Now if you would take a Bible in hand and turn with me please to page 778 if you’re using one of our church Bibles; Micah chapter 5, perhaps the most familiar passages of the book of Micah known to us from readings during the Advent season, around Christmas time. Micah chapter 5. You will remember the first three chapters of Micah sound a rather stern note of rebuke. Micah is challenging the elites and the wealthy and the powerful of Israelite society in the north, Judahite society in the south, for their waywardness. They are oppressing their own people, abusing power and privilege, and God is going to make use of the Assyrian Empire - the superpower of the day - to take the Israelite kingdom in the north into exile and to do something similar in Judah in the south, all the way up to the very gates of the city of Jerusalem; the city will be besieged. And so, chapters 1 through 3 sound a rather gloomy note of warning and rebuke and coming discipline from God.
But then we saw last time chapter 4 changes tone and begins to sound notes of good news, of promise. Micah says that the mountain of the Lord, Zion, will rise to become the highest of all the mountains and the nations will come streaming in to Zion. He’s speaking in old covenant vocabulary about the church age, the age of Messiah, when the Gospel will reach to the ends of the earth and Messiah Jesus will gather to Himself a people from every tribe and language and nation.
And now this morning, Micah chapter 5, is really a continuation of Micah chapter 4. It’s one of those places where the chapter divisions are unfortunate. You remember how, in verses 9 through the end of chapter 4, Micah, who has been looking forward to the coming age of the church, comes back to his own time and day with something of a bump. He says in verse 9, “Now why do you cry aloud?” In verse 10, “For now you shall go out from the city into exile.” Verse 11, “Now many nations assemble against you.” So right now in Jerusalem it’s a season of difficulty, of sorrow and grief and suffering. And you notice chapter 5 verse 1 continues that same time stamp. “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us.” So, it’s the same message of coming suffering. The storm clouds of Assyrian invasion are gathering. Chapter 5 continues.
And so, the question naturally should arise, “If in the first half of chapter 4 God promises a bright future for the people of God where the nations come streaming into Zion and right now is a season of suffering and difficulty, how do we get there from here? How, if now it’s all about the Assyrian invasion and the hardships and difficulties that will involve, will God bring His promise to reach the world with the good news about Messiah Jesus, how will God make His promise come to pass?” You could say chapter 5 really answers that question and it does it in two ways. In the first half of the chapter, verses 1 through 6, Micah chapter 5 speaks to us about the ruler God provides. The ruler God provides. And then in the second half, the remainder of the chapter, the remnant that God protects. The remnant God protects. He talks about God’s King and God’s kingdom. Messiah Jesus and the Church that He will save. And in describing both, he answers for us how it is that God will bring His purpose for the Gospel in the world to fulfillment.
Before we read the passage, let’s pause once again and pray together. Let us pray.
O Lord, we thank You for Your holy, inerrant Word. We believe it to be infallible truth and we ask You to write it on all our hearts and minds. Incline our wills to believe and to obey it. Help us to see Christ in its pages and to be drawn to Him, to receive and rest upon Him as He is offered to us in it. For we ask it in His precious name, amen.
Micah chapter 5 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“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. 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. Therefore, he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 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.
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.
Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which delay not for a man nor wait for the children of man. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver. Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off.
And in that day, declares the Lord, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes; and I will cut off your carved images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will root out your Asherah images from among you and destroy your cities. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy, inerrant Word.
You may be aware of the leadership struggle taking place in the United Kingdom right now. Leadership changes at that level can often be disruptive, and that’s certainly true in the United Kingdom. Theresa May, the current prime minister, has had to resign because of her failure to deliver on the promise about Brexit. And so now the parliamentary system requires that the Conservative Party, the Tories, the ruling party, they have to appoint a member of parliament from among their own ranks that they think can deliver and will be able to replace her and follow through amidst all the contention and difficulties that this process has generated. And so of course it’s all thrown the United Kingdom into political turmoil.
The Ruler God Provides
The first half of Micah chapter 5, really, you could say is also about a leadership transition. In verse 1, the Assyrians deliver a devastating insult, really a devastating insult for an ancient near eastern king. Look at verse 1. “With a rod, they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.” So, it’s a way of graphically demonstrating the utter contempt with which the Assyrians hold this man. They strike him on the cheek. He’s weak and powerless. They have total dominance. He can’t save or deliver Israel. But, Micah says in verse 2, a change is going to come. But this time, I guess unlike the leadership struggle in the UK, there will be no messy power vacuum. When the transition takes place, there won’t be an ugly leadership contest. There will be no polling data for the Jerusalem nightly news to report. Nothing for the pundits and the pollsters to argue about during this transition of power because God Himself is going to raise up a new king for Israel. Unlike in the UK where whoever comes to power, really people have very little confidence, there’s cynicism, people have very little confidence that whoever comes to power will make the slightest difference. That’s not the case with God’s king. God’s king, Micah wants us to understand, will be a perfect Savior who can deliver on all of God’s promises.
Would you look with me at verse 2 and notice what we’re told here first about the ruler that God provides. The ruler that God provides. And I want you to see in the first place His origin. His origin. Do you see it in verse 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.” Bethlehem Ephrathah, Micah says, is too little even to show up on the map. On the list of the towns of Judah, Bethlehem has been overlooked. It’s a backwater. We’d say it was a one stop sign kind of town. One of those little Mississippi towns you just drive through in a couple of minutes. It has a Piggly Wiggly and a Wendy’s and that’s it! Ok, so it’s a nowhere place, Bethlehem.
So how is it that God’s ruler is going to come from there. Why? Because, you remember, that’s the birthplace of David. God is going to fulfill His ancient promise to raise up a son for David who would sit upon his throne and of whose kingdom and government there would be no end. So you remember Matthew chapter 2 at the sixth verse when King Herod inquires of the scribes where Messiah would be born, they say He’ll be born in Bethlehem and they quote Micah chapter 5 verse 2. But I wonder if you’ve ever noticed that they don’t exactly quote Micah chapter 5 verse 2. It’s slightly different. Micah says Bethlehem Ephrathah is too little to be among the clans of Judah so the cartographers, you know, completely missed it when they were drawing up the map. Far too small to be of significance. Too little to be among the clans of Judah. But when the scribes reply to Herod where Messiah is to be born, they say, quoting Micah 5:2, “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.” Not so insignificant now after all. It’s as though they intuit, that since Messiah will come from Bethlehem can’t be a nowhere place in the middle of nowhere. No, this one birth means that Bethlehem is on the map. It’s now written across the pages of history forever, isn’t it - the origin of God’s ruler.
And notice also the antiquity of God’s ruler. Look at verse 2 again. “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.” At the very least, that’s speaking about God’s ancient promise to King David that his son would sit on his throne forever. Of course we know that behind that promise is an earlier promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And behind that promise is an even earlier promise made to Adam and to Eve, to our first parents, that the seed of the woman one day would crush the serpent’s head. I suppose we could push it even further back, back into eternity, into the counsels of God where the Father purposes that the Son should come and take flesh and obey and bleed and die for us and for our salvation. His coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Jesus came to bring God’s ancient promise - to save a people for Himself - He came to bring them to pass.
I think actually we can go even further than that in light of all that the New Testament teaches us about Jesus. We learn here now just about Jesus’ mission to fulfill God’s ancient promises, we also, I think learn here about Jesus’ person. “His coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” This King, you see, will be unlike any other. Not merely the heir of David, the seed of Abraham, the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. He will also be the divine Son, the second person of the blessed Trinity, eternally begotten of the Father who has lived forever in the fellowship of the Godhead with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end, forever blessed above the heavens. Amen and amen. That’s our Savior, the Lord Jesus. That’s God’s King. That’s who He is; that’s who He really is.
And so verse 3, quite appropriately, urges patience until this King shall come. “Therefore,” verse 3, “he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth. Then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” In actual fact, seven centuries are to pass before the virgin conceived and brought forth a son and they called his name, Jesus. But with that birth, with His coming, He returns the nation to God and people begin to flock to the Lord and to His Gospel. In fact, the Gentiles even are included into the covenant community like wild branches grafted in to the natural olive branch of the people of God. His origin, His antiquity. A Savior like this, verse 3 says, is worth waiting for. You see, He opens the way back to God for all people, even for you and for me. He opens the way to be reconciled to God. His origin. His antiquity.
Then verses 4 through 6, His work. You see the work of Messiah the King? The primary metaphor - do you notice it - that Micah uses in verses 4 through 6 is the metaphor of a shepherd. In verses 4 and 5, the metaphor is almost entirely positive. It’s a beautiful picture, actually, if you look at it. “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.” Here’s the gathered people of God brought together under one shepherd, under His protection, to dwell secure. It’s a beautiful picture of the global church trusting in King Jesus. And don’t miss that last line there at the beginning of verse 5 - “He shall be their peace.” Isn’t that beautiful language? He shall be their peace.
It’s vocabulary, actually, that the apostle Paul echoes in Ephesians 2:14 to describe the unity the church enjoys now that we’ve all come to trust in Jesus, even between different ethnicities - between Jews and Gentiles - so that people from every nation, every background, because they trust in Christ are one in Him. Paul says “He Himself is our peace,” Ephesians 2:14. If you believe in Jesus, whatever your background, your skin color, your heritage, we are one in Christ. Not because we see eye to eye on everything, not because it’s not hard work listening to and learning from one another. Not even because there are no wounds from our past that still have to heal. There are plenty of those, aren’t there? But we belong together because we are in Christ together. We have a Shepherd in common who has made of us one flock. And so we are called to lean toward each other instead of pulling away. We are to swallow our pride and learn to listen instead of rushing to judgment because Jesus is our peace. He’s our one Shepherd and He’s made us one flock and we belong together in Him. So 4 and 5 give us this beautiful, positive picture of Christ shepherding His people and making us one as He provides for us security and peace.
But then notice 5 and 6 continue the shepherding imagery but with a very different tone. You see that in 5 and 6? In verse 5, the people of God are going to triumph ultimately over their enemies, the Assyrians. There will be seven shepherds and eight rulers. That progression, seven and then eight, is echoed in places like the book of Proverbs not really to speak about a definite number, a literal number, but as a way to say “We’re going to triumph and we will put people in positions of leadership such that they will shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” It’s a different kind of shepherding now. “We’ll shepherd them with the sword.” And look at the end of verse 6. “And he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.” He, Messiah the King, the great Shepherd, our victory really is derivative of His. Christ’s kingdom will advance, and He shall gain the victory in the end.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, in question and answer 26, asks “How doth Christ execute the office of a king?” And the answer, I think, in many ways summarizes brilliantly Micah’s message. It answers, “Christ executed the office of a king by subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.” Christ the King; God’s ruler who wins a victory. And He does it, the New Testament teaches us, not by the sword, not by military conquest or political coercion, but by another sword entirely. John sees in Revelation 19:15 a vision of Christ the conquering King who conquers by means of the sharp, double-edged sword that comes out of His mouth. There is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God by which King Jesus subdues us to Himself, conquers us, and makes conquest of the whole world. As the Gospel goes forth, King Jesus will advance His purposes and He will win the victory. Micah’s big point in telling his own generation all of this, of course, is for their hope, for their encouragement. The dark clouds of coming invasion and real suffering are looming all around them and despair is a very real danger. But he says, “Listen, take heart, the King is coming. The King is coming, and His kingdom will triumph.”
It’s a word of hope we still need to hear. Isn’t it? After all, our hope is not to be in our own wisdom. It ought not to rest - in case you didn’t get this memo - it ought not to rest in our politicians. Our hope is not to be founded in our own education or in our ability to make plenty of money and provide security for our families. Where should our hope rest? What is it that Micah has been telling us? Where should our hope rest? “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid Rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” That’s what Micah wants us to understand. All other ground is sinking sand. You’re right to recognize there’s no security for you out there. No peace, no strength, no hope, no rescue. You must look to Jesus Christ, to God’s King, and found all your hope upon Him. The ruler that God provides.
The Remnant that God Protects
The secondly, the remnant that God protects. The remnant God protects, verses 7 through 15. And I want you to notice first of all, look at verses 7 and 8. Do you see how verse 7, the first part of verse 7 and the first part of verse 8 really mirror one another? They use the same vocabulary to depict the remnant, the faithful people of God, in the midst of all the nations. Do you see that? They’re parallel - the first part of verse 7 and the first part of verse 8. But then they sort of part ways. They use two different metaphors to describe the effect, the impact of God’s people out among the nations. Verse 7 says the remnant will “be like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass.” It’s a lovely, pastoral picture. You can almost smell the wet grass on a summer morning. You know, you want to take big lungs’ full and enjoy a morning coffee. It’s a lovely picture. But then verse 8, the remnant in the midst of the nations “will be like a lion,” you know, let loose in the middle of the sheep. Not such a good way to start a morning. It’s a picture of blessing and judgment. Verse 7, blessing; verse 8, judgment. Of life and death.
I think we sometimes struggle to get our head around this. We like to be positive, don’t we, so we recognize that we are to be a blessing, the Gospel is a blessing, the church is to be an instrument of blessing. That’s all true; praise God that it is. But the New Testament describes the church and the world as God’s agent of both blessing and judgment. Not that we bless or judge, but that through us, as the Gospel is disseminated into the world, the purposes of God for blessing or for cursing, for salvation or for judgment, are being worked out right before our eyes. The apostle Paul felt the weight of that, the enormity of that, in 2 Corinthians 2:15. He says, he puts it this way. “We are the aroma of Christ toward God among those who are perishing. To one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” You see what he’s saying. We, the church, as we proclaim the good news about Jesus, disseminating the aroma of the Gospel out there in the world, as people hear from us about God’s ruler, Messiah, King Jesus, destinies are being worked out - heaven and hell, as the eternal dwelling place of the whole of the human race. “Those are the twin destinies that are being secured in response to our Gospel,” Paul is saying. The Church becomes God’s instrument in bringing both blessing and cursing upon the world.
Some people hear the Gospel and it’s like refreshing dew in the morning, like showers of rain from the Lord. And others hear only the snarl of a lion. For some people it is life from death; to others it’s the sound of a prison door clanging shut. To some, it is the Father’s announcement of our adoption into the household of God. And to others, it is the Judge’s declaration of charges against us for which we have no answer. Do you see what’s at stake? Do you see what’s at stake? How you respond to the Gospel isn’t a thing for some other time. The sheer enormity of it ought to weigh upon us. If you’ve been squirming and wriggling and saying, “Not today. Not today. Not now. I’ll deal with Jesus. I know I should follow Him. I know I should submit to Him. I know I should trust in Him, but not today,” please understand the sheer enormity and weight of what you are doing. Eternity is what hangs in the balance in response to the Gospel. How you respond to the Gospel will determine your destiny forever. There is a hell to flee and a heaven to gain and how you respond to the good news about Jesus will determine which will be your destiny. So, Paul felt the weight of that responsibility and we ought to feel it too.
But there’s also great dignity in that. Micah’s generation were beaten down and demoralized and robbed of their dignity. Micah is reminding them, “This is your role. This is your role in the world eventually. You will be the ones whom God will use to announce both blessing and cursing, life and death, heaven and hell.” And we should never lose sight of both the dignity and the responsibility, the weight and the solemnity of the charge entrusted to us to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The urgency attached to it. The sheer gravity of our calling. It’s not a frivolous thing. It’s not a thing to be easily tossed aside as someone else’s duty. No, this is the call of God upon the whole Church, upon you and me.
But if we’re going to fulfill that role, then the people of God must be holy. They can’t be like the world. We’ve got to be distinct. And so, in verses 10 through 15, the Lord speaks to His remnant people and tells them that He is going to purify and purge from them all the worldly mechanisms upon which they’ve come to rely and all the idols to which they have offered their devotion. He’s saying something to them like, “Look, I’m going to have to do some work on you if you’re going to be useful for My purposes. So, get ready. This is going to sting. This is going to hurt.” In verses 10 and 11, you’ll notice the Lord will cut off the horses and the chariots, the cities and the strongholds. These were defensive mechanisms to fend off the Assyrians, but they have become tools of oppression in their own right by the elites of Israel and Judah against their own people. And God is saying, “Look, stop relying on princes and chariots. They can’t really rescue you, not in the long term.”
And then in 12 through the end, he goes through the list - sorcery and fortune telling and graven images and Asherah images. “I’m going to destroy them all. I’m going to smash every one of your idols until your heart is devoted wholly to Me.” It reads, actually, like another oracle of judgment but it’s not really an oracle of judgment. Verse 15 is a sort of summary word of judgment upon those who refuse to bend the knee to God’s King. But 10 through 14, while it sounds like a word of judgment, actually spell out for us one of the highest privileges God ever gives to His people. You see, when He calls us into His service, He commissions us in His cause, He does not leave us to muddle through as best we can. When He says, “You must be holy as I am holy,” He doesn’t stand back with folded arms to see how you get on with those besetting sins that seem so often to hold you down. No, “He is at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.” He doesn’t leave you alone. God is radically committed to our holiness even if it means smashing our idols and stripping away all the worldly supports upon which we have come to rely - our affluence and our ease and our daily comforts.
What is God really doing in our trials? This, no doubt, was going to be a painful period of rebuke and discipline in their lives, but what is He really doing? He’s doing 1 Peter 1:6-7. First Peter 1:6-7, “You have been grieved by various kinds of trials, but all so that your faith, which is more precious than gold, though refined by fire, may be found to praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” What is He really doing through all of these painful trials? He’s smashing your idols and saying, “You need to trust in Me!” He’s stripping away all your own strength that you may find your strength in Him. He’s treating you like His beloved child. He’s bearing witness to your adoption. Isn’t that what Hebrews 12 says? “Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you like sons.” Now, no hardship seems to us at the time pleasant, but painful. And yet, we thanked our earthly fathers for it. “In the same way, God is treating us as sons and it will produce,” Hebrews says, “a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who are trained by it.”
There is a certain solemnity to verses 10 through 15 to be sure. Micah really is saying to the people, “If you won’t smash the idols, God will. If you won’t turn to rest upon Him and place your confidence upon Him, God will take drastic measures to make sure that He turns your heart back to Him.” And now hear again, as you hear His Word, as He speaks to you this morning, hear that warning for yourself. Hear the Word of the Lord calling you to turn from your idols, from your self-reliance, to cling to Jesus Christ. Smash your idols and flee to Him. Or, if you are one of His beloved children, God will take far more drastic action and He’ll do it for you. He will bring trial and discipline into your life and it will grieve you for a time, for a season. You can be spared such grievous trials by turning from sin and self yourself and fleeing to Him. That was the warning that Micah was delivering. It’s a warning we need to hear as well. You see, God is far, far committed - isn’t He? You’ve heard this so many times before - He’s far, far more committed to our holiness than He is to our happiness.
And so there is a ruler here; the ruler that God provides. Praise the Lord for King Jesus. What a Savior we have in Him. “His coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” He subdues us to Himself. He rules and defends us, and He restrains and conquers all of His and our enemies. And there is the remnant that God protects - the Church, His instrument in the world of blessing and judgment, of life and death as the Gospel is proclaimed. And if we are to be such instruments, we are to be holy instruments, clean instruments, pure instruments. And so God is at work in us, albeit in painful ways, to make us like the Lord Jesus. May the Lord carry on that great work that we may be useful indeed, till His kingdom spread from shore to shore and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we adore You that Christ, that Christ is the King, not ourselves. Sometimes we don’t live as though that were true. We confess it with our lips but oftentimes we live as though we were in charge. And most of us who have been walking with You for any length of time in this room this morning will confess and acknowledge that You have indeed had to bring discipline to us, hardship, trials. You’ve grieved us and broken our hearts to teach us not to trust in idols, not to trust in our riches, in our comfort and in our ease, in our reputations, not to look for our security and our deepest peace in our families. Instead, You want us to cling to Christ alone; not to trust in princes nor in chariots, not in a son of man in whom there is no strength, but in the name of the Lord our God and in His Messiah who has triumphed over sin and death and the grave and now sits at Your right hand until You make all His enemies a footstool for His feet. Teach us to cling to Him. And so we pray that You would give us grace to walk in new obedience as clean instruments that You might be pleased to use for the advancement of Your kingdom, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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