Christology of the Old Testament: And a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, v. 1
by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg
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conceive of the judge, the soul of the city, as being outside of it. This judge of Israel is an ideal person, formed by the prophet in order that he might be able to contrast him with the Ruler of Israel in v. 1 (2), who represents all the theocratic authorities; compare, e.g.. Is. iii. 12, where the corrupted leaders of the Theocracy present themselves to the prophet in the person of a large child. To speak, in such a case, of a collective noun, as is usually done, is out of place. But it may be observed that it is not a king who is here spoken of, but, very significantly, a judge of Israel only, probably with reference to the times before Saul, when Israel was governed by judges. The royal dominion which, according to the announcement in ver. 9, shall be destroyed by Babylon, shall be restored by the Messiah only (compare v. 1 [2], iv. 8), who is not [Hebrew: wpT iwral], but, like His great ancestor [Pg 478] David, [Hebrew: mvwl biwral]; compare 2 Sam. xxiii. 3. There can be no doubt that, in this connection, the Judge is spoken of as distinguished from, and contrasted with, the King. But even by itself, the mention of the Judge cannot but be startling. It would have been against the object of the prophet to have mentioned any inferior persons, when there existed a superior one; and if the King was thereby denoted, why should he have been designated thus?—It is on purpose that [Hebrew: iwral], which is the nomen dignitatis of the people, is here chosen. It more emphatically points out the unworthiness of the treatment, as well as the contrast between the reality and the idea in the destinies of the nation,—a contrast, it is true, which Israel has called forth by the preceding contrast between the reality and the idea with regard to his conduct. Since Israel has inwardly profaned himself by his own guilt, he is now, as a just punishment, profaned outwardly also.—With respect, now, to the historical reference of this disastrous announcement, its fulfilment cannot be sought for in any other event than the invasion by the Romans. Among the sufferings of the people, which are here described in general outlines, this is the only one recorded in history, with the exception of those already mentioned. Isaiah, the contemporary of Micah, likewise announced, as early as in chap. vi., that upon those who should return from the captivity a second judgment would be inflicted, by which the national independence should be destroyed. This judgment is described with remarkable clearness and distinctness by the post-exilic prophets, inasmuch as, to them, it appeared already more in the foreground; compare the remarks on Zech. v. and xi.; Dan. ix. The only plausible argument against this reference is this,—that the capture of the city by the Romans was subsequent to the appearance of the Messiah, and that it is, after all, the latter which forms the subject of the announcement of salvation in v. 1 (2), which, again, refers to the sufferings described in the verse before us. This argument, however, is set aside by the following considerations. 1. The prophet, indeed, designates the misery which was inflicted by those enemies upon the Covenant-people only according to its acme, viz., the siege and capture of the city; but he, nevertheless, views it in, and understands it of, its whole extent, and from its first beginnings. These, then, in so far as the Romans are concerned, fall in the time before Christ, for the Jewish [Pg 479] people were already subjected to the Roman dominion by Pompey. 2. This alone, however, is not sufficient. If, with Vershuir (de celebri oraculo Mic. iv. 14, in the Dissert. Philol. exeg. Leuw. 1775), we confine ourselves to the capture by Pompey, we cannot, by any means, get rid of the feeling that that fulfilment does not exhaust the prophecy. But we are, on the other hand, quite entitled to add that highest point, viz., the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, along with all its still existing consequences, if only we consider, that the announcement of salvation in chap. v.—as is shown by its contents, and by its accordance with the analogy of all the Messianic prophecies—is not limited to the short period of the first appearance of Christ. That comes into consideration rather as the grain of seed only from which the tree grew up, under which all the fowls of heaven were to dwell. Hence it is, that the salvation, no less than the punishment, is a continuous one, until, at the end of the days, it appears in its glorious consummation. But if it be established that Christ is presented as the only Saviour from the calamity here described, then that calamity must still continue for those who reject Him, yea, it must still be increased. It is only by giving up their opposition that they can be delivered from the yoke which presses upon them. The election, on the other hand, is, from the very beginning, received into the communion of His kingdom, which extends over the whole world. Here, however, that which has been already remarked in reference to vers. 11-13 finds its application. The siege and capture of Zion are pre-eminently the means of representing the idea of the heavy oppression and deep abasement of Israel, and of the cessation of its political independence, although it must not upon any account be overlooked, that the natural form of the representation is, at the same time, the natural form of the realization of the idea that Judah could not be destroyed without the siege and capture of Jerusalem, its centre.

Footnote 1: We must not by any means suppose, as has been done last of all by Caspari, that the mountains are here regarded as places of worship.

Footnote 2: Thus does Calvin, who says: "He speaks after the manner of the prophets, who under the term 'law' used to comprehend the whole doctrine of God."

Footnote 3: Caspari, indeed, is of opinion, that the walking in the name of the Lord is not to be considered as a merit, on account of which the salvation is granted, but as a mercy which has been bestowed upon Israel, and which forms the ground of the salvation. But this feature is not at all intimated; and we are the less at liberty to introduce it, as the walking in the name of the gods is parallel to the walking in the name of the Lord.

Footnote 4: Caspari very properly refers here to v. 3 (4), where the Messiah, in whom the former dominion is to come to the Tower of the flock, is represented as a shepherd.

Footnote 5: Micah's references to the Pentateuch are made the subject of a most thorough disquisition by Caspari, S. 419 ff.

CHAP. V. 1.

"And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, too little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall come forth unto Me (one) [Pg 480] to be Ruler in Israel; and His goings forth are the times of old, the days of eternity."

The close connection of this verse with what immediately precedes (Caspari is wrong in considering iv. 9-14 as an episode) is evident, not only from the [Hebrew: v] copulative, and from the analogy of the near relation of the announcement of salvation to the prophecy of disaster in the preceding verse (for if the connection with ver. 14 be overlooked, the announcement of disaster contained in it remains without a corresponding consolation,—and this would be against the analogy of vers. 9, 10, 11-13); but more strikingly so from the contrast of the [Hebrew: mvwl biwral] with the [Hebrew: wpT iwral]. The Judge of Israel in his deepest abasement, is here contrasted with the Ruler of Israel in His highest divine glory. The connection is seen also in the indication of Bethlehem's natural littleness, as contrasted with the greatness to be bestowed upon it by God. What could have induced the prophet thus strongly to point out this circumstance, had it not been that he considered Bethlehem as the type of the Jewish people in their misery, described in the preceding verse, and the miraculous elevation of the former, to be accomplished by divine omnipotence, as the pledge of a like result for the whole people? There is, moreover, a reference to the beginning of the pretended episode. In iv. 9, it was said: "There is no king in thee;" here, it is announced that from Bethlehem there comes forth a glorious Ruler in Israel. But, on the other hand, there is also a close connection with ver. 8, as has been rightly perceived by Caspari. This connection and reference are sufficiently indicated by the like form. The address to Bethlehem here corresponds with the address to "the Tower of the flock" there,—the "Ruler," [Hebrew: mvwl], here, with the "dominion," [Hebrew: mmwlh], there. There, the dominion returns to the house of David; here, the august person is described by whom this return is effected, after the events, described iv. 9-14, have come upon the Covenant-people. That the Ruler here comes forth out of Bethlehem, corresponds with iv. 8 in so far as there the dominion returns to the Tower of the flock, to the hill of the daughter of Zion, which implies the overthrow of the Davidic kingdom, and the return of the family of David to the condition in which it lived at Bethlehem before the time of David,—which must necessarily precede its final glory.—According to Bachiene [Pg 481] ii. 2, S. 7 ff., Bethlehem and Ephratah are to be distinguished, so that the former designates the town alone, and the latter at the same time its whole environs,—so that Bethlehem Ephratah would be equivalent to Bethlehem situated in Ephratah. But even if we were to agree with this opinion, we must not, by any means, consider the two words as standing in the stat. constr., any more than the corresponding [Hebrew: bit-lHM ihvdh ] in Judges xvii. 9, xix. 1, 2, 18. For as a Nomen proprium is equivalent to a noun with the article, it can never stand in the stat. constr. with another noun. We should thus be obliged to assume that, by way of brevity, common in geographical designations, both appellations were placed unconnectedly beside each other, without any indication of their relation, just as in addressing a letter, we would simply write Berlin, Prussia. But if we compare Gen. xxxv. 19, where Ephratah is simply declared to be identical with Bethlehem ([Hebrew: aprth hva bit lHM]);—and if we consider that the prophet had already alluded to the contents of that chapter (compare remarks on iv. 8), and that he regards the events which formerly happened in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem as a type of those which were to take place in future;—that in ver. 2 (3) he brings the new birth which is there to happen in parallelism with one which had formerly occurred in its nearest neighbourhood, and that it is just in the account of the latter that the designation occurs,—we shall have the strongest reason for understanding here also the two names as a designation of the town, without deciding whether the above-mentioned difference, as regards other passages, be well founded or not. Interpreters commonly assert that the sole ground of the twofold designation of the place is the intention of distinguishing it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun; compare Josh. xix. 15. But in that case, we should rather have expected the common Bethlehem Judah, instead of Bethlehem Ephratah. There can be no doubt, that the prophet, in choosing this designation, was guided by a regard to that passage in Genesis. One might also suppose that the prophet wished to allude, at the same time, to the appellative significations of these nouns, viz., "house of bread," and "field of fruit," and to lay stress upon their typical import: the place, the blessing of which, as regards temporal things, is indicated by its name, shall, at some [Pg 482] future time, be blessed and fruitful in a higher sense. It is just in Micah, who is fond of making significant allusions to names, that such a supposition is very natural, as is shown, not only by chap. i., but also by vii. 18, where he gives an interpretation of his own name. As, however, the two names elsewhere also occur thus connected, without any attention being given to their signification, the prophet would not have omitted giving a hint upon this point. It is not the way of Scripture to make any allusions which cannot be understood with certainty. We shall, therefore, be obliged to suppose that, after the common name, the prophet mentions, in addition, the ancient name rendered sacred by memory from the time of the Patriarch, and by the authority of the most ancient documents of revelation (compare, besides Gen. xxxv. 19, Gen. xlviii. 7), in order thereby to impart greater solemnity to the discourse, and to intimate what great things he had to say of Bethlehem. In accordance with this designation by two names, is, then, the circumstance that the address is directed to Bethlehem.—The word [Hebrew: ceir] forms an apposition to Bethlehem: "little to be," instead of, "who art too little to be." If the sense were to be, "thou art little," the [Hebrew: ath] would not have been omitted after [Hebrew: ceir]. The circumstance that Bethlehem is addressed as a masculine (comp. [Hebrew: ath], [Hebrew: ceir], and [Hebrew: mmK]) may be accounted for by the prophet's viewing the town in the image of its ideal representative; compare remarks on Zech. ix. 7. In such a case, the gender may be neglected; compare, e.g., Gen. iv. 7, where sin, [Hebrew: HTat], appears as a masculine noun, on account of the image of a ravenous beast. Such personifications occur very frequently. Thus, nothing is more common in the Mosaic law than that Israel is addressed as one man. This has been frequently misunderstood, and, in consequence, that which refers to the whole people has been applied to the single individual. Thus it is even in the Decalogue. In Is. v. 7, the people of Judah appear as the man Judah.

The littleness of Bethlehem is sufficiently evident from the circumstance of its being left out in the catalogue of the towns of the tribe of Judah, in Joshua (compare Bachiene, Sec. 192). This induced the LXX. to insert it in Josh. xv. 60 along with several other towns which had been omitted; and, in doing so, they were probably guided, not so much by a regard to its outward [Pg 483] importance, as by the interest which attached to it from the recollection of an event of former times (compare Gen. xxxv.), from its being the birth-place of David, and still more, from the prophecy under consideration, by which the eyes of the whole nation were directed to this place, outwardly so unimportant. The assertion of Jerome, that the Jews omitted the name in the Hebrew text, in order that Christ might not appear as a descendant of the tribe of Judah, has received from Reland (S. 643) a more thorough refutation than it deserved. Keil, in his commentary on Joshua, has lately renewed the attempt to prove, from internal reasons, the genuineness of the addition; but, from the whole condition of the Alex. Version, it is very dangerous to trust to such arguments. The very reasons which Keil brings forward in support of the addition, are just those which might have induced the LXX. to make it. The circumstance that they added to Bethlehem the name Ephratah, plainly indicates the reason which induced them to introduce Bethlehem specially. Bethlehem is likewise omitted in the catalogue of the towns of Judah, in Neh. xi. 25 ff., and can therefore have occupied among them a very low place only, although it is mentioned in Ezra ii. 21, Neh. vii. 26. In the New Testament, it is called a mere village ([Greek: kome], John vii. 42). Josephus, indeed, occasionally gives it the title of a town (compare Luke ii. 4, 11); but, in other passages, he designates it by [Greek: chorion], Ant. v. 2, 8.—[Hebrew: ceir lhivt] means properly, "little in reference to being," instead of, "too little to be,"—the wider expression being used to indicate the relations of the town to the being, where we use the more limited expression.—Instead of the "thousands of Judah," [Hebrew: wri alpiM] ought to have been employed, as it appears, in order strictly to maintain the personification. The representative of Bethlehem is too small to be numbered among the heads of Judah. Several expositors (J. D. Michaelis, Justi) have thereby been induced to point [Hebrew: balpi] instead of [Hebrew: balpi]. But this supposed emendation is set aside by the consideration that [Hebrew: alvP] is only the special designation of the Edomitish princes, and occurs in a general sense, only by way of Catachresis, in Zechariah, who lived at a time when the Hebrew language was nearly extinct. The most simple explanation is, that the prophet views the thousands, or the families of Judah, no less than the town Bethlehem, as ideal existences; in which [Pg 484] case, the personification is maintained throughout. Moreover, there would not be any insurmountable difficulty in the way of supposing that the prophet had given up the personification; for these are frequently not strictly adhered to by the prophets, who constantly pass from the figure to the thing prefigured. This may be at once seen from the preceding verse, in the first clause of which, Zion appears personified as a woman, while immediately afterwards there follows, "against us."—[Hebrew: alP], "thousand," is frequently used for designating a family, because the number of its members usually consisted of about a thousand; compare Num. i. 16, where it is said of the twelve princes of the tribes: "Heads of the thousands of Israel are they;" Num. x. 4; Josh. xxii. 14, 21; Judg. vi. 15; 1 Sam. x. 19. On the division of Israel into thousands, hundreds, etc.—a division which existed before the time of Moses—compare what has been advanced in my Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch, ii. p. 341 sqq. It is self-evident that the thought here is, that Bethlehem is too little to constitute a thousand by itself. Communities, however, which were not sufficiently numerous to constitute, by themselves, a generation or family, were reckoned with others, and formed with them an artificial generation, an artificial family; for the divisions of generations and families were, owing to the great significance which numbers had in ancient times, connected with numerical relations. An instance of this kind occurs in 1 Chron. xxiii. 11, 12, where it is said of four brothers that they had not sons enough, and were, for that reason, reckoned as one family only. Being merely part of a generation, Bethlehem had no place among the generations. The sense is clearly this: Bethlehem occupies a very low rank among the towns of the Covenant-people,—can scarcely show herself in the company of her distinguished sisters, who proudly look down upon her.—It is altogether a matter of course that [Hebrew: ica], "to go out," may be used also of "being born," of "descent," inasmuch as this belongs to the general category of going out; compare, e.g., 2 Kings xx. 18. We must, however, confine ourselves to the general idea of "going forth," "proceeding," and not consider Bethlehem as the father of the Messiah. In opposition to Hofmann, this is proved by Caspari, from Jer. xxx. 21: "And their governor shall proceed from the midst of them;" and from Zech. x. 4. [Pg 485]—[Hebrew: ica] is without a definite subject. It is best to supply "one," which is evidently implied in what follows. The construction, which might otherwise appear somewhat strange, has been occasioned by the desire of making perceptible, by the very words, and their position, the contrast between the divine greatness and the natural littleness of Bethlehem:—

Thou art little to be among the thousands of Judah;— From thee shall come forth unto me, to be a Ruler in Israel.

From a place which is too little to form a single independent member of the body, the head proceeds. From this contrast appears also the reason why it is said, "Ruler in Israel," while we should have expected to hear of the Ruler of Israel [Greek: kat' exochen],—a circumstance on which Paulus lays so much stress in opposing the Messianic interpretation.—Had the prophet adopted the latter expression, not only would this contrast have been less striking, but the other also, which is likewise intended, viz., the contrast with the Judge of Israel, in the preceding verse, who loses his dignity. The prophet was, in the first instance, concerned more about the genus than the individual,—more about the idea of dominion in general, than about the mode and kind of it. The individual is, afterwards, however, partly in this verse itself, partly in the following verse, so distinctly characterized, that he cannot be by any means mistaken. Nothing more, it is true, is implied in these words, than that, at some future time, there would come forth from Bethlehem a Ruler over all Israel; and if these words stood isolated, and if it could be proved that, after the time of Micah, there came forth from Bethlehem a Ruler over all Israel, besides the Messiah—a thing which, however, cannot be proved—then, indeed, it might be questionable which of the two to choose. Caspari's exposition, "Will he come forth," has this against it, that, in the preceding verses, the Messiah was not yet spoken of, and, hence, that He cannot simply be supposed as known; and least of all—if the acquaintance with Him were to be supposed from other passages—could He have been introduced with a simple unaccented he: the [Hebrew: hva] could not have been omitted in this case. The case in iv. 8 is but little analogous, for the subject in [Hebrew: tath] is there an indefinite one.—[Hebrew: li] is, by several interpreters, referred to the prophet. Thus Rosenmueller, [Pg 486] following Michaelis, says, "To me, i.e., for my good, the prophet says, in the name of his whole people." But the reference to God is required by the contrast between human littleness and divine greatness. Calvin remarks on it: "By this word, God declares that His decree to give up the people was not such, that Tie should not be willing to restore them after some time. He therefore calls the faithful back to Himself, and reminds them of His counsel, just as if He said, 'I have indeed rejected you for a time, but not so as that I am not filled with compassion for you.'" The import of the [Hebrew: li], viz., that God could exalt that which was low, the believer saw, in a type, in David; and there is no doubt that the prophet was anxious indirectly to refer them to this type, and thereby to strengthen their faith in the promise, which appeared almost incredible. He (David) had been a native of the humble, little Bethlehem, the youngest among his brothers, without power, without renown. In order that the [Hebrew: li] might become the more evident, the Lord, at his election, gave such a direction to the circumstances, that this, his natural lowliness, might be most strikingly exhibited. It was God who raised him from being a shepherd of lambs, to be a shepherd of nations.

In contrast with the Messiah's human and lowly origin. His divine and lofty dignity is prominently brought out in the last words of the verse,—a contrast similar to that in the case of Bethlehem, to which the prophet thereby refers. Here also, the prophet has so clearly expressed the contrast by the words themselves, that, upon the homines bonae voluntatis among the interpreters of all ages, it has most forcibly impressed itself. Thus, e.g., Chrysostom, demonstratio adv. Judaeos et Gentiles, quod Christus sit Deus, opp. T. V., p. 739: "He exhibits both Godhead and manhood. For in the words, 'His goings forth are from the beginning, from the days of eternity,' His existence from all eternity is revealed; while in the words, 'Shall come forth the ruler who feeds My people Israel,' His origin according to the flesh is revealed." A more minute inquiry into the meaning of these words must begin with the investigation of [Hebrew: mvcativ]. The greater number of interpreters agree in this, that [Hebrew: mrcah], the feminine form of the more common [Hebrew: mvca] here denotes the action of the going forth. But this is opposed by the following considerations. 1. The use of the plural. Those especially [Pg 487] who here think of the eternal going forth of the Son from the Father, cannot by any means Justify it. Several among them consider it as plur. majest. Thus, e.g., do Tarnovius and Frischmuth, in the Dissert. de Nativitate Messiae, in the remarks on this passage, Jena 1661. But although such a plural exists, indeed, in Hebrew, and many traces of it are to be found (compare my Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch, i. p. 267 ff.), it could appear here, of course, in the suffix only, not in the noun. Others suppose that the plural stands here simply for the singular. Now, there are, it is true, three cases in which such does apparently take place:—the first, when a definite individual out of the multitude is meant,—when accordingly, not the number, but the general idea only is concerned;—the second, when a noun in the plural gradually loses its plural signification, because the etymology and original signification have become indistinct;—the third, when the plural stands for the abstract. Not one of these cases, however, is applicable here. Those interpreters have most plausibly removed the difficulty who understand [Hebrew: mvcativ] to be really a repeated act of going forth, and refer it to the Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of the Lord. Thus Jerome: "Because He had always spoken to them through the prophets, and became in their hands the Word of God." Tremellius and Junius: "The goings forth, i.e., the declarations and demonstrations of, as it were, a rising sun; He from the very beginning revealed and manifested Himself to all created things, by the light of His word, and the excellency of His works; just as the rising sun manifests himself from the moment of his rising, by the light and its effects." Cocceius: "I cannot, however, be persuaded to believe that the plural [Hebrew: mvcativ] is here used without emphasis. For the Son has not gone forth from the Father, like a man from a man, who begins to exist only when he is brought forth from a man, and when he goes forth, ceases to be brought forth and to go out. In all the days of eternity, the Son proceeds from the Father, and is the eternal [Greek: apaugasma tes doxes autou]." But this circumstance is, in general, against this explanation, that the contrast with the going forth from Bethlehem, which is completed in one act, does not admit of the mention of a manifold going forth, and that, in this contrast, the arising, the origin of the existence of the Messiah, can alone be thought of; while, more specially, Jerome, [Pg 488] Tremellius, and Junius, who, with Piscator also, limit the going forth to the relation to created things only, are contradicted by [Hebrew: mimi evlM], by which the going forth is placed beyond the beginning of creation; and Cocceius, by the fact that the [Hebrew: mlaK ihvh] in the Old Testament, differently from the [Greek: Logos] in the New Testament, appears always as going forth from God, in relation to the world only. But although the "time of old and the days of eternity" should be considered as the place of the going forth, yet the plural cannot be explained, as is done by Caspari, from the circumstance that "a person is always descended from several;" for the transferring of such a usus loquendi to a relation, to which in itself it is not applicable, could be admitted only when it could be demonstrated to be altogether common and firmly established. But the plural might indeed, although only with some difficulty, be vindicated and accounted for from the circumstance, that two points of going forth are mentioned, which, as it were, suppose a twofold act. 2. But even if the singular were used, the explanation of the act of going forth would not be admissible. It is contrary to the idea of nouns with [Hebrew: m], that they could be used as nomina actionis. It is only with writers living at a time when the language was dying out, that a few instances of this erroneous use can be found. [Hebrew: m] denotes the place where, the instrument wherewith, the time wherein, and perhaps the way and manner whereby, something is done, or is. Further—It may signify also the thing itself which is done, or is; but, in no writer of the living and flourishing language, does it ever denote the action itself. Caspari, indeed, attempts to prove that "there occurs in the older books a number, by no means inconsiderable, of nouns with [Hebrew: m], which undeniably denote an action;" but what he has advanced on this point requires still to be minutely sifted, and to be more closely examined; compare, e.g., on Num. x. 2, my pamphlet on "The Day of the Lord," S. 32. But we are quite satisfied with what is granted by Caspari himself (compare Ewald's Lehrbuch d. Hebr. Spr. Sec. 160), that it is against the nature and common use of this form to denote the action. Even by this concession, a presumption is raised against the correctness of an interpretation which would ascribe to [Hebrew: mvca], here, and in other passages, the signification of going forth, viewed as an action. The passages quoted by Winer in favour of the signification, egressus, [Pg 489] are the following: 1. Hos. vi. 3, where it is said of the Lord [Hebrew: kwHr nkvN mvcav], "firm like the morning-dawn is His going forth." But [Hebrew: mvca] is there, not the action, but the place and the time of the going forth, as is evident from the word "firm" also. 2. Ezek. xii. 4: "And thou shalt go forth at even in their sight, [Hebrew: kmvcai gvlh]." Several interpreters agree that [Hebrew: mvca] here signifies the kind and mode of the going forth. Vatablus says, "It denotes the deportment of him who goes forth, and means, Thou shalt go forth in sorrow, and indignant." But it is better, with Haevernick, to refer it to the time: "According to the goings forth of prisoners, at the time when emigrants of this kind prefer to go forth from their places." 3. Num. xxxiii. 2: "And Moses wrote down [Hebrew: at mvcaihM], 'the places of their goings out.'" 4. Ps. xix. 7, it is said of the sun: [Hebrew: mqch hwmiM mvcav], "from the end of the heaven is his going forth," which is tantamount to—The end of the heaven is the place from which he goes forth. 5. 1 Kings x. 28: [Hebrew: vmvca hsvsiM awr lvlmh mmcriM], which De Wette translates, "And the export of the horses which Solomon had, (was) from Egypt." But a more accurate translation is, "And the place of coming forth of the horses which Solomon had was Egypt," or, more literally still, "from Egypt,"—a concise mode of expression for, "The place from which the horses of Solomon came forth was Egypt,"—just as in the preceding example. In proof of the signification, "action of going out," Ch. B. Michaelis refers, moreover, to 2 Sam. iii. 25, where De Wette translates, "Thou knowest Abner, the son of Ner; he came to deceive thee, and to see thy going out and thy coming in, and all that thou doest." But a more accurate translation would be, "The place from which thou goest out, and to which thou art going;" compare Ezek. xliii. 11. In all other passages—and these are rather numerous—the signification "place of going out," or "that which goes out," is quite obvious. Even Caspari grants that the signification "place of going out" has, a priori, the greatest probability in its favour.—To this it may be added, that the signification "place of going out" is recommended here, even by the contrast with what precedes, inasmuch as there Bethlehem, is mentioned as the place from which the Euler in Israel is to come forth. With this place of going out, another and a higher one is contrasted. This contrast also shows us how the [Hebrew: MN] [Pg 490] in [Hebrew: mqdM] and [Hebrew: mimi evlM] must be understood, viz., in the same manner as [Hebrew: nN] in [Hebrew: mmK]; for the evident reference of [Hebrew: mvcativ] to [Hebrew: ica li] shows that it must correspond with it. Hence the literal translation would be, "And His places of going out are from the times of old, from the days of eternity," which is equivalent to—The places from which He goes forth are the times of old, the days of eternity,—just as in the two passages, Ps. xix. 7; 1 Kings x. 28. The [Hebrew: mN] might very well have been omitted; but its insertion here has arisen chiefly from a desire to make the reference to the corresponding clause outwardly also more perceptible. This reference shows also, that the explanation of [Hebrew: mN] by prae, which was proposed by Pococke and others, is inadmissible, besides involving an absurdity, inasmuch as nothing can be before eternity; while, on the other hand, this reference alone affords a satisfactory explanation of the plural. According to it, the words, "From the time of old, from the days of eternity," contain a gradation. First, the existence of the Messiah before His birth in time, in Bethlehem, is pointed out in general; and then, in contrast with all time, it is vindicated to eternity. This could not fail to afford a great consolation to Israel. He who hereafter, in a visible manifestation, was to deliver them from their misery, was already in existence,—during it, before it, and through all eternity.



This History, as to its essential features, might, a priori, be sketched with tolerable certainty. From the nature of the case, we could scarcely expect that the Jews should have adopted views altogether erroneous as to the subject of the prophecy in question; for the Messiah appears in it, not in His humiliation, but in His glory—rich in gifts and blessings, and Pelagian self-delusion will, a priori, return an affirmative answer to the question as to whether one is called to partake in them. But, on the other hand, the prophecy contains a twofold ground of offence which had to be removed, and explained away at any [Pg 491] expense. One of these, the eternity of the Messiah—which was in contradiction to the popular notions, and conceivable only from a knowledge of His Godhead—could not but exist at all times; while the second of these—the birth at Bethlehem—made its appearance, and exercised its influence, only after the birth of Christ. That this should be set aside, was demanded by two causes. First, there was the desire of depriving the Christians of the proof, which they derived from the birth at Bethlehem, for the proposition that He who had appeared was also He who was promised. And, secondly, there was the difficulty of any longer deriving from Bethlehem the descent of Christ, after, by an ordinance of Hadrian (compare Reland, S. 647), all the Jews had been expelled from Bethlehem and its neighbourhood. This difficulty was strongly urged against them by Christian controversialists; compare Tertullian cont. Jud. c. xiii., "How then can the Ruler be descended from Judah, and how can He come forth from Bethlehem, as, in the present day, there is not one of Israel left there, of whose family Christ may be born?" The actual history furnishes facts and details which only confirm and enlarge what, in its essential features, we have sketched a priori.

1. The reference to the Messiah was, at all times, not the private opinion of a few scholars, but was publicly received, and acknowledged with perfect unanimity. As respects the time of Christ, this is obvious from Matt. ii. 5. According to that passage, the whole Sanhedrim, when officially interrogated as to the birth-place of the Messiah, supposed this explanation to be the only correct one. But if this proof required a corroboration, it might be derived from John vii. 41, 42. In that passage, several who erroneously supposed Christ to be a native of Galilee, objected to His being the Messiah on the ground that Scripture says: [Greek: hoti ek tou spermatos Dabid kai apo Bethleem tes komes, hopou en Dabid, ho Christos erchetai.] But even after Christ had appeared, the interest in depriving the Christians at once of the arguments which, in their controversies, they derived from this passage, was not sufficiently strong to blind the Jews to the evident indications contained in this passage, or to induce them to deprive themselves of the sweet hope which it afforded. This, it is true, would be the case nevertheless, if we were to rely upon, and believe in the assertion of Chrysostom (Hom. 7, [Pg 492] in Matt. c. 2, in Nov. Test., t. i. p. 80, ed. Frcf.): "Some of them, in their impudence, assert that this prophecy has a reference to Zerubbabel;" of Theodoret (on this passage): "The Jews have tried to refer this to Zerubbabel, which evidently fights against the truth;" of Theophylact (on Matt. ii.); and of Euthymius Zigabenus (in iv. Evang. t. 1, p. 61, ed. Mat.). But the supposition is here forced upon us—a supposition which, in another case also (compare remarks on Zech. ix. 9, 10), we must acknowledge to be well-founded—that the Fathers, having in their controversies with the Jews sometimes met a reference to Zerubbabel, forced it upon the Jews, even when the latter themselves refused it. And there can be the less difficulty in admitting this supposition, as the apparently fourfold testimony may be easily reduced to a single one,, viz., to that of Chrysostom. If these statements had any truth in them, some traces, at least, of this interpretation must be found among the Jews themselves. This, however, is not the case. All the Jewish interpreters adhere to the Messianic interpretation, and in this they are headed by the Chaldee, who paraphrases the words [Hebrew: mmK li ica] in this way: [Hebrew: mnK qdmi ipq mwiHa], i.e., From thee Messiah shall go out before me.

2. A twofold method has been tried to remove the first ground of objection mentioned above. In ancient times, they gave their full sense to the words, "Of (or from) the days of eternity," but substituted the name of the Messiah for His person. This we meet with as early as in the Chaldee, who says: [Hebrew: dwmih amir mlqdmiN mivmi elma], i.e., "Whose name is said (or called) from the days of old, from the days of eternity." Thus also the Pirke R. Elieser, ch. iii., where, with a reference to the passage before us, the name of the Messiah is mentioned among the seven things created before the world existed, viz., along with the Law, Hell, Paradise, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, Repentance; compare Schoettgen ii. S. 213. According to Eisenmenger i. S. 317, the same, with some change, is found in the Talmud, Tract. Pesachim, fol. 54, col. i., and Nedarim f. 39, c. 2. We cannot, in that explanation by the Chaldee, understand "name" in its emphatic signification, in which it often occurs in Scripture, viz., as an expression and image of the substance,—a signification in which the "name" of the Messiah would be equivalent to "the glory of the Messiah," or to "the Messiah [Pg 493] in His glory." This is evident from the [Hebrew: amir], i.e., "said" or "spoken," of the Chaldee, which does not allow of our thinking of the creation of a substance; and not less from the consideration, that if this signification of "name" were assumed, the aim and object which he had in view in substituting "name" for "person" at all, would have been missed. The name of the Messiah expresses His nature, the idea of His existence. The creation or pronouncing of this name marks, accordingly, the rise of this idea in God,—His forming the decree of redemption by the Messiah. By this explanation—which we again meet with, afterwards, in Calvin, and which we shall then consider more minutely—a mere existence in thought, was substituted for the real existence of the Messiah,—His predestination, for His pre-existence.—But in aftertimes they came still further down. To supply "the name," was too arbitrary to admit of their resting satisfied with such an explanation. Almost unanimously they now came to the supposition, that the words of the passage under consideration merely marked the descent of the Messiah from the ancient, royal house of David. Thus Abenezra: "All this is said of David; the words also, 'His goings out are of old,' refer to David." Aberbanel (Praec. Sal. p. 62): "The goings out of the family from which that Ruler is to be descended are of old, and of the days of eternity, i.e., of the seed of David, and the rod of Jesse, which is of Bethlehem-Judah." On the similar expositions of Kimchi and others, compare Frischmuth l.c., and Wichmannshausen, Dissert. on the pass., Wittenb. 1722, S. 6 ff. We could not urge against this exposition that [Hebrew: mvcavt] is erroneously understood either as "going out," or, as "family;" and that, in the latter signification, the usus loquendi, as well as the evident reference to [Hebrew: ica], are disregarded. For that might be given up, and yet the explanation would stand as to its substance. Even then, it might be translated: "His goings out (in the signification of 'places of going out') are the days of old, the days of eternity," i.e., the very ancient times; so that there would be ascribed to the time something which belongs to that which exists in it, viz., to the family of David. But the following reason is decisive against it. Every one will admit that the eternal origin of the Messiah forms a far more suitable contrast with His temporal origin from Bethlehem, than His descent from the ancient family of [Pg 494] David. The latter would come into consideration here, only on account of its antiquity; a reference to its dignity is not made by even a single word, nor is the family itself mentioned at all in the text; but the attribute of antiquity, and that alone, is nevertheless taken from it, and ascribed to the Messiah. But now, we cannot at all see what pre-eminence in this respect the family of David enjoyed above other families, and how, therefore, it could have been an honour for the Messiah to be descended from it. How strange would, according to this explanation, be the words, "of the days of eternity," which, as a climax, are added to, "of days of old!" What reason could there have existed for the prophet to exalt, by a hyperbolical expression, a limited time to eternity? As regards His human origin, the Messiah had not the slightest advantage over other mortals, as far as the age of the family was concerned. What, then, was the use of such a hyperbole in a matter which, in this connection, was of no consequence, and which could not in any way serve for His exaltation? It is just this, however, which after all is required by the contrast. What kind of consolation would thereby have been afforded to the people? Certainly no one doubted that the Messiah would have parents, and ancestors reaching back to a hoar antiquity. But was there anything gained by this, since He had it only in common with the lowest and feeblest among the people? How does this shallow, unmeaning, and yet so much pretending contrast in reference to the Messiah, suit the other contrast in reference to Bethlehem, which is so brilliant and exalted? And now what reason is there for preferring that explanation which is so unnatural, to the other, which is so natural, so obvious, which presents a contrast so beautiful, and opens up to the Covenant-people a source of consolation so rich? Is it this, perhaps, that the eternity of the Messiah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Old Testament? But the eternity of the Messiah is only a single feature of His divine nature, and just that feature which, according to the context, came here into special consideration. Caspari very correctly remarks: "The prophet pointed out just the feature of the pre-existence, and of the eternal existence of the Messiah, and these only, because the announcement of His origin from the little Bethlehem led just to this, and to this alone." The intimation of the divine nature of the Messiah is, [Pg 495] however, as old as the Messianic prediction in general; compare, concerning this, my remarks on Gen. xlix. 10. In a more definite shape, and in a more distinct form, it appears as early as in the Messianic Psalms. But it is found, in sharply defined outlines, in Isaiah, and specially in ix. 5, where, just as in the passage before us, the divine glory of the Messiah is contrasted with the lower aspect of His existence; and the closer the points of contact are between Isaiah and Micah, the less can we refuse to acknowledge such here. This circumstance also must prevent us from doing so, that immediately afterwards, in ver. 3 (4), the divine dignity and nature of the Messiah meet us anew. This passage requires, as its foundation, the one upon which we are now commenting. Moreover, the eternity which, in contrast with His birth in time, is here ascribed to the Messiah, corresponds with the eternity of His existence and dominion after His birth, which is repeatedly ascribed to the Messiah, and, most prominently, in Is. ix. 5, where He receives the name "Father of eternity," i.e., He who will be Father in all eternity.—Some one, perhaps, would infer from the subjoined words, "of the days," that [Hebrew: evlM] is here to be understood in a limited sense. But who does not know that, when eternity is predicated in contrast with a limited duration of time, just to make the contrast the more striking, those measures of time, which are properly applicable to the latter only, are transferred to the former? For in order to be able to compare things, a certain resemblance between them must necessarily be first established. Thus in Dan. vii. 9, God is called "the Ancient of Days;" thus it is said of Him in Ps. cii. 28, "Thy years have no end;" and the New Testament frequently speaks in the same way of eternal times. We are, in our thoughts, generally so much bound to time, that we can conceive of eternity only as "time without time." It cannot by any means be satisfactorily or incontrovertibly proved from vii. 14, 20, that [Hebrew: qdM] and [Hebrew: imi evlM] here designate merely the ancient time. All which that passage proves is, that such a sense is possible—and this, no one probably has ever doubted—but not that it is applicable in this connection. If the connection be considered, Prov. viii. 22, 23, will then be acknowledged to be parallel,—a passage in which the eternal existence of Wisdom is spoken of in a similar manner.

3. That, in the prophecy under consideration, Bethlehem is [Pg 496] marked out as the birth-place of the Messiah, was held as an undoubted truth by the ancient Jews. This appears from the confident reply of the Sanhedrim to the question of Herod as to the birth-place of Christ. And it is not less evident from John vii. 42. The circumstance that, after the tumult raised by Barcochba, not only Jerusalem, but Bethlehem also, was, by the Emperor Adrian, interdicted to the Jews as a residence, renders it probable that this interpretation was not given up immediately after the death of Christ. But even after this edict of Adrian, and after the difficulty had appeared in all its force, they did not, for a considerable time, venture to assert that the prophecy knew nothing of Bethlehem as the birth-place of the Messiah. It is with the later Rabbinical interpreters only, who were better skilled in the art of distorting, that this assertion is found. The ancient Jews endeavoured to evade the difficulty by the fable, dressed up in various ways, that the Messiah was indeed born at Bethlehem, on the day of the destruction of the temple, but that, on account of the sins of the people. He was afterwards carried away by a storm, and had, since that time, remained, unknown and concealed, in various places. Thus speak the Talmud, the very ancient commentary on Lamentations, Echa Rabbati, and the very old commentary on Genesis, Breshith Rabba (compare the passages in Raim. Martini, S. 348-50; Carpzovius and Frischmuth, l.c.). Indeed, we can trace this fiction still farther back. Closely connected with it is the explanation of [Hebrew: epl bt-civN] by "darkness of the daughter of Zion" ([Hebrew: cpl] being confounded with [Hebrew: apl]), i.e., hidden on account of Zion. This explanation is found as early as in Jonathan. The concealment of the Messiah is only an isolated feature of this fiction. The fiction itself, indeed, has its roots, not only in the passage under review, but also in the endeavour to remove the contradiction between the destruction of the temple, and the firm expectation of the Messiah's appearing during the time of its existence,—an expectation founded on passages of the Old Testament. This concealment of the Messiah is mentioned as early as in the Dialogus cum Tryphone (No. 8 Bened. Ven.; compare also p. 114): "Christ, even if he be born, and exist anywhere, is unknown, and neither manifests himself in any way, nor has he any power until Elijah come, etc." In order to be convinced that, at the time when this book was composed, [Pg 497] and hence in the second century, the fiction was already fully developed, we need only compare the account in Breshith Rabba. After Elijah, at the time of the birth of the Messiah, had visited his mother in Bethlehem Judah, and consoled her who was afflicted on account of the destruction of the temple, which was contemporaneous with her delivery, he withdraws. "After five years had elapsed, he said, I will go and see the Saviour of Israel, whether he be nursed up in the manner of kings or of ministering angels. He went and found the woman standing at the door of her house, and said to her: My daughter, in what state is that boy? And she answered him: Rabbi, did I not tell thee that it is a bad thing to nurse him, because, on the day on which he was born, the temple was destroyed? But this is not all; for he has feet and walks not, he has eyes and sees not, he has ears and hears not, he has a mouth and does not speak at all, and there he lies like a stone."

The Rabbinical interpreters felt, however, that this fiction, being destitute of all warrant, was of no use to them in their controversies with Christians; and it was to these that their view was chiefly directed. Hence they sought to remove the difficulty by means of the interpretation; and as all had the same interest, the result was that the distorted explanation became as generally prevalent, as the correct one had formerly been. Kimchi, Abenezra, Abendana, Abarbanel, and, in general, all the later Rabbins (compare the passages in Wichmannsh. l. c. S. 9), maintain that Bethlehem is mentioned here as the birth-place of the Messiah indirectly only,—in so far only as the Messiah was to be descended from David the Bethlehemite. There cannot well be a prepossession in favour of this exposition. The circumstance that, formerly, no one ever thought that it was even possible to explain the passage under review in any other way than that, in it, Bethlehem is spoken of as the birth-place of the Messiah, and that this exposition was discovered and introduced, only at a time when the other could no longer be received, raises, a priori, strong suspicions against it. And this suspicion is fully confirmed by a closer examination. Caeteris paribus, that explanation which here finds Bethlehem mentioned as the birth-place of the Messiah, would deserve the preference, even for this reason, that the passage, as thus understood, fills up a blank [Pg 498] in the Messianic prophecy,—and that from the whole analogy, we are led to expect that no such blank would be left. Should the family from which Christ was to descend, the time at which He was to appear, the part of the country which was pre-eminently to enjoy His blessings, and so many other things concerning Him, have been so minutely foretold, and not the place where He was to be born? Even the question of Herod, [Greek: pou ho Christos gennatai]; shows how much reason we have, a priori, to expect such a prediction. He supposes that, as a matter of course, the birth-place of the Messiah must have been determined in the Old Testament; he only inquires about the place where. But the matter is not so, that there could be any choice at all betwixt the two explanations. If we suppose that it is only the descent of the Messiah from the family of David which is here announced, the contrast between the natural littleness of Bethlehem, and its divine greatness, would be very far from being appropriate. After the family of David had, for centuries, resided and ruled at Jerusalem, the natural littleness of Bethlehem came very little into further consideration. It was not this which could render improbable the appearance of the Messiah. It was only the downfall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the King's Castle, which were in opposition to the belief in the Messiah's appearance. And, in like manner, the glory, resulting from His appearance, was not imparted to Bethlehem, but to Zion. Hence it is that, in iv. 8, where the prophet wishes to declare the descent of the Messiah from the family of David, he contrasts the glorification of Zion, and especially of the King's Castle, with its previous degradation.—Further—There is not a single instance to be found of a place, in which the ancestors of some one resided centuries ago, being spoken of as the place of his descent. Is there a single passage in which Bethlehem is mentioned as the native place of any of the kings from the Davidic dynasty who were born at Jerusalem, or as the native place of Zerubbabel who was born at Babylon? For further details concerning this argument, Huetius, dem. Evang. p 579 ed. Amstel. 1680, maybe compared.—Further—The relation of the passage under review to the parallel passage Is. viii. 23 (ix. 1) must not be overlooked. As in the latter text, the province is marked out which, by the appearance of the Messiah, is to be raised from the deepest degradation [Pg 499] to the highest glory, so, in the passage under consideration, the place is designated.—Finally—If any doubt yet remained, it must surely be removed by the fulfilment,—by the fact that Christ was actually born at Bethlehem; and this so much the more, that this fact cannot be looked upon as an accidental circumstance, for Bethlehem was not the residence of His parents.

But the Jews endeavoured, in another way, to wrest from Christian controversialists the advantage afforded by this passage. They denied altogether that Christ was born at Bethlehem. Thus Abr. Peritsol (compare Eisenmenger, l. c. S. 259): "Since they called Him Jesus the Nazarene, and not Jesus the Bethlehemite, it is to be inferred that He was born at Nazareth, as it is written in the Targum of Jerusalem." Upon this point, however, there existed no unanimity among them. David Gans, in the Book Zemach David, mentions, without any remark, Bethlehem as the birth-place of the Messiah (S. 105 of Vorst's translation).


The conviction that Christ is the subject of the prophecy under consideration was so much the prevailing one in the Christian Church, that the mention of any of its defenders is altogether superfluous. It were more interesting to learn who were the opponents of it. The assertion of Huetius, l. c., that Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius Zigabenus attempted an explanation by which it was referred to Zerubbabel, rests on a misapprehension resulting from want of memory. Huetius himself ascribes to them that very view which they most decidedly oppose as the one alleged to be held by the Jews. But this interpretation was actually advanced by Theodorus of Mopsueste, whose exegetical tendencies it admirably suited. Along with several other interpretations, it was condemned by the Council at Rome, under Pope Vigilius; compare H. Prado on Ezek. prooem. Sect. 3, and Hippol. a Lapide in prophet. min. prooem., and in the remarks on this passage. The immediate successor of Theodorus was Grotius. His book de veritate relig. Christ.—where in i. 5, Sec. 17 (p. 266, ed. Oxon. 1820), he proves [Pg 500] against the Jews the Messianic dignity of Christ, from the circumstance that He was, in accordance with the passage, born at Bethlehem—might, indeed, entitle us to infer that he was not confirmed in this opinion. But perhaps he only imagined that, in a popular work, he needed not to be so careful, and that, even according to his own views, he had retained a certain right to this use of the passage, inasmuch as he considered Zerubbabel as a type of Christ, and the birth of the latter at Bethlehem as an outward representation of His descent from the Davidic family. It was at the commencement of the Rationalistic period, when an easier mode of evading the reference to Christ had not as yet been discovered, that the reference to Zerubbabel was seized upon. It is found in Dathe and Kuehnoel (Mess. Weissagungen, S. 88). The latter, however, changed his opinion (compare Commentary on Matt. ii.), after such a mode had been discovered, by referring the prophecy to the ideal Christ. From that time onwards, the reference to the ideal Christ is found in almost all the Rationalistic interpreters. The distinctness with which the marks here given, viz., the birth in time at Bethlehem, and the eternity of the origin, lead to the historical Christ; and the difficulty of explaining these when the prophecy is referred to the ideal Messiah, are rendered sufficiently evident by the efforts which all these interpreters, without exception, have made to explain these marks away. Who does not discover, in these very efforts, a confession of their force, on the supposition that they can be, as they have already been, demonstrated to have an actual existence? God Himself has borne witness by facts against this explanation; for He ordered the circumstance in such a manner that, by the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, the prophecy was fulfilled. But how can a fulfilment be spoken of by those who do not believe in prophecy, but see in it human conjectures only, since the very idea of prophecy necessarily implies divine inspiration? How should God have impressed His own seal upon mere human conjectures, as He would have done by effecting an apparent fulfilment? He would Himself have surely become the author of error by so doing. Finally,—We shall afterwards see that, in the New Testament, this passage has been explained in the strictest sense, of the historical Christ; and the attempts of the Rationalistic interpreters to divest that [Pg 501] quotation of its import, will furnish us with a proof, that it is not truth for which they are concerned, but the removal only, at any rate and cost, of a fact which is irreconcilable with their system. All that has been advanced by them (e.g., by Justi and Ammon) against the reference to the historical Christ, rests on their misapprehension of Christ's Regal office. The Regal office of Christ is by no means a poetical image, but the most real among all kingly offices; yea. His kingdom is that from which all others derive their existence and reality. It rests, further, on their ignorance as regards the final history of the Messianic kingdom. Of the whole history of Christ, they know a single fragment only, viz.. His first appearance in His humiliation; and even this they know, and can know, only very imperfectly. His invisible dominion existing even now, they do not recognise, because it is beheld with the eye of faith only; and His future visible manifestation of it they do not believe, because they have not experienced in their own hearts the invisible power of Christ, which is a pledge and earnest of this visible success. It rests, finally, on their ignorance of the prophetic vision, which necessarily requires that the kingdom of God under the Old Testament should serve as a substratum for the description of the kingdom of Christ. It can be demonstrated, from the intimations contained in this passage, in which the Messiah appears in His glory, how little it is contradictory to others, in which He is represented in His lowest humiliation. Through humiliation to glory,—this is the proposition which lies at the foundation of the announcements of the prophet concerning the destinies of the Covenant-people, and which he distinctly expresses in regard to Bethlehem. That this proposition is applicable to the Head not less than to the members,—to Him who was born, not less than to the place where He was born, appears from the circumstance that He was to be born at the time of the deepest degradation of the Davidic dynasty, iv. 8, and not at Jerusalem, where His Royal ancestors resided, but at Bethlehem.

2. As regards the last words of this verse, the same twofold false interpretation which we noticed among Jewish interpreters, is found among Christian expositors also. One of these, which, besides in other Jewish interpreters, occurs in Jarchi ("and His goings out, etc.; just as in Ps. lxxii. 17, it was said that His name [Pg 502] should continue as long as the sun;—thus Jonathan also translated it"), changes the eternal origin of Christ into an eternal predestination. This view was held by Calvin: "These words," he says, "signify that the rising of the Prince who was to rule the nations would not be something sudden, but long ago decreed by God. I know that some pertinaciously insist that the prophet speaks here of Christ's eternal essence, and as far as I am concerned, I willingly acknowledge that Christ's eternal Godhead is here proved to us; but as we shall never succeed in convincing the Jews of this, I prefer to hold that the words of the prophet signify that Christ would not thus suddenly proceed from Bethlehem, as if God had formerly decreed nothing concerning Him." He speaks indeed of his "willingly acknowledging;" but that he was not very much in earnest in his willingness, appears from what follows: "Others advance a new and ingenious view," etc. It is only from the relation of Calvin to the earlier interpreters, that we can account for his advancing an exposition so very arbitrary. These had, ad majorem Dei gloriam, advanced a multitude of forced expositions. Calvin, who very properly hated such interpretations ("I do not like such distorted explanations," he says, in his commentary on Joel ii.), always regarded them with suspicion; and whensoever there was the appearance of any motive which may possibly have guided them in adopting a certain explanation, he himself, rather than concur with them, falls upon the most unnatural explanations in return. The best refutation of his exposition is to be found in Pococke. It is absurd to suppose that the actual going forth of Christ from Bethlehem is here contrasted with one which is merely imaginary,—the action, with a mere decree. It is without any analogy that some one should be designated as actually existing, or going forth, who exists merely in the divine foreknowledge, or the divine predestination.—The other view, which regards the last words of this verse as referring to the Messiah's descent from the ancient family of David, is found among all interpreters who, from some cause, were prevented from adopting the sound one. It is thus with the Socinians (compare, e.g., Volkel de vera religione, l. 5, c. 2), some of whom, in order the more surely to set aside a passage so damaging to their system, supposed that, according to its proper sense, it did not refer to Christ at all; e.g., Jo. Crellius, who, in his exposition of Matt. ii., asserts that it refers indefinitely to [Pg 503] some one of the family of David who, after the Babylonish captivity, was to rule the nation. It is thus with Grotius also, who says: "He (Zerubbabel) has his origin from the days of old, from ancient times, i.e., he has descended from a house, illustrious from ancient times, and governing for five hundred years." Thus it is with all the Rationalistic interpreters. Among recent faithful Christian expositors, Jahn also (Vatic. Mess. 2, p. 147) has been led away to the adoption of this opinion. But that he felt strongly, at least, one of the difficulties which stood in its way, viz., that if the reference to the family of David be assumed, it is the mere age of the family, apart from every preference on the ground of its dignity, which is mentioned to magnify the Messiah—appears from the strange exegetical process which he employs for the purpose of removing it. He supplies at the end, celebris est:—"His origin or His family (thus he erroneously explains [Hebrew: mvcativ]) is celebrated from ancient times." One may see in this case how much, in particulars, an individual still remains dependent upon a community, even although, upon the whole, he may have freed himself from such dependence. For it is certainly from this dependence alone that the fact can be accounted for, that this commentator rejected an exposition which must have been to him the most agreeable, which has everything in its favour, and nothing against it,—and chose another instead, the nakedness of which he was obliged to cover as well as he could, while, in so doing, he was violating his exegetical convictions. Ewald also permits himself to introduce into the passage what is necessary for the sense which he has made up his mind to adopt. In place of the simple antiquity, he puts: "Descended from the ancient, venerable royal family of David." The view taken by Hofmann is peculiar: "He comes from the family of David, just as it had happened long ago, when that family still belonged to the community of Bethlehem,—from the community of Bethlehem does He come." Weiss. u. Erf. 1, S. 251. In order to get at this rather superfluous repetition, he has substituted the manner in which the family of David formerly existed, for "the days of old, and eternity." The "origins" (this is the sense which he gives to [Hebrew: mvcativ]) cannot be attributed to that portion only of David's family which dwelt at Bethlehem; for He was descended from them indirectly only, through the royal family of David.

[Pg 504]

3. The Jewish assertion, that in the prophecy there is no allusion to the birth at Bethlehem of Him who was to come, could not fail to be repeated by Grotius and his supporters, inasmuch as Zerubbabel was not born at Bethlehem. "Zerubbabel," he says, "is rightly said to have been born at Bethlehem, because he was of the family of David which had its origin there." This is, in like manner, repeated by the Rationalistic interpreters, in order to avoid the too close coincidence of the prophecy with the actual history of Christ, e.g., by Paulus and Strauss (both, in their "Life of Jesus"), and by Hitzig. It is remarkable, however, that, in order the more securely to attain this object, some have gone so far even as to follow the example of several Jews, and of the infamous Bodinus (de abditis rerum sublimium arcanis, l. 5, compare the refutation by Huetius, l.c. p. 701), and to characterize the evangelical account concerning the birth of Christ at Bethlehem as unworthy of credit. Such has been the case with Ammon especially.


Several interpreters, Paulus especially, have asserted that the interpretation of Micah which is here given, was that of the Sanhedrim only, and not of the Evangelist, who merely recorded what happened and was said. But this assertion is at once refuted when we consider the object which Matthew has in view in his entire representation of the early life of Jesus. His object in recording the early life of Jesus is not like that of Luke, viz., to communicate historical information to his readers. The historical event which he could suppose to be already known to his readers, comes into his view only in so far as it served for the confirmation of Old Testament prophecies. Hence it is that he touches upon any historical circumstance, just when the mention of it can serve for the attainment of this purpose. Thus, the design of the genealogy is to prove that, in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament, Christ was descended from Abraham, through David. Thus all which he mentions in chap. i. 18-21, serves only to prepare the way for the quotation of the prophecy of Isaiah, that the Messiah was to be born of a [Pg 505] virgin, which is subjoined in ver. 22, with the words: [Greek: touto de holon gegonen hina plerothe.] Even the [Greek: holon] proves that all which precedes is mentioned solely with a view to the prophecy. The [Greek: parermeneia] of Olshausen which refers the [Greek: holon] to the whole, in contrast with the particular, can be accounted for only from the embarrassment into which this commentator could not here avoid falling by his interpretation of the prophecy of Isaiah, according to which a semblance of agreement is, with the utmost difficulty, made out betwixt it, and the event in which Matthew finds its fulfilment. Moreover, all the single features of the account have too distinct a reference to the prophecy which is to be afterwards quoted. It is from a regard to it, that he is most anxious to point out that Christ was conceived by a pure and immaculate virgin, that, in ver. 25, he expressly adds that before the birth of Jesus, Mary had had no connubial intercourse with Joseph, because Immanuel was not only to be conceived, but born of a virgin. The words, [Greek: kaleseis to onoma autou Iesoun], correspond exactly with [Greek: kai kalesousi to onoma autou Emmanouel]. The Evangelist explains the latter name by [Greek: meth' hemon ho Theos], which, again, cannot be without an object, for the name of Jesus (Gottheil, God-Salvation) has, with him, the same signification. We pass over, in the meantime, the section ii. 1-12. In ver. 13 there follows the account of the flight into Egypt with a reference to Hos. xi. 1. This passage refers, in the first instance, to Israel; but Israel does not here come into view according to its carnal condition, but only according to its divine destination and election,—as is evidently shown by the designation "Son of God." Israel was called to preserve the truth of God in the midst of error, to proclaim among the Gentiles the mighty acts of God, and to be His messenger and ambassador. In this respect Israel was a type of the Messiah, and the latter, as it were, a concentrated and exalted Israel. It is from this relation alone that many passages in the second part of Isaiah can be explained; and in Is. xlix. 3, the Messiah is expressly called Israel. If, then, there existed between Israel and the Messiah such a relation of type and Antitype;—if this relation was not accidental, but designed by God, it will, a priori, appear to us most probable that the abode of the children of Israel in Egypt, and the residence of Christ in the same country, have a relation to each other. This supposition rests upon the perception of the [Pg 506] remarkable coincidence which, by divine Providence, generally exists betwixt the destinies of typical persons, and those of the Antitype, so that the former may be considered as an actual prophecy of the latter. But this coincidence must here not be sought in the stay in the same country only; this circumstance served only to direct attention to the deeper unity, to represent it outwardly. It was not from their own choice, but from a series of the most remarkable dispensations of Providence, and on the express command of God, that Israel went to Egypt. They thereby escaped from the destruction which threatened them in the land for which they were really destined. They were there prepared for their destiny; and when that preparation was finished, they were, agreeably to the promise of God, which was given to them even before they went down into Egypt, introduced into that land in which their destiny was to be realized. The same providence of God which there chose the means for the preservation of His kingdom, which was at that time bound up with the existence of the typical Israel, chose the same means now also when their hopes concentrated themselves in the person of their future Head. It was necessary that Egypt should afford Him a safe abode until the danger was over.—There then follows, in vers. 16-19, the account of the murder of the children of Bethlehem, with a sole reference to Jer. xxxi. 15, and just on account of it. Here, too, we must not think of a simple simile only. In Jeremiah, the mother of Israel laments over the destruction of her children. The Lord appears and comforts her. Her grief is, at some future time, to be changed into joy. She is to see the salvation which the Lord will still bestow upon her sons. That which, therefore, constitutes the essence of that passage is the contrast of the merited punishment which Israel drew down upon themselves by their sins, with the unmerited salvation which the mercy of the Lord will bestow upon them. Now, quite the same contrast is perceptible in the event under consideration. In the same manner as the tyranny of the Chaldeans, so that of Herod also was a deserved punishment for the sins of the Covenant-people. Herod, by birth a foreigner, was, like Nebuchadnezzar, a rod of correction in the hand of the Lord. The cruel deed which, with divine permission, he committed at the very place in which the Saviour was born, was designed actually and visibly to remind the Covenant-people [Pg 507] of what they had deserved by their sins,—was intended also to be a matter-of-fact prophecy of the impending more comprehensive judgment, and thus to make it manifest that so much the more plainly, the sending of the Messiah was purely a work of divine mercy, destined for those only who would recognise it as such. From this it appears that the Old Testament event, to which the prophet, in the first instance, refers, viz., the carrying away into captivity, and the deliverance from it, were prophecies by deeds of those New Testament relations (in which, however, the typical relation of the murder of the children at Bethlehem, as we have stated it, must not be overlooked);—that both were subject to the same laws, that both were a necessary result of the working of the same divine mercy, and that hence, a declaration which, in the first instance, referred to the first event, might at the same time be considered as a prophecy of the second.—Vers. 19 and 20 have for their foundation Exod. iv. 19, where the Lord, after having ordered Moses to return to Egypt, subjoins the words: [Greek: tethnekasi gar pantes hoi zetountes sou ten psuchen]. That which the Lord there speaks to Moses, and that which, here. He speaks to Joseph, proceed from the same cause. Like all servants of God under the Old Testament, Moses is a type of Christ. There is the same overruling by divine Providence, the same direction of all events for the good of the kingdom of God. Moses is first withdrawn from threatening danger by flight into distant regions. As soon as it is time that he should enter upon his vocation, the door for the return to the scene of his activity is opened to him. Just so is it with regard to Christ.—Vers. 21-23 have for their sole foundation the prophetic declaration: [Greek: hoti Nazoraios klethesetai] (compare, on these words, the remarks on Is. xi.). The particular circumstances which are mentioned, viz., that Joseph had the intention of settling in Judea, but received from God the command to go into Galilee, are designed only to make it more perceptible that the fulfilment of this prophecy was willed by God.

From this summary it sufficiently appears that the object of Matthew in chap. i. and ii. was by no means of an historical, but rather of a doctrinal nature; and since this is the case, all the objections fall to the ground, which Sieffert, solely by disregarding this object of the writer, has lately drawn from these [Pg 508] chapters against the genuineness of Matthew's Gospel. And if we apply this to the question before us, it follows that the section ii. 1-12 must likewise have an Old Testament foundation. That this foundation can, in the first instance, be sought for only in the prophecy of Micah, becomes evident from the circumstance, that Bethlehem is, in ver. 1, mentioned as Christ's birth-place. If we now take into consideration the fact that the Evangelist does not mention at all that the parents of Jesus formerly resided at Nazareth, just because it had no reference to any prophecy of the Old Testament (it is merely by designating, in the account of the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem as the place of His parents, that he intimates that that which had been previously reported had happened in a different place),—and that, on the other hand, he mentions the residence of the Holy Family at Nazareth, after their return from Egypt, evidently for the sole purpose of bringing it into connection with a prophecy,—it becomes quite evident that it is not from any historical interest that this circumstance, which was known to all his readers, is mentioned. To this it may be further added, that the account given in vers. 1-6, especially the communication of the answer of the Sanhedrim to the question of Herod, would, according to the proved object and aim of Matthew, stand altogether without a purpose, unless he had considered the answer of the Doctors as being in harmony with the truth, and hence as superseding his usual formula, [Greek: hina plerothe]. In order to show how much Matthew was guided by a regard to the Old Testament, and how frequently, at the same time, he contented himself with a mere allusion, supposing his readers to be acquainted with the Old Testament—as is quite evident from vers. 20 and 23—we must further consider the second Old Testament reference which he has in view in vers. 1-12. The passages to which he refers are Ps. lxxii. 10: "The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts;" and Is. lx. 6: "All they from Sheba shall come, they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord." The representation, in these and other similar passages, is, in the first instance, a figurative one. Gifts are in the East a sign of allegiance. The fundamental thought is this: "The most distant, the wealthiest, and the most powerful nations of the earth shall do homage to the Messiah, and consecrate to Him themselves and all that they have." But that which is [Pg 509] prophesied by a figurative representation in these Old Testament passages began to be fulfilled by the symbolical action of the Magi, by which the image was represented externally; for the gold, incense, and myrrh which they consecrated to the new-born King of the Jews symbolized the homage which they offered to Him; and these gifts are certainly expressly mentioned by Matthew for this reason, that they occur in the Old Testament passages. As this event formed, in one respect, the beginning of the fulfilment, so, in another, it formed a new prophecy by deeds,—the type of a new, greater, and more proper fulfilment. The Apostles considered these Magi as the types and representatives of the whole mass of heathen nations who were, at a subsequent period, to do homage to the Messiah. They were the ambassadors, as it were, of the heathen world, to greet the new-born King, just as the shepherds, whom God Himself had chosen, were the deputies of the Jews. In my work on Balaam, pp. 480-482, I have proved that, even with these references, the contents of the passage are not yet exhausted,—that there still remains a prominent point, viz., the star which the Magi saw, and that this refers to Balaam's prophecy of the star proceeding from Jacob.

But if it be established that the view of the prophecy under consideration, which the Evangelist reports as that of the Sanhedrim, must, at the same time, be considered as his own, we must also suppose that the quotation, even in its particulars, is approved by him, and that the view which was first advanced by Jerome ("I believe that he wished to exhibit the negligence of the scribes and priests, and wrote it down as it had been spoken by them"), and recently by Paulus, cannot be made use of in order to justify the deviations,—if any should indeed be found. In order to ascertain this, we must examine more closely the quotation in its relation to the original text of the passage, Matt. ii. 6: [Greek: Kai su Bethleem, ge Iouda oudamos elachiste ei en tois hegemosin Iouda. ek sou gar exeleusetai hegoumenos, hostis poimanei ton laon mou, ton Israel.] The first thing which demands our attention is [Greek: ge Iouda] for the Ephratah of the original. The reason of this deviation is to be sought for in the circumstance, that the place appears as Bethlehem Judah in 1 Sam. xvii. 12, where it is mentioned with a reference to David. The deviation at the beginning has, accordingly, the same purpose [Pg 510] as that at the close. As regards the grammatical exposition of [Greek: ge Iouda], it stands for: Bethlehem situated in the land of Judah,—a short mode of expression which is common in geographical and other similar designations, just as in the Old Testament also we find [Hebrew: bit-lHM ihvdh], for: Bethlehem situated in the land of Judah. The assertion of many interpreters, that [Greek: ge] has here the signification "town," is as objectionable as the attempt to change the text, made by Fritzsche, who advances nothing on the whole verse that can stand examination. The Evangelist here as little follows the LXX. as he does the Hebrew text. The former has here: [Greek: kai su Bethleema, oikos Ephratha] (thus without an article. Cod. Vatic.). Fritzsche thinks that [Greek: oikos] had been brought into the text from the margin. But the translator evidently considered "Ephratah" to be the proper name of Caleb's wife (1 Chron. ii. 19, 50, iv. 4), from whom others also, e.g., Adrichomius (compare Bachiene ii. 2, Sec. 190), derived the name of the place, and did nothing else than express more definitely, by the subjoined [Greek: oikos], the relation of dependence which, as he supposed, was indicated by the Genitive. The apparent contradiction, that the prophet calls Bethlehem small, whereas the Evangelist speaks of it as by no means small, has already been so satisfactorily explained by ancient and modern interpreters (compare, e.g., Euthymius Zigabenus l. c. p. 59: "Although in appearance thou art small, yet, truly, thou art by no means the least among the principalities of the tribe of Judah;" Michaelis: "Micah, looking to the outward condition, calls it small; Matthew, looking to the birth of the Messiah, calls it by no means small, inasmuch as, by that birth, that town was in a wonderful manner adorned and exalted"), that we need not dwell upon it. We only remark, that the supposition of Paulus, that the members of the Sanhedrim understood the verse interrogatively—"Art thou, perhaps, too small," etc.—receives no confirmation from the passage in Pirke Eliezer, c. 3, which he quotes in favour of it, but which he saw only in the Latin translation of Wetzstein; for, in the original text, the verse is quoted in literal agreement with the Hebrew original; compare Eisenmenger, i. p. 316. A comparison with the Chaldee, who with similar liberty paraphrases, "Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, shalt soon be numbered," clearly shows that the deviation has arisen rather from an endeavour to express the sense more [Pg 511] clearly and definitely. On such deviations, Calvin strikingly remarks: "Let the reader always attend to the purpose for which the Evangelists quote Scripture passages, that they may not scrupulously insist upon single words, but be satisfied with this,—that the Scriptures are never distorted by them to a different sense."—Micah introduces Bethlehem in the person of its representative; but this figure Matthew has dropped at the beginning. Instead of the Masculine [Hebrew: ceir] he puts the Feminine [Greek: elachiste]; and, on the other hand, he renders [Hebrew: balpi] by [Greek: en tois hegemosi], which, in a way not to be mistaken, suggests this representation. Fritzsche announces himself as the man who would heal this f[oe]dum sol[oe]cismum which had not hitherto been remarked by any one. He proposes to read: [Greek: Kai su Bethleem tes Ioudaias oudamos elachiste ei en tois hegemosin Iouda],—"and thou Bethlehem, by no means the smallest part of the land of Judah, art," etc. But altogether apart from the arbitrary change of [Greek: ge Iouda],—which certainly no one could ever have been tempted to put for the more simple [Greek: tes Ioudaias],—the personification could even then not have been maintained, and the f[oe]dus sol[oe]cismus would still remain. Even although the [Greek elachiste] be understood in accordance with the "elegantissimus Graecorum usus," Bethlehem must, after all, be treated as a thing—as a town. Nor is the case much improved by the assistance which Fritzsche immediately afterwards endeavours to give to the text: [Greek: kai su Bethleem, ge Iouda, oudamos elachiste ei en tais hegemosin Iouda], "among the principal towns of the families in Judea." Is there an instance in which [Greek: hai hegemones] means the "principal towns?" Moreover, the relation of [Greek: hegemosin] to the subsequent [Greek: hegoumenos], which requires the Masculine, has been overlooked.—Micah personifies Bethlehem from the outset. Matthew first introduces Bethlehem as a town, but afterwards passes to the personification by speaking of the [Greek: hegemones]; instead of the tribes. For this he had a special reason in the regard to the subsequent [Greek: hegoumenos]. Bethlehem, although outwardly small, is, notwithstanding, when regarded from a higher point of view, even in the present by no means small among the leaders of Judah, for, from it, in the future, the great leader of Judah shall proceed. This relation, which is so evident, must the rather be assumed, that in Micah also a contrast occurs which, as to the sense, is altogether similar. It serves, at the [Pg 512] same time, for a proof against the assumption that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in the Aramean language,—a view which is, generally, opposed also by the free handling of the Old Testament text in the whole quotation. The inconsistency in the use of the personification is, further, the more easy of explanation, since it is altogether of an ideal character, and, substantially, person and town are not distinguished.—The last words in Micah, "And His goings forth," etc., have been omitted by Matthew, because they were not needed for his purpose, which was to show that, according to the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem. On the other hand, the [Hebrew: biwral] of Micah is paraphrased by: [Greek: hostis poimanei ton laon mou, ton Israel]. These words refer to 2 Sam. v. 2: "And the Lord says to thee, Thou shalt feed My people Israel, and thou shalt be a prince over Israel." They point out the typical relation between the first David who was born at Bethlehem, and the second David, the Messiah.

With respect to the relation betwixt prophecy and its fulfilment, we must here still make a general remark. It is everywhere evident (compare the remarks on Zech. ix. 9), that the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament forms a secondary purpose of the events of the New Testament, but that in none of the latter this fulfilment is the sole object. Every one, on the contrary, has its significance apart from the prophecy; and it is by this significance that prophecy and history are equally governed. This general remark is here also confirmed. The birth of Christ at Bethlehem testified, in one respect, for the divine origin of the prophecy of the Old Testament, and, in another, that Jesus is the Christ. But its main object, altogether independent of this, was to represent, outwardly also, the descent of Christ from David. This was recognised by the Jews even, at the time of Christ, as appears from the addition [Greek: hopou en Dabid], John vii. 42. Of the two seats of the Davidic family, viz., Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the former is chosen, partly, because, from its external littleness, it was, generally, very suitable for prefiguring the lowliness of the Messiah at the outset—a circumstance which is expressly pointed out by the prophet himself—and partly, because it was peculiar to the family of David during its obscurity; whilst Jerusalem, on the contrary, belonged to their regal condition,—and the Messiah [Pg 513] was to be born in the fallen tabernacle of David, to be a rod from the cut off stem of Jesse, Is. xi. 1. That this reference also was in the view of the prophet, seems to be evident from a comparison of iii. 12, and iv. 8, 9, 14. At all events he considered the family of David as having altogether sunk at the time of the Messiah's appearing. The very threatenings in chap. i.-iii. imply the destruction of the Davidic kingdom. This meets us, very distinctly, in chap. iv.

* * * * *

Ver. 2. "Therefore will He give them up until the time that she who is hearing hath brought forth; and then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the sons of Israel."

The description of what the Messiah is to bestow upon the Covenant-people begins in this verse, and is carried on through the whole chapter. By [Hebrew: lkN] the close connection of v. 1 with vi. 9-14 is indicated. Michaelis remarks: "Because this is the counsel of God, first to afflict Zion, on account of her sins, and, afterwards only, to restore her through the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem." In chap. iv. 9-14, it is implied that the giving up will not terminate before His birth; in v. 1, that it will come to an end with His birth. The whole time described in iv. 9-14 is a time of affliction, of giving up Israel to the world's power in a threefold form of its manifestation. In iv. 14, however, the affliction has reached its highest point, and the lucid interval, mentioned in vers. 12, 13, has fully expired. It is only when we look back to v. 1 alone, that the "therefore" with which our verse opens is not explained, inasmuch as there it is said only, that with the Messiah deliverance and salvation would come, but not that the affliction would continue until He should come.—[Hebrew: ntN] is similarly used in 2 Chron. xxx. 7: "And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren who trespassed against the Lord God of your fathers; therefore He gave them up to desolation ([Hebrew: vitnM lwmh]), as you see." With respect to the words, "Until the time that she who is bearing hath brought forth," there is an essential difference of opinion as to the explanation of the main point. One class of interpreters—comprehending Eusebius and Cyril, and by far the greatest number of the ancient Christian expositors; and among the more recent, Rosenmueller, Ewald, Hitzig, Maurer, and Caspari—understand [Pg 514] by "her who is bearing," the mother of the Messiah. Another class understands thereby the Congregation of Israel. The latter, however, differ from each other as to the signification and import of the figure of the birth. Some—Abendana, Calvin, and Justi—suppose the tertium comparationis to be the joy following upon the pain. Others—Theodoret, Tarnovius ("until Israel, like a fruitful mother, has brought forth a numerous progeny"), Vitringa (in his Commentary on Revel. S. 534)—suppose it to be the great increase. Let us first decide between these two modifications of that view which refers the words to the Congregation of Israel. The former—the joy following after the pain—appears to be inadmissible for this single reason, that among the very numerous passages of the Old Testament where the image of a birth is employed, there does not occur even one, in which the joy following after the pain is made prominent, as is the case in the well-known passage in the New Testament. On the contrary, in all the passages which come into consideration on this point, it is rather the pain accompanying the birth which is considered. Thus Mic. iv. 10; Is. xxvi. 17; Jer. iv. 31: "For I hear a voice as of a woman in travail, anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first-born child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, she groaneth, spreadeth her hands: Woe to me, for my soul is wearied, through them that kill;" xxx. 6, xlix. 24; Hos. xiii. 13. To consider the pain alone, however, as the tertium comparationis, is inadmissible, because, in that case, we would obtain the absurd meaning: the suffering shall continue until the suffering cometh. It is likewise impossible to understand the bringing forth as the highest degree of affliction,—so that the sense would be: the Lord will give them up until the distress reaches its highest point,—because this meaning could apply only in the event of the lower degrees, the pains before the birth, being also mentioned. They who hold and defend the second modification of this view, can indeed refer to, and quote, a large number of parallel passages—almost all of them from the second part of Isaiah—where this image occurs with a similar signification. Thus, e.g.. Is. liv. 1: "Shout for joy, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into shouting and exult, thou that didst not travail; for more numerous are the sons of the desolate than the sons of the married wife, saith the Lord;" xlix. 21, 22, lxvi. 7-9. But we must nevertheless prefer [Pg 515] to this explanation, that which refers the words to the mother of the Messiah, for the following reasons. 1. If the words were to be referred to the Congregation of Israel, we should expect the Article before [Hebrew: ivldh]. For the Congregation of Israel is substantially mentioned in what immediately precedes; she is only a personification of those who are to be given up. 2. It is true that, frequently, the personification is not consistently carried out; but the circumstance that here, in the same sentence, the children of Israel are spoken of in the plural ("He will give them up"), and that no trace of a personification is found in what follows, but that, on the contrary, the children of Israel are mentioned expressly, makes the pretended personification appear in rather an abrupt manner, so that such an assumption would be admissible in a case of necessity only. 3. If referred to the Congregation of Israel, the relation of the Messiah to that great event, and epoch, is not intimated by a single word. Of Him ver. 1 speaks, and of Him vers. 3-5. How then can it be that in ver. 2 there should all at once be a transition to the general Messianic representation? 4. The suffix in [Hebrew: aHiv], which refers to the Messiah, requires that He should be indirectly mentioned in what precedes; and such is the case, only when the [Hebrew: ivldh] is she who is to bring forth the Ruler announced in ver. 1. 5. It appears from the reference to Gen. xxxv., which we have already pointed out and proved, that the prophet has in view one who is to bring forth in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, which had in ancient times already become remarkable by a birth, is in future to be ennobled by another birth, infinitely more important. 6. The comparison of Is. vii. 14, where likewise the mother of the Messiah is mentioned; compare the remarks on that passage. 7, and lastly—The evident reference of "Until the time that she who is bearing hath brought forth" to "From thee shall come forth," suggests the mother of the Messiah. That she is designated as "she who brings forth," may be explained from the circumstance that she comes into view here in a relation which is altogether one-sided, viz., only as regards the one event of the birth of the Messiah.—Among the blessings which the Messiah is to confer upon the Congregation of the Lord, there is first of all viewed the fundamental blessing, the condition of all others, viz., the change which He is to effect in the disposition of the Covenant-people. [Pg 516] It is this which, above and before everything else, needs to be changed, if Israel is not any more to be given up; for Israel which is so only by name and in appearance, is the legitimate prey of the world.—By the Brethren of the Messiah, the members of the Old Covenant-people, His brethren according to the flesh, can alone be understood. There is no Old Testament analogy for referring the expression to the Gentiles. We are led to the reference to Israel by the connection with the first member of the verse. The brethren are such as have become the Messiah's brethren by the circumstance that He has been born of the Bethlehemitish woman "who is to bring forth" (Caspari). We are led to it, further, by v. 1, according to which, the Messiah is to be Ruler in Israel; and, still further, by the fundamental passage in Ps. xxii. 23: "I will declare Thy name unto my brethren," where, according to the address in ver. 24, the brethren are all the descendants of Israel, among whom a great awakening is to be produced.—The construction of [Hebrew: wvb] with [Hebrew: el] may be explained by the remark of Ewald: "[Hebrew: el] stands in its primary local signification with verbs also, when the thing moves to another thing, and remains upon it." Of a material return the verb [Hebrew: wvb] with [Hebrew: el] is thus used in Prov. xxvi. 11, Eccles. i. 6;—of a spiritual return, 2 Chron. xxx. 9: [Hebrew: bwvbkM el ihvh] "when ye return to the Lord," properly, "upon the Lord;" and Mal. iii. 24 (iv. 6): "And he makes return the hearts of the fathers to the sons, [Hebrew: el bniM],"—which latter passage has a striking resemblance to the one under review. In the latter signification [Hebrew: wvb] must be taken here also.—By the "sons of Israel," here, as ordinarily, the whole of the Covenant-people are signified, and that by its highest and holiest name. From this holy communion, the wicked—the souls which, according to the expression of the Lord, are cut off from their people—are separated and dissevered; compare my commentary on Ps. lxxiii. 1. The whole description of the prevailing corruption, and especially vii. 1, 2, show us to what an extent this separation existed at the time of the prophet. But, by the Saviour, this separation is to be abolished, and the lost and wandering are to be brought back to the communion of the church,—a work which, according to Rom. xi., will be perfected in the future only.[1]

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