Reading: Micah 5:5-15
The Messiah’s Reign
When the news is depressing and the future only looks bleak the human heart longs for something different, some word of hope, some light at the end of the tunnel.
Micah spoke to a people whose immediate future was dismal and to be full of unwelcome experiences. He told them of exile in Babylon and he even spoke to about how God would give them up and that for a long period of time!
And yet Micah added that God would not forget his people and the promises he had made to them. God would keep his promises and he would so by dealing mercifully with the remnant, that group of faithful believers who remained faithful while others turned away. And for this faithful remnant God promised to send his Messiah to be their king. This King would himself be the peace of his people.
The peace that is in view is not something weak and wet. It would not be a fragile lull in hostilities which, at any moment, might be upset by further trouble. No, this peace is the fruitful and stable product of victory! This peace is not like the peace that prevailed in the early months of WWII when those months were referred to the "phoney war". The peace in view is much more like the peace that followed VE Day and VJ Day when the enemy had been soundly defeated.
Peace is of course a major theme in the NT where it is very much centred upon the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus, the king whose coming Micah spoke of. The good news that Jesus brought is described as being the gospel of peace (Eph.6.15); this gospel is all about enjoying peace with God (Rom.5:1); the God of this gospel is himself the God of peace (Rom.16:20); and peace are said to come as blessings peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal.1:3). Isaiah had declared that the coming One would be "the prince of Peace" (Is.9:6) and when he was born the angelic choir greeted his birth with their famous words recorded in:
Lk.2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Yes, Micah had declared that the coming king would be the peace of his people and Paul in his letter to the Ephesians declared the reality of what Micah had prophesied.
Referring to Jesus, Paul wrote:
Eph.2:14 "For he himself is our peace,"
Now as we turn to consider Micah 5:5-15 we will see how Micah continues to describe the coming kingdom of the Messiah.
He’ll describe for us how Messiah’s people come to enjoy peace as victory is secured over their enemies
He’ll describe the influence Messiah’s people will have on the world
He’ll describe how the Messiah will purify and cleans his people
Finally, he points to how the Messiah will treat those peoples who continue to reject him
So, with that outline in mind to guide us, let us look more closely at these various aspects of the Messiah’s reign over his kingdom.
vv.5-6 Assyria and Nimrod
"And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances; and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border."
At the time that Micah exercised his prophetic ministry the major power on the world scene was Assyria and Assyria was causing a serious threat. The northern kingdom of Israel had already succumbed and had been taken away to Assyria in exile and it would prove to be a devastating exile for Israel, one from which he would never recover. A few years later it was the southern kingdom of Judah’s turn to be exposed to Assyrian aggression when King Sennacherib invaded:
2Kings 18:13 "In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them."
Assyria was a great enemy and a very real and serious threat to Judah but there are some indications here in Micah’s prophecy that suggest to us that Micah does not want to restrict our thinking to just one particular enemy long ago in history in a well-defined geographical area far away from us. He seems to be using not simply as a regional superpower – it was that, of course – but it was also, as Micah uses it, the representation of all evil and hence of every enemy that we could imagine.
Now why do I say that?
Well in v.6 the land of Nimrod is introduced as a parallel expression to the land of Assyria. Nimrod is an individual who is mentioned in Gen.10 where his influence dominated not only Assyria but included a much wider area taking in Babylon as well.
What Micah is telling us here is that the peace Messiah secures and established is a peace that is inextricably bound up with the defeat the enemy whoever that enemy might be, however great and powerful that enemy might be!
Once again I’m reminded of some words in the Westminster catechism:
As a king, Christ brings us under His power, rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all His and all our enemies.
Commenting on this same theme John Piper wrote:
Jesus Christ is now, in this age, putting all his enemies under his feet. Every rule and every authority and every power will be conquered.
So, remember that the extent of Christ’s reign reaches to the smallest and biggest enemy of his glory in your life, and in this universe. It will be defeated.
And that is the message Micah was preaching centuries ago!
Yes, the Assyrian might invade, he might even seem to be winning - after all Micah sees the invader not just crossing the frontier but actually walking in their palaces, but he won’t succeed! Why because Messiah’s people will be able to resist and more than that to conquer!
Seven shepherds – seven rulers – the number of completeness and if completeness isn’t enough they’ll go one further – eight princes. Micah is declaring that Messiah’s people will not only have enough to be conquerors they will be made "more than conquerors".
In v.5 Micah has envisaged the defensive task of repelling an invader but in v.6 he goes further still to speak about Messiah’s people dominating the enemy on his own territory! The NT speaks too of such a victory when it speaks of the gates of hell being unable to resist the progress of the church. The Message renders Jesus words in Mt.16:18 like this:
"This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out."
As we read Micah’s little book let us not for a moment imagine that all he is interested in is ancient history. What he wrote is relevant to you today. None of the enemies that stand against you, none of the difficulties that confront you, will ultimately gain the upper hand. Victory is assured not because we are clever, subtle or strong but because it is the victory of King Jesus – as we have sung recently:
To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley He will lead
Oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome
Yet not I, but through Christ in me
vv.7-9 Believers will have an influence
Despite all the hardship that was to come for Micah’s contemporaries God would preserve a believing remnant and it would be to them that God would fulfil his promises. God will always have his people: however serious the situation might be, however frightening the enemy might appear. Assyria was in the process of sweeping all before it but it had met its match when it came to the believing people that God kept safe.
We need to remember that this holds true today too. Some of you may remember the fears that were expressed in the 1950s when Christian missionaries were expelled from China – "the church is finished in China" was the overriding opinion. But God had other ideas!! Can anyone number the faithful believers alive and worshipping in China today? Islam is a mighty force in our day with population numbers exploding in Europe and in the last 50 years thousands have been converted to Jesus in countries which had remained untouched by the gospel for centuries.
Such movements and such conversions are not without effect and call for a response. They did in Micah’s day and they still do today.
Micah outlines two different and contrasting reactions and these are still the reactions we find today.
On the one hand the remnant of faithful believers are like the dew, or the refreshing showers that fall upon the earth. Dew and showers are not in the control of men and they don’t come and go at man’s command nor do they wait for men to be ready for them. So with the believing remnant – they bring refreshment and promote growth if only their testimony by both word and deed is received and heeded.
The church has grown in China and in North Africa as the fruitful testimony of a few believers has been seen by others and welcomed. The loveliness of King Jesus satisfies the soul hunger and soul thirst of those who are hungry and thirsty for spiritual life and want a relationship with their Creator God.
Believing people are a blessing to any society and when others recognise this they too are blessed.
But there is another side to the story. Believers are not always welcomed as a blessing. Muslims, for example, can react very negatively and with extreme harshness to someone from their community who becomes a follower of Jesus. Persecution is common and in some countries it is the norm. To the stubbornly unbelieving world the believer isn’t received as a dew-filled blessing but will be a ferocious lion, a lion that will exercise significant judgment.
Persecution flourished in China and the church grew. Persecution touches Christians in North Africa and the church grows. Nothing can withstand the onward march of King Jesus and his believing people. Oh yes, it might be and most certainly is painful and distressing to face persecution but Micah’s word to the believing remnant of his day needs to be heard by Jesus’ believing people today too:
v.9 "Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off."
To touch God’s people is to touch the apple of his eye and you cannot do that with impunity. The church is Christ’s body and Christ will take care of it.
vv.10-14 The Messiah will Purify His People
After outlining the way in which the coming King would protect his people and defeat their enemies Micah continues to describe how the Messiah would operate to ensure that his people lived the kind of life that is appropriate.
It is the consistent message of the Bible that those who belong to God’s people do so simply because God is merciful. The Jews in the OT were not chosen because of any special qualities they might have possessed and in the NT none of Jesus’ followers can argue that they have earned their place in his kingdom as a kind of reward for good behaviour. If we belong to him it is because he saved us while we were yet sinners – it is by grace that we are saved and not by works. And this principle of grace was operative in the OT as well as in the NT.
Looking ahead Micah declared that the king who was coming, the Messiah who would exercise his rule in his messianic kingdom, that Jesus would never be content to leave his believing people to go on living their old rotten and sinful lives.
It is the Lord’s firm intention, Micah tells us, to root out all those things that are wrong in the everyday lives of his people. Micah’s contemporaries were leading lives that contained a lot of rubbish that needed to be purged from them and we do too. It’s certainly the case that we don’t have to try to make ourselves better before we come to Christ for salvation, it is no precondition of salvation that we must do our best to put our house in order before we become Christians. No, we come as we are:
"Just as I am without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me..."
"Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come."
No, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus saves us right from the very start – our salvation depends upon him from A to Z.
But our sinful starting position is not to be maintained when once he has saved us. He saves his people from their sins and not so that they might remain in them! When he has begun this work of salvation our Lord continues it in his people with his serious work of sanctification, and he does so in all of them.
If you are a Christian today a glorious change has taken place in your life – you, who were once dead to God in your sins, are now alive to him in Christ – but you remain nevertheless an unfinished work, a work that is still in progress. And wonderfully the Messiah continues his work, by the Spirit, to make you, as one of his people, pure and clean as he himself is!
Micah lays out for us a number of important areas in which the Lord will carry out this work of sanctification in the remnant people of the OT and he will do the same with us if we are troubled by the same sins.
"In that day" v.10 refers to the time of the messianic kingdom. That "day" has already begun when viewed from our perspective though it has not yet reached its glorious climactic consummation. This then is the "day" when Jesus cleanses his people.
Firstly, he acts to wean his people from their reliance upon their own capacities. The Lord had made wonderfully reassuring promises to his people and what they needed to do was to trust him. But, no, the people were not ready to do that, they preferred to rely on their own strength and resources. They were faced by a military problem with the invasions first of Assyria and then of Babylon – what could be more reasonable but to look to one’s own armoury?
He begins with the weapons of attack: horses and chariots were the Sherman tanks and Exocet missiles of their day and they were proud of what they had – so proud that they put their trust in them rather than in the Lord’s promises. So the Lord took away their horses and their chariots – they must rely on him and his word.
Next he promised to destroy their strongholds and to cut off their cities. In other words their defences were rendered useless – they could no longer take refuge in their defensive positions they could only now take refuge in the Lord and in his promises.
I wonder what it is you are tempted to put your trust in rather than in the Lord? He wants you to take him at his word just as he wanted that remnant company to.
Secondly, the Lord would frustrate their efforts to try to discover just what lay in the future and he would frustrate their attempts to control and influence it. Early in their history he had told Israel what their attitude towards the future ought to be:
Deut.29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."
What God revealed to them was fine but they when he did not tell them everything they were again to trust him. They weren’t to have recourse to forbidden methods rather they were to direct their energies in a different direction, that of putting into practice what he had plainly told them to do.
But, no, Israel’s history was littered with forays into the fortune-telling arena. The nations which surrounded them did it and so they thought they could too. But the Lord would render this effort futile. Sorcery or the attempt to manipulate the future would be cut off and even the desire to know the unknown future by resorting to fortune-tellers: mediums, star-gazers, palm-readers, tea-leaf readers, and the makers of horoscopes etc. would be put out of business – no more profits for the Russell Grants and the Mystic Megs would be allowed!
God’s people, the Messiah’s people, will be pruned and all their unhealthy interest in knowing and manipulating the future rather than trusting the One who holds it in his hands would be cut off.
And there was more that had to go too.
Next Micah turns to their favourite innovations when it came to religious activity and worship. Some probably thought that it wasn’t very exciting to worship a God who couldn’t be seen! Wouldn’t it be better, more pleasing to the eye to have a few images, a few idols? But God cannot be worshipped that way for every idol will fail to portray the Infinite, Eternal, Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent God who is Spirit and who demands to be worshipped in Spirit and in truth.
But didn’t the nations round and about have some great ideas for attracting the crowds? They had their phallic pillars and they had their female Asherah gods, now a good bit of sexy excitement would liven up the worship no end!
But the Lord said no! And he would wean his people for such awful pursuits. And he promises to deal with such sin even if to do so proves very costly indeed – did you notice he spoke of the destruction of their cities?
Does he need to wean you from unhealthy desires and the determination to believe that whatever pleases you must please him? Are you ready to let him clean up your life? The Father is determined to present his Son with a suitable bride one who is adorned for her husband – are you willing as part of the church, to prepare yourself?
v. 15 A Final Word of Warning
1Pet.4:17 "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"
And the purification of God’s people is stern enough already isn’t it? But the discipline to be experienced by God’s people as he pursues the work of sanctification in their lives will be as nothing compared to the vengeance poured out upon those nations who persist in their disobedience and rejection of God and his ways.
The Bible is a serious book with serious warnings we would do well to heed and the Bible speaks here of divine vengeance. What are we to make of that? If when you hear the word vengeance you immediately think of viciousness or vindictiveness then you have got your wires severely crossed. The vengeance of God refers to him putting things right and has nothing to do with doubtful behaviour on his part. And the act of divine vengeance is not something that God is embarrassed by indeed he claims it as his own unique privilege and responsibility: don’t you remember his words?
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
This is one of two identical citations to be found in the NT and it renders what was declared just once in the OT. In addition to this Psalm 94 celebrates the Lord as the God of vengeance as it goes on to plead with him to give the wicked their due and to right their wrongs.
But the Lord does not delight in vengeance, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and even here at the end of Micah ch.5 vengeance is only poured out on those who stubbornly resist him. How different the outcome will be for these nations to that of those nations described earlier in ch.4 as going to God to be taught his ways!
May we be found amongst those who long to be taught by the Lord, to be saved by him and to be sanctified by him. May none of us be exposed to his vengeance because we constantly set our face against him.
To God be the Glory.