Text: Micah 4:6-5:5

“In that day,” says the Lord,
“I will assemble the lame,
I will gather the outcast
And those whom I have afflicted;
I will make the lame a remnant,
And the outcast a strong nation;
So the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
From now on, even forever.
And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

Advent is all about the coming of the Messiah. We have been talking about this theme for the past few weeks. Advent can refer to either the first or second coming, and we’ve been trying to tie both together through the various prophecies of the Old Testament. This morning, however, I’d like to focus more or less exclusively on the first coming, and I want to look at what the Old Testament believers would have been expecting from the messiah. Messianic prophecies became prominent during the time of the prophets, and as the prophets predicted judgment and destruction upon Israel—that it would be defeated by Gentile powers and taken away into captivity—they also spoke of a Messiah who would rescue Israel from this situation, restore it to prominence, and then spread the reign of God to the ends of the earth. This is the kind of role that Jesus was stepping into.

Our text this morning ties in directly to this messianic expectation. Micah 4 and 5 predict the future victory of Israel, after it is brought back from captivity and is able to once again become a world power. But in Micah’s prophecy, we see certain elements which let us know that this will not be an ordinary political victory. In fact, we see that God Himself will be the king of Israel, and He will lead them. But, we also see that it is God Himself who will afflict Israel as well. God will bring the judgment which strikes Israel on the cheek, and then He will enter into Israel, through one of its smallest towns, and rescue them from the inside out. God will then move from Israel to the ends of the earth.

The Prophecy of Micah  

Micah is a book that not many of us are familiar with. We probably know Micah 6:8 from our Bible memory exercises, but the rest of the book is not as familiar. Micah is a prophecy mostly addressed to the city of Jerusalem, given at about the same time as the prophet Isaiah was making his prophecies. Micah’s content is very similar, but it is a much shorter book than Isaiah. Whereas Isaiah takes up 66 chapters, Micah is only 7. Micah is the compact version of Isaiah. Like Isaiah, Micah predicts destruction for Israel, but he also predicts a future redemption where the Messiah will defeat Israel’s enemies and set up a worldwide kingdom.

Our text begins after Israel’s judgment and captivity and just prior to their redemption:

“In that day,” says the Lord,
“I will assemble the lame,
I will gather the outcast
And those whom I have afflicted;
I will make the lame a remnant,
And the outcast a strong nation;
So the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
From now on, even forever.” (Micah 4:6-7)

This is the final accomplishment. Micah is stating what will happen once everything is completed. The Lord will take a collection of broken and excluded people—the lame and the outcast—and He will turn them into a strong nation. They are the “remnant” which will become a mighty and with whom God will reign on Earth. This is a beautiful picture of God coming to be with His people and bringing them victory.

Immediately after these verses, however, Micah moves backwards in history, illustrating what must take place before this redemption can happen. He says:

Now why do you cry aloud?
Is there no king in your midst?
Has your counselor perished?
For pangs have seized you like a woman in labor.
Be in pain, and labor to bring forth,
O daughter of Zion,
Like a woman in birth pangs.
For now you shall go forth from the city,
You shall dwell in the field,
And to Babylon you shall go.
There you shall be delivered;
There the Lord will redeem you
From the hand of your enemies. (vs. 9-10)

Here we see that Israel will not experience this victory through its political rulers. Instead, it must go through a period of pain and suffering, like a woman giving birth to a child, and this will involve being exiled, as if being sent into a field outside of the city. Israel will not be redeemed by the Lord until it completes the birth pangs, or the time of suffering and painful anticipation.

Micah goes on to say that many other nations will gather against Israel during this time. They will experience warfare and affliction. This must happen before Israel can be great again, before its horn can be exalted and its grain consecrated. But what’s really fascinating in this section is how Micah indicates that God Himself will join in afflicting Israel. God will send His salvation, but He will first send His judgment. It is God who is attacking Israel:

Now gather yourself in troops,
O daughter of troops;
He has laid siege against us;
They will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek. (5:1)

Did you notice that? “He has laid siege against us.” Who is “He”? In context, “He” is the Lord. And yet “they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek…” Micah is saying that God will orchestrate and guide the people who will attack Israel, and he even suggests that it is God who will afflict the messiah.

Why is it “He’ in the one verse and then “they” in the other? “He has laid siege against us’ and yet “they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.” I think this is a parallel to what we’re told in Isaiah 53. We’re told there that God will send His messiah, but that messiah will be stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God. Do you remember those verses?:

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Is. 53:4-6)

Normally these are verses you hear at Good Friday. They predict the sufferings of the messiah. The Lord has laid upon the messiah the iniquity of the people. This is what Micah is tell us as well. He will assemble and lay siege against us—that is, God will bring the judgment. And yet, “they,” the instruments of judgment, will strike “him,” that is the judge of Israel, “on the check with a rod of iron.” As God sends judgment to Israel, He will send His messiah to Israel to rescue them, but in the process, the messiah will actually bear affliction and punishment himself. That’s what we’re seeing here in Micah, an incredible prophecy of, not only a servant, but a suffering servant, a king who saves his people by being afflicted with them and for them.

And then where does Micah go immediately after that verse?

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)

So you see what Micah has done. He has painted the future redemption. Then he has backed up a bit to depict the judgment which will come before the redemption. He has told us how it will happen. And then he says that this messiah will be born in Bethlehem. The prophecy comes to fulfillment in the child born in Bethlehem. The messiah will be from Judah, but not only that, the messiah will be born in the city of Bethlehem.

And so we have our key to interpreting Micah’s prophecy. We know that whatever all of this judgment is and whatever all of this redemption is, it’s going to center around a king born in Bethlehem.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

And who is this king born in Bethlehem? Well, you know because of the Christmas story. These verses are quoted in Matthew 2:6 to identify Jesus as the messiah. What’s really interesting, however, is that the people making the connection in Matthew 2 are King Herod’s court theologians. Herod has just been visited by the Wise Men who say that they have seen the start of a king. He’s upset and wants to know what this means. Matthew tells the story this way:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:1-6)

You understand why the birth is important when you read Micah. Then you understand why Herod was so “troubled” by it. The chief priest and scribes were proclaiming that the child born in Bethlehem would be the great king who would lead Israel against their Gentile oppressors and re-establish David’s kingdom. Since Herod was not this child, he would also not get to be the king who did this. In order for the child to become king, He would need to unseat Herod. Naturally this was a problem.

But if we look even closer at Micah’s prophecy, we see that even more than this is going on. Not only will this little child become the king of Israel. He will actually turn out to be a heavenly, even divine king: “out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). This child who is born in Bethlehem is actually “from of old, from everlasting.” He has a pre-existence. He goes back to eternity. Not everyone fully understood this of course. But when Jesus began preaching and prophesying, He also began to explain this aspect of His identity. He was not simply a little child from Bethlehem. He was “from everlasting.” He was the Alpha and the Omega. He was the eternal God come in the flesh. As He put it in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

Micah’s prophecy, though it would take further explanation, was actually predicting the incarnation of God. And since, as we said, Micah also predicted that God would bring salvation through judgment, even judgment which He bore Himself, we can also see that Micah predicted the Cross of Christ. The child born in Bethlehem was also born from all eternity, and this child would be struck by God in order to save Israel.

The Expansion of the Kingdom  

 After this prediction, Micah again gives a big picture summary of what will happen. He walks back to what Israel can expect prior to this child being born. He says that they will be “given up” for a time. But after that time expires, the remnant shall be restored and the Lord Himself will feed His children and spread His majesty across the earth:

Therefore He shall give them up,
Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth;
Then the remnant of His brethren
Shall return to the children of Israel.
And He shall stand and feed His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God;
And they shall abide,
For now He shall be great
To the ends of the earth;
And this One shall be peace. (Micah 5:3-5a)

Now, the reference to “She who is in labor” is not directly about Mary. It’s a metaphor to refer to the whole period of affliction leading up to the coming of the messiah. This is the same thing Micah said in chapter 4, “Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, o daughter of Zion, like a woman in birth pangs. For now you shall go forth from the city, you shall dwell in the field, and to Babylon you shall go” (4:10). This is important for our eschatology. The labor pains Micah is talking about began with the Babylonian captivity. Mary is a type of Israel itself, and she gives birth at the end of this painful time of darkness, leading to the end of the birth pangs and beginning of the messianic age. As Paul puts it in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). The period of labor is the entire transition from the end of the Old Testament Israel, the exile Babylon, starting then, and continues until the New Testament. The major transition began with Christ’s birth, continued through His death, resurrection, and ascension, and then came to full delivery with the judgment of Israel and the emergence of the Christian Church as the kingdom of God on earth. The Lord is currently feeding His people. The next thing that must happen is that the majesty of the name of the Lord must go to the ends of the earth.

So Advent tells us that the time of our exile is now over. Our messiah has come. God has come to earth. He has been born of a woman. He has suffered along with us to save us. And as Jesus was prophesying about His leaving earth, He tells us about the sending of His Spirit. Listen to what else he says. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We do still face tribulation in this world, and we will continue to do so until the end of all things, but even in the midst of this tribulation we always have God’s peace. Jesus does not say “I will overcome the world.” He says “I have overcome the world.”

Conclusion

So, when we think about Christmas, this is what we should be thinking about. Yes, it is a time to think about friends and family, peace on earth and goodwill towards men. That’s perfectly appropriate. But that’s not the main point. That’s an effect. It’s a fruit of the main point. The main point is that God has sent His messiah, who was His own Son, into the world to defeat the enemies of Israel and reestablish His kingdom on earth. This began in Bethlehem.

This began at Christmas. The messiah was born in Bethlehem, and the birth pangs lasted throughout most of the first century. Jesus surprised Israel in that He did not establish the kingdom through force of arms, but He did establish that kingdom through being struck on the cheek, and through the power of the Holy Spirit He brought judgment and salvation.

And so our job now is to go forth. It is to carry out those concluding verses, that He shall be great.

And He shall stand and feed His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God;
And they shall abide,
For now He shall be great
To the ends of the earth;
And this One shall be peace

So we find ourselves now going forth following the messiah, making his name great through evangelism, proclaiming His birth and victory, and calling all mankind to bow the knee to Him. This is what evangelism is about, by the way. It’s not just “How can you be saved,” but rather, “The king has come. Worship Him.” As we do this, as we go forth making disciples and evangelizing the nations, the name of the Lord is made great and is taken to all the earth.

We conclude our service every week with the Great Commission. What does Jesus tell the church to do? “Go and disciple the nations.” Spread this kingdom across the world. And so at Christmas, this is also our message. The king has come. The king has won the victory. And now we, as His church, must go and fill the whole earth with the majesty of the name of the Lord. We know that we will have tribulation, but we have also been told that on him shall be peace. So we are equipped with power and assurance. Be of good cheer, Christ has overcome the world!

Let us pray.

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