We are now ready for Matt. 2:5-6. When the Magi arrive in Jerusalem and ask Herod where the new king was, Herod assembled the "chief priests and scribes" to ask what had been predicted about the birthplace of the Messiah.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel." (Matt. 2:5-6; NASB)The quotation is from Micah 5:2. There are several interesting features of Matthew's use of this quotation:
First, this quotation does not appear as an editorial comment (i.e., Matthew himself didn't quote the passage) but as something said by one of the characters in the story being told by Matthew. This distinguishes this quotation from the others we have seen, all of which are interpretations of the story by the editor. In other words, for the other quotations we have examined, Matthew himself interprets Jesus' life--whether his descent into Egypt (2:15), or the slaughter of the innocents (2:17-18), or Jesus' move to Nazareth (2:23)--in terms of Israel's scripture, but in none of these cases does Matthew imply that Jews in the time of Jesus would have likewise interpreted Jesus' life, or that they were looking for some sort of fulfillment of Hos. 11:1 or Jer. 31:15. But, in this case, that is the point. Matthew represents the Jerusalem priests and scribes as themselves saying that Mic. 5:2 would be fulfilled in the life of the Messiah. That sets this quotation apart and suggests that we should see it as unique in this context.
Second, the quotation itself does not exactly match the text from which it is taken. Micah 5:2 actually says that Bethlehem is "too little to be among the clans of Judah." (This is not a LXX vs. MT issue; both texts of Mic. 5:2 highlight Bethlehem's small size.) The change from "too little" to "by no means least" seems to be a homiletical adaptation emphasizing that though Bethlehem is small, this particular promise of its generating Israel's ruler makes it "by no means least." Since Matthew places this small change in the mouth of the Jerusalem priests and scribes, he apparently thinks it is not an unusual interpretation.
Third, we notice that the word 'fulfill' (πληρόω) is not used in this instance. It was used in Matt. 2:15, 2:17, and 2:23, and each time we noticed that the passage cited by Matthew as being 'fulfilled' in the life of Jesus actually had nothing to do with the Messiah in its own historical context. Here, this verb is not used. Now, that may be because of the different way this quotation is presented--in the mouth of some of the characters of the story, characters who have not yet met Jesus, and so could not comment on whether this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus. But the non-use of 'fulfillment' language here may also point to a more nuanced meaning for 'fulfill' than we are accustomed to thinking about (see below).
Fourth, the passage quoted--Micah 5:2--actually is a messianic passage in its own historical context. That partly explains why Matthew can have the Jerusalem priests and scribes quote the passage in reference to the Messiah: anyone reading Micah 5:2 would recognize that it concerned the future anointed ('messiah') king. Even if the word 'messiah' does not appear in Micah 5, nor 'David' nor 'king', the reference to a ruler from Bethlehem--the hometown of David (1Sam. 16)--clearly implies that this ruler would be from David's line, and therefore he would be a Davidic king, which is what the Messiah is (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16).
This post has begun to address some of the questions I raised at the end of the first post in this series. We'll need to assess at the end of the series whether Matthew typically uses the LXX or a Hebrew textual form. But, as for the word 'fulfill', we have seen a strange phenomenon. For those OT passages that are not originally concerned with messianic prediction, Matthew says that they are 'fulfilled' in the life of Jesus. For this one passage that is originally concerned with a future king (messiah), that term does not appear in Matthew's narrative. As we continue this series in the next post with the final (actually, first) quotation of scripture in these chapters, we will want to notice whether Matthew uses the word 'fulfill', and what implications that might have for what he thinks about the relationship between Isa. 7:14 and the life of Jesus.