Advent IV – Micah 5:1-4

Jimmy JoAdvent, Micah, SermonsLeave a Comment

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent.  This Friday is Christmas Eve, which means (as is obvious) that Christmas is imminent.  Over the past several Sundays of Advent, we’ve been looking at scripture passages as indicated by the lectionary (as we typically do).  What you may have noticed is that we’ve been looking at passages which come to us from the prophets. 

At any rate, there are several reasons why we’ve been reading from the prophets.  Firstly, it just happened that way.  As we probably know, each week the lectionary indicates a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the Psalms, a passage from the New Testament, and a passage from the Gospels (roughly – this isn’t always strictly so).  And it just so happens that I liked the passage that happened to be from the prophets.  However, the second reason is that we often don’t read extensively from the prophetic books.  This has been a good opportunity to read a little from Jeremiah, Isaiah, and (today), Micah.  But thirdly, I think there’s something about listening to the prophets that can benefit us.  The prophetic books are written out of particular historical contexts, and understanding those contexts can tell us something about what it means to be Christians, to be people of God, living in the 21st century. 

So again, the passage that we’re reading from today comes to us from the prophet Micah.  Micah is classified as one of the minor prophets and lived and ministered at roughly the same time as the prophet Isaiah.  If we remember, what that means is that this was during the time when the Assyrian Empire was threatening the people of Israel – the divided kingdoms of Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.  Our passage today is found in chapter 5:1-4 

5 Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clansof Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

Micah 5:1-4

As today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, it seems important to recognize how and why this passage is included as the lectionary reading.  And what we see in this passage, and what we see in the book as a whole, is that Micah shares similar themes as we’ve already seen in the book of Isaiah.  Again, as I’ve mentioned, Micah was roughly contemporary with Isaiah in terms of historical context.  We can see this in the opening verses of both books: 

  • Isaiah 1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
  • Micah 1:1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Simply put, both Isaiah and Micah operated during the same historical period.  And as we know from our discussion of Isaiah, this was the time (again) when Assyria was threatening Israel and Judah, and would eventually conquer the people and take them into exile – what is known as the Assyrian Captivity. 

Thus, the words that we read from Micah today speak about the suffering that Israel is facing, which is a result of their own sinfulness against God.  But because of God’s faithfulness, one who will come out of the tribe of Judah, out of Bethlehem, He will be appointed by God, and will gather the people back together as a nation under God.

5 Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clansof Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

Micah 5:1-4

In other words, Micah is pointing both to the deliverance of Israel from their enemies, from their oppression, and pointing to the one who will deliver Israel and rule as God’s chosen. 

Now that’s a fairly simplified overview of what’s going on in today’s passage.  I hope that it’s fairly clear how and why this is a passage that connects to the Advent theme of waiting for and expecting the coming Messiah – and this, especially in light of the sufferings of the people of Israel.  But I don’t want to leave it there.  I want to think a little bit more about what specifically is going on in Micah. 

Again, Micah shares a similar historical context as Isaiah, but we also need to recognize that Micah is distinct from Isaiah.  And what I want to suggest is that Micah has a particular ministry interest, a particular calling, in the midst of Israel’s historical situation.  Most of us are probably familiar with Micah 6:8.  It’s probably the most well-known verse in Micah.  It says: 

6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

It’s important to recognize that Micah 6:8 sits in the specific context of rejecting religious observance that doesn’t include or lead to caring for the well-being of others:  of acting justly and loving mercy.  In other words, the concerns of God, and therefore the character of God’s people, have at least something to do with justice and mercy.  And this justice and mercy is set specifically in opposition to something else – that is, justice and mercy are set in opposition to what was actually going on in Israel. 

To put some more context on this, I want to look at a few more passages in Micah. 

2 Woe to those who plan iniquity,

to those who plot evil on their beds!

At morning’s light they carry it out

because it is in their power to do it.

They covet fields and seize them,

and houses, and take them.

They defraud people of their homes,

they rob them of their inheritance.

Micah 2:1-2

Also,

3 Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

you rulers of Israel.

Should you not embrace justice,

2 you who hate good and love evil;

who tear the skin from my people

and the flesh from their bones;

who eat my people’s flesh,

strip off their skin

and break their bones in pieces;

who chop them up like meat for the pan,

like flesh for the pot?”

Micah 3:1-3

What we’re seeing in these verses is Micah’s condemnation (or God’s condemnation as Micah is a prophet of the Lord) against people in power who are abusing that power, taking advantage of those who depend on them, for their own benefit.  The leaders and rulers of Israel are making themselves rich, increasing their own status, at the expense of the people. 

If we continue on, we see: 

3:9 Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,

you rulers of Israel,

who despise justice

and distort all that is right;

10 who build Zion with bloodshed,

and Jerusalem with wickedness.

11 Her leaders judge for a bribe,

her priests teach for a price,

and her prophets tell fortunes for money.

Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,

“Is not the Lord among us?

No disaster will come upon us.”

12 Therefore because of you,

Zion will be plowed like a field,

Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,

the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

Micah 3:9-12

Now what we know is that Israel’s fate is due to their sinfulness, their forgetting and rejecting God.  We know that the result of that sinfulness is defeat and deportation at the hands of the Assyrians.  But what we see in Micah is a condemnation of a particular kind of sin, a particular kind of failure, that God is concerned with.  So, as we continue to read in Micah 6:10-13: 

6:10 Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house,

and the short ephah, which is accursed?

11 Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,

with a bag of false weights?

12 Your rich people are violent;

your inhabitants are liars

and their tongues speak deceitfully.

13 Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,

to ruin you because of your sins.

Micah 6:10-13

So, at the risk of over-generalizing the message of Micah, “his message was that the people, particularly the upper class [and those in positions of power], were guilty of injustice” (Andrew Hill and John Walton). 

Now I recognize that there are a lot of problems in our world.  I also recognize that people have different opinions on what exactly is wrong, and different opinions on how to fix what’s wrong.  I think that we are very fortunate to live in a democracy, though I’m not going to get into my thoughts on democracy, generally speaking.  However, I wonder if one of the drawbacks to democracy is the perpetual belief that at least some of those problems can be changed if we can just get different people in charge.  And I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have democracy; nor am I suggesting that I would rather have a different system of government – I wouldn’t.  I’m simply saying that I don’t believe that changing the people who are in charge is going to fix what is ultimately wrong in the world. 

What we see in the book of Micah is that the people who were in charge were the problem in Israel by virtue of being in charge.  What we see is that it’s precisely having the power that seemed to bring about God’s judgement.  Now to be fair, it’s the abuse of power.  But in a sinful world full of sinners, this may always be the problem. 

Now what’s going on in the promise of the Messiah, in the promise of God’s redemption, isn’t about changing who’s in power (at least not in the way the world understands it).  It’s about destroying and redeeming the power structures altogether.  If you recall in the gospel according to Matthew, this is very much the issue that the religious leaders had with Jesus.  They thought that the Messiah would come, destroy their oppressors, and take his proper place on top of the power structure (bringing them along with him, of course).  But Jesus didn’t do any of that.  Jesus’ demonstration of the power of God was something entirely different.  He refused to play their game because He was about His father’s business.  And the ultimate demonstration of gospel power was Jesus, the promised Messiah, on the cross. 

So when we read the words of the prophet Micah, especially after the work and testimony of Jesus Christ, we need to try to understand what’s going on: 

5 Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

Micah 5:1-4

The judgement against Israel is not just that the rulers and leaders happen to be selfish and unjust.  Rather, in my opinion, the judgement is that they are conceiving of and using power in the same way as those who do not know God – it is a worldly conception of power, a worldly conception of rulership.  So the one who is to come out of Bethlehem is not someone who is merely going to take over and step into the same role.  And He is certainly not someone who is going to take the power from others and give it to us (as much as this is what some Christians are longing for – that we can return to our privileged place in society).  He is someone who is going to re-define the role altogether.  He is someone who is going to re-define what it means to be a nation; He is someone who is going to restore justice and deliver mercy.  He is the one who will show what it truly means to be the people of God. 

This is the hope that we wait for.  This is the promise of God that is revealed in Jesus.  It’s the hope and the promise that God’s will be done, that God’s kingdom will come. 

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:1-5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.