“Out of You, O Bethlehem”
December 24, 2013
The little town is host to the shepherd who offers security and peace.
I. Oppression (Micah 5:1)
II. Intervention (Micah 5:2-3)
III. Provision (Micah 5:4-5)
Micah 5:1-5 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.
2But 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. 3Therefore 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.
4And 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. 5And 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;
Out of You, O Bethlehem
Twenty-four days ago we started a series called “Christmas in Isaiah’ by studying Isaiah 9:1-6. ‘for to us a Child is born, to us a son is given.’ That passage starts with darkness and light “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” I didn’t recognize at the time that this theme, darkness to light would be implied by all the other texts we’ve studied, by all the stories we’ve told and by many personal experiences that Trinity folks have had during this month. For no small number of us it has been a comfort that Jesus came as light to darkness.
And that theme is certainly evident on Christmas Eve. Tonight we think of the dark little town where Joseph could not find lodging, the dark little stable where they eventually stayed, and the dark fields around the town where the shepherds kept watch over their sheep. Into this night and darkness came a baby, a star and a host of angels, all with the same message: Immanuel. Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you, who is Christ, the Lord. It all comes together in Bethlehem. So it’s wonderfully reassuring that Bethlehem is no accident. God spoke through the prophet Micah 700 years in advance of that dark night to tell the world the savior would come from that little town. Our text this evening is Micah 5:1-5, and the big idea we’re going to explore is that the little town is host to the shepherd who offers security and peace.
Before we continue, you may ask ‘wasn’t this supposed to be Christmas in Isaiah?’ Yes. The truth is, I couldn’t resist this text. I haven’t preached it in many years, and I love the way it fits. If you want more justification than that, you should also know that Micah and Isaiah were contemporaries, and their prophecies have a lot in common. In fact it seems likely that Micah used at least some of Isaiah’s prophecies as a springboard for what God wanted to say through him.
So, Micah 5:1-5: Muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2But 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. 3Therefore 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. 4And 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. 5And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men;
Micah 5:1 paints a quick picture of oppression: Jerusalem is under siege and her leaders are being humiliated, even the king, who may be referred to as a judge in this passage. The oppressor in Micah’s day is Assyria, and stated in verse 5. But the sense of oppression in Micah and Isaiah is larger than the physical oppression by Assyria. Throughout Micah’s prophecies he points out the spiritual poverty and neglect that characterizes both the leaders and the people of Israel and Judah. The rich are getting richer, the poor are being abused, and justice is not found in the land. The people needed rescue from themselves. In the same way the dark of Christmas Eve reminds us the deep needs all around us. From pastors imprisoned and believers martyred and sexual trafficking and refugees starving in all to corners of the world to children and wives cowed by emotional and physical abuse all around us, to weariness, sickness, depression and despair within, we need rescue. We need a rescuer.
Verse 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.” Ephrathah is the ancient name of the Bethlehem near Jerusalem, the one in which David was born. It was a little town, a shepherd’s town; far enough from Jerusalem to be isolated, not on any trade routes, with only sheepherding for an industry.
But now from this town, God says through Micah, a ruler will come for me. He will not act on his own behalf: he comes for God. This ruler has origins that are from of old, from ancient days. Some have taken this to mean that he is simply a descendant of David. But there is more going on here. The words "coming forth” reflect a Hebrew phrase that depicts an army departing for battle. This ruler, the promised Messiah was coming in power to free his people. And the terms "from of old" and "ancient times" imply not only antiquity, but eternity past. In fact the first of these two phrases is used in the Old Testament of God himself, of his purposes, and his declarations. All these are ‘of old,’ eternity past. To use this phrase of a future ruler implies an eternal ruler. This is in keeping with Isaiah 9:6, where the future King is called mighty God and everlasting Father. Only in Jesus can this prophecy be fulfilled.
And this prophecy was well known and well understood. In Matthew when the wise men come to Jerusalem following the star they ask Herod. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Herod, who is only half Jewish and no scholar, doesn’t know, but when he assembles all the chief priests and scribes, they know. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet.” And then they quote Micah 5:2. So the common expectation among those who expected a Messiah was that he would come from this little town, Bethlehem.
Verse 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. It’s natural for us, on Christmas Eve, to see ‘she who is in labor’ as Mary, giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. The context in Micah doesn’t directly support that. In chapter 4 Jerusalem, or the nation of is seen as groaning in childbirth, prophetically looking forward to the end of national exile. So here the phrase probably implies that the nation is under oppression, and groaning for rescue like a woman in birthpains. And verse 2 tells us that rescue will come through the ruler out of Bethlehem. So this verse, while describing the nation in exile, also points to the birth of Jesus, the one who would come to rule and rescue.
The nation of Israel is such a central image in Scripture it can represent many things. It can stand for an individual, the king, the Messiah, the Suffering Servant. It can also represent God’s intent for the world. God may have chosen Israel out of all the nations to show through his rescues of Israel what his larger rescue of the whole world would look like. So here when the ‘rest of his brothers return to the people of Israel,’ it may prophesy the restoration the scattered people of Israel, or God gathering to himself people from all the nations.
For the past few years I’ve liked Andy Gullahorn and Jason Gray’s song “I Will Find a Way.” The song is about someone coming to a woman who cowers behind doors and locks because of what has been done to her and because of shame. And so after debating with himself the someone comes to her as a baby who will rescue her. And you’re thinking ‘oh, this is Israel, to whom Jesus comes; no, this is Mary; no, this is the whole world. The song ends “I’m doing a new thing and soon you will see, I am coming among you and my name shall be ‘Immanuel.’” That same whole world truth is what Micah is picturing here.
So we’ve seen that God’s people are oppressed in a dark and broken world, but God makes a specific promise that one will be sent from Bethlehem and from of old, to rescue. God sends the Messiah to save his people. And the last verses show us that the shepherd from Bethlehem gives his flock peace and security.
erse 4, this ruler “shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” This ruler from Bethlehem comes as a shepherd. But not a weak cowardly shepherd: Israel had enough of those; the world has had enough of those. This is the one who would come in the strength of the Lord and in the name of the Lord and in the majesty of that name. This metaphor of the masterful, faithful shepherd is throughout Scripture. Psalm 23 teaches that the Lord is that shepherd. David was told he would be his people’s shepherd. When Israel’s leaders failed to be faithful, God says “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”
And John records how Jesus saw himself enlarging that promise as he fulfilled it. Let’s read from John 10: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Then in verse 16 he adds “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus lays down his life to rescue his sheep from death and destruction. He gathers his flock from all nations. I think he’s been reading Micah. 5:4
“And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5And he shall be their peace.” The words ‘dwell secure’ translate a word that means ‘continue dwelling.’ The lives of people in Bible times were insecure, whether under the Romans, or the Assyrians or in Judges when everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The odds of living without violence or persecution were low. So when the Hebrew says ‘continue dwelling’ it is talking about a deeply desired core blessing: to live without threat or uncertainty. Only Jesus offers that blessing. And he offers it to the ends of the earth. Jesus said “I have other sheep not of this fold and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” The Old Testament looked forward to the universal reign of the Messiah. Jesus looked forward to the day when his disciples would make disciples in all nations and to the day when before the throne of God the song of the lamb who is the shepherd would be sung by every tribe and language and people and nation. The light that pierced the darkness in Bethlehem that night will not be satisfied until it has penetrated to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. The Old Testament saw ‘shalom’ as the highest good, highest gift from God. Part of this we already said: like Sudan or the Congo or so many other places today, there was so much violence and instability in Bible times that to dwell secure and be left alone in peace was a huge blessing. But Biblical ‘Shalom’ is so much more. It is peace in every community. Paul says it’s between Jews and Gentiles. It’s ethnic: every tribe tongue and nation. It’s national: no war or terrorism, no power hungry oppressors within nations. But it’s also personal: all the peace in the world is worthless if there is warfare going on in your own home, or between families, or in a church. It means no hatred, or bitterness, no cruelty or neglect; it means being someone’s treasure, as my wife says. But most of all it means peace within, no warfare in our own hearts, that filling of the God shaped vacuum that assures us that God is for us no matter what and that nothing in all creation can separate us from that love. With that peace in place all the rest of the peace becomes secondary.
And Micah says, and Paul says in Ephesians 2:14 that Jesus is that peace: he shall be our peace. Peace is not found in our circumstances; peace is not found in our own strength; peace is not found in our dark world or in human schemes. Peace is not found in the dark streets of Bethlehem, or in the shepherd’s fields. When the angels say ‘peace on earth goodwill to men, they are not saying that circumstances are going to change, that a new way of doing thing or a new political system or a new era is coming. They are saying that a person is coming, the one who by his presence in our world and in our lives is the peace we long for, the shepherd we long for, the rescue we long for.
The message of the dark night of Bethlehem is that the light of the world is the shepherd of the world is the savior of the world is the peace of the world and he himself is our peace.