What we are going to do in this season of Advent is take a closer look at a number of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah. We are going to look first at the geographical predictions. What places are involved? After that, we will take up other aspects of His nativity, week to week. Remember that all of God’s promises were wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger.
“But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).
Bethlehem, the House of Bread
Bethlehem was known as a little town (Micah 5:2). Nevertheless, despite the small size, it was a town that was going to produce a son that was to become a ruler in Israel (v. 2). This son is going to be from two apparently inconsistent places. He was going to be from Bethlehem, a small town in Judah. He was also going to be from of old, from everlasting. He was to be from Bethlehem without in any way being contained by Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was a little town, but one that figured largely in the history of Israel. Rachel died there (Gen. 35:19; 48:7). In the book of Judges, we are told the story of a Levite from Bethlehem who became a compromised priest for some freebooting Danites (Judg. 18:20). The murdered concubine—whose death started the war that almost wiped out the tribe of Benjamin—was from Bethlehem (Judg. 19:1). Ruth, the Moabitess ancestor of David and Christ, followed her mother-in-law Naomi to settle in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19). This is what anchored the ancestry of Christ to this particular town. Samuel anointed David as the future king there in Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:13).
With regard to Bethlehem, we have something of an intersection of prophecies. Balaam prophesied that a star would arise out of Jacob and that a scepter would rise out of Israel (Num. 24:17). Remember that the wife of Jacob died at Bethlehem, and it was she who would not be comforted after the slaughter of the innocents (Matt. 2:18). The star that was predicted by Balaam, in combination with our text, led the wise men to Bethlehem. Balaam also mentioned a scepter, which should make us think of Jacob final blessing of his sons. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10).
Now we know from Scripture that Balaam was a wicked man (2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11), but at the same time he was a true prophet—meaning he had a true prophetic gift. He would not curse Israel while using his prophetic gifts because he could not (Num. 24:13), but he was willing to give Balak some carnal and cynical advice on how to use the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men (Num. 31:16; Rev. 2:14). Because of this, the Israelites killed Balaam with the sword (Josh. 13:22)
Out of Egypt
Joseph was warned in a dream about the murderous intent of Herod, and so he gathered up Mary and the baby, and they fled to Egypt.
“And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
Matthew 2:15 (KJV)
There are two lessons we can gather from this, and we can see in both of them how typology works. A type is an enacted prophecy, and the fulfillment of a type is called the antitype. Thus Adam is a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14), and Christ is the antitype of Adam (John 19:34). Noah’s ark was a type of Christian baptism, which made baptism the antitype (1 Pet. 3: 20-21).
The Exodus from Egypt was a type with two layers. God led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. That was the type. But then when the baby Jesus was called out of Egypt, that was the prophesied antitype. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1). This is fulfilled in two directions. When Herod died, Joseph brought his family back, coming up out of Egypt. But when they fled in the first place, they were running from Herod, who had become a new Pharaoh, killing Jewish babies, and so Israel had become a new Egypt. Both meanings fit well, but the primary meaning should be the holy family coming up out of Egypt. Matthew says that they stayed there until the death of Herod so that . . . If it was completely fulfilled when they first fled from Herod, then they wouldn’t need to wait for the death of Herod for it to be fulfilled.
But we must not forget the next layer. When Jesus communed with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, what were they talking about? In Luke 9:31, it says they were speaking of the Lord’s decease, but the word used there is exodos. His death, burial, and resurrection were our spiritual Exodus from sin and bondage. He was going to be the new Moses, leading us all out of a spiritual Egypt.
Light in Galilee
When Nicodemus objected to the attitude of the Pharisees, their retort had to do with the place where Jesus had grown up. “They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52).
But notice what these students of the law were doing. They were insulting Nicodemus over his lack of scriptural knowledge when their own obtuseness in this department was glaring and apparent
“When at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:1–2).
This is declared by Matthew to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Remember that Christ grew up in Galilee, and Matthew says that His return home (to Galilee) and ministry in Capernaum (Zebulun and Naphtali) was the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah.
Isaiah tells us that this the place where the light dawned. But as the sun rises to its zenith, the thing to remember is that Christ is the light that shines on every man. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). What then is our Christmas message?
“Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
Ephesians 5:14 (KJV)