“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” (Micah 5:2).
Human leaders failed to lead Israel to righteousness. God would remedy man’s failures by providing a Ruler of His own; One who will shepherd God’s flock in the strength of the Lord.
Micah indicted Israel’s rulers (3:1-4) and religious leaders (vv. 5-8), who had brought the nation to the edge of disaster (vv. 9-12). Yet ultimately Zion will be exalted (4:1-13) under a King (5:1-4) who will bring peace (vv. 5-6) and purity (vv. 7-13).
Understanding the Text
“Should you not know justice?” Micah 3:1-4 Micah began his second sermon by addressing the leaders of Israel. The challenge was appropriate. Surely those in government who have the responsibility of administering justice should be able to recognize what is fair and right.
But Micah pictured a group of leaders who “hate good and love evil.” In vivid terms Micah pictured a nation whose citizens are cattle, to be treated like animals that are butchered and prepared for eating. The leaders exploited the people, and cared only about the personal profit they could wrest from the suffering masses.
Micah’s charge may seem extreme, but it reflects a basic stance taken throughout Scripture. Leaders are called to serve others, never to exploit them. A youthful Solomon pleased God greatly when, rather than ask for personal wealth or glory, he requested “wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people” (2 Chron. 1:10). This is the attitude appropriate to any position of leadership, whether secular or spiritual.
Any opportunity we have to lead demands that we carefully examine our hearts. Are we motivated by a deep concern for the welfare of others? Or are we motivated by selfish concerns, by pride of position or a passion for power?
Exploitative leaders surrender their greatest resource. Micah said that when trouble comes “they will cry out to the Lord, but He will not answer them” (Micah 3:4). The leader whose motives and actions are pure can call on God, and expect Him to answer!
“If one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace'” Micah 3:5-7. Again Micah fixes our attention on motives. The prophets in Israel, charged with the responsibility of communicating God’s message, were motivated by potential gain. If someone paid them, they were quick to say what their employer wanted to hear!
The consequences of approaching ministry in this way are the same as those of misusing secular leadership. “They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God” (v. 7).
The most important thing that you or I can do is live in fellowship with the Lord. This keeps the channel open that permits us to speak to God, and God to speak to us.
“Hear this, you… who despise justice and distort all that is right” Micah 3:8-12. The spiritual consequences of flaws in leaders and prophets are great. But so are the material consequences. The aristocracy of Israel had created an unjust society. “Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money.” As a result the nation itself could not count on God’s help in time of need. An unjust society will be destroyed. As Micah said, “Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets” (v. 12).
Don’t count on God to help you if you’re committed to a sinful lifestyle. Instead, count on God to bring disaster.
“In the last days” Micah 4:1-5. The sins of the nation’s leaders had brought Israel to the verge of destruction. Even so, God’s ultimate plan for Israel will be carried out. That plan is for all the peoples of the world to seek the God of Jacob. In the end, in God’s time, the word of the Lord will flow from Jerusalem and become the living principle by which disputes are settled. War will be no more, and individuals will enjoy the produce of their fields and vines in lasting peace. Then Israel will “walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (v. 5).
Terrible things do happen in this world, caused by selfish and greedy men and women. But it was not meant to be like this. And it will not be like this. In God’s time, life on this earth will become all that God originally intended it to be.
“I will assemble the exiles” Micah 4:6-13. The people of God will be scattered. But when God’s time comes, they will be reassembled. The God who expels will restore. He who punishes will bless.
We need to remember this. However dark a present experience, bright daylight lies just ahead.
“But you, Bethlehem” Micah 5:1-5. Micah now uttered one of the Old Testament’s most significant and clear messianic predictions. A Ruler is to appear who will bring the promised blessings to Israel. The Ruler will be born in Bethlehem, yet have “origins… from of old, from ancient times” (v. 2). This Ruler will shepherd His flock (Israel) in the strength of the Lord (v. 4). He will guarantee their security and peace, as His greatness reaches “the ends of the earth” (v. 4).
Like other messianic prophecies, this prediction makes no distinction between the first and second comings of Christ. He has been born, in Bethlehem, just as Micah predicted. He has not yet established that rule which will bring earth peace.
While Old Testament prophecy frequently fails to specify times, biblical prophecies have been fulfilled in a literal way. Jesus, as the Son of God, had origins “from ancient times.” And Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just as Micah specified some 700 years earlier.
We seldom are able to grasp the full implications of biblical visions of the future. But we can be confident that what God states will happen does lie ahead. And we can look forward with excitement to seeing God’s plan for our earth unfold.
His greatness will “reach to the ends of the earth” (v. 4). And we will see it!
“The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples, like dew from the Lord” Micah 5:6-15. It may seem strange, but the exile of Israel and Judah served the best interests of God’s people. It was a punishment. But it was a blessing too.
In tiny Palestine, the multiplication of the Jewish people would have been curtailed by the limited size of the land, and the powerful enemies that made the Holy Land a battlefield for so many millennia. But scattered throughout the world, the Jewish people grew to a vast number. How vast? Recent studies suggest that 1 of every 10 persons in the Roman Empire in New Testament times was a Jew! And that in the Parthian kingdom, which included much of the old Babylonian and Persian territories, that proportion may have been as great as 1 in every 5!
Life was not easy for the exiles. There was frequent conflict with the Gentiles who lived in the cities of the Roman and Eastern worlds. But God did preserve His people. There was always a remnant. And, in fact, there was a much greater “remnant” than had ever lived in the Holy Land even during its glory years!
What a thought for us to ponder. Even God’s punishments are intended to bless. We are not to give up, but to remember that even through suffering God intends to do us good.