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The Ruler from Bethlehem
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, art small, that thou shouldest be among the thousands of Judah As Matthew quotes this passage differently, some think that it ought to be read as a question, And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, art thou the least among the provinces of Judah? Matthew says “Thou art by no means the least, thou excellest.
This does not follow; for to say that it was “not the least,” is not to deny that it was “small.” There is, in fact, no contradiction in the expressions. Matthew quotes literally neither the Hebrew nor the Septuagint version. The latter, in this case, agrees with the former. He gives the sense, but not the words, even in two instances besides this. Instead of “Ephratah,” he has, “in the land of Judah;” and instead of “Ruler,” he has, “Governor
that shall rule,” or feed. The meaning in these three instances is the same, though the words are different. The place was, in former times, called Bethlehem-Judah, and also Ephratah. See Genesis 35:19; Judges 17:7; and Ruth 4:11.
The attempt by a question to produce similarity of expressions in the second line, according to what is done by Marckius and Newcome, is by no means to be approved. The literal rendering is the following: —
And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah!
Small to be among the thousands of Judah, —
From thee shall one to me come forth,
To be a Ruler in Israel:
And his going forth has been
From of old, from the days of ages.
The word for “going forth” is plural, which, as Calvin says, is sometimes used for the singular; but two MSS. Have it in the singular number, מצאתו. The last line in the Septuagint is as follows, — απ αρχης, εξ ημερων αιωνος
“In every age, from the foundation of the world, there has been some manifestation of the Messiah. He was the hope, as he was the salvation, of the world, from the promise to Adam in paradise, to his manifestation in the flesh four thousand years after.” — Adam Clarke. — Ed. ” But what need there is of distorting the words of the Prophet, as it was not the design of the Evangelist to relate the expressions of the Prophet, but only to point out the passage. As to the words, Matthew had regards to the condition of the town Bethlehem, such as it was at the coming of Christ. It then indeed began to be eminent: but the Prophet represents here how ignoble and mean a place Bethlehem then was, Thou, he says, art the least among the thousands of Judah. Some, not very wisely, give this explanation, “Thou art the least among the thousands of Judah”; that is, “Though there might be a thousand towns in the tribe of Judah, yet thou couldest hardly have a place among so great a number.” But this has been said through ignorance of a prevailing custom: for the Jews, we know, were wont to divide their districts into thousands or chiliads. As in the army there are centurions, so also in the divisions of every nation there are hundreds; there are also in an army tribunes, who preside over a thousand men. Thus the Prophet calls them thousands, that is, tribunes; for the districts are so arranged, that the town, which, with its villages, could bring forth three thousand men, had three prefectures; and it had three tribunes, or four or five, if it was larger. The Prophet then, in order to show that this town was small and hardly of any account, says, Thou, Bethlehem, art hardly sufficient to be one province. And it was a proof of its smallness that hardly a thousand men could be made up from Bethlehem and its neighboring villages. There were not, we know, many towns in the tribe of Judah; and yet a large army could be there collected. Since then the town of Bethlehem was so small, that it could hardly attain the rank of a province, it is hence no doubt evident that it was but a mean town. We now perceive what the Prophet had in view.
Thou, Bethlehem, he says, art small among the cities of Judah; yet arise, or go forth, for me shall one from thee, who is to be a Ruler in Israel. He calls it Bethlehem Ephratah; for they say that there was another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulon, and we know that Ephratah in meaning is nearly the same with Bethlehem; for both designate an abundance of fruit or provisions: and there David was born.
I will now proceed to the second clause, From thee shall go forth for me one who is to be a Ruler Here the Prophet introduces God as the speaker, go forth, he says, shall one for me. God declares in this passage that it was not his purpose so to destroy his people, but that he intended, after a season, to restore them again. He therefore recalls the attention of the faithful to himself and to his eternal counsel; as though he said, — “I have thus for a time cast you away, that I may yet manifest my care for you.” For me then shall go forth one who is to be a Ruler in Israel. Now there is no doubt but that the Prophet at the sable time recalls the attention of the faithful to the promise which had been given to David. For whence arises the hope of salvation to the chosen people, except from the perpetuity of that kingdom? The Prophet now says, — “There is indeed a reason, according to the perception of the flesh, why the faithful should despond; for whence does their confidence arise, except from the kingdom of David? and from what place is David to arise? Even from Bethlehem; for Bethlehem has been called the city of David; and yet it is an obscure and a small town, and can hardly be considered a common province. Since it is so, the minds of the faithful may be depressed; but this smallness shall be no hindrance to the Lord, that he should not bring forth from thence a new king.”
Even before the time of David Bethlehem was a small town, and one of the most common provinces. Who could have expected that a king would have been chosen from such a hamlet, and then, that he should come from a hut? for David belonged to a pastoral family; his father was a shepherd, and he was the least among his brethren. Who then could have thought that light would have arisen from such a corner, yea, from so mean a cottage? This was done contrary to the expectations of men. Hence the Prophet sets here before the faithful a similar expectation for their comfort; as though he said, — “Has not God once formed a most perfect state of things by making David a king, so that the people became in every respect happy and blessed? And whence did David come? It was from Bethlehem. There is then no reason why your present miseries should over-much distress you; for God can again from the same place bring forth a king to you, and he will do so.”
Thou then Bethlehem, small art thou, etc. The prophet doubtless intended here that the faithful should consider of what kind was the beginning of that most perfect state, when David was chosen king. David was a shepherd, a man in humble life, without reputation, without influence, and even the humblest among his brethren. Since then God had drawn light out of darkness there was no cause for the faithful to despair of a future restoration, considering what had been the beginning of the previous happy condition of the people. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. But the rest I cannot finish today; I must therefore defer it till tomorrow.