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Matthew 2:6 quotes Micah 2:2 as a prophesy concerning Jesus:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.—Micah 5:2 (ESV)

The next two verses seem like they also could apply to Jesus:

Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.—Micah 5:3-4 (ESV)

But what about 5-6?

And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances; and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.—Micah 5:5-6 (ESV)

Is this in reference to Jesus? If so, are verses 5 and 6 about the second coming? Or are they referring to something else?

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Since the question concerns just Micah 5:5-6 (ESV), let's quote that alone:

And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances; and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.

The first thing that jumps out to me is that Assyria fell 605 BC to Babylon and again in 330 BC to Alexander the Great. To this day, there exists an Assyrian culture, but the ancient empire never fully recovered and certainly wasn't a threat to Israel or her occupier. By the time of Christ when, according to Matthew the chief priests and scribes interpreted Micah 5:2 to be an as-yet-unfulfilled prophesy, Micah 5:5-6 had already been accomplished! (Note that for our purposes, it doesn't matter whether Micah 5 was written around 750-700 BCE or in the early 5th century BCE.) So Jewish hermeneutics (at least as represented by Christian sources at the time) weren't especially concerned with interpreting the entire text consistently.

The "seven shepherds" could conceivably refer to the Neo-Babylonian dynasty (either prophetically or retroactively) of seven rulers. More likely, it's a reference to the Ushpizin: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. (It would help to know if that particular tradition of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) is ancient enough to be the meaning here.) The second reading suggests that the "eight princes of men" are either the Neo-Babylonian and early Achaemenid kings, Jewish governors under them, or just a generally-hoped-for group of military leaders.

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Thank you Jon, that's an amazing and informed answer! –  stringo0 Oct 13 '11 at 21:23
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This passage in Micah seems likely to be what Herod's "chief priests and scribes" are paraphrasing in Matthew 2:

4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who will shepherd my people Israel.'"   ESV

Although Micah himself would not have seen this clearly:

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.   1 Peter 1:10-12 ESV

The deliverance in Micah 5:5-6 in the first instance refers to the Assyrians threatening Judah around the time of Micah. By the same logic, the ruler from Bethlehem also probably referred to a contemporary of Micah in the first instance, but in both cases, there is a messianic fulfilment intended in the passage itself, inferred from the loftiness of the language. This 'double fulfilment' is a common feature of prophecy on both OT and NT.

-- edit

As for whether the passage prophesied the first or second coming of the Christ, the OT prophets had little or no concept of the events being separate. From their perspective they could only see one event - this is often illustrated with an analogy of someone looking at two mountains in the distance: he can see the peaks, but from where he is standing they just look like one mountain - you have to climb the first to see the valley between them.

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Thank you for your answer! To clarify, are you saying that verses 5-6 are talking about the first coming, or the second? The reason I ask this is because of the phrase: "they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword" - or maybe I'm reading too much into it? –  stringo0 Oct 11 '11 at 20:52
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Please see my edit above :) –  Jack Douglas Oct 12 '11 at 6:04
    
I learned much from your answer about how prophets interpreted the first and second coming. Thank you! –  stringo0 Oct 14 '11 at 19:58
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As referenced in both Matthew and John, it is a reference to events surrounding Jesus' birth and Jesus himself:

Matthew 2:6

"'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"

John 7:42

Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?

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Thank you for your answer @warren! I'm more unclear about verses 5 & 6 in specific. –  stringo0 Oct 11 '11 at 20:53
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