Matthew, Magi, Micah, Megalomania and a Messiah

The birth of Jesus has turned everything inside out. Perhaps, more accurately, it has exposed everything for what it is and signalled that all things will be put right. Matthew’s intention in quoting Micah is to show us far more than a simple prediction of the location of the birth of Jesus – he demonstrates how far the Kingdom of Israel and its kings have fallen and been distorted and just what the solution to this tragic situation is – the Messiah has been born and all things may be restored in Him.


Please excuse the alliteration in the title but it was too good an opportunity to miss.
I’ve been thinking about something for almost a month now, ever since our student minister preacher another cracker of a sermon – this time in our Advent series. We’d spent a few weeks thinking through some of the ways that the Old Testament foreshadows the coming, the advent, of Jesus. Tim had preached on Micah 5, Peace.
Micah 5 is, of course, the passage that Matthew draws our attention to in chapter 2 as the Magi arrive at Jerusalem looking for the Christ:

Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

So what’s going on here? I want to suggest that it’s far more than simply a straight prediction of where the Christ is to be born. Matthew points us to the Micah quote in order to make a clear statement about the events he is describing. In order to understand the deeper implications of this we need to spend a bit of time in Micah itself.
Micah was written around the same time as the early events of Isaiah (see Mic. 1:1). The pressing issue of the day is the impending Assyrian invasion which we see recorded in 2Chron. 32. King Sennacharib moves down upon Jerusalem and threatens it with destruction, speaking words that mock King Hezekiah and the LORD God. Into this situation Micah prophesies,

Micah 5:1 Marshal your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. 2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins  are from of old, from ancient times.” 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace.Hezekiah eventually leads the people in a prayer of repentance to God who delivers them.

God promises, through Micah, a King who will not fail as Hezekiah had previously done. It is clearly a prediction of the Messiah, the Christ, and although the prophesy goes on to speak of relief from the Assyrian invaders there is far more in view here.
But consider the parallels as Matthew draws our attention to this critical point in Jerusalem’s history. Now, Herod is on the throne and he is, by any account, a far worse king than Hezekiah ever was on his bad days and so the situation is even more grevious. Once again Gentiles (the Magi) arrive at Jerusalem and throw the city into uproar with a direct challenge to the King upon the throne.
But press a little deeper and the parallels become deeply ironic. In Hezekiah’s day the threat to the people was from a foreign King, in Herod’s day it is Herod himself who will go on to threaten mass death and more to his own people. Of course, a little later on in Matthew 2, as he carries out his murderous plot, Herod will be portrayed as another Pharoah, killing the Hebrew babies but here the resonance is with the spiteful Sennacharib.
The Gentile “invaders” themselves – the Magi – turn away from Jerusalem just as Sennacharib did. And then there is the delightful v3 of Micah 5 with its promise of a birth. Of course, in the original context the woman in painful labour is quite clearly Zion herself  (see Micah 4:8-10) and her pain is the pain of Exile. But now in the birth of a child, a King, the labour of Jerusalem is at an end. She may truly return from Exile since her true King is here and He calls all to Him – starting with Gentiles themselves. The great threat of the outsider is now the promise of those same outsiders being brought into full membership of the Kingdom.
The birth of Jesus has turned everything inside out. Perhaps, more accurately, it has exposed everything for what it is and signalled that all things will be put right. Matthew’s intention in quoting Micah is to show us far more than a simple prediction of the location of the birth of Jesus – he demonstrates how far the Kingdom of Israel and its kings have fallen and been distorted and just what the solution to this tragic situation is – the Messiah has been born and all things may be restored in Him.

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