Who is the prophet speaking of in Micah 5:2?                                            By Jack Kettler


The prophet Micah addresses the themes of judgment and hope in his prophecy to Israel.


“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 of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)


The individual that Micah is speaking of exists “from everlasting.” Other translators render it “from ancient days” or “from the days of eternity.”


Looking at the Hebrew from Strong’s Lexicon, it is found:


“of eternity.

עוֹלָֽם׃ (‘ō·w·lām)

Noun - masculine singular

Strong's Hebrew 5769: 1) long duration, antiquity, futurity, forever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, world 1a) ancient time, long time (of past) 1b) (of future) 1b1) forever, always 1b2) continuous existence, perpetual 1b3) everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity.”


The following cross-references are helpful in seeking the identity of this one from eternity:


“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1)


“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.” (Matthew 2:6)


“So, Joseph also went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, since he was from the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:4)


“Doesn't the Scripture say that the Christ will come from the line of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” (John 7:42)


“For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, a tribe as to which Moses said nothing about priests.” (Hebrews 7:14)


“Later, they set out from Bethel, and while they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth, and her labor was difficult.” (Genesis 35:16)


“So, Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” (Genesis 35:19)


The above references provide clues or pointers to the identity of the one “from everlasting.”


Consider the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges commentary on Micah 5:2:


“2–4. The Messiah’s birth and world-wide rule”


“2. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah …] (See the application of this passage by the Jewish Sanhedrin in Matthew 2:6; comp. John 7:42.) To the deep abasement of the actual king the prophet, in this and the following verses, opposes the Divine glory of the ideal King. Mean as Bethlehem may be in outward appearance, it has been selected as the birthplace of the Messianic Deliverer. ‘Ephratah,’ or rather ‘Ephrathah’ (a fuller form of Ephrath), was another name for Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17:12, Ruth 1:2; Ruth 4:11, 1 Chronicles 2:50-51): its meaning (‘fruitful’) suggests that it originally belonged to the valley which leads up to Bethlehem, and which is still richly adorned with vines and olive-trees. The Septuagint rendering is peculiar, ‘And thou Bethlehem, house of Ephratah,’ which looks very much like a combination of two different renderings, which presuppose two different readings of the Hebrew text (the one, ‘And thou, Bethlehem;’ the other, ‘And thou, Beth-Ephratah’). Some scholars indeed prefer the latter reading on exegetical grounds, and suppose that the present reading of the Hebrew text is incorrect, and that lehem in Bethlehem is an interpolation, due to a confusion between the two meanings of Ephratah. This makes a little difference in the exegesis of the passage. ‘House’ in ‘house of Ephratah’ will have to be taken in the larger sense of the word, viz. for a subdivision of the ‘thousand’ or ‘family.’ This will very well suit the following words (as generally explained), which will then contain a statement that the people or households of the district of Ephrath (see above) were not numerous enough to form a ‘thousand’ or ‘family’ by themselves. The context also shews the essential point of the prophecy to be, not that the Deliverer shall be born at Bethlehem, but that he shall belong to the Davidic family. If we retain the received reading of the Hebrew text we may refer to the analogy of Isaiah 9:1, which (when rightly translated) mentions a particular region of Palestine as in some sense the object of special favour from the Messiah: the one prediction is not more circumstantial than the other. There remains however a difficulty connected with the compound form of the name. Why Bethlehem Ephratah, and not simply Bethlehem? It is hardly enough to reply that there was another Bethlehem in the territory of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15), for the danger of confusion would be more naturally guarded against by giving the full name ‘Bethlehem-judah’ (Jdg 17:9; Jdg 19:18). Nor can we attach much weight to the remark of Delitzsch, that the prophet substitutes Ephratah for Judah, because the former name “awakens so many reminiscences from the primitive history of Israel (Genesis 35:16) and the Davidic kingdom (Ruth 4:11).” Messianic Prophecies (by Curtiss), section 45.”


“though thou be little …] The Hebrew text according to most scholars, requires a different rendering—art too small to be, &c. This however is not strictly in accordance with grammar, and it is very possible that the Auth. Vers. is correct; only it requires us to suppose that one of the Hebrew words in this verse (li-h’yoth) has been written twice over, and that it has thus intruded into a wrong clause. — As a matter of fact, Bethlehem was a small and unimportant place. It is omitted in the list of cities of Judah in the received Hebrew text of Joshua 15 (though, together with ten other towns, it is found in the text of the Septuagint), and also in the list, Nehemiah 11:25. It is also spoken of in John 7:42 as κώμη. Yet poor, insignificant Bethlehem was to have the honour of giving birth to the Messiah.”


“O sola magnarum urbium

Major Bethlem, cui contigit

Ducem salutis cœlitus

Incorporatum gignere.”

Prudentius, Hymn. Epiph. 77.”


“thousands] A ‘thousand’ is another name for a ‘family’ (in the larger, technical sense of the word, = ‘clan’), see Numbers 1:16; Numbers 10:4, Joshua 22:14; Joshua 22:21, &c. Several ‘thousands’ or ‘families’ went to make up a ‘tribe.’”


“unto me] Rather, for me, in pursuance of my will.”


“whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting] The meaning of the word rendered ‘goings forth’ is doubtful. If we keep this translation, we must explain it of the revelations of Jehovah to the early Israelites and to the patriarchs. In Isaiah 9:6 one part of the great compound name of the Messiah is ‘God the Mighty One’ (or, Hero), from which we may infer that the Messiah is the permanently visible manifestation of the delivering or punishing, or, in a word, world-governing aspect of the Deity. So too in Isaiah 63:9 we are told that in ‘the days of old’ (the same phrase which is here rendered ‘everlasting’) Jehovah, or the Angel which represented Him, sympathized with the trouble of His people, and delivered them; and in Micah 5:15 of the same chapter that the attributes of Jehovah, regarded under this aspect, are ‘jealousy’ and ‘heroism’ (Auth. Vers., loosely, ‘zeal’ and ‘strength’). We can hardly be wrong in inferring that in all these passages one and the same essential aspect of Jehovah is meant, and that the Messiah may be said, in harmony with prophetic teaching, to have been revealed at intervals from the patriarchal history onwards. In favour of this translation, it may be observed that it produces a striking antithesis between the former and the latter half of the verse; ‘he shall come forth’ being a part of the same verb from which the word rendered ‘goings forth’ is derived. But it is also permissible to render this word ‘origins,’ and to explain the plural as that of ‘excellence’ or extent, just as we find ‘dominions’ for ‘dominion’ in Psalm 114:2 (literally rendered), and ‘habitations’ for ‘habitation’ in Isaiah 54:2. The passage will then become a statement either of the pre-existence of the Messiah in the eternal purposes of God (comp. Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26); or, which is more obvious and perfectly suitable to the context, of his descent from the ancient Davidic family—comp. Amos 9:11, where ‘the days of old’ evidently refer to the reign of David. (David was already three centuries behind Micah.) In the latter case, we ought to render the passage before us, whose origin hath been from aforetime, from the days of old. There is, in fact, properly speaking, no word in Hebrew exactly answering to ‘everlasting.’ See also Micah 7:14; Micah 7:20, where Auth. Vers. rightly has, ‘the days of old.’” (1)


In closing:


Micah not only predicted the coming of the Lord's Kingdom but prophesied that Christ, who is from everlasting, was going to be born in Bethlehem. The coming ruler of Israel was the one “whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days.” The term “Ancient of Days” first appears in Daniel 7:9. In Isaiah 43:13, God refers to Himself as existing from the “ancient of days.” God declares Himself to be “from everlasting to everlasting” in Psalm 90:2 and as “the first and the last” in Isaiah 44:6 and Revelation 22:13.


Micah 5:2 is one of the great Messianic prophecies!


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      J. J. Stewart Perowner, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Micah, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), e-Sword version.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Jack-Kettler/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AJack+Kettler