Where the Messiah would be born.
But as for you Bethlehem, Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from You one will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from everlasting. (Micah 5:1 in the Hebrew Scriptures; in most English translations it is Micah 5:2)
This passage, written around 700 B.C., has been recognized by traditional Jewish sources to indicate that the Messiah would be from Bethlehem. See the references below:
- Targum Jonathan, probably put into writing after 70 A.D. paraphrases Micah's prophecy, Out of thee Bethlehem shall Messiah go forth before me to exercise dominion over Israel;...he whose name was mentioned from before, from the days of creation."
- The Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber.2.41) comments, "... King Messiah is born...he is from the royal palace of Bethlehem."
- The Soncino Press commentary on Micah, as part of The Twelve Prophets volume, has this to say, "This prophecy of the Messiah is comparable with the more famous shoot out of the stock of Jesse prophecy in Isa. xi. To hearten the people in their calamitous plight, Micah foretells the coming of one from Bethlehem (i.e., of the house of David) who, in the strength of the Lord, will restore Israel to their land and rule over them in God's name in abiding peace."
It is interesting to note that the Soncino Press commentary goes on to suggest, "Not that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but that his origin of old, through David, would be Bethlehem." However, it begs the question: if the prophet meant ancestry and not geography, why would such a statement be necessary? Nevertheless, Jesus fulfilled this Messianic prophecy both in terms of his lineage (Luke 3:23-38) as well as his birthplace:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
Critics have said that Mary and Joseph arranged to have Jesus born there to fulfill the prophecy, but the historical events of that day refute that. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth but had to return to Bethlehem to meet the requirements of the census. Joseph (as well as Mary) was from the lineage of King David (Matthew 1:1-17) and that place of family origin is where the count needed to be taken. Interestingly, a petition for tax relief from the Jewish people to Caesar postponed the taking of the census for a period of time, which "allowed" Mary to come to full term and give birth to Jesus while still in Bethlehem. These were not circumstances she could have planned herself.
1. As cited in Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Hendrickson edition, 1993) p. 143, who says that "in an imaginary conversation between an Arab and a Jew, Bethlehem is authoritatively named as Messiah's birthplace."