[First published in the monthly congregational “Notes” for December, 2019.]
If we are familiar with the narrative of the Wise Men [Matt 2:1-12] we will have heard often Micah’s most well-known prophecy, when the priests of the day, confidently paraphrasing Micah 5:2-4, told Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. More than 700 years earlier, God had promised someone from Bethlehem who would be Ruler, who would be from of Old (Hebrew idiom for ‘very ancient’, even ‘eternal’). This One would feed Israel like a Shepherd in the strength and majesty of the Lord, and He would also be great “to the ends of the earth.” No wonder Herod was upset.
That was not all that Micah said. He had also spoken of a remnant gathered together into a flock (2:12) and a strong nation (4:7) from among the many people where they had been scattered (5:7-8), and this flock would have a king, nay even the Lord GOD Himself (2:13) to lead them in triumph! Furthermore, the Lord’s “house,” [ie Temple] would be lifted up in great triumph and this in turn would be a great drawcard for the nations. People from all over the earth would come seeking to be instructed in the ways of “the God of Jacob,” so that they might be obedient to Him! In consequence, nations would be at peace and people everywhere would gladly identify as God’s people (4:1-5). Isaiah had the same, great, exciting vision (Is 2:2-5).
Micah preached to a people living under the threat of the Assyrians who, it seemed, could invade and take people and plunder at will [2 Kings chapters 16-20]. All these troubles, Micah declared, were God’s judgments on a corrupt national and religious system (1:3-5), so when he interspersed his judgments with these words of hope they must have come as a great relief! God was going to vindicate Israel and Judah after all! Everything would be all OK! Except … Except that nothing like it happened at the time—or in the centuries that followed. But as with all the prophets, Micah interwove present warnings with future promises; something the priests, scribes and people in Herod’s day understood. God had spoken, so it had to happen “one day.” The only real question was simply, “When?” But there was another vital (overlooked) question as well, and that involved “How?” How would this Kingdom come?
Answering when and how started with the miraculous conception of Jesus. This is the thrust of Gabriel’s messages to Zacharias and to Mary. It also underlay the hope of Simeon and Anna (Lk 2:25-38) but it would have to await the preaching of John the Baptist (who took up many of the themes Micah addressed) for its full anticipation: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Matt 3:2-12). And until Jesus died and rose again to pay for sin it was too easy to see the Messianic Kingdom of God only in physical, nationalistic and ethnic terms, not realising that these things were more like scaffolding; preparing for something that would grow out far beyond just one nation.
Jesus understood it all correctly. He said that the prophets spoke of Him (John 5:39-40), that He was the Good Shepherd who would lead his people out (Jn 10:4,9), that His body was the real Temple (Jn 2:21) where God meets acceptably with man, and that when He was lifted up He would draw the nations to Himself (Jn 12:32), but to reject Him was to store up wrath which could not be avoided (Lk 21:21-24, Jn 3:36).
The Old Testament prophets can be a challenge, but this should not stop us from holding on to what is clear. They spoke strongly against sin and warned of judgment. We must listen to that if we are at all serious before God, but they also held out hope to all who confessed, repented, and trusted in His grace and mercy! This Christmas, celebrate with the prophet Micah at your table—he’ll be delighted to join you!!