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Bible Q

What does “coming forth from ancient days” mean? (Micah 5:2)

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

The verse is one of the few verses in the Old Testament (along with Proverbs 8:22-30 and the three angels appearing to Abraham) which is sometimes used by Christians to find evidence of the Trinity and preexistence of Christ in the Old Testament. Though oddly enough the phrase “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” is not included by Matthew when he applies the verse in Micah to Christ.

Matthew 2:6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Context of Micah

Micah is contemporary with Isaiah:

Micah 1:1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

That means that any prophecy about a future Davidic king should be read parallel to Isaiah’s prophecy about Emmanuel. With Isaiah’s prophecy it is clear that there is a dual fulfillment (Isaiah indicates that the first ‘Immanuel’ will be born c.736 BC Is.7:16, but Matthew reapplies the prophecy to Jesus Matt.1:23), so it is possible that Micah 5:2 is also a dual fulfillment prophecy — the first Davidic shepherd is Hezekiah, the second fulfillment is Jesus. In fact the standard Jewish reading of Micah 5 is to only apply it to Hezekiah.

Hebrew “comings forth”

The word “comings forth” (Hebrew mowtsa’ot) is plural, and comes from the verb ‘to come out’ (mowtsa’) used 27 times in the Old Testament, for people coming out, such as coming out of Egypt (Num.33:2), water springs (2 Kings 2:21, Psalm 107:33, 35, Isaiah 58:11), sunrise (Ps.19:7), and a vein of silver in rock (Job 28:1).In the Greek Old Testament used by the Jews in the time of Jesus and the early church, Micah 5:2 translates “comings forth” by the plural of the word that has come into English as Exodus (Greek exodoi pl.). It is also related to the verb stem “come forth” used earlier in the same sentence:

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth (yatsa’) for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth (mowtsa’ot pl.) is from of old, from ancient days.

There is nothing particular in the phrase “comings out” that suggests literal preexistence, nothing to suggest that Christ was concealed in heaven and “came out” when he was born in Bethlehem, it simply refers to Christ’s origins — which as Son of David, we already know.

“From ancient days” or “from everlasting”?

The two phrases “of old” (qedem), or “from ancient days” (yomiy ‘olam), are not exactly equivalent. Some readers have seen in them a difference which is illustrated like this:

  • “of old” = of David, Son of Man (through his mother Mary)
  • “of ancient days” = of God, Son of God (through the virgin birth)

There is nothing wrong with this interpretation. It is possible that the phrase “of old” (Ps.77:5, Isaiah 45:21, 46:10, Jer.30:20) does not point back as far as “from ancient days”, the problem would be distinguishing what the difference is between “of old” and “of ancient days” in the original context of Micah 5:2 in relation to Hezekiah.

In any case, “from ancient days” (yomiy ‘olam) does not mean “from eternity” or “from before creation”:

De.32:7 Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.

Is.63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them;in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Is.63:11 Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people.

Amos 9:11 “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallenand repair its breaches,and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old

Malachi 3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.


Although Matthew does not quote “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” from Micah, it is likely that Matthew expected his readers to be familiar with the verse and read this into his application to Jesus as well.  James also cites another of those “days of old” verses above in relation to Jesus without including “as in the days of old”:

Acts 15:16  “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,

But the context here is origins from David, not origins from before creation:

Isaiah 11:10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

Romans 15:12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

So there is nothing in Micah 5:2 that would provide any evidence that Jesus had any origin other than that described in the New Testament — being born Son of Man, from his mother, and Son of God, through the virgin birth.

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