Bethlehem as described by the prophet Micah (Mt 2:5-2:6)

“They told Herod.

‘In Bethlehem

Of Judea.

It has been written

By the prophet.’

‘You!

O Bethlehem!

In the land of Judah,

Are by no means least

Among the rulers of Judah.

From you

Shall come a ruler

Who is to shepherd

My people Israel.’”

 

οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· Ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας· οὕτως γὰρ γέγραπται διὰ τοῦ προφήτου·

Καὶ σύ, Βηθλέεμ γῆ Ἰούδα, οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα· ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐξελεύσεται ἡγούμενος, ὅστις ποιμανεῖ τὸν λαόν μου τὸν Ἰσραήλ.

 

Interesting enough the response from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin was a quote from the prophet Micah, chapter 5:2.  These priests and scribes told Herod (οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ) that the place for the birth of this new king had to be Bethlehem in Judea (Ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας).  The prophet Micah, without mentioning him by name, had written about this (οὕτως γὰρ γέγραπται διὰ τοῦ προφήτου).  The quote from Micah is a paraphrase of Micah, as there was no mention of Ephrathah here.  Micah had uttered this ode about the small town of Bethlehem, where King David came from also.  Thus, this new ruler of Israel would be from this same place or part of the Davidic bloodline, as Matthew has pointed out.  Bethlehem was in the land of Judah (Βηθλέεμ γῆ Ἰούδα), not far from Jerusalem, about 6 miles.  Bethlehem was not the least among the various clans of Judah (οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα).  The new leader or ruler would shepherd or lead (ἐξελεύσεται ἡγούμενος, ὅστις ποιμανεῖ) the Lord’s people of Israel (τὸν λαόν μου τὸν Ἰσραήλ).  Matthew with this citation, made the clear connection between, David, Bethlehem, and Jesus.

 

The Magi arrive (Mt 2:1-2:1)

“Magi

From the East

Came to Jerusalem.”

 

ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα

 

Now we have some magi (μάγοι) arrive (παρεγένοντο) from an eastern area (ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν) into Jerusalem (εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα), the capital, where Herod would have been living.  Who were these wise guys or magi?  The word “μάγοι” appears in both the Old and New Testament.  Ordinarily this word is translated as a magician or sorcerer in the sense of illusionist or fortune-teller, except for here in the Gospel of Matthew.  Magi originally were the followers of the Persian Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster.  These priests paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was regarded as a science.  Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term magi to be applied to the occult in general.  Obviously, this led to the later English term magic or magicians.  These magi also had an interest in astrology and other esoteric studies.  However, the more common use of magi was to describe magicians, or practitioners of magic.  Thus, the magicians have come to town.  These magi have been popularly referred to as wise men or kings, but there is nothing in this account that implies that they were rulers of any kind.  This story of the magi only appears in Matthew and not in the Luke infancy story.

Profanation of the name of Yahweh (Mal 1:12-1:14)

“But you profane it

When you say

That Yahweh’s table

Is polluted.

Thus,

The food for it

May be despised.

‘What a weariness this is.’

You say.

‘You sniff at me.’

Says Yahweh of hosts.

‘You bring what has been taken

By violence,

Or is lame,

Or sick.

This you bring

As your offering!

Shall I accept that

From your hand?’

Says Yahweh.

‘Cursed be the cheat,

Who has a male in his flock!

If he vows to give it,

Yet sacrifices to Yahweh

What is blemished!

I am a great King!’

Says Yahweh of hosts.

‘My name is revered

Among the nations.’”

These priests have profaned the name of Yahweh.  They have polluted Yahweh’s table.  They have brought despised food to Yahweh’s altar.  They were tired, weary, and sniffing at Yahweh.  They brought offerings that had been violated, lame, or sick.  Should Yahweh accept these blemished offerings?  No, he should curse those who vowed to bring sacrificial offerings, but instead cheated him by bringing blemished animals.  Yahweh was a great king whose name was revered throughout the whole world, among all the countries.

Yahweh would not accept these gifts (Mal 1:9-1:10)

“‘Now implore

The favor of God!

Thus,

He may be gracious to us.

The fault is yours.

Will he show favor

to any of you?’

Says Yahweh of hosts.

‘Oh!

That someone among you

Would shut the temple doors!

Thus,

You would not kindle fire

Upon my altar in vain!

I have no pleasure in you!’

Says Yahweh of hosts.

‘I will not accept

An offering

From your hand.’”

Yahweh wanted them to implore God’s favor, so that he might be gracious to them.  However, it was their own fault.  Why should Yahweh show favor to any of them?  They might as well shut the doors to the Temple, because they have lit fires on his altar in vain.  Yahweh was not pleased with these priests.  He was not going to accept any offerings from their hands.

Question for the priests about holiness (Hag 2:11-2:12)

“Thus says Yahweh of hosts.

‘Ask the priests

For a ruling.

If one carries

Consecrated meat

In the fold

Of one’s garment,

Then if the fold

Of his garment,

Touches

Bread,

Or stew,

Or wine,

Or oil,

Or any kind of food,

Does it become holy?’

The priests answered.

‘No.’”

Haggai gave an example of what Yahweh was talking about.  Haggai was to ask the priests about holiness.  If someone was carrying consecrated holy meat in the fold or cover of his garment and it touched bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other kind of food, would that food then become holy by touching it?  That was the dilemma.  How could holiness be passed on?  The priests answered negatively, by saying no, because these things could not become holy by merely touching a holy thing accidently.

The bad leaders (Zeph 3:3-3:4)

“The officials within her

Are roaring lions.

Her judges

Are evening wolves.

They leave nothing

Until the morning.

Her prophets

Are reckless persons.

They are faithless persons.

Her priests

Have profaned

What is sacred.

They have done violence

To the law.”

Zephaniah rebuked not only the city, but the leaders in the city of Jerusalem.  Their officials were like roaring lions.  Their judges were like evening wolves preying on people at night.  Their prophets were reckless faithless people.  Their priests profaned the sacred things, by doing violence to the law of Yahweh.

The bad situation will come to ruin (Mic 3:9-3:12)

“Hear this!

You rulers

Of the house of Jacob!

You chiefs

Of the house of Israel!

You abhor justice!

You pervert all equity!

You build Zion

With blood!

You build Jerusalem

With wrong!

Its rulers give judgment

For a bribe!

Its priests teach

For a price!

Its prophets give oracles

For money!

Yet they lean

Upon Yahweh.

They say.

‘Surely Yahweh is

With us.

No harm shall come

Upon us.’

Therefore,

Because of you,

Zion shall be plowed

As a field.

Jerusalem shall become

A heap of ruins.

The mountain of the house

Shall become a wooded height.”

Yahweh, via Micah, called out the rulers in northern Israel and southern Judah.  These rulers and chiefs had abhorred justice and perverted equity in Jerusalem and on Mount Zion.  Everything was done for money.  The rulers wanted a bribe for their judgment.  The priests had a price for their teaching.  The prophets only gave an oracle when money was supplied to them.  However, they all felt that Yahweh was on their side, so that he would protect them from any harm.  However, the response was quite different.  Mount Zion was going to be plowed like a field, while Jerusalem would become a heap of ruins.  The Temple mountain would become a pile of wood.  This specific prophecy of Micah was explicitly cited in Jeremiah, chapter 26, at the trial of Jeremiah.

Mourn for your lost fields (Joel 1:8-1:10)

“Lament!

Like a virgin

Dressed in sackcloth

For the husband

Of her youth!

The grain offering,

The drink offering,

Are cut off

From the house

Of Yahweh.

The priests mourn.

The ministers of Yahweh

Mourn.

The fields are devastated.

The ground mourns.

The grain is destroyed.

The wine dries up.

The oil fails.”

The people should go into mourning. They should lament like a virgin who had lost the husband of her youth, dressed in sackcloth. There was not going to be any grain or drink offerings in the house of Yahweh. The priests and the ministers should mourn because the fields were devastated. The ground itself mourned because the grain was destroyed. The wine had dried up. The oil had failed. There was good reason to go into mourning.

The holy portions for the sanctuary priests (Ezek 48:9-48:10)

“The portion

That you shall set apart

For Yahweh

Shall be

Twenty-five thousand cubits

In length.

It shall be

Twenty thousand cubits

In width.

These shall be

The allotments

Of the holy portion.

The priests shall have

An allotment measuring

Twenty-five thousand cubits

On the northern side.

It shall be

Ten thousand cubits

In width

On the western side.

It shall be

Ten thousand cubits

In width

On the eastern side.

It shall be

Twenty-five thousand cubits

In length

On the southern side.

The sanctuary

Of Yahweh

Shall be

In the middle of it.”

Ezekiel clearly delineated this sacred territory that was set apart for Yahweh. This section was to be 25,000 cubits or about a mile long and 20.000 cubits wide or about ¾ of a mile wide. The priests shall have a section 25,000 by 10,000 cubits on the northern and western side. Then there would be another 25,000 by 10,000 cubits section on the southern and eastern side. Right in the middle of these two sections would be the sanctuary of Yahweh.

The burnt sin offerings of various animals (Ezek 43:22-43:24)

“On the second day,

You shall offer

A male goat

Without blemish

For a sin offering.

The altar

Shall be purified,

As it was purified

With the bull.

When you have finished

Purifying it,

You shall offer

A bull

Without blemish.

You shall offer

A ram

From the flock

Without blemish.

You shall present them

Before Yahweh.

The priests

Shall sprinkle salt

On them.

They will offer them up

As a burnt offering

To Yahweh.”

After the first day of consecrating the altar, the following day they were to offer an unblemished male goat as a sin offering. However, the altar had to be purified as it had been the previous day. Then, they were to offer another unblemished bull, as well as an unblemished ram. These burnt offerings were to be offered to Yahweh. The priests should sprinkle salt on them, before they were offered up to Yahweh.