I want to turn your attention today to Micah chapter 5. I believe John Martin preached on this passage a couple of weeks ago whenever I was in Woodvale. And so, the passage will be familiar to you. However, there’s no harm in looking at it again, because what I want to do is to show how Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the events of the nativity when the Son of God came into the world.
If you have your Bible open, and if you turn to the beginning of Micah, you will see from verse 1 of Micah chapter 1 that Micah lived during the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz and Hezekiah. And you can read about those kings in the Old Testament books of 2 Kings chapters 15 to 20 and in 2 Chronicles chapters 27 to 32. They all lived around 700 years before the birth of the Lord Jesus. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of Micah and both of them were called by the Lord to address his people at that time.
What was happening in those days? Well, you might recall that the Promised Land had been divided into two nations: there was the northern kingdom of Israel which had Samaria as its capital; and there was the southern kingdom of Judah which had Jerusalem as its capital. And the Lord’s patience had run out with the people of Israel in the north. Whereas in the days of Moses, when the Israelites had said they would do everything the Lord commanded, it now seemed that they did nothing the Lord commanded; and instead of doing what the Lord commanded, it seemed that they did everything the Lord forbade. And so, they had turned away from the Lord and had begun to worship false gods; and they no longer walked in the ways of the Lord. And, though the Lord was patient with them, and though he gave them many opportunities to repent, they persisted in their rebellion. And so, finally, finally, the Lord’s patience ran out and he sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and to take the people of Israel into exile. And so, listen to what we read in 2 Kings 17:
5 Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel….
13 [T]he Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’
14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God….
18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight.
And so, the Israelites in the north were taken away into exile by the Assyrians who had become a great and mighty nation at that time and who caused widespread fear and devastation and death as they conquered one nation after another.
Having conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians then turned their attention to the southern kingdom of Judah. And so, we read in 2 Kings 18 how the king of Assyria attacked the fortified cities of Judah and he lay siege to Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. And we read how the king of Assyria sent his commander to address the people of Jerusalem, saying: Don’t listen to Hezekiah. He can’t deliver you from my hand. Don’t listen to Hezekiah who is telling you to trust in the Lord. Don’t listen to him. Make peace with me!
And so he urged the people of Jerusalem to surrender to the king of Assyria.
That’s some of the background to the Old Testament book of Micah, because when we get to chapter 5 and verse 1, you’ll see how Micah instructs Jerusalem — which Micah calls ‘the city of troops’ — he instructs Jerusalem to marshal its troops. In other words: call them together and prepare them for war. And they needed to marshal the troops like this, because, it says, ‘a siege is laid against us.’ Micah was referring to the siege which the Assyrians laid against Jerusalem. And then Micah went on to say that they — and he’s referring to the Assyrians — they will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. Israel’s ruler was Hezekiah who felt powerless against the might and power of the Assyrians; and it only seemed a matter of time before the people of Jerusalem would have to give up and surrender to their enemies.
So, that’s the background to this prophecy. The Assyrians had conquered the land of Israel in the north; they were now laying siege to Jerusalem; it seemed only a matter of time before Jerusalem would fall. And when all of that was happening, the Lord sent the prophet Micah to address the people of Judah with a message to comfort them and to re-assure them. And so, let’s look at what he said to them.
And the Lord begins by addressing, not Jerusalem, but Bethlehem, which was located in the region of Ephrathah. Now, compared to the might and power of Assyria, Bethlehem was nothing at all; in fact, it was one of the smallest cities in the whole of Judah and entirely insignificant. However, though it was small and insignificant, the Lord announced through Micah that there would come someone who would rule over Israel on behalf of the Lord. And so, here’s the Lord God, teaching his people in Jerusalem to look forward in hope to the time when he would send them a new ruler to help them. And in verse 3 the Lord went on to refer to this ruler’s birth. And in verse 4 we’re told that this ruler will stand and shepherd his flock. So, instead of crumbling under pressure, this ruler will stand firm and not be moved. And he will shepherd his flock, which means he will watch over his people, the way a shepherd watches over his sheep; and he’ll guard them from their enemies and he’ll provide them with all that they need. And he’ll stand and shepherd his people in the strength of the Lord and in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. So, the power of the Lord will uphold him and work through him. And because of this, his people will live securely. So, whereas in the days of King Hezekiah, they were living in fear because of the Assyrians, the Lord was teaching them to look forward in hope to a time when this ruler would come and enable them to live in safety and without fear. And look: this ruler’s greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. So, although Bethlehem was very small and insignificant, this ruler who will come from Bethlehem will be great; and his kingdom will extend beyond Bethlehem, and beyond the land of Judah, and out into the whole world.
And the end result of his reign will be peace for his people. And, of course, the word for peace here is the Hebrew word shalom, which conveys the idea, not only of peace, but of a sense of well-being and contentment and rest. In the days of Hezekiah, the people lived under the threat that the Assyrians would conquer them and plunder their cities and take them away as slaves. But the day is coming when the Lord would send his people a greater ruler than Hezekiah would will destroy their enemies and who will enable the people to live with a deep sense of peace and contentment and that all is well in the world.
And look at the rest of verse 5 and into verse 6: this great shepherd will appoint under-shepherds to lead his people. And the Assyrians as well as the people from the land of Nimrod — and that’s a reference to Babylon, which was another enemy nation who would threaten the Lord’s people in years to come — they will be defeated so that they cannot harm or hurt the Lord’s people ever again.
So, Micah was teaching the people to look forward in hope to a time when this great ruler, this great king, will come from Bethlehem; and his kingdom will stretch throughout the world; and he will give his people peace.
Now, before we move on, notice that this is no ordinary ruler. In fact, there’s something extra-ordinary about this ruler which Micah was writing about. Look again at verse 2 where Micah tell us that the origins of this great ruler are from of old, from ancient times; they’re from eternity even. In other words, Micah was announcing that this great ruler who would come from Bethelehem is an eternal person, without beginning and without end. You see, this great ruler is God the Son, who was coming into the world to deliver his people, not from the Assyrians and not from the Babylonians, but from the penalty we deserve for our sins. He was coming to save us from our sins and to bring us into his own eternal and heavenly kingdom where there is life and peace for ever and ever. Micah was teaching the people to look forward in hope to the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world. And so, as we turn to the nativity, to the story of Christ’s birth, we’ll see how Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the coming of Christ and by the good news of the gospel.
Angel and Mary
And so, think about what the angel said to Mary when he announced to her that she would have a son. who should be called Jesus. The angel announced that he will be great. And the angel said to Mary that the Lord will give her Son the throne of David. In other words, he’ll be a ruler, a king. And the angel said that Mary’s son will reign over the house of Jacob for how long? For ever; and his kingdom will never end. Micah spoke about a mighty ruler; the angel told Mary her son will be a king. Micah spoke about the ruler’s greatness; the angel told Mary her son will be great. Micah spoke about an eternal ruler; the angel told Mary that her son’s kingdom will never end, but will be everlasting. Micah’s prophecy was being fulfilled.
Angels and Shepherds
Think now about what the angels announced to the shepherds. There they were, minding their sheep at night, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were terrified. But the angel told them not to be afraid because he’d come to tell them good news of great joy which was for all the people. What was the good news of great joy? That the Saviour had been born in the town of David. In other words, he had been born in Bethlehem; Bethlehem was David’s home town. And it was also Joseph’s home town; and Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem because the Roman Emperor had issued a decree that everyone should return to their hometown so that a census of the people could take place. And so, Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem; and when they were there, the time came for their son to be born.
And so, the angel announced this good news: the Saviour had been born in Bethlehem. And then a great company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying…. Do you remember?
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.
Micah announced that the great ruler from Bethlehem would give his people peace; and the angels spoke about how the coming of the Saviour would lead to peace on earth. Micah’s prophecy was being fulfilled.
Now think about the story of the wise men. After the Lord’s birth, these wise men from the East saw the star; and they understood that the star was a sign that a great king had been born. So, they followed it and went straight for Jerusalem, because that’s where you’d expect a king to be born; you’d expect a king to be born in Jerusalem, because that’s where the palace was, and that’s where all the kings lived. But there was no new king in Jerusalem. But when the chief priests and the scribes searched the Scriptures they discovered Micah’s prophecy which foretold how the new king would be born in Bethlehem. And so, the wise men headed out of Jerusalem and they made for Bethlehem; and in due course, they found the child and his mother, Mary. And they bowed down and worshipped him and gave him expensive gifts. Some say they gave him gold because he was a king; and they gave him frankincense because he is God; and they gave him myrrh because one day he would die for sinners and myrrh was used to anoint the dead in those days. However, Matthew doesn’t say anything about that, because the real significance of the story of the wise men is the fact that Micah had announced that this new king’s greatness would reach to the ends of the earth. And so, after his birth, these wise men from far off lands came to pay tribute to him. They had heard of his greatness and they had come to see him for themselves. These wise men were the first of many who would come from every nation of the world to bow down and worship Jesus Christ the King. Micah’s prophecy was being fulfilled.
And let me turn now to one last reading which we often read at Christmas time. It’s John 1 verses 1 to 18 which begins in eternity with the Word of God, which is John’s name for God the Son. And John tells us how, in the beginning, before anything was made, there was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. And this Word of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. That’s John’s way of referring to the birth of the Lord Jesus, because the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God who became flesh and lived among us. And so, we can say that the origins of Jesus Christ are from of old, from ancient times, from eternity, because he’s the Eternal Son of God.
Again and again we see how Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, because he’s the great ruler who came from Bethlehem; whose origins were from eternity; and who will reign for ever and for ever; and who will give his people peace.
And, of course, when we move beyond the nativity story, we see how Micah’s prophecy is fulfilled in other ways. All the mighty miracles he performed showed that the strength and majesty of the Lord was with him in all he did. And he was able to stand firm against all the temptations of the Devil. Even after he died, he was raised by the power of God and he now stands at God’s right hand in heaven. And from his throne in heaven, he is extending his kingdom throughout the world, calling men and women and boys and girls from every nation to belong to his eternal kingdom. And just as Micah has said, he has appointed under-shepherds to lead his people, because he appoints elders in every congregation to watch over his people on his behalf.
It’s all very interesting to see how Micah’s prophecy has been fulfilled by the coming of Christ. However, what else can we say about these things? What’s the significance of Micah’s prophecy for us?
Well, in Micah’s day, the Lord’s people were living in fear, because of the threat the Assyrians posed. The people were in danger of being killed by their enemies or taken away as slaves to a foreign land. But the Lord saw their sorrow and misery and he taught them through the prophet Micah to look forward in hope to the coming King. God was aware of their plight; and he had not forgotten them; but he was coming to save them. And the Lord did all that he promised, because when the time was right, he sent his Son into the world to be the great ruler he had promised. But he had come, not to save God’s people from the Assyrians, or from any other earthly enemy; he came to save God’s people from the penalty for our sin which is death. And death, of course, is a far greater enemy than the Assyrians ever were, because while it was possible to run from the Assyrians and to get away from them, none of us is able to run away from death or to avoid it. It comes to us all. And it comes to us all as the penalty we deserve for our sins and for all the ways we disobey the Lord and fall short of doing his will.
And so, every day, death lays hold of more and more of us. And whenever we stand at the side of a grave, it seems to us that death will always win and there is no stopping it. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus, because Jesus Christ, our great ruler, suffered and died in our place, bearing the punishment that we deserve, before rising again on the third day. And whoever believes in him — and we should all believe in him — whoever believes in him receives forgiveness from God for all that we have done wrong; and we receive the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in God’s presence. So, though we will still die like everyone else, we know that if we believe in Christ the King who died but who was raised, then we too will live even though we die and we will live with God for ever and for ever in glory.
And here’s the thing. What will this eternal life be like? It will be a life of everlasting shalom: perfect peace and contentment and rest for ever and for ever, because, whenever Christ our King brings us into our eternal home to be with him for ever, God will wipe away the tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death our mourning or crying or pain, because the old order of things has passed away. And so, just as Micah had said, Jesus Christ, this great king from Bethlehem, is our peace, because he’s the one who will bring us safely through death and into the peace and joy of eternal life.
And so, on this Christmas Day, let us give thanks to God for keeping the word he spoke by the prophet Micah and for sending into the world this great ruler, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times, from eternity, who was born in order to rescue us from sin and death that we might live in perfect peace and rest for ever and for ever in the glory to come.