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)
Micah was a prophet who was active in Judah (the regions surrounding Jerusalem) during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. It was a troubling time. Centuries before, the United Kingdom of Israel has split into two. The ten northern tribes had formed their own kingdom known as Ephraim or - confusingly - just Israel. The southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were left as a smaller kingdom known simply as Judah.
The neighbouring nations were stirring. In 722BC, during Micah’s ministry, the northern kingdom fell to the marauding Assyrians and a couple of decades later the southern kingdom almost followed suit. In the midst of this low ebb in the fortunes of Israel, Micah gives a surprising prophecy. One day in Bethlehem - little tiny Bethlehem - someone will be born who will be a “ruler in Israel”. From Bethlehem! It’s like saying the next Prime Minister will come out of Checkley.
Then there is an intriguing twist. The coming forth of this ruler is “from of old, from ancient days”. In other words, this will be the fulfilment of a plan long in the making. Something set in motion in “ancient day”, from time immemorial.
And so, seven centuries later, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The Word who was “in the beginning”. The ancient plan was being fulfilled.