And He Shall Be Their Peace
When we come to the place each Sunday when it’s time to look into God’s Word together, we long to hear something from Him that matters, really matters in our life today. And when we’re working through a brief OT book like Micah, which was written roughly 2,800 years ago to a people who were facing a very particular situation in their day that isn’t very common to us in ours—imminent threat of invasion by a foreign army that’s about to lay siege to their homeland—we can truly wonder whether we’ll hear anything from God today that really matters, to us, here. Will we hear anything, for instance, that helps us think more clearly about leadership in a season of such a hotly contested presidential race? Or will we hear anything that helps us trust that God is indeed working for our good even when it feels like circumstances all around us are confirming just the opposite? Will we hear anything that reminds us to depend on God alone for comfort and direction and victory in our struggles right now, today?
I believe the answer is, yes, we will. And toward hearing that best, let’s lay out today’s plan. Today we’re going to look at the second of three oracles in Micah’s prophecy. It covers cc.3-5, forty of Micah’s 105 total verses. We’re going to see what was going on in his day, and how God used him to address it with His people. Then we’re going to draw out three lessons that can help us in our day.
Last week we heard Micah making the grand announcement that the Lord is coming out of his place (1:3), his holy temple (1:2), to bear witness against (1:2) Israel and Judah for their idolatry (1:7) and injustice (2:1-2; 8-9). Just as Israel was about to go into exile in Assyria (1:6; 2:10), Judah would follow suit in due course (1:9) because of their failure to obey God, to honor His covenant. But still, He promised to gather them in from exile like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture (1:12), and then lead them forth into a wholly new life by a shepherd/king, who is also the Lord Himself! He will suddenly appear on the scene without introduction. That’s where Micah goes in the first of his three oracles (c.1-2). So, what does he want his readers to know next? Let’s summarize it under three headings.
Judgment of the Present Leaders – 3:1-12
Micah signals the beginning of the second of his three oracles by once again calling his readers to hear (3:1; cf. 1:2; 6:1). Then he addresses the first of three groups that will appear in c.3: the leaders of Israel. (1) … Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel. Is it not for you to know justice? These guys were supposed to know justice from the revealed Law of God. And they were supposed to protect His people from injustice. That’s what rulers do! That’s a king’s job! But that is not these guys. And Micah called them out with gruesome imagery: (2) you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, (3) who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron. Their leaders are treating them like animals to be butchered and eaten! (McComiskey 518) These rulers are more interested in using the people to feed their own stomachs than they are in leading them toward lives of justice and mercy and humble obedience to God (1-4).
That’s bad enough, to suffer under civil leaders like that. But Israel’s religious leaders were no better (5-8). (5) Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths. Even their prophets are only interested in a meal ticket. (6) Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. With picturesque language, Micah is telling us that the prophets will no longer hear from God. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; (7) the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. That’s the false prophets. (8) But as for me, Micah said, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. So God is not silent.
Still, Israel’s prophets and kings were not in touch with Him. And neither were their priests. (9-12) (11) (Israel’s) heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” God won’t go hard on us. We’re His people. But God will not be mocked by false prophets! (12) Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Like a fallow farm field that soon becomes a woods, the Temple Mount will be overgrown. The place where God has lived among His people will become a ruin—scattered stones and thick brush intertwined. This is such a compelling description that it became widely known among the people. Micah’s words here were quoted in defense of Jeremiah when he was about to be put to death (Jer.26:18). “But Micah wasn’t killed when he prophesied judgment on Judah,” they reasoned. “Maybe Jeremiah shouldn’t be either.” True enough! But talk like this happens only when rulers have lost their heart for the Lord, His people, and for covenant obedience.
Blessing of the Future Peoples – 4:1-13
But that will not always be so. With an abrupt change like one we’ve already seen in Micah’s prophecy, he immediately turns his attention from the soon-coming abandonment and destruction of the Temple Mount to a future day when that same location will be buzzing with a previously unprecedented flurry of activity—people flooding in from around the world to learn what it means walk with God. 4(1) It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, (2) and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” …
Surely the rebuilding of the Temple after the Babylonian exile was seen as fulfilling this prophecy on some level. But it is even more evident that we’ve still not yet seen a day when Micah’s words here have come to pass! He’s talking about the latter days (1), which is prophetic language that could point to the indefinite future (McComiskey 524). But it could also be code for the end times. Our hope for seeing this beautiful description (1-3) come to pass is magnified when Isaiah (2:2-4) picks up Micah’s language here and repeats it almost verbatim. We long for the day when (3) … nation (will) not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; (4) but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, perfect, satisfied peace, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (5) For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever—unending peace!
Micah is seeing the day (6) when the remnant (7)—those who return to God in repentant faith, trusting in His promise of deliverance—will return to the land where the shepherd/king/Lord from c.2(7) … will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore. That day is surely coming! But it is a future day. And as quickly as Micah turned his attention to that day (1), he turns it back to their day (9) with his repeated introductory word: Now (9, 11, 5:1). Now, back in in the days when Assyrian and Babylonian exile was pending, Micah asks the people of God: (9) … Why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? His questions seem to be pressing them to trust God even at this stage, when they hear of coming exile! They serve such a great God that He can be trusted even at times like this, when He is meting out justice, or discipline, or even judgment. It will always be right and just to trust Him. It will always accomplish His good for His glory.
And in v.10 Micah puts these two ideas one after the other: great pain in present circumstances, followed by assurance in hope because of the great God we serve. (10) Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon, to exile. But then immediately: There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies. They will be delivered! And more, the nations that are trying to exert their will against them (11), Micah writes, (12) … they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor. Those nations don’t get that God is just using their lust for power to discipline His own people. But in the end His people will be saved, and the godless nations that have opposed them will be eternally judged! That’s what it means to be gathered… as sheaves to the threshing floor.
This segment (9-13) affirms a truth to God’s Old Covenant people that is repeated in different ways to His New Covenant people, namely, that even hard circumstances—trials and temptations and even seasons of feeling His discipline just become the context in which His blessings are felt all the more deeply, keenly, and sweetly! Remember James’ words: Jam.1(2) Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, (3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, then maturity (4). Perhaps better is the writer of Hebrews who quotes Pro.3(11) My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, (12) for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. Then the NT writer adds: Heb.12(11) For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. God disciplines His children. And He always restores.
The Ways and Means of Future Blessing – 5:1-15
So, how will He achieve His restoration according to Micah? The prophet looks right through the days of deliverance from the Babylonian exile he just predicted to God’s ultimate deliverance of His people—to the grandest day in all of human history, the climax of God’s story of creation, and of new creation! Like the other oracles, this one begins with defeat: 5(1) Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops, O city of warfare, of injustice; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. The king will receive a blow. The city will be defeated. (2) But then comes deliverance: you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, Bethlehem’s ancient name (Gen.35:19; 48:7; Rut.4:1), 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. This could mean from way back in history, or it could mean from eternity past. In this context, it’s surely the latter. As we read more about this ruler from Bethlehem, it sounds just like the shepherd/king who is also the Lord from c.2.
3 Therefore, because this is truly the Ultimate Ruler, he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; Micah is using an image he’s already introduced: Jerusalem’s birth pains (4:9-10) anticipate the arrival of this promised Ruler. And His coming is the surest sign that her exile won’t continue forever! It will only last until God sends this special Ruler. And when He comes, then the rest of his brothers, meaning the faithful remnant Micah mentions several times (2:12; 4:7; 5:7, 8; 7:18), shall return to the people of Israel. God’s will gather His people together. (4) And then what will He do? He shall stand and shepherd (them) 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. … He will deliver His people from all (their) enemies (5b-6, 9). They will be raised to a place of preeminence among the nations (7-9).
And even more amazing, among the enemies He’ll cut off (9) are all the sources of power besides Himself that His people are tempted to believe are needed for their victory (10-14): horses and chariots (10), strongholds (11), (fortune) tellers (12), and handmade idols of every sort (13-14). As surely as the dew and showers (7) come directly from God, so will His peoples’ victory over the nations (7-9), and the final judgment the nations (15). That is the blessed reassurance God’s people heard from His prophet, in the eighth century bc, complete with an introduction to the key Figure that got as specific as any prophetic word with regard to how He will be recognized when He comes.
So what do we hear from this portion of Micah that really matters to us today? Three reminders: first, when it seems like we have no leaders to rely on, God is still on His throne and worthy of our trust. We can forget that in days like these. We can grieve and lament the choice we have for President of the United States, for instance, forgetting almost entirely that our security and happiness do not come from Washington. They never have and they never will. But we can also forget that we don’t therefore need to talk ourselves into believing that either of these candidates is worthy of the office from a Christian perspective. No one is worthy of the office. But God raises up leaders and brings them down for His purposes, in His timing. And He can be trusted with that.
Second, when it seems like circumstances are stacked against us, God is still at work accomplishing His good. We mentioned this earlier, but it is important to remember. This is a fallen world. Learning to walk in righteousness and humble obedience is going to seem challenging at best, and impossible at worst. But God has promised that, Rom8(28) … for those who love (Him) all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Third, when it seems like we have no resources to survive, God is still able to deliver us and supply everything we need. As He did in ancient Israel, God is still able and willing to kick out the props under our self-sufficiency today. He can and will, and should, cut off our visible resources just as He did theirs (5:10-14). That’s not at all unkind. It is merciful, reminding us of the true Source of our provision and victory and identity and life.
More than one brother or sister from this body has shared with me in the midst of a season of unemployment that they have never felt nearer to God than they have when they’re waiting for Him to supply something so apparently essential as a job, knowing that they are powerless to provide it for themselves. And how much more is this true when we’re waiting on God for victory in an area moral or spiritual struggle? And no one or nothing could supply for our needs or deliver us from harm more faithfully and completely and eternally than the God Who, eight centuries before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, communicated through His prophet a detail so specific that anyone trusting in Him to fulfill His promise of a coming Shepherd/King/Lord could recognize Him when He arrives! This is the One Who 5(4) … shall stand and shepherd (us) in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And (we) shall dwell secure, for… he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (5) And he shall be (our) peace. …
Is He your peace? Nothing could (really) matter more today than knowing the answer to this question, or answering it definitively right now if you presently don’t know the answer.