2:6 Matthew did not quote Mc 5:2 directly but paraphrased it to bring out the sense of the passage. Thus, while the Prophet Micah noted the smallness of Bethlehem in relation to its being the home of the Ruler, Matthew emphasized Bethlehem’s significance by calling it “by no means least” of Judah’s towns. (The reading of “rulers” for thousands predates Matthew. These terms are spelled the same in Hb.) He concluded with a quote from 2Sm 5:2 (Ezk 34:23), since the identification of Bethlehem as the ruler’s hometown set the prophecy in the stream of Davidic messianism (and was so understood in first-century Judaism). The principle of biblical inerrancy requires only that a NT paraphrase of an OT text preserves the intent of that text or expresses its implications.
2:6 This prophecy, which combines Mic. 5:2 and 2 Sam. 5:2, emphasizes Matthew’s conviction that the King who brings the kingdom is a Shepherd-King.
2:6 The second line of the quotation in Matthew appears to say the opposite of the second line of Mic. 5:2 (“too little”), but the sense is that though Bethlehem appears to be insignificant, it is in truth important. The religious experts concluded from the prophets that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, but not one of them bothered to make the short journey with the wise men to see Christ.
2:6 no means least Matthew’s reading of Mic 5:2 reflects neither the original Hebrew nor the Septuagint (Greek) translation. However, it is likely that multiple Greek translations were available at this time. Additionally, Matthew may have made his own translation, quoting from memory or paraphrasing. Despite the variations in the text, the sense is the same: Bethlehem’s importance comes from its connection to David and the Davidic Messiah.
Jesus’ Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy Table
|The ot in Matthew 2
|Possibly Isa 11:1; Judg 13:5
will shepherd Ancient Near Eastern rulers often are portrayed as shepherds. The same imagery is used throughout the ot (see Ezek 34:23 and note; Jer 23:1–4; note on John 10:1–42).
2:6 This ancient prophecy from Mic 5:2 was written in the eighth century b.c. The original prophecy, not quoted in full by Matthew, declared the deity of Israel’s Messiah: “From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” A ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. This portion of Matthew’s quote actually seems to be a reference to God’s words to David when Israel’s kingdom was originally established (2Sa 5:2; 1Ch 11:2). The Gr. word for “ruler” evokes the image of strong, even stern, leadership. “Shepherd” emphasizes tender care. Christ’s rule involves both (cf. Rev 12:5).
2:6 This was an allusion to Micah 5:2. It was not an exact quote from the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint. This specific prophecy gives strong evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. Micah wrote approximately 750 years before Christ’s birth yet he predicted the small village where the Messiah would be born.
“Who will shepherd My people Israel” This line was added from 2 Sam. 5:2.
Ver. 6. A Governor.—
- The character of the Governor. 1. His dignity (Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9; Jer. 33:6; Isa. 45:18, 24; Rom. 14:11, 12; John 1:1, and others). Suitably sustained by His attributes. 2. His condescension (Phil. 2:5–8). 3. His fidelity—to Him by whom He was appointed (Matt. 22:37, 38; 5:17–19; Luke 2:49; Matt. 3:15; John 4:31–34); to them for whom He was appointed (John 16:12, 13, 33; Eph. 4:7–13; Luke 12:50; Heb. 2:14–18; 7:25). 4. His clemency. Ever ready to pardon, &c.
- The character of His subjects.
III. The character of His government. 1. Divine and spiritual (Luke 10:18; Col. 1:13; Heb. 1:14; Eph. 1:18; Col. 2:2, 3). 2. Mild and equitable. Rules without coercion (Psa. 119:32). 3. Vigorous and effective (2 Chron. 16:9; Psa. 11:4–7; 24:7–10; 103:19–21; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; Rom. 8:34–39). 4. Staple, prosperous, everlasting (Heb. 12:28; Isa. 9:7; Daniel 7:27; Heb. 1:8). Application: Let the enemies of this government tremble (1 Cor. 15:15; Psa. 2:9; Rom. 2:4, 8, 9; submit and find peace (Psa. 2:10–12). Let the subjects of this government rejoice in anticipation of its progressive and rapid conquests, and its final triumph (Psa. 2:7, 8; Rev. 7:9–12). (Zeta.)
6. And thou, Bethlehem. The scribes quoted faithfully, no doubt, the words of the passage in their own language, as it is found in the prophet. But Matthew reckoned it enough to point out the passage; and, as he wrote in Greek, he followed the ordinary reading. This passage, and others of the same kind, readily suggest the inference, that Matthew did not compose his Gospel in the Hebrew language. It ought always to be observed that, whenever any proof from Scripture is quoted by the apostles, though they do not translate word for word, and sometimes depart widely from the language, yet it is applied correctly and appropriately to their subject. Let the reader always consider the purpose for which passages of Scripture are brought forward by the Evangelists, so as not to stick too closely to the particular words, but to be satisfied with this, that the Evangelists never torture Scripture into a different meaning, but apply it correctly in its native meaning. But while it was their intention to supply with milk children and “novices” (1 Tim. 3:6) in faith, who were not yet able to endure “strong meat,” (Heb. 5:12,) there is nothing to prevent the children of God from making careful and diligent inquiry into the meaning of Scripture, and thus being led to the fountain by the taste which the apostles afford.
Let us now return to the prediction. Thus it stands literally in the Prophet: “And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth to me, who is Ruler in Israel,” (Micah 5:2.) For Ephratah Matthew has put Judah, but the meaning is the same; for Micah only intended, by this mark, to distinguish the Bethlehem of which he speaks, from another Bethlehem, which was in the tribe of Zebulun. There is greater difficulty in what follows: for the Prophet says, that Bethlehem is little, when reckoned among the governments of Judah; while Matthew, on the contrary, speaks highly of its rank as one of the most distinguished: thou art by no means the least among the princes of Judah. This reason has induced some commentators to read the passage in the prophet as a question, Art thou little among the thousands of Judah? But I rather agree with those who think that Matthew intended, by this change of the language, to magnify the grace of God in making an inconsiderable and unknown town the birth-place of the highest King. Although Bethlehem received this distinguished honour, it was of no advantage to its inhabitants, but brought upon them a heavier destruction: for there an unworthy reception was given to the Redeemer. For he is to be Ruler, Matthew has put he shall feed, (ποιμανεῖ.) But he has expressed both, when he says, that Christ is the leader, (ἡγούμενος,) and that to him is committed the office of feeding his people.
6 The text cited is the recognized messianic prophecy of Mic 5:2 (Hebrew and LXX 5:1), which is the more appropriate to Matthew’s context because it is immediately followed in Mic 5:3 by a specific mention of the time when “she who is in labour has brought forth.” But the last eight words of Matthew’s quotation, while reflecting the sense of the Micah passage, are in fact a more direct echo of 2 Sam 5:2: “a leader” (hēgoumenon) is the LXX term in 2 Sam 5:2 for David’s role, as against “ruler” in Mic 5:2, and “who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” directly echoes God’s call to David in 2 Sam 5:2 (alluding to David’s shepherding background). The latter phrase reflects (but not so closely) the language of Mic 5:4, “he shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,” and defines the caring rather than despotic role of this ideal king in contrast with Herod’s reign. The two OT passages are closely related, 2 Sam 5:2 giving God’s original call to David, and Mic 5:2 taking up its language to describe the future role of the coming Davidic king in fulfillment of his great ancestor’s achievements. Matthew’s combined quotation of these two passages draws out the integral connection between them more effectively than a more pedantic exegetical commentary. For similar “combined quotations” see on 11:10 and 21:4–5, and for a much more elaborate and creative example see on 27:9–10.
But that is not the only alteration Matthew has made to the wording of Mic 5:2. For the familiar but perhaps rather archaic title “Bethlehem Ephrathah” he has substituted the more specific geographical identification “Bethlehem, land of Judah” (see above n. 5). The change is not required to distinguish this Bethlehem from the other in Galilee (see p. 65, n. 25), since “Ephrathah,” a well-attested alternative name for the Judean Bethlehem or its immediate neighborhood (Gen 35:19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11), would have achieved that; rather it is to emphasize Jesus’ Judean origins, as Matthew has already done in vv. 1 and 5 and as the next line of the prophecy will further underline. For Matthew’s apologetic purpose this southern origin is essential. As the name Judah now appears twice in Matthew’s amended quotation the reader is also invited to remember that the “book of origin” traced the dynastic line through Judah the patriarch; only a member of the tribe of Judah could qualify for the throne of David.
Of the two changes which follow one may merely reflect a variant reading: the Hebrew ʾalāphîm is notoriously uncertain in meaning, and while LXX has opted for the frequent meaning “thousands” most English versions take the Hebrew here to mean “families” or “clans,” while a slight revocalization would produce “chieftains”, the probable source of Matthew’s “rulers.” There is no significant advantage in this change from the point of view of Matthew’s argument. But the other change is blatantly to Matthew’s advantage. Where Micah described Bethlehem as “small (insignificant) to be among the clans of Judah” and LXX went further and made it “smallest,” for Matthew it is “certainly not the least important.” There is poor support for an original reading in Micah with the negative, and Matthew’s negative is emphatic; it derives not from the text of Micah but from Matthew’s own reading of the text in the light of its fulfillment. The whole point of Micah’s mentioning Bethlehem’s insignificance was by way of contrast to the glory it was to achieve as the birthplace of the Messiah; now Matthew can claim that that glory has come to Bethlehem, so that it is no longer the least (and the addition of “for” to introduce the next clause underlines the point). Rather than add a footnote, Matthew has incorporated the fulfillment into the wording of the text.52 For those who are familiar with the original text the alteration will stand out as a challenge to think through how Matthew’s story relates to the prophetic tradition.
In a number of ways, therefore, Matthew has adapted Micah’s words to suit what he can now see to be their fulfillment, and to advance his argument for the scriptural justification of the Messiah’s origins. This relatively free and creative handling of the text (not unlike that found in contemporary Aramaic targums) differs little from the practice of many modern preachers who, if not reading directly out of the Bible, will often (probably quite unconsciously) quote a text in an adapted form which helps the audience to see how the text relates to the argument. No-one is misled, and the hermeneutical procedure is well understood. Micah’s words have been applied appropriately, even if not with the literalistic precision which the age of the printed Bible makes possible.
6 While expectation that the Messiah must come from Bethlehem occurs elsewhere (e.g., Jn 7:42; cf. Targum on Mic 5:1: “Out of you shall come forth before me the Messiah”), here it rests on Micah 5:2 (1 MT), to which are appended some words from 2 Samuel 5:2 (1 Ch 11:2). Matthew follows neither the MT nor LXX, and his changes have provoked considerable speculation.
- “Bethlehem Ephrathah” (LXX, “house of Ephrathah”) becomes “Bethlehem, in the land of Judah.” Hill says this change was made to exclude “any other Judean city like Jerusalem.” But this reads too much into what is a normal LXX way of referring to Bethlehem (cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 91). “Ephrathah” is archaic and even in the MT primarily restricted to poetical sections like Micah 5:2.
- The strong negative “by no means” (oudamōs) is added in Matthew and formally contradicts Micah 5:2. It is often argued that this change has been made to highlight Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah. Indeed, Gundry’s commentary uses this change as an example of Matthew’s midrashic use of the OT, a use so free that he does not fear outright contradiction. There are better explanations. Even the MT of Micah implies Bethlehem’s greatness: “though you are small among the clans [or rulers, who personify the cities; the KJV’s “thousands” is pedantically correct, but “thousands” was a way of referring to the great clans into which the tribes were subdivided; cf. Jdg 6:15; 1 Sa 10:19; 23:23; Isa 60:22] of Judah” sets the stage for the greatness that follows. Equally, Matthew’s formulation assumes that, apart from being Messiah’s birthplace, Bethlehem is indeed of little importance (cf. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, 1:475–76, noted by Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 91–92). To put it another way, though the second line of Micah 5:2 formally contradicts the second line of Matthew 2:6, a holistic reading of the verses shows the contradiction to be merely formal. Matthew 2:6 has perhaps slightly greater emphasis on the one factor that makes Bethlehem great.
- Matthew adds the shepherd language of 2 Samuel 5:2, making it plain that the ruler in Micah 5:2 is none other than the one who fulfills the promises to David.
It is tempting to think that Matthew sees a pair of contrasts (1) between the false shepherds of Israel who have provided sound answers but no leadership (cf. 23:2–7) and Jesus, who is the true Shepherd of his people Israel, and (2) between a ruler like Herod and the one born to rule. The words “my people Israel” are included, not simply because they are found in 2 Samuel 5:2, but because Matthew, like Paul, faithfully records both the essential Jewish focus of the OT promises and the OT expectation of broader application to the Gentiles (see comments at 1:1, 5, 21). Jesus is not only the promised Davidic king but also the promised hope of blessing to all the nations, the one who will claim their obeisance (cf. Ps 68:28–35; Isa 18:1–3, 7; 45:14; 60:6; Zep 3:10). That same duality makes the desires of the Gentile Magi to worship the Messiah stand out against the apathy of the leaders, who did not, apparently, take the trouble to go to Bethlehem. Of course, the Jewish leaders may have seen the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem as one more false alarm.
As far as we can tell, the Sadducees (and therefore the chief priests) had no interest in the question of when the Messiah would come; the Pharisees (and therefore most teachers of the law) expected him to come only somewhat later. The Essenes alone, who were not consulted by Herod, expected the Messiah imminently (cf. R. T. Beckwith, “The Significance of the Calendar for Interpreting Essene Chronology and Eschatology,” RevQ 38 : 167–202). But Matthew plainly says that, though Jesus was the Messiah, born in David’s line and certain to be Shepherd and Ruler of Israel, it was the Gentiles who came to worship him.
 Hultberg, A. (2017). Matthew. In T. Cabal (Ed.), CSB Apologetics Study Bible (p. 1170). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
 Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Mt 2:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1363). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
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