Reading : Micah 5:1-5a
The King is Coming!
I doubt that many of us would ever say that Micah is the book we know best in the Bible. And yet I imagine that all of us know at least one verse that is to be found hidden away in this little book of prophecy. Every year at Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ and we remember that he was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Doesn’t everyone know that? And many of us know that he was born there just as it had been prophesied some 7 centuries earlier by some OT prophet. Well, the OT prophet who announced this extraordinary event was none other than the prophet Micah and the passage that we’re going to consider together today contains that famous and often repeated prophecy.
Now while that prophecy is well known I don’t think the immediate context in which it is found is anything like as well-known. In fact the details of those verses are really quite complex and have attracted a wide range of divergent opinions amongst Bible scholars.
If you’re expecting me to lay out all these different interpretations before you this morning you are in for a disappointment and for two reasons: firstly, I lack the necessary expertise to do so and secondly, I don’t think you would be particularly edified if I did.
What I do aim to do is to direct our attention to the big picture that is quite clearly taught in these verses and along the way I’ll give some of the smaller details my best shot.
So if you’re sitting comfortably let’s begin.
We’re going to proceed this morning by breaking our passage down into the following four sections:
v.1 - a grievous word concerning Jerusalem
v.2 - a comforting word: a King is coming
v.3 - a word of explanation about how the two preceding points can fit together
vv.4-5a - a glorious word about the characteristics of the King’s rule
The general pattern that these verses follow is the same as that of those that immediately precede them. First there is the threat of judgment and second this threat is closely followed by the declaration of an encouraging promise. Each section begins with the little word "now".
In 4:9-10a the bad news of a looming exile in Babylon is announced – it is a judgment but it is not the end of the story for the Lord promises deliverance right there in Babylon (v.10b).
Then in 4:11 the bad news concerns the gathering of the nations to mock God’s people and to rejoice over them. This bad news is followed by the Lord’s promise to strengthen his people for war and for victory over their enemies (vv.12-13).
Section One - A Grievous Word Concerning Jerusalem
v.1 "Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek."
Turning to ch.5:1 we have another "now" and the bad news that is introduced concerns a siege to be laid against Jerusalem. At the same time we are told that its leaders will be utterly humiliated.
Micah employs here another of his word plays – ‘muster’ and ‘troop’ sound similar in Hebrew and it is difficult to convey that in English.
The word he uses for ‘troop’ usually refers not to a regular well-behaved army unit but to a marauding band. Referring to Jerusalem as a "daughter of troops" Micah is alluding to the fact that the city and the nation it represented was characterised by violence and dishonesty something he has already referred to earlier in the book (see chs.2-3). He calls upon them here to gather their forces together to face the impending siege but all they have are their marauding bands, they have no strong army with which to meet their enemy. With only their own resources to rely upon the city of Jerusalem is headed for defeat.
And in exactly the same way you too will meet with defeat in the things of life that really matter if you insist on relying upon your own resources.
Micah doesn’t only announce a siege he speaks of that siege being successful – Jerusalem will be taken and this is a fact that Micah makes that clear by also outlining the humiliation that will be inflicted upon its leaders. The siege to which Micah refers probably refers one of the two sieges that which took place under King Nebuchanezzar (2Kings 24:10-12; 25:1-7). The suffering that took place then would typify subsequent sufferings that the people would experience in their history; for example, at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.
Micah spoke about humiliation and to an oriental the greatest insult was to be struck in the face and Micah said that was exactly what would happen to Jerusalem’s leaders. The news that Micah announced was very bad news indeed but he made no attempt to personally distance himself from it. He saw himself to be involved – did you notice he said "a siege is laid against us? As we think about it let our thoughts take us forward to the time of Jesus: do you remember how he was so badly treated as he went about accomplishing God’s plan of salvation? He too had to endure the worst of insults, he too was struck in the face as his enemies did all they could to mock and humiliate him. And Jesus endured it all in order to save people just like us! You see you too are to be involved. Have you responded to this man Jesus with thankfulness, faith and trust?
Section Two - A Comforting Word: A King Is Coming!
After the bad news Micah has something encouraging to share – a great promise concerning a great person who would accomplish great things for this people.
v.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 (over) Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."
You know the words well. They’re read every Christmas and they declare good news, gospel news to us. The good news is that God hasn’t finished his work. He still has his plans and they include the raising up of a king who will serve God’s purposes in ruling over Israel.
Before we turn to consider what Micah has to say about this coming ruler it is important that we understand and appreciate this pattern of bad news and good news. The truth is we need to hear both:
Bad news on its own can so easily be depressing, discouraging and disheartening in its effects. A surfeit of bad news can end up leaving us feeling crushed and hopeless. You know that. If you listen too much to all the news bulletins concerning the pandemic it just seems to be bad news piled upon bad news and you begin to wonder if anything will ever be done.
Good news on its own however can easily produce complacency, self-satisfaction and smugness. That may lead us to behave as though somehow everything will automatically turn out alright in the end and so we don’t have to change anything in the way we live our lives.
When Micah brought the bad news of threatened judgment he tempered it by adding the good news of a coming deliverer and a sure deliverance. And so he prepared the hearer to endure evil however serious it might turn out to be. They could face it, with patience, knowing that it would prove to be only temporary.
There may well be times in our lives when everything seems to be going wrong. If we are not going to flounder and sink at such times we too must keep hold of the promises of God.
Now to what Micah has to say about the coming King.
He will come from Bethlehem – not Jerusalem. This announcement underlines the gravity of the situation of the country. The royal family had its headquarters in the capital city, Jerusalem, but this new king would not come from there. The implication is that the Davidic line of kingship would be severely threatened, indeed it would almost be wiped out – almost but not quite.
Bethlehem has to be identified carefully because there was more than one town with this name and the one Micah had in mind was such a small and insignificant place. When Israel took possession of the Promised Land and Joshua apportioned the land to the various tribes this town of Bethlehem Ephrathah wasn’t even mentioned in the list of over 100 towns that were allocated to Judah. And yet this town was important. It was the birthplace of King David. That the coming King should be born there links him directly to King David! This is perhaps Micah’s way of saying what Isaiah did in another way in:
Is.11:1 "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit."
Micah not only alludes in this way to the coming king’s relation to King David but he also tells us that the coming king’s "origins" or "goings forth" go a long way back. Some understand what he says to be a reference to eternity past and to the eternal pre-existence of this King identifying him as divine. Now while the OT does clearly point to a divine Messiah it is probably not that truth that Micah presses here. Here it is more likely is that Micah continues to refer us back to King David. All points to the fact that Micah wants us to see that the coming king really is closely tied to King David.
There are a couple of other things for us to note here concerning this King.
Firstly, Micah tells us that is coming is first and foremost for the Lord rather than for Jerusalem. Of course his coming will bring enormous benefit to the people but his primary responsibility is to carry out the Lord’s purposes. Once again it is important for us to recognise this because we humans have such a tendency to place ourselves at the centre of absolutely everything but that place belongs not to us but to God. This king is his king coming to serve his purposes.
Secondly, this coming king will rule "over" rather than "in" Israel. And his rule is over Israel – not Jerusalem or Judah as we might expect but the entire re-united nation. This reunification of the divided nation is a repeating theme in the prophetic writings (eg. Hos.1:11) and is further developed here in v.3b.
Section Three – An Explanatory Note
But how can we possibly fit the disaster of v.1 with the promises of v.2? v.3 contains the answer:
v.3 "Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return (along with) the people of Israel."
The Lord will "give up" his people to severe affliction before they ever can enjoy the rule of the promised king. This "giving up" will be real but limited in time. It is only as the believers in Judah understand this that they will be enabled to keep going without losing heart.
This "giving up" of the people will only last for a clearly defined period of time – it will end when "she who is in labour has given birth". Micah is looking down through the centuries and has in his sights Mary, or rather Mary’s son. For Mary in giving birth to her child becomes the mother of the Messiah!
This Messiah comes from the clans of Judah (v.2) so in speaking about "the rest of his brothers" Micah has in mind the believing remnant of this tribe. And as this believing remnant is portrayed as returning "along with Israel" the reunion of the covenant people is once again in view. Such a reunion probably points to their conversion. The return that Micah speaks about is more than that of a return from physical exile he looks forward to a return of the people to the Lord as together they receive the Messiah as their redeemer.
Section Four - A Glorious Word About The King’s Rule
vv.4-5a "And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace."
What a wonderful description Micah give us here! Let’s take a few moments to try to take it in.
Micah describes this coming King’s rule using imagery with which I trust you are all familiar. It is the picture language of Psalm 23 where the psalmist is glad to declare that:
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want"
The first thing for us to see is that this king will adopt an active role as he takes care of his flock; he shall stand! And because he does his flock can rest and lie down in safety!
What does the Psalm say?
"He makes me lie down in green pastures"
This king does not come as some foreign or alien ruler who inflicts his tyranny upon unwilling subjects but he comes to shepherd his flock. Well what does that mean? What is involved when a shepherd takes care of his sheep?
Here is something of what is meant:
he will speak to his flock in a voice they can recognise and understand
he will protect,
he will lead and guide
he will restore
and he will make provision for them.
Why will he do this?
Because it is his flock! He is no hired hand who runs away the moment things start to go wrong or when danger threatens. He is the good shepherd of his flock and he knows each one of them individually and in return he is known and trusted by each of his sheep. This shepherd-king is the One who even goes so far as to lay down his life for his sheep!
Ah, but will he really able to perform to such a high standard? Will he be strong enough to carry out such enormous and demanding responsibilities?
Without the shadow of a doubt, cries Micah!
But how can he do it?
He’ll do it "in the strength of the Lord" – won’t that be enough?
He’ll do it in the strength of the One who created all things out of nothing in 6 days.
He’ll do it in the strength of him who sent a flood upon the entire earth and then just as easily caused it to dry up again.
He’ll do it in the strength of him who breathed on the Red Sea causing it to divide allowing the Israelites to pass through safely but causing the waters to crash back down and destroy the Egyptian forces that were following in hot pursuit.
He’ll do it in the strength of him who caused fire to fall from heaven and completely consume a thoroughly soaked sacrifice while the false gods could do not do anything at all.
And he’ll do it "in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God" – won’t that be sufficient?
He act with the full support of God as the Father sustains the Son and openly declares that the Son has his full and complete approval.
There will be nothing unsure, unsteady, nothing hesitant or tentative about the way in which he exercises his authority and power.
With such a shepherd looking out for his flock how could that flock be anything other than secure?
Our translations speak of the flock "dwelling" or "living" in security. The Hebrew verb literally means "to sit" and this leads us to see the wonderful contrast Micah presents: the flock can "sit" because the shepherd "stands". The flock can enjoy peace and security because the shepherd vigilantly takes his stand and keeps them safe!
Up until this point Micah has tended to use the word "now" to introduce declarations of judgment here however his "now" serves to introduce something very different as he speaks about the coming king: Now, he says, he will be great and his greatness will know no limits, it will extend to the ends of the earth. This mighty and glorious king will himself be the peace of his flock!
Micah, in this section, has very briefly sketched out the future of God’s people and it depends upon their coming king. Yes, they will experience hardship and affliction but all that would pass. A restored unity will be brought about and a lasting security.
Micah has been speaking to his Jewish contemporaries but what he says to them is relevant for Gentiles too because the church in the NT is made up of Jew and Gentile – as one hymn-writer put it there is one church, one faith, one Lord. And what a Lord he is!! King Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Praise his name!
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."