COME, THOU LONG-EXPECTED JESUS

 

Week of December 6, 2009

 

Bible Verses:  Micah 5:1-5; 7:18-20.

 

Lesson Focus:  Micah prophesied to a people who literally were under siege. His message to the people was that there is safety in God. This promise finally was fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

 

We Need Significance: Micah 5:1-3.

 

[1]  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. [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. [3]  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.  [ESV]

 

[1]  Surrounded and humiliated, the people seem to have no hope of deliverance. Their ruler (the judge of Israel) is completely unable to defend himself and is reduced to public disgrace, further demoralizing the people. Micah places himself among the citizens of the besieged city (us), and it is likely that he was present when the king was struck on the cheek. The events described here fit best with what happened under King Hezekiah when Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in 701 BC. Micah's description of the darkness which was about to envelop Jerusalem, brings despair as deep as the hope and reassurance brought by his description of a renewed Jerusalem. In order to live with such a tension, the people of God need an altogether different caliber of leader. Micah now proceeds to announce that leader's coming.

 

[2]  Allusions to Israel's glorious past under Kind David in verse 4:8 now become explicit in the appearance of one who is to be ruler in Israel. That is plain in Micah's reference to Bethlehem Ephrathah, the home of Jesse and the birthplace of his sons, including David, the youngest. Bethlehem was a little town, so insignificant that it was not even mentioned in a list of place names in Judah when Joshua divided the land [Joshua 15:20-63]. When we realize that 115 towns and cities were name, it becomes plain just how insignificant Bethlehem was. Micah's reference to Bethlehem as the birthplace of Israel's new ruler is, therefore, a powerful pointer to the way God raises up the weak and the despised. Just as God instructed Samuel to go to lowly Bethlehem to look for the man born to be king, and then passed over all of Jesse's sons until he eventually had David brought before the prophet, so the coming Messiah will emerge from the little town of Bethlehem - a place so small that it was scarcely worth a mention among the clans of Judah. This prediction about Bethlehem is also a smack in the eye for the haughty leadership in Jerusalem. Like powerful people in most capital cities, they would have imagined that leadership began and ended with them. And yet Micah's description of this ruler's origin as being from of old, from the ancient days, brings a double nuance. It stresses the historic link with King David many centuries before, but it also strongly suggests even older lineage. The word for ancient days is used of God Himself and could point to an eternal, divine lineage. The coming ruler is certainly in radical contrast with any other leader, but still in real continuity with the lineage of David. The phrase for me also has an intriguing parallel in Samuel's discovery of David at Bethlehem. When the Lord sent Samuel to Jesse, His actual words were I have provided for myself a king among his sons. The coming Messiah is a provision not so much for Israel as for the Lord Himself. He will fulfill all His purposes, not simply the people's deepest longings. In the meantime, the prophet and the people can only wait. The coming of the Messiah is assured, but what will happen until that time?

 

[3]  Again the picture of pregnancy, travail and childbirth comes to the fore, as in the previous chapter [4:9-10]. The unnerving message for the people of Jerusalem is in that phrase he shall give them up. There will be a period of unknown length when God will let them alone, leaving them to their own devices. During this time the daughter of Zion will be on her own. The Lord will not be there to hold her hand and see her through the pain. We must not underestimate the cost either to God or to people of His giving them up. He had done it before in the face of their wickedness in the reign of Jeroboam [1 Kings 14:16]. When there is eventually no option, because of people's refusal to bow the knee to Him, then Paul's triple refrain comes hauntingly into our consciousness: God gave them up … to impurity … God gave them up to dishonorable passions … God gave them up to a debased mind [Romans 1:24-28]. This threefold abandonment by God of the people He has made for Himself leaves them at the mercy of their own desires and of their enemies, none of which have any mercy. But the tide will turn when Bethlehem's royal child is born. Those scattered to the four winds in the wake of God's decision to give them up will return from exile: then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. Now it is bleak and traumatic. Now the people of God are facing disintegration. But when God's true ruler emerges from the little town of Bethlehem, God's family will be together again, united around their new head. The word return has the sense of being converted or turning back. This will be a new unity based on a fundamental heart-conversion as the people return to the Lord under the leadership of His Messiah.

 

We Need Shepherding:  Micah 5:4-5.

 

[4]  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. [5]  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; [ESV]

 

[4-5]  The community of the Messiah's rule with the kingdom of David is particularly stressed in a reversion to the shepherd and sheep metaphor of leadership. A shepherd is a strong, fit, unflinching and courageous leader. This ruler in Israel will stand firm in the face of every peril and pressure. He will be resolute in making sure that the sheep are fed, not fleeced. Again, the contrast with the leadership in Micah's time is clear-cut. His secret lies in his personal relationship with the Lord his God, from which he derives his inner strength and in which he expresses single-minded devotion to the honor and glory of the Lord. In so doing, he gives personal and practical expression to the people's resolve to walk in the name of the Lord our God [4:5]. Under such high-quality leadership, the people shall dwell secure. Security is not to be found in wealth or technology or status, but in quiet trust in the great Shepherd of the sheep. His greatness extends, not simply over the territory of Israel, but to the ends of the earth. The security he brings does not depend on being in a particular place or in particular circumstances. It is to be experienced in any place throughout the entire world. In the face of disaster, which was imminent as Micah spoke, the coming of the promised Messiah and His sovereignty to the ends of the earth become a rock-solid assurance. When there is leadership of that quality, providing security of such inner depth, a people's expectations are transformed. Instead of quivering in fear at the invader's threats and taunts, Micah expresses complete confidence for a future and a hope. With a great shepherd at our head, we will be able to find quality leadership again. There will be no shortage of people equipped, not simply to stand firm and victorious against the Assyrians when they come into our land, but to establish our authority in their land. Seven is the perfect number; eight is one more still. When the Messiah is in charge, the people of God find a new unity, a new strength and a new purpose. They move from defeatist mode to a dual focus, both cleansing and expanding their territory. When God's ruler is on the throne of the new Israel, even the greatest cities of the earth cannot withstand him. Whether on the attack or on the defensive, there is victory. The remnant will then come into their own. The rest of his brothers [3], who have returned to the places from which they have been scattered, will unite under their new ruler and a renewed Israel will at last begin to be the people God created them to be. The remnant have this impact among the nations solely because of their relationship with the Lord. They take on His character and impart something of His qualities wherever they go.

 

We Need Salvation:  Micah 7:18-20.

 

[18]  Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.

[19]  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. [20]  You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.  [ESV]

 

[18]  The Lord is the one and only savior. If the Lord is light in the darkness [8-10], shepherd to His people [11-14] and God over the nations [15-17], it is not surprising to find Micah exclaiming, Who is a God like you [18]. What is surprising is that these are not the characteristics of the Lord in which He proceeds to exult. What marks the Lord out from all other gods is His steadfast love, a love located in the will which stresses mainly unchanging commitment; and also His compassion, a love that is mainly emotional. The qualities the Lord requires of humanity in walking humbly with Him, as we have seen [6:8], are justice and mercy or kindness and humility. Having thoroughly dealt with the realities of God's justice, Micah draws to this glorious climax by acclaiming God's steadfast love, mercy, kindness and compassion. This supreme quality is, of course, heightened by His justice. If God did not remain entirely just, His compassion and mercy would be neither remarkable nor reliable. In the light of what the future will hold for Micah's people, God's steadfast love is nothing short of astonishing. There will be severe judgment; but there will also be full restoration. As Micah expands on the uniqueness of the Lord's unchanging nature, he returns to the theme with which he began and which he has regularly addressed throughout the book - the transgressions (willful rebellion) and sins (specific misdemeanors) of the people [1:5,13; 3:8; 6:7]. They are many and blatant. But such is the steadfast love of the Lord that He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love [18]. To behave in a kind, merciful and compassionate way is a sheer delight for the Lord our God. That is why he wants everyone to love kindness [6:8] - to act justly, yes, but to love kindness, compassion and steadfast love. He wants us to delight in it as much as He does. How does God express His delight in showing steadfast love to His people? By pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression. These two phrases encapsulate Micah's understanding of God's name as it was revealed to Moses by the Lord in the wake of the people's appalling idolatry of the golden calf [Exodus 34:6-7]. Time and again this description of the Lord's character and covenant relationship with His people was emphasized down the centuries, sometimes in an extended form, often in calling Him gracious and merciful. In His sheer grace He pardons sinners. He pardons iniquity - referring to our warped human nature, which God Himself lifts up and bears (the literal meaning of the word translated pardon). God acquits and absolves the guilty. He will pass over the sins of His people as He passed over the houses of his inheritance on that fateful night in Egypt when the Lord dealt death to the firstborn among the Egyptians but spared the people of Israel [Exodus 12:21-32].

 

[19-20]  Because it is in the nature and heart of God to pardon, Micah is sure that He will again have compassion on us. God delights to do this, and so He will not be content with doing it simply two or three times for His people, nor will He eke out the time of withholding forgiveness unnecessarily. He will be looking eagerly for an opportunity to show His steadfast love. This conviction leads Micah again to meditate creatively on the events of the exodus, where the Lord overwhelmed the enemies of His people in the waters of the Red Sea and, as it were, trampled them under His feet [Exodus 15:1-10]. In similar fashion, declares Micah, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea [19]. First, he will tread our iniquities underfoot [19], trampling any remaining breath out of them. Then God will see to it that they are buried in the depths of the sea, out of reach, out of sight, and (as far as God is concerned, anyway) out of mind: I will remember their sin no more [Jer. 31:34]. The depths of the sea could well be a reference to the drowning of the Egyptians in the depths of the Red Sea. When we today find ourselves mentally harping on sins which the Lord has forgiven and forgotten, He points out the notice at the water's edge: 'No fishing.' Once a year, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the orthodox Jew goes to a stream or river and symbolically empties his sins from his pockets into the water as he recites Micah 7:18-20. This is the 'Tashlich' service, named after the word 'You shall cast'. It symbolizes the fact that God can and will take our sins, wash them down the streams of running water and bury them deep in the depths of the ocean. God not only forgives our sins, He forgets them. Micah, then, has come as close as can be to the provisions of the new covenant in the body and blood of God's Son, Jesus Christ. Because he cannot look forward in that dimension, he ends by looking back to Jacob and Abraham. It is the tenth time he has mentioned Jacob, but the first time he has mentioned Abraham: You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham [20]. The Lord had been delighting in showing steadfast love for a very long time, from the beginning of Abraham's call to become the father of a special nation under God. What was good enough for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was good enough for Micah. And, because of God's steadfast love in dealing with our sins once and for all in the atoning death of His Son Jesus Christ, it is even better for us. The Lord truly is the one and only Savior.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         In 5:1-3, how does Micah describe Israel’s future ruler? What is the significance of from of old, from ancient days? Who is the me of 5:2 and why is this significant?

 

2.         Describe the shepherd in 5:4-5. What will he do? From where does his strength come? What benefits do the sheep receive from this shepherd?

 

3.         In 7:18-20, how does Micah describe God? What is His steadfast love and how have you experienced this love in the past week?

 

References:

The Message of Micah, David Prior, Inter-Varsity Press.

Micah, Bruce Waltke, The Minor Prophets, Baker.