This study of Micah 5:2-4 is a continuation of a series of studies on preaching from the Old Testament. These studies are derived from a series of Advent sermons preached at Trinity Baptist Church of Chicago, the church where I have served as pastor since 1989.
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. 4 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 dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2-4).
Micah was a rural prophet who was born in a small village in Judah. Called by God, Micah went to Jerusalem to preach against the oppression of the poor and the destitute. This oppressive situation was perpetrated by those who lived in their luxurious houses in the capital city of Judah. The probable historical background of this oracle is the Assyrian invasion at the time of the war with Israel in 734 B.C.
At the time Micah spoke these words, kingship in Judah was facing a great crisis. Ahaz, the ruling king, had done much evil by violating the demands of the covenant. To Micah, a man from the country, the present political system was condemned because of its failure to live according to God’s ideal. Only new leadership could avoid the final disaster, which for Micah, was in the immediate future.
Micah was remembered one hundred years later as a prophet who proclaimed the total destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple. According to the elders who lived in Jeremiah’s day, the only reason the judgment was averted was because King Hezekiah repented and God averted the catastrophe (Jeremiah 26:18-19).
In Micah’s vision of the future, he does not use the traditional word for king, melek, but he uses the word “ruler,” moshel, a word that was widely used in the early days of kingship, the days of David, before the king and his court were corrupted by evil practices. His reference to the days of old is an allusion to the glorious days of David. What Micah was doing with these revolutionary words was to call for the reestablishment of the monarchy as it was in the days when David was king.
This is the reason, according to Micah’s words, that the new king would not to be born in Jerusalem, the seat of power. The royal house was in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was the cause of the oppression of the poor and of the nation’s rebellion against God. Micah spoke of a return to Bethlehem Ephrathah, the place where David was born and lived for many years. From Bethlehem a new David would rise up again to stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord as the good shepherd of Israel.
The implication of a return to Bethlehem is far-reaching. The hope of Micah was for a new beginning and for a new king who would understand the heart of the poor and lowly individuals. He hoped for someone who could identify himself with those who suffered. Micah died, unable to see his hope becoming reality. But his dream did not die. In Advent, the deepest hopes of human beings find fulfillment, challenging each one of us to accept the One who knows and understands our needs and who has carried our pains.
V. 2. Bethlehem Ephrathah was the birth place of David. It means “the house of bread.” Bethlehem was a very small village in the small district of Ephrathah. According to Micah, from this humble place God would raise another David, one who would be a ruler over all Israel.
As God had selected David to be his king from among the sons of Jesse (1 Samuel 16:1), so now God declares that from the family of David God himself will raise up another king, one who will represent God’s righteousness and justice, just as David did.
Whose origin is from of old. The lineage of the new king goes back to the distant past. The time period mentioned by Micah should not be understood as eternity (as does the KJV), but to a time within history (see Micah 7:14). This is a reference to the days of David, for the king who is to come shall be a descendant of David. The birth of the new king will again fulfill the promise God made to David: “Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall continue forever and his throne will endure before me like the sun” (Psalm 89:35-36). God is renewing his promise to David. Once again God will visit his people to bless and save
V. 3. He shall give them up. This statement is a reference to the exile of the Northern tribes. God has allowed them to be deported to Assyria as a punishment for their sins. But the punishment will not last long. It will last a brief time, as brief as the time of the one who is about to give birth. The question of who is about to give birth is obscure. Micah 4:10 speaks of the cities of Judah, but it could be a reference to the mother of the future king.
When the new king comes he will restore his brethren, the Israelites from the Northern kingdom who were taken into exile. Thus, the new king not only brings deliverance but also restoration.
V. 4. He shall stand. This expression means to become king. When the royal prince was crowned king of the nation, he stood by the pillar in the temple and was anointed before God and was acclaimed by the people.
He shall feed his flock. The king was the shepherd of his people (Ezekiel 37:24). When God spoke of a good ruler, he said: “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23). The words of the prophet Ezekiel are a reference to the early life of David, who was taken from leading the flock to lead God’s people. Micah is saying that the new king will be like the first David. Many kings who sat on the throne in Jerusalem were evil, but the new king will rule over God’s people in the strength of the Lord. He will not succumb to human weakness for he will be endowed with divine fortitude.
Because of the authority and power of the new king, God’s people will live in security. This security that the new king grants to the people is another fulfillment of the promise of God to David: “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more” (2 Samuel 7:10). So majestic will be the kingship of the new king that his fame will be spread to the ends of the earth.
In preparing a sermon for this passage, the text should be coupled with Matthew 2:1-12.
Two possible titles for the sermon:
Advent: God’s New Beginning
Advent: Back to the Beginning
Introduce the text by providing an overview of Micah and his ministry. Micah was a rural prophet who had seen much oppression and suffering. He believed that the sins of the present leadership in Jerusalem could not be redeemed. He hoped for the days of old and for a new king who would be like David. God gave him a message that spoke of a new beginning.
The first section of the sermon should introduce Micah 5:2-4 by giving an exegesis of the three verses. Explain the reason the new king was going to be born in Bethlehem. Emphasize that Micah’s words lead one to think about the past: the first David, the shepherd idea, the avoidance of the word “king,” the expression “ancient days.”
The second section of the sermon should deal with the passage in Matthew. Emphasize that the new son of David was born not in Jerusalem but in Bethlehem. Note also the two kings: One king was in the palace and the other one was in a manger. One king was sitting upon a throne and the other was lying on straw. One king was rich and the other was poor. One king was famous while the other was unknown. Emphasize how Jesus fulfilled the hopes and dreams of Micah: Jesus was from the house of David, he was born in Bethlehem, he was of humble origin. He was also a shepherd (John 10:11) and he provided security and protection for his flock (John 10:1-5).
The third section of the sermon then should relate the message of Micah to the ministry of Christ: The hope expressed in the message of Micah 5:2-4 is for the kind of king that would minister to people in the name of God rather than to a king who would oppress them by the power of the sword. Micah hoped for a king that would humble himself and identify with the lowly rather than a king who would be triumphant and enjoy his success with the mighty of this earth. The prophet spoke of a king who would accomplish his work through personal sacrifice rather than seeking vengeance over those causing his suffering.
The announcement of Micah that the new David would not be born in a palace in Jerusalem reflects the character of God’s Messiah. Micah’s oracle found fulfillment in the birth of a lowly infant born in a stable and lying in a manger. This humble king was destined by God to save the world, not by the might of the sword but by the humble acceptance of suffering which ended in his own death. Thus, God chose to come and save his people not by might nor by sword but by the lowly and humble child of Bethlehem.
Conclude the sermon by inviting the congregation to accept God’s salvation and to commit themselves to the newborn king.
Other studies in this series:
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary