Advent 4 · Micah 5:2-5a · December 20, 2009
By Timothy Saleska
Background notes (the text in context)
1. Micah 1:1 sets the ministry of Micah in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. In modern chronology Micah prophesied in the latter half of the eighth and early years of the seventh century B.C. Micah’s ministry came slightly after the ministry of Amos and was roughly contemporaneous with Hosea and Isaiah, all of whom are categorized as “eighth-century prophets.” During this period the Neo-Assyrian Empire was rising to power. Tiglath-pileser III (744—727 B.C.) expanded his empire into Israel in 734, marched through Philistia near Micah’s hometown of Moresheth, devastated Damascus in 732, and occupied Galilee and the Transjordan. The occupation of the Holy Land signaled that the Lord was bringing upon Israel the punishment with which He had threatened them because of their apostasy.
2. Other important events from 725-722 during Micah’s ministry include the siege and the fall of Samaria, the capital of Israel, which took place at the hands of Shalmaneser V (726-722) and Sargon II (722-705; [cf. 2 Kgs 17]). Israel became an Assyrian province named Samaria. The people were deported and other tribes of people were imported to take their place (2 Kgs 17:24). In 701 Assyria invaded Judah under Sennacherib (704-681). Hezekiah, having joined a coalition with Merodach-baladan of Babylon and trusting Egypt for help, withheld tribute from the Assyrians (2 Kgs 20; Is 39). Assyria attacked cities lying in the coastal plain and in the Shephelah, including the ones mentioned in Micah 1:10-15. He surrounded Jerusalem, and the situation looked hopeless. But the city was miraculously delivered by the Angel of the Lord (2 Kgs 19:35-36; 2 Chr 32:22-23; Is 37:36-37).
3. Structure of the prophecy: The book seems to be arranged in three basic sections consisting of oracles of both doom and hope (chaps. 1-2, 3-5, 6-7). In 1:2-2:11, Israel is threatened with exile because of her sin. The Lord, however, will become their king and lead them in deliverance (2:12-13). In the second section of the book, after denouncing the rulers and prophets for their sin, the Lord promises to restore Jerusalem (4:1-5) and assemble a remnant. He also announces the birth and reign of the Messiah who would deliver His people and bring peace to the earth (5:2-5). In the third section, chapters 6-7, the Lord’s indictment and the destruction of the wicked are again heard (6:1-16). Yet, the Lord does not abandon His people but holds out the hope of forgiveness and salvation (7:8-20).
4. The text occurs in the middle section of the book, which consists of a series of eschatological oracles of salvation. “In that day” or “in the latter days” (4:1; 4:6; 5:10) introduce predictions in which the current state of Jerusalem and Judah will be reversed. The enemies will be driven out and people will marvel at Zion’s glory. Under the leadership of a new ruler, a second David, Israel’s ancient glory will be restored.
Notes on the Hebrew text of Micah 5:2-4 (MT=5:1-3)
Micah 5:2-4 is lexically and syntactically complex. It has a number of features that make it a difficult text to translate. But this is the case for many of the well-known “messianic texts” which are read in the church throughout the Advent-Christmas season. It may be that some of this is deliberately designed to convey a sense of “mystery.”
That is, the form of the text follows the content. The grammar of the text is puzzling (mysterious), and it invites the reader to linger over and think deeply about it. At the same time, the message of the text, the promise of the Messiah, another David, is itself a mystery hidden for long ages but finally revealed in the birth of Jesus, the Christ-child. Here there is opportunity only to point out a few details:
Verse 2 אֶפְרָתָה (“Ephratha”). Ruth 4:11 pairs Ephratha with Bethlehem. It seems clear that Ephratha includes or is in the vicinity of Bethlehem. According to Genesis 48:7, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin a short distance from Ephratha. Its use here may give an “archaic flavor” to the passage. And certainly it would call to mind the associations connected with its other occurrences, like the patriarchs and the promise God made to David, who was from Bethlehem (1 Sm 17:12-14).
צָעִיר(“least”). Does this word refer to Bethlehem as most of the translations assume, or is it the subject of the verb, and does it then refer to the ruler? Arguments can be given in support of (or against) either understanding.
But in either case, a theme of the text seems to be the theme of the unexpected exultation of an unlikely person to be the king. Indeed, this theme—the supplanting of the older by the younger, or the stronger by the weaker—occurs throughout the Biblical narratives (Isaac-Ishmael, Jacob-Esau, Judah-other brothers, David-Saul, and so on). It is a hint at both the way God works in mysterious and unexpected ways and at the mysterious nature of His grace.
וּמוֹצָאֹתָין מִקֶּדֶם מִימֵי עוֹלָם (“and his goings are from of old, from ancient days”). Again, this phrase could refer to several things: (1) It could parallel a term like toladoth and refer to David’s ancient lineage (Ruth 4); 2) it could also describe what comes out of someone’s mouth, that is, Yahweh’s ancient covenant promise that David’s line would last forever; (3) but it could also refer to a person’s acts of going out (like in military campaigns). If this is the case here, it refers to this person’s activities in ancient times. That is, it could refer to prior appearances of this one who will be born in Bethlehem, a mysterious and seemingly impossible situation. However, it is not impossible from die perspective of Christianity. From our perspective, this passage is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, a prophecy that was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus, who is true God and true man. Since this is the case, we could interpret this phrase as a reference to the appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ (for example, as the Angel of Yahweh). If so, Micah is implying that this leader from Bethlehem, who will be ruler in Israel, is more than just another human being and has “entered the scene” previously. Again, the passage is mysterious, but for Christians the mystery has been revealed. The eternal God, who revealed himself at many times and in many ways in the Old Testament took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem, a descendant of David.
Verse 3 לָכֵן (“therefore”). Delitzsch observes that the reason why Israel is to be given up to the power of the nations and not be rescued earlier does not lie in the appearance of the Messiah as such, but in His springing from Bethlehem. The birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, and not in Jerusalem, the city of David, presupposes that the family of David will have lost the throne. This could only arise from the giving of Israel to her enemies. Micah had already talked of this. Here he gives prominence to the idea that the future redeemer would also resemble the past one (David) in that he would not spring from Zion, but from litde Bethlehem.
Introduction: Describe a specific movie or book that has a surprise ending— one you never expected. When it happens, you are either delighted or horrified!
I. An expected birth (Micah prepares die way for another David).
A. But many would say that Micah’s words seem to offer only a limited hope for an ancient people troubled by foreign enemies—a hope that has long since run its course. It is a long-ago belief sitting on history’s bookshelves, which gives insight into what people used to believe.
1. It seems to promise another king, like David and a kingdom like his.
2. He would conquer Assyria and give peace to his people (5:4—6).
B. But here is the surprise:
1. This word ended with the birth of God himself into the world, when he took on human flesh.
2. This week we celebrate his birth. God came to save us. That is a surprise! This is not just a glimpse into what an ancient people used to believe but a promise of a much bigger salvation than any we can imagine!
II. But are there any more surprises left?
A. We may wish there would be. Life seems all too predictable. This birth might seem like “old news.” Nothing has happened to change things since then.
B. But the surprise will come when this king appears again. Now his rule is hidden, and we wait for him to reveal himself.
C. Will you be delighted or horrified? How does your end figure in this? (Here the comfort provided by our Baptism and the Gospel is all important because we do know how it will end for us.)