v.1 Once again, Micah is going to move from the present distress of Israel — in this case the Assyrian invasion of 701 B.C. — to a future deliverance (as he did twice in 4:9-13). (The NIV omits a “now” as at 4:9,11.) “Strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek” is an image of Hezekiah’s total humiliation. He is so defenseless he cannot even protect his face. He cannot defend his people; they are as if they had no king at all. You remember the public taunting of Hezekiah by the Assyrian supreme commander or chief officer in 2 Kings 18 (particularly in Isaiah 36; the KJV had “Rabshekah” as if it were a personal name, but it is an office or title).
That the Assyrian invasion is the context of the oracle is demonstrated by several things. 1) In vv. 5-6 Nimrod, that is Babylon, is in second place, an inferior power, so this must be when Babylon was subject to Assyria, not later when it ruled over the former Assyrian empire; 2) in vv. 5ff. Assyria is used as the representative of the forces of hostility to the kingdom of God, which makes sense if it was the great enemy of the people of God in the day of this prophecy; 3) the word “leaders” at the end of v. 5 is a rare word, but a word Sargon, the Assyrian king, used for his leaders.
“Marshall your troops”, then, like the commands in 4:10, 13 is a summons not to lose hope, but to exercise faith. God will be heard from in due time.
v.2 So it is in the context of Israel’s humiliation and the demonstration of her powerlessness against a mighty foreign army that the great messianic prophecy is given.
“From old, from ancient times” probably cannot be made an argument from the deity of Christ as if the eternal past were the thought. Rather it seems to be a reference to the Messiah’s origins in the purity of the springs of Jesse and David from which the messianic line was born. It is the same idea as Isaiah’s that the Messiah would arise as a branch springing from the stump of Jesse (11:1). This coming king goes back to David’s cradle. It will be a new start from the original root.
v.3 We are given the duration of the distress. It will last until the Messiah comes. This part of the prophecy illustrates two constant features of biblical prophecy that must be kept in view when interpreting passages that predict the distant future. In the first place God’s scale of time is very different from ours. As a reference to the birth of Christ, the duration is indicated to be some 700 years. There is very little to suggest in the text, however, that we are speaking of a time that long. But, we must see time and the passage of time in terms of God’s purpose and perspective, which is different from ours. Remember Peter’s reminder that a thousand years for us is but a day to God. We think so naturally of everything in terms of the scope of our own lives, and God sees history on a much grander scale and the movement of events in terms of that scale. (So, for example, Isaiah 7:14: the sign to Ahaz — “a virgin shall conceive” — is a long time in coming by our standards.) In the second place, there is a phenomenon, often referred to as prophetic foreshortening, that must be given its due as well. It is often illustrated by comparing the prophetic vision of the future to someone’s sight of mountains in the distance. The mountains appear to the eye from that distant vantage point as one large mass of peaks. It is only when one gets among them that one discovers that they are, in fact, mountain ranges, separated by valleys, the peaks perhaps many miles distant from one another, some closer some further from the viewer.
Well, we have that often in OT prophecy. In Isaiah 42:1-7, the first of the “Servant Songs”, we find the announcement of the arrival of the Servant (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold…I will put my Spirit on him”) and immediately the glorious, universal consequences of his rule (“he will bring justice to the nations”… “in his law the islands will put their hope”). Or take the famous prophecy fulfilled on Palm Sunday (Zech. 9:9-10). “Behold your king comes to you…riding on a donkey…” And immediately the result: “He will proclaim peace to the nations and his rule will extend from sea to sea.” Well, of course, as it happens this takes much more time that we might gather from reading those OT texts by themselves. (It is perhaps important to remember this foreshortening in the interpretation of NT prophecy as well. Is this part of the solution to the problem of what seem to be two separate horizons in Matthew 24: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming?)
“rest of the brothers” probably the same idea as Amos 9:11-15 in Acts 15 and Micah 4:6-8: the ingathering of the Gentiles restores David’s fallen tent, a process already underway, but yet to be grandly consummated in history.
v.5 “The Assyrian” represents the enemies of the kingdom of God. The future is presented in the terms of the prophets’ world.
The victory and the reign will be Christ’s, of course, but not without the involvement and participation of his people and their leaders. Seven is the number of perfection and eight is one more than that! The Messiah’s kingdom will have all the leaders we need and the very best of them; the enemy will be no match for them.
Now, we have a new step in Micah’s account of the golden age, the day of consummation for the kingdom of God, which has been his subject through chapter 4. It is clearly the same subject here in 5:1-5 as you can see if you compare these verses with those that precede it. For example:
- “ends of the earth” 5:4 links up with the “many nations” of 4:2ff.
- the remnant will become a powerful nation (4:7-10) becomes Bethlehem bring forth a ruler for the whole world in 5:2 (also 5:7ff. which we didn’t read). Etc.
But, now, the prophecy of the golden age is brought together with the prophecy of a coming ruler, the Messiah. The golden age, we now learn, comes about through the rule of one particular man and king. Actually, in 5:2-4 we have the rule and triumph of Messiah himself and in 5:5-6 we have the rule and triumph of his undershepherds, the leaders of his people, who rule in his name. (The ideal king of the ANE world was a shepherd-king, one who provides for and cares for his people. The Messiah will be such a king, but so, in a lesser sense, will those who assist him.)
You have this same merging of the two visions: of a messianic rule and the golden age in Isaiah (e.g. chapter 11 combines the same expectation of the triumph of Israel and universal peace and prosperity in the world with the appearance and rule of the promised heir of David’s throne). [This is akin to the merging of the two great streams of prophetic hope in Psalm 72: that all nations should be blessed through Abraham and that of David’s descendant who will sit on his throne forever.]
So, in other words, we now learn that the golden age is a messianic age, the consummation of the kingdom of God in the world will be brought to pass by the rule of this coming King.
Let me elaborate this messianic vision in Micah 5:1-6 in two respects.
First, the emphasis falls here and often elsewhere on Christ, the Messiah, as a King. [By the way: Meshiach in Hebrew means “anointed one.” That is, the one who is and will be anointed to be king over Israel. Anointing was the rite by which Kings and priests, but especially kings, were set apart to their offices. “Christos” is the Greek word that means the same thing: anointed one (from chrio, to pour, because in anointing they poured oil on the head). Christ is simply the English form of the Greek word. It is originally a title, not a name: Andrew to his brother Peter, “We have found the Christ” (John 1:41). Only later in the apostolic period did “Jesus, the Christ” become “Jesus Christ.”]
Of course, he is also presented in the OT prophecy as the sacrifice, the priest, the savior, but the prophets present him predominately as the coming King! That is why “Messiah” becomes such an important term. It refers to a royal personage, a man who will rule over his people and the world.
The lodestar of Israel’s hope for the future was the promise that God had made to David:
“Once for all I have sworn by my holiness, I shall not lie to David:
his dynasty will endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me.” (Psalm 89:35-36)
There is no doubt that the Lord is today, even among his people, regarded more as the Savior than the King. This is in part because his rule has not yet been manifest, at least not in the magnificent way anticipated in the prophets. His greatness has not yet, as Micah forecasts it will some day, reached the ends of the earth — at least not in the universal and visible way pictured here. The world’s recognition of the Lord’s kingdom and reign awaits further developments, the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But, there should be a greater recognition of the Lord’s kingship among his own people, people who have faith to believe what they are taught in the Word of God. For it is clear that this is a large part of what Christ is for us and that this is emphasized in the NT. In the Book of Acts, for example, the act of true faith in Christ is the confession of him as Lord. He is first and foremost the Lord, the King, in Acts, and it is the recognition of this that brings men to salvation. And “living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31) is the way the Christian life is described. Paul says the same thing in Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” True faith in Christ must be an act of submission to him as our ruler, our king. The Bible says this in many different ways, but it is powerfully put here in the OT prophets, when they see Christ coming to the world and to his people as the King of Kings.
There is no conflict between Christ as Savior and Lord. He is one and the same at the same time. He saves us as a King, he saves us to rule over us, and he rules over all power and authority in order to save and deliver us and bring us to heaven. We get a view of Christianity that is seriously incomplete, if we see Christ as Savior but not as King, our King, now our King, a King to whom we owe the submission of our lives and our service, a King who has our lives and all life in his hands. This note needs to be sounded again clearly in our day, when Christians have grown accustomed, in part because they see Christ only as their Savior, to thinking of Christ as existing for them and not themselves as existing for him!
As Rutherford quaintly put it: “But, oh! how many of us would have Christ divided into two halves, that we might take the half of Him only! We take his office, Jesus and salvation: but ‘Lord’ is a cumbersome word; and to obey, and work out our own salvation, and to reflect holiness, is the cumbersome and stormy north side of Christ; and that we eschew and shift.” [Letters, CCXXXIV]
We must always be careful that we are not forming a Christianity that is composed of only the parts we like and ignores much of what the Bible says. (For example, has it ever struck you that the judgment day is never once presented in the Bible in the way we think it ought to be presented. Never once does the Scripture tell us that on that day all those who believed in Christ will be put on one side of the great white throne and all those who didn’t will be put on the other; never once do we hear the Judge of all the earth asking each man or woman who stands before him whether or not he believed the gospel. Over and over again the examination has rather to do with our lives, our works, our obedience, our loving service of others. No Christian life will be authentic that acts as if all of that material is not in the Bible.) And so with Christ as the King, as the Lord of men. Our catechism and Christian theology in general speaks of Christ as our “prophet, priest, and king.” It would be more accurate, biblically, to speak of him as our “king, our priest, and our prophet.”
[As an aside, there is another side of the presentation of Christ here worth exploration, though we haven’t the time this evening. I am speaking of the corporate aspect of his reign. Over and over again in the prophets the world, the nations, and the church are viewed as wholes, as entireties. We think so much of the relationship between Christ and the individual soul and there is much in the Bible about that, of course. We don’t want in any way to deny or diminish that individuality of grace and salvation. But, in America especially, the most atomized and individualized nation on earth, we need to hear that the Bible’s great vision is of Christ reigning over his church, his people, as a nation. He sees not simply many individuals, but his people as a single organic whole. And if we are, as we have said several times so far, if we are to participate in this vision ahead of time, then we must be people who care for and commit ourselves not simply to the individual life of a Christian but as well to the life of Christ’s church, his people, his kingdom.]
Second, emphasis also falls on the surprising manner by which the Messiah will bring in his kingdom — viz. his lowliness. You have this, of course, most famously, in the Bethlehem prophecy. He will come from a tiny village, little among the clans of Judah. No one ever thought of reducing Bethlehem to a mound of rubble overgrown with brush (as Jerusalem, 3:12). It was too small, insignificant for that. (It is true that Bethlehem is significant as being the hometown of David, but the emphasis here falls on its lowliness, not its connection to the royal house.)
But you see it also in the “for me” in v. 2. “Out of you will come for me a ruler…” He will be a servant king, a king doing the will of God, which is a point often emphasized in the NT. “I come to do your will…”; “the people you have given me”; etc.
The great contrast with Satan. The Son of God had all the glory of God and he humbled himself and became a servant, obedient even to death on the cross. As I said this morning, we say those words, but we haven’t really a clue as to what they mean. We do not understand this. But, at least, it may help to see it in contrast. Satan was nearer to God than any other creature at the creation, but, as we read in Ezekiel 28:17:
“[his] heart became proud, on account of [his] beauty, and [he] corrupted [his] wisdom because of [his] splendor.” [Actually of the King of Tyre, but under the figure of Satan’s fall. “So I threw you to the earth…”]
These are the two “minds” that underlie all of human history. Satan’s pride and grasping for himself, and Christ’s gaining universal imperium through humbling himself to live and serve others. Take your choice. Whose mind will you have for your own?
And, then, once more, we have him ruling not in his own strength, but “in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). He will be a man who gains victory by his trust in God. And that is what we see of Christ both before and after. During his ministry he was a man of prayer, a man who lived by faith, and he gained his victory by the help that came to him in prayer. There never was a man who prayed more faithfully or with a greater sense of dependence and need than Jesus of Nazareth.
But, still today, as his reign moves forward to its consummation in history, his kingdom advances by prayer. He ever lives to intercede for us.
So, the great themes of OT prophecy are before us. The triumph of the kingdom of God, a triumph that is the personal triumph of the Messiah, who will reign in meekness, depending upon God, and bringing into his kingdom and into its reign his people — who will reign with him, here represented by their leaders.
This is the Bible’s philosophy of history, and we do not live a single day, not authentically as Christians, that we do not see our lives, our existence, in these terms, this understanding of the world’s present situation — as the canvas on which will someday be painted for all to see the majesty of the King of Kings, this mighty and glorious expectation.