The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the Book of the Twelve, the prophetic writings of Micah. The text is Micah 5:2-5a and is perhaps one of the best known and most specific of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Micah is a younger contemporary with Isaiah and Hosea. In fact, there are portions of Micah which are very similar, even identical to the work of Isaiah. With such important figures prophesying at roughly the same time, this era has often been referred to as “the golden age of prophecy.” It is interesting to consider how some of our most cherished and specific Messianic prophecies come from these three. Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I have called my son…,” Isaiah 7:14, “…a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Immanuel…,” and our pericope for this Sunday, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah…” The timetable for Micah’s work is ≈ 739-693 BC.

The specific site of Bethlehem Ephrathah is very significant. This is the birthplace of King David and so it is important that the “New David” should be born here as well. It does help to point out the Messiah is not to be thought of as another king in the line of David, but rather a new David. He is the sprout from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11) and begins a whole new thing. This is also supported by the language, “…whose origin is from of old, from ancient days,” which reminds us of One who has “no beginning” but has always been. This Messiah is not a continuation—He is the fulfillment and the beginning of something new.

Like Isaiah, Micah provides us with strong incarnational language as it talks about the one who labors and gives birth. In addition, this Ruler, born of a woman, will provide salvation, peace, and restoration. Thus, Micah 5 is a fitting Old Testament text for the last Sunday of Advent. The closer we get to the event, the more information is shared by the OT prophets. So, Micah gives important, detailed information concerning the fulfillment of the Covenant by the One who is coming.

This Ruler, born of a woman, will provide salvation, peace, and restoration.

English translations of this text have a different numbering than the Hebrew (Biblia Hebraica; Stuttgartensia). In English the pericope is Micah 5:2-5a, but in the Hebrew (MT) it is 5:1-4a.

5:2 (MT 5:1)

צָעִיר (tza-Ir) “little; smallest; insignificant”

בְּאַלְפֵי (be-al-Fei) from: אלף (eh-lef) “a thousand; region” Frequently translated with “clan” or “tribe”. Literally: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, insignificant to be with/among the thousands/clans of Judah.”

יֵצֵא (ye-Tze) root: יצא (taw-tsaw) Qal: “to go out; to result; to come forth”

מוֹשֵׁל (mo-Shel) root: משׁל (maw-shal) Qal: “to rule; to have dominion; to reign”

וּמוֹצָאֹתָיו (u-mo-tza-o-Tav) from: מוֹצאה (mo-tsaw-aw) “origins; whose goings forth [are]”

מִקֶּדֶם (mik-Ke-dem) from: קדם (keh-dem) “ancient time; from of old; primeval time; prehistoric time” The idea is this ruler has always been—from before anything else. See John 1:1ff.

מִימֵי עוֹלָם (Mi-Mei o-Lam) “from forever/everlasting”

5:3 (MT 5:2)

יִתְּנֵם (yit-te-Nem) root: נתן (naw-Than) Qal with verbal suffix: “he will give them”

יוֹלֵדָה יָלָדָה (yo-le-Dah ya-la-Dah) “[that] she who labors has given birth; she who is in labor has given birth”

וְיֶתֶר (ve-Ye-ter) from: יתר (yeh-ther) “rest; remainder; remnant”

יְשׁוּבוּן (ye-shu-Vun) root: שׁוּב (shoob) Qal imperfect with a paragogic nun: “to return; turn back; repent”

5:4 (MT 5:3)

וְעָמַד, וְרָעָה (ve-a-Mad ve-ra-Ah) “he shall stand and he shall shepherd/feed [His flock]”

Although the New Testament Scriptures indicate a less than favorable cultural view of shepherds, the opposite is true in the Old Testament. It was widely thought among Jews and pagans that a man could only be a good ruler/leader/king if he had first learned the art of shepherding (for example, see the writings of the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo on the topic). So, in Old Testament writings we note most of the great leaders were first shepherds—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve sons of Jacob, Moses, and most important for this text, King David. This fits in with what has been written in the previous verse concerning the town of Bethlehem (David’s birthplace). The “ruler” from of old who will “shepherd” his people. The Messianic overtones are hard to miss! Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the New David, the One who brings peace, etc.

בְּעֹז. (be-Oz) from: עז (oze) “might; strength”

בִּגְאוֹן (big-on) from: גאוֹן (gaw-ohn) “majesty; eminence; excellence”

אַפְסֵי (af-sei) “end; limit; extreme limit” “to the ends of”

5:5 (MT 5:4) שָׁלוֹם (sha-Lom) “peace”

It is interesting to note the placement of these verses in the greater narrative. They follow beautiful language of rescue and redemption, even restoration, but immediately after, the text shifts to speak about the Assyrians coming into the land and the great difficulties which follow. Yet, 5:7 tells of the remnant who the LORD will deliver. It is a bit challenging to determine which restoration and which remnant as the text moves back and forth. Perhaps it is best to consider how the two (three?) do not exist, nor are they thought of, apart from one another.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Micah 5:2-5a.

Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Micah 5:2-5a.