Mic_5:2. Thou, Bethlehem, Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Jutdah, 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.
IN estimating the degree of credit due to prophecy, we naturally ask, Of what kind the prophecies were? Were they numerous? Were the persons who delivered them unconnected with each other? Were the things which were foretold unlikely of themselves to be accomplished? or were they such as might easily, by the united efforts of interested persons, be brought to pass? If they were such only as might be the subjects of reasonable conjecture, or such as might by a confederacy of persons be easily devised and easily fulfilled, they would have but little weight; but if they were inconceivably varied, and absolutely incapable of being either feigned by impostors or fulfilled by friends, they will then carry proportionable evidence along with them. Such then were the prophecies relating to our blessed Lord: they were such as no deceivers could invent, and such as no confederacy whatever could cause to be fulfilled. Many of the most important of them were fulfilled by persons who sought to disprove the pretensions of Jesus to the Messiahship, and who unwittingly established what they laboured to overthrow. Others were accomplished through the instrumentality of persons who could have no conception whatever of the ultimate consequences which their actions would produce. Of this kind was the prediction before us; it declared that the Messiah should be born at Bethlehem; not at the Bethlehem in the land of Zabulon, but at that which was in the land of Judah. This, as will be seen presently, was so generally known, that the parents of our Lord might have known it, if they had been at all anxious to make the inquiry. But so little did they advert to it, that they never thought of going up to Bethlehem, till they were compelled to it by a decree of Augustus Caesar. They were living at Nazareth, and would, if no such unforeseen edict had been issued, have continued there till the birth of Jesus. But the Scripture could not be broken; and God was at no loss to provide means for its accomplishment. He wrought therefore on the ambition of the Roman emperor, and prompted him to exercise his authority over the Jewish people, and to order that all of them should go and be enrolled in the different cities to which they belonged. This constrained Joseph (who was of the house and lineage of David) to go up to his own city, Bethlehem, to be enrolled there: and during his stay there (some unforeseen occurrences probably having necessitated him to continue there longer than he had originally expected), the time for Mary’s delivery arrived, and, contrary to all human expectation, Jesus was born in the city which had been specified by the Prophet Micah seven hundred years before. Thus, whilst the decree of Caesar shewed that “the sceptre was now just departing from Judah,” and, consequently, that the time for the advent of the heavenly “Shiloh was come,” it unwittingly on his part caused the Messiah to be born in the very city which Micah had foretold.
The prophecy itself gives us such a glorious view of Christ, that we shall do well to enter more fully into it. It declares to us,
His advent in time—
Two things the prophet mentions respecting him;
The place of his birth—
[Bethlehem was of itself but a small city, and of little importance when compared with many other cities in the land of Judah; but it was the place of David’s nativity [Note: 1Sa_16:1; 1Sa_16:11-13.], and the place therefore which God ordained for the birth of David’s Son, the Lord Jesus. The prophecy respecting it, we have before said, was generally known, especially among those who were at all conversant with the prophetic writings; so that when Herod sent to the chief-priests and scribes to inquire where the Messiah was to be born, they all with one consent declared that Bethlehem was the destined place, and, in confirmation of their opinion, they cited this very passage which we are now considering [Note: Mat_2:3-6.]. And it is curious enough, that many years afterwards, when the enemies of Jesus insisted that, notwithstanding all his miracles, he could not possibly be the Messiah, they adduced this very passage [Note: Joh_7:41-42.]; which, if their premises had been correct, would have fully supported their conclusion; they knew that Jesus had been brought up at Nazareth; and they supposed he had been born there: and, if they had been right in this conjecture, he certainly could not be the Messiah; since it was ordained of God, that the Messiah should be born at Bethlehem.
This will account for the remarkable care which God in his providence took, that the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem should be placed beyond a possibility of doubt. Perhaps no other event, scarcely excepting either his death or resurrection, was marked with such a variety of evidence as this. First, it was enrolled in the public records of Bethlehem, in consequence of Caesar’s edict. Next, it was attested by an angel announcing it to the shepherds as they were guarding their flocks by night. Next, this testimony was confirmed by a host of angels, who celebrated it aloud in the hearing of the shepherds. Next, it was marked by a star in the east, which conducted the Magi from a distant country to the very spot, and caused those wise men to carry the report of it back to their own land. Next, it was ascertained by the inquiries of Herod, and the united testimony of all the chief priests and scribes, that Bethlehem was of necessity to be the place. And lastly, it was marked by that most extraordinary act of cruelty, the slaughter of all the infants in and around Bethlehem, “from two years old and under;” which measure king Herod adopted, in order to ensure the destruction of Jesus, whom he dreaded as a future rival.
What a confirmation all this is of the Messiahship of Jesus, it is needless to observe.]
The character in which he should appear—
[He was to be “Ruler in Israel.” If we look only at the external circumstances of his birth, we confess, he had not much the appearance of a “Ruler,” seeing that his parents were in so low circumstances as to be able to get no better place for their accommodation than a stable, (though one would have thought that a person in Mary’s situation would have found a thousand females ready to receive her into their houses;) nor any better receptacle for the new-born infant than a manger. Nor in his subsequent life did there appear what we should have expected in a “Ruler.” To the age of thirty he wrought at the trade of a carpenter: and during the three years of his ministry, he went about as a poor man who “had not where to lay his head.” Least of all, in his last hours, did he look like a “Ruler;” since he was treated with nothing but scorn, and put to death as the vilest of malefactors.
Yet even at all these periods, if we look more narrowly, we shall find circumstances that sufficiently declared his dignity. The songs of the heavenly choir at his birth, the miracles he wrought in his life, and the testimony borne to him by universal nature at his death, all proclaimed, that, under the veil of his humiliation, there was a character more than human, and that he was not only a “Ruler,” but “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
The Jews, fixing their eyes only on his external appearance, deny that this prophecy was fulfilled in him. But we answer, that “his kingdom was never intended to be of this world:” it is a spiritual dominion that he was sent to exercise; and such a dominion as no mere creature ever can exercise. He came to establish his throne in the hearts of men, and to bring their very thoughts into captivity to his holy will. And this empire he has established over millions of the human race, even over the whole Israel of God, in every age, and every place. To all of them without exception his will is both the rule and reason of their conduct. If only a thing be declared to be his will, that is a sufficient reason for their doing it, though they should see no other reason: and, rather than not do it, they would all without exception lay down their lives. This dominion he is now exercising over a willing and obedient people: and though Satan’s vassals are infinitely the more numerous at the present day, the time is coming, when “all the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom” of this great Ruler, when “all kings shall fall down before him,” and “all nations shall serve him,” and “his name shall be great unto the ends of the earth.”]
For submission to this great “Ruler” the prophet prepares us, by declaring,
His existence from eternity—
The terms in which this is declared are as strong as the prophet could well use: they are equivalent to what the Psalmist says of Jehovah; “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God [Note: Psa_90:2.].” That Jesus did exist from all eternity is abundantly declared,
In the Old Testament—
[There is a remarkable passage to this effect in the book of Proverbs, where, under the name of Wisdom, Jesus is represented as having been, by the “Father, as one brought up with him, as being daily his delight, and rejoicing always before him [Note: Pro_8:22-31.]” — — — This passage is generally considered by the best commentators as relating to Jesus Christ; and its exact correspondence with the passage just quoted in reference to Jehovah, and with other passages in the New Testament, leaves no room to doubt, but that Jesus is the person there described. In the book of Psalms, we know infallibly that Jesus is the person spoken of, as “of old laying the foundations of the earth,” and as continuing immutably the same to all eternity [Note: Psa_102:25-27.]. We know this, I say, infallibly, because St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, assures us that it was spoken of, and to, the Son; whom the Father addresses also in these decisive terms; “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom [Note: Heb_1:8; Heb_1:10-12.].”]
In the New Testament—
[Our blessed Lord himself frequently speaks of his pre-existent state. To Nicodemus he speaks of himself as having come down from heaven, and as actually existing in heaven even whilst in his bodily substance he was on earth [Note: Joh_3:13.]. To the Jews who thought of him as a mere man like themselves, he says, “Before Abraham was, I am [Note: Joh_8:58.].” And, in addressing his heavenly Father, he prays, “Glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was [Note: Joh_17:5.].” His Apostles uniformly maintain the same language: “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God: the same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was nothing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us [Note: Joh_1:1-3; Joh_1:14.].” This is the testimony of St. John: and that of Paul accords with it, that, whilst “according to the flesh Jesus was of the seed of David, according to the spirit of holiness he was by his resurrection declared to be the Son of God,” even “God over all, blessed for ever [Note: Rom_1:3-4; Rom_11:5.].” In the book of Revelations there is a remarkable passage, where, speaking of our blessed Lord, the beloved Disciple attests his character in these expressive words; “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty:” and then he introduces that same Jesus speaking personally to him, and saying, “Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore; Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death [Note: Rev_1:8; Rev_1:17-18.].”
From all these testimonies then, we are prepared to welcome the advent of this august Ruler, in the language of the Prophet Isaiah; “To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace: and of the increase of his government arid peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever [Note: Isa_9:6-7.].”]
That we may suitably improve this subject,
Let us adore this divine Saviour for his condescension and love—
[How wonderful is it that such love should ever be shewn to the children of men! that the Son of God, “Jehovah’s fellow [Note: Zec_13:7.],” who was “one with the Father,” “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Heb_1:3.],” who “was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, should yet make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, should humble himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Note: Php_2:6-8.]!” How wonderful, I say, is this! and scarcely less wonderful, that we, towards whom this stupendous effort of love and mercy has been exercised, should feel so little, even whilst we profess to believe it, and to make it the foundation of all our hopes. But let us muse upon it; let us muse, till the fire kindle, and we speak with our tongues the wonderful works of God. Nothing but this is heard in heaven: and nothing but this should he heard on earth. Methinks there should be but one song heard amongst us day or night; “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing [Note: Rev_5:12.].”]
Let us submit to his government—
[Do we look for salvation through our adorable Emmanuel? Let us not forget that he came to be “a Prince as well as a Saviour,” a “Ruler” as well as an Instructor. Let us willingly receive him in this character, and cheerfully dedicate ourselves to his service. Let us be his subjects, not in name, but in truth; not by an external profession only, but an internal surrender of our souls to him: let us do this, not by constraint, but willingly; not partially, but wholly, and without reserve. This is our first duty; this is our truest happiness; this is the way in which he expects us to requite him for all his condescension and love; and it is the only way wherein we can manifest our sense of the obligations he has conferred upon us. “He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works:” let him find in us such a people; and he will then “see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.”]