Continued from Chapter 29
Micah 5:1 states: “But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, who are little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall one come forth to Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.”
Except for the birth reference found in Luke (2:4-7) everything points to Jesus being from Nazareth. In any case, being born in Bethlehem is of questionable value in establishing messianic credentials for Jesus. So many essential qualifications, as found in the Prophets, were not fulfilled by Jesus that having been born in Bethlehem would be of no consequence whatsoever. Christians go further than simply saying that the Messiah has to be born in Bethlehem. They claim that the Messiah is shown in this verse to be an uncreated, eternal being that would be physically born.
This interpretation is to be found in the King James Version and in many other Christian renderings, but by no means in all. It renders this verse as “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Interestingly the Hebrew text says literally: “from you to Me will come forth” not “from Me to you.” This shows that the Messiah is not conceived and born in some supernatural way as generated from God to someone or someplace. He who is to be the Messiah will come out of the Davidic heritage originating in Bethlehem to become worthy of the office by coming close to God.
How should one render the Hebrew phrase miqedem mi-yemei ‘olam.
The first word, mikedem, means “from of old,” “from antiquity” (cf. Micah 7:20). The next two words indicate a period in the indeterminate distant past, “from the distant past,” “from ages ago,” “from eternity.” The problem here is to determine what the word ‘olam means in the context of verse 1. In most cases it means “eternal,” but in many cases it has the meaning “for a long time” (either in the past or in the future). The prophet uses the word ‘olam in 5 contexts as well. In Micah 2:9, ‘olam may mean “forever,” or an “indefinite long period into the future.” In Micah 4:5 the phrase l‘olam va‘ed means “forever and ever” and in 4:7 the phrase ve‘ad ‘olam means “even forever.”
However, in Micah 7:14 the phrase kimei ‘olam is used in a definitely non-eternal sense, “as in the days of old [‘olam].” Therefore, there is a degree of uncertainty in the precise meaning within the context of Micah 5:1. This verse refers to the Messiah, a descendant of David. Since David came from Bethlehem, Micah’s prophecy speaks of Bethlehem as the Messiah’s place of origin. The text does not necessarily mean the Messiah will be born in that town, but that his family originates from there. From the ancient family of the house of David will come forth the Messiah, whose eventual existence was known to God from the beginning of time. The prophet does not speak of a pre-existent Messiah, but of one who is, so to speak, contemplated in the mind of God. This is what is also meant in the midrashim which speak of the Messiah as being born or originating before the creation of the world. Thus, we find the statements: “The Fathers, Israel, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah arose in the thought [of God] to be created”1 and “You find that at the very beginning of the creation of the world, the king Messiah had already come into being, for he existed in God’s thought even before the world was created.”2 It should be noted that the Jewish Scriptures intimate that souls have an independent existence that precedes that of the person’s birth (Jeremiah 1:5). If that is the case, the soul of the Messiah exists even before his body does, as all other souls do.
In sum, the Messiah is “from ancient days” in the sense that he was created “in God’s thought.” The Messiah is not a pre-existent being, but that he eventually will play a role in Israel’s future is a thought contemplated by God. This will someday be actualized in the wholly human Messiah whose every action is foreseen in the mind of God.
1 Bereshit Rabbah 1:4.
2 Pesikta Rabbati, “I even I, am He that comforts you,” 33.6.