That Mary and Joseph would need to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem was a highly unlikely occurrence from a human perspective. Taxation was common enough in antiquity. It has been common at all periods of history, including our own. But registrations of this type were not common. Besides, there was the timing. Luke tells us that it was while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Why then? Or why during this precise month? Why at the very time that Mary was nearing the end of her pregnancy and was about to give birth? Why indeed? It was so the Scriptures might be fulfilled, and the perfect plan of God in the birth of His Son, our Savior, might unfold on schedule and in detail. Micah had written, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah … out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” And so it was!
In his treatment of Micah, Charles Spurgeon gets quite eloquent at this point, for he asks why the taxation came in this precise way. He answers,
It was Caesar’s whim; but it was God’s decree. Oh! We love the sublime doctrine of eternal absolute predestination. Some have doubted its being consistent with the free agency of man. We know well it is so, and we never saw any difficulty in the subject. We believe metaphysicians have made difficulties; we see none ourselves. It is for us to believe that man does as he pleases, yet notwithstanding he always does as God decrees. If Judas betrays Christ, ‘thereunto he was appointed’; and if Pharaoh hardens his heart, yet ‘for this purpose have I raised thee up, for to show forth my power in thee.’ Man doth as he wills; but God maketh him to do as he willeth, too… Everything is of God; and unto him who guideth the stars and wingeth sparrows, who ruleth planets and yet moveth atoms, who speaks thunders and yet whispers zephyrs, unto him be glory; for there is God in everything.1
The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem shows us many things about God, but chief among them is God’s eternal, predestinating power. God’s choice was Bethlehem, and in Bethlehem Jesus was born.
We come now to the chief part of our text, and it tells us that this prophesied descendant of David was to be no inconsequential person, but a “ruler over Israel.” David was a ruler, of course. So were many of his descendants. But since the fall of Judah to Babylon in 586 B.C., the house and line of David had fallen on hard times. To say that a descendant of David would be a ruler over Israel was therefore to prophesy a great and important restoration. Moreover, it was a summons to faith. For nothing could have seemed less probable of fulfillment for nearly six long centuries.
Yet “when the time had fully come” (Gal. 4:4), God sent His Son to redeem those born under the law and condemned by it, and to rule over them.
There are two reasons why the one prophesied in Micah 5:2 is the legitimate ruler over Israel (and all other persons too). First, He is the eternal Son of the eternal God, and therefore the only absolute and rightful monarch of all persons. This is what Micah was speaking of when he identified him as he “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Jesus was to be a true man, certainly. He was to be born of a true human mother in King David’s kingly line. But He was to be no mere man. He was also to be God, of whom alone it can be said, “[his] origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ,” in The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 2 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 28-29.