share His life, and who should become the citizens of His heavenly and eternal kingdom.
My people Israel!
Which cannot mean the Jewish nation; for they are not all Israel that are called Israel, nor is he a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart . . .Moreover the Magi, those Gentiles from the east, also belong to His people, His people Israel. They, too, acknowledge Him as their King, and belong to Him as His people. For blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel, both of Jew and Gentile, shall be saved.
Of that people the Ruler out of Bethlehem is both the Deliverer and Shepherd!
Micah describes Him the Ruler Who will govern that people whom He delivers, and whom He delivers by ruling over them. Matthew, on the other hand, describes Him as the Governor Whose rule shall be exercised in such a way that He shall shepherdize this people as a flock. That is, He will lead them by feeding them with His Word and Spirit.
On such an one the Israel of God can set their hope, Who will so instruct, that is, feed them with His Word, thus preparing them to see in Him their Deliverer, Who is able to govern them and lead them into His kingdom, where they shall experience everlasting peace, and where righteousness shall dwell.