The great king from Bethlehem
Born in Bethlehem1You’re cutting your own bodies
In desperation and grief.
For invaders surround your city.
And your heroic leader has just been insulted,
Slapped in the face.
2Israel’s new ruler is coming.
He’ll come from Judah’s smallest clan.
And from Bethlehem, called Ephrathah.
His story started long ago,
In very ancient times.
3In the meantime, the LORD will leave Judah helpless.
That will change when the ruler’s mother gives birth.
Then his scattered people will come home to Israel.
4The new ruler will lead Israel
Like a brave shepherd leads the flock.
It will be a wonderful time
For he’ll lead with God’s strength,
And in honor of the LORD.
People will live in safety because of him.
And his reputation will spread.
5The whole world will recognize him
As leader of the peace.
If Assyria invades our country
We will rally our allies,
More than enough to defend ourselves.
6We’ll take Assyria if we want to.
We’ll grab a sword and go to war,
And take Nimrod’s nation.
Our allies would rescue us from Assyrians
If Assyrians dare to step foot on our land.
Jewish survivors, a blessing to the nations7Israel’s survivors will bless the nations
Like dew and rain will nourish the grass.
These blessings come from the LORD
And don’t need to wait on humans.
8These survivors from Jacob’s family
Will become a nation among nations.
Not just any nation,
But a lion among wild animals of the woods,
Or a young lion among flocks of sheep.
The lion tears to pieces anything in its way.
And no one is strong enough to stop it.
9Your sword will win the swordfights.
And your enemies will lose their lives.
Trust God, not the army10When that day comes, the LORD says,
I’ll teach you to trust in me
Instead of trusting your war horses and chariots.
I’ll kill the horses and I’ll destroy the chariots.
11I’ll decimate your cities
And tear down your walls.
12I’ll put an end to your sorcery
And dabbling in the occult.
There’ll be no more consulting the dead.
13I’ll rip down your idols,
Topple pillars at your shrines.
No more worshiping handmade gods.
14I’ll tear out of the ground
Those sacred poles
And destroy every town that has them.
15I’ll fire up my anger,
And unleash my wrath,
And turn it loose on nations that don’t obey.
This first line is hard to understand, which is why Bible versions branch off in so many different directions. The troublesome Hebrew word is gadad. It can mean: cut, attack, assemble the army. If the people are cutting themselves, they might have been praying to Baal, a local Canaanite god. People cut themselves to get his attention (1 Kings 18:28). Or in this case they might have been cutting themselves to express to God their desperation, much like some people do today when they fast and pray.
Micah, more literally, called Judah’s king a “judge.” Micah may have done this to remind the readers about Israel’s famous heroes who came to their rescue when raiders harassed them. Heroic “judges,” as they were called, included: Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. Micah’s point might have been that this judge didn’t pack the punch of the ancients. This judge took a slap to face, whether literal or figurative. And apparently did nothing about it. Samson, not particularly cultured, might have popped someone with the jawbone of a donkey and called him an ass (Judges 15). Deborah might have lured them down to the Kishon River in the Jezreel Valley for a battle in a rainstorm (Judges 14:7).
Maybe not a literal slap to the face. It was insult enough to King Hezekiah when Assyrian invader Sennacherib in 701 BC destroyed many cities of Judah and then lay siege to Jerusalem. The Assyrian left without breaking inside Jerusalem. But he decimated Hezekiah’s reputation as a leader.
Bethlehem was an unlikely place for the next king to get born. Judah’s kings came from David’s family dynasty. The king lived in Jerusalem. It would have been logical to assume his wife would deliver her baby in the palace. Matthew said Jesus fulfilled this prophecy that many Jews still say is about a future Messiah: “Bethlehem of Judea, you’re no smalltime prince of a town. You’re going to produce a king who will lead my people of Israel like a shepherd” (Mathew 2:6).
Bethlehem’s name was linked to Ephrathah (F ruh thuh) as far back as the stories of Genesis. When Jacob’s wife Rachel died, “Her family buried her near the road to the Ephrath, also called Bethlehem” (Genesis 35:19). The name may have come from a family that first settled in those rolling hills, a couple hour’s walk south of Jerusalem.
More literally, “his origin is from ancient days.” That could refer to David, who started a family dynasty some 400 years earlier, in roughly 1000 BC. Amos used that same phrase to talk about David’s kingdom. It’s paraphrased: “There’s coming a day / When I’ll resurrect David’s kingdom / From a mound of ruins and broken rocks / To the good old days of glory” (Amos 9:11). The “good old days” is more literally “ancient days.” Yet some take this reference back to Adam, and to the hope that the new ruler will begin turning humanity back to the way people were before sin stepped in and made a mess.
More literally, they’ll gather “seven leaders and eight rulers.” That sounds like seven generals and eight kings. But that’s probably the wrong guess, some scholars say. The phrase reflects a common Hebrew saying that essentially meant: we’ll spread the word and get all the help we’ll need. In this case, they would rally enough help to push back the invaders and take Assyria if the Jews wanted to.
Bible writers describe Nimrod was the world’s first heroic warrior and greatest hunter (Genesis 10:8-9).
Some scholars say they see in this verse that the LORD’s leader, traditionally viewed by Jews as the coming Messiah, would get involved in God’s plan to draw non-Jews to God. The last line in the verse suggests that the world doesn’t have to wait on humans to develop a strategy to save the non-Jews, known as Gentiles or Goy. Like dew and rain, salvation is God’s business.
When the people of Judah became threatened with war, their leaders seemed to put all their faith in their armies. God became almost an afterthought and a last-minute worship ritual before the battle, with kings asking prophets who would win. Kings didn’t always pay attention to what prophets told them to do. Isaiah warned King Ahaz not to worry about attacks from Israel and Syria. But the king called on Assyria for protection. Judah got protection, but at a steep price: Assyria took their wealth from the Temple treasury, Jerusalem, and scattered shrines (Isaiah 7-8; 2 Chronicles 28:16-23).
Known as Asherah poles. These may have been trees or possibly poles meant to represent trees. They were apparently symbols of a Canaanite fertility goddess known as Asherah, goddess of motherhood. She was the love interest of Baal, chief god of the people who lived in Canaan, now known as Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.