A King for Israel

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 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. 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.

Micah 5:1-3

The Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem (v.2). The term “Ephrathah” could refer to Bethlehem or the larger area around the city (Genesis 48:7; Ruth 1:2; 1 Chronicles 4:4). Matthew sees it synonymous with “the land of Judah” (Matthew 2:6).[1] Bethlehem was a small town where Rachel was buried (Genesis 35:16) and where David was born (1 Samuel 17:12). It later became known as “the city of David” (Luke 2:4, 11).

Thus, an Israelite would have immediately connected the dots between this coming ruler and David. “…from [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” God made a covenant with David that he would not lack a descendant upon the throne of Israel, forever (1 Samuel 7). Micah now prophesies about the fulfillment of this covenant. God promised a king for Israel, and there would surely be a king for Israel.

This was good news, gospel news, for Jews who were heavy laden by oppressors, by sin, by idols, and by invaders. One would soon come to bring about a final, everlasting exodus from wickedness. One would finally come to establish forever the glory of Israel and of God.

A King for the World

This king’s “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). In other words, it has always been God’s intention to send this king. There was never a Plan B. Genesis itself is filled with such allusions. Before his death, Jacob blessed his sons. To Judah, he said,

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart form Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.

Genesis 49:8-12

This promise goes beyond what we referenced in Micah, however. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” yes, but not only in Israel: “to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (v.10). “Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies” (v.8). This is an allusion to worldwide conquest. This is a prophesy of universal dominance. God gave the pagan prophet Balaam understanding of how this promise to Judah would be fulfilled:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one form Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!

Numbers 24:17-19; cf. 23:9

Neither Judah himself nor his descendants collectively were meant to fulfill Jacob’s blessing. Balaam beheld a single, solitary star that would crush Israel’s enemies and exercise dominion. International conquest by the hand of a single ruler. If the scepter will not depart from Judah (Genesis 29:10), then it must eventually depart from everywhere else (Zechariah 10:11). The previous passage in Micah also foretold to this: “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. And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:4-5; cf. 4:11-13).

Therefore, this promised king, the true and greater David, shall not only be a king for Israel, but also a king for the world. These are not conflicting titles or functions. The king of Israel shall be the king of the world. The one who shall rule Israel shall rule the world. The one who sits upon the throne of David shall exercise dominion over the entire globe. These are harmonious realities because the throne of David shall have such dominion.

Isaiah prophesies most clearly and succinctly in reference to the birth of the king:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

9:6-7

What government is upon this king’s shoulder? No particular government is mentioned. The implication is, “All government,” or perhaps, “Ultimate government.” If there was any government on earth that could be appropriately referred to as the government, it would be this king’s. “Of the increase of his government” does not mean that it is meager at first and then grows, but rather that it is abundant and has no edge. “Of the greatness of his government” (NIV). “His dominion will be vast” (NET). The authority of this king will be universal.

This authority and government is under “the throne of David.” In other words, the kingdom in question is the Israelite kingdom. Israel, house of the throne of David, will be the kingdom of this renowned king with endless prerogative.

The King Has Come

I want to point something out that you probably know, but you may not know. You’ve thought about it, but you may have never really thought about it. God promised a king for Israel and the world, as we have established. Also, that King has come. Period. Full stop.

Eastern wise men “saw his star when it rose” (Matthew 2:2), announcing the birth of Israel’s conquering King (Numbers 24:17; Genesis 49:10), “the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16). The lion of Judah has come for the obedience of the peoples; the son of David has come for the fulfillment of that covenant: “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (5:5; cf. Genesis 49:9; Isaiah 11:1, 10; Hebrews 7:14). Jesus Christ, of Nazareth, of Mary the betrothed of Joseph (Isaiah 7:14), of Bethlehem, is the King of Israel, the King of the earth. He is the Jewish King Who rules the world. “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12).

Some Christians seem to have a habit of assuming that Christ’s reign will begin when He returns. Right now, the world belongs to the devil, to sin, to death, and to a myriad of dark powers. This view is at least two thousand years out of date, as Christmas demonstrates so well. The promised King of Israel, Who would likewise rule over the whole face of the earth, has come, and He came, not to abolish, but to make good on those promises. This world belongs to Jesus Christ.

The government has been on His shoulder (Isaiah 9:6) for quite some time now: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Daniel’s Son of Man has already come: “…to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). Christ is reigning over the earth. It all belongs to Him (Matthew 11:27; John 3:35; 13:3; 17:2) and is under Him (Romans 14:9; Ephesians 1:20-22; Colossians 2:10; 1 Peter 3:22). “God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36; cf. Philippians 2:9-11).

One may object that the mere existence of sin in the world refutes this idea: “How can Christ be reigning if there is wickedness on earth?” Paul answers this question: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet’” (1 Corinthians 15:25-27). The Apostle is drawing from Psalm 8:6, where man’s dominion over the earth is considered. Christ, the true and greater Adam, steps into that dominion and rightfully fulfills it. “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (vv.6-8). The author of Hebrews likewise cites this passage and acknowledges that, “…he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Hebrews 2:8).

Therefore, the present reign of Christ does not contradict the present reality of evil. As mentioned before, “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). His humble birth precludes this. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem was not meant to be an endorsement of poverty for social justice endeavors. His barn-yard birth was meant to demonstrate the inevitability of His kingdom and the sovereignty of His rule. He will come as a pauper, and He will rise as a King. He will come in rags, and He will possess the world. Truly, nothing will be able to stop this King from reigning.

All of this means that we need to reorient our view of “Jesus is Lord” into the present. That, after all, is the most basic Christian confession (Romans 10:9). This means we should be expecting the fulfillment of the Great Commission, that all the nations would be brought into subjection to Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). We should be expecting the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, that all the families of the earth would be brought into covenant with Christ (Genesis 12:3). We should be expecting the fulfillment of the Noahic prophecy, that Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem (9:27).[2] In short, we should be expecting Christianity to conquer the world.

Others object to this idea of a militant faith by quoting 2 Corinthians 10:4, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.” “You would have us become Crusaders again, wouldn’t you?” This conflates all types of warfare into blood thirsty coercion. First, Paul does not deny the existence of “weapons of our warfare,” he only is clarifying what those weapons are (cf. v.3). Second, finish the verse and you will see that the weapons Paul is speaking about “have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (vv.4-5). Christ’s kingdom will conquer less like the Crusaders and more like David, when he brought five smooth stones against a gigantic Philistine. In the end, the powers of darkness will look around at a world full of the knowledge and law of God (Isaiah 11:9; 42:4; Habakkuk 2:14) and exclaim, “How did THAT happen?” And we will reply, “Only by God’s glorious grace.”

So, what is Christmas? It was the inaugural birth of the King of the world. Today, it means that sin has no power over the course of history, and the Devil has no authority over the ends of the earth. It means that we live in the year of our Lord 2020, counting from His birth, not His resurrection. And next shall come the year of our Lord 2021, and after that, the year of our Lord 2022, and so on, and so forth, forevermore. Amen.


[1] Matthew’s citation of Micah 5:2 is noticeably different than the translation provided above. Matthew wrote that Bethlehem was “by no means least among the rulers of Judah” (2:6). The ESV and NASB95 seems unnecessarily confusing by rendering “too little.” “Seemingly insignificant” is the sense (NET). The ASV 1901 provides a thoughtful compromise: “which art little to be among” (see also RSV). Micah presents this point as a misnomer, for a “ruler in Israel” will come from Bethlehem. Matthew’s rendering is not a mistranslation, nor evidence of untrustworthy manuscripts. He is simply refuting the misnomer earlier in the verse, which is consistent with a dynamic translation.

[2] Abraham was a descendant of Shem, Judah of Abraham, David of Judah, and Jesus of David.

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