Theme: Out of Bethlehem
In this week’s Christmas lessons, we look at five Old Testament prophecies and see what details they reveal about the Messiah’s birth.
Scripture: Hebrews 10:7
Now for the fourth section I would like to take you to Micah 5:2. This, too, is a well-known Christmas prophecy because it is quoted in the story of the wise men from Matthew 2. Micah’s prophecy reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
In Matthew 2 the wise men had come from a distance, seeking the King of the Jews. They went to Jerusalem because that was the capital and they arrived at the palace because that’s where they would expect to find a new king. They came to Herod and asked where this King of the Jews was born. Herod didn’t know anybody like that, and furthermore he recognized that it is a danger because if there was someone whom others are regarding as a king, that would be a threat to his throne. He wanted to find out who this king was, so he called in the chief priests and teachers of the law and asked where the Messiah is to be born. They answered Herod with Micah 5:2.
Herod then gave a message to the wise men and told them that when they found the king, they should tell Herod where he is, under the wicked pretense that Herod, too, wanted to go and worship him. Of course the real reason Herod wanted to know the Messiah’s location is that he wanted to kill the child and eliminate a rival to Herod’s throne. At some point, however, the wise men had been warned by God in a dream not to go back to Herod. So they went on their way home by another route. After discovering this, Herod was furious and moved against the infants in Bethlehem by having every child under two years killed, known as the “slaughter of the innocents.”
The prophecy was that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, which is what we would expect since the Messiah was to come from the line of David. But there was a problem. The Messiah was born of Mary, yet Mary and Joseph did not live in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth up in the north. Given how far away they live from Bethlehem, how can it be that this prophecy about the Messiah’s location is going to be fulfilled? Well it is fulfilled in a marvelous way.
Caesar Augustus, the great Roman Emperor, had a quarrel with King Herod and so he determined that the area that Herod controlled from that time on should no longer be governed as an independent kingdom but instead would become an imperial province. This meant that the Emperor would rule directly through whomever he would appoint, and in order to make that transition in government he decreed a registration of all the citizens for the purpose of taxation. Taxation was not unusual of course. Taxation takes place all the time. However, this kind of a registration was very unusual, which God brought about at the precise time when Mary was expecting her child.
If the decree would have come either earlier or later, Mary would have had her baby in Nazareth. But it came at the time when Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to register for the census. Charles Spurgeon notes in one of his sermons that as far as the taxation is concerned, he said it was Caesar’s whim but it was God’s decree. Spurgeon went on to say that everything is of God and under him who guides the stars and sparrows, who rules planets and yet moves atoms, who speaks in thunder and yet also whispers. God controls everything and we certainly see that in the birth announcement of Jesus Christ.
What further point do we learn from the messianic prophecy of Micah 5:2?
From the lesson, what was the difficulty with this part of the prophecy, and how was it fulfilled?
Application: How have you seen specifically God’s sovereign control in your life? Praise him for his goodness and faithfulness.