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A Shepherd Will Come -- a study of Micah 4-5

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Jesus will be our peace.


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Micah 4:6-8, 5:1-9

For people staring invasion in the face, this prophecy that God would one bring peace and a good leader to His people, and He would give them safety and security in their own land, would have been most welcome. There are many questions about the exact nature of its fulfillment, but our application is to trust and follow Jesus our King and Savior.

He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of the Lord, (5:4)


I have lots of ideas this week. As always, only go with the ones that work for your group. If you don't like any of these, maybe they will spark some ideas you think you can use!


I feel like I get into a lot of weeds in my notes. Here's a quick overview. Going to the beginning of chapter 4, God gives His people a vision of a future when the people of the world come to Jerusalem not to attack it but to learn from it. The Bethlehem prophecy is given so the people will know that God will provide good leaders (namely One) to clean up the mess that the bad leaders had made. And one day, God will gather His people and defend them from their enemies. But until that day, God's people (immediate context = Jews) will face war and violence.


Getting Started: Things to Think About

Thanksgiving!

Let's not overcomplicate things. It's Thanksgiving week, and we have a lot to be thankful for. You could easily spend your time just talking about your many blessings. To tie it into this week's passage, here are two potential twists:

  • How have your family Thanksgiving traditions changed over the generations? (You might have to do some research on this one.) You're going to find that traditions change with the culture and the economy, and it's always been that way. In this week's passage, we're going to see that things are about to change permanently for the Jews, and God gives them a vision of the future to let them know that it will one day be okay.

  • If the economy were to get permanently worse, how might you envision your Thanksgiving traditions to change in the future? My intent for this topic is to help your group see that some parts of "Thanksgiving" are more important than others.


Getting Ready for Advent: Messianic Prophecies in the Minor Prophets

We are quickly approaching The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. It can't get here soon enough, and yet it's getting here way too quickly, if you know what I mean. Next week starts the season of Advent, the month that many Christians set aside to prepare their hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus.


And this week's passage covers one of the most famous prophecies about the birth of Jesus.


I sense an opportunity!


Let's start the week with a Christmas quiz. Ask your group how many Old Testament prophecies about Jesus they can think of. (Yes, I'm about to list some, but that's not cheating. As long as it's in your brain, that's what matters.)


For my part, I'm just going to focus on the era our quarter covers: the flurry of prophetic activity before the fall of Samaria. This includes Jonah (to Nineveh), Amos and Hosea (to Samaria), and Micah (to Jerusalem). And this also includes Isaiah, who (as we learned last week) was Micah's contemporary, but his book is a tad bit longer.


Jonah

  • Matt 12:40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

Hosea

  • 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (see Matt 2:15)

Micah

  • 5: 2 Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times. (see Matt 2:1-6)

Amos

  • 8:9 And in that day—this is the declaration of the Lord God—I will make the sun go down at noon; I will darken the land in the daytime. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will cause everyone to wear sackcloth and every head to be shaved. I will make that grief like mourning for an only son and its outcome like a bitter day. (some argue that this verse is "progressively fulfilled" at the death of Jesus)

Isaiah (I won't include all of the passages; we'd be here all day)

  • 7:14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. (see Matt 1:18-23)

  • 8:14 He will be a sanctuary; but for the two houses of Israel, he will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (see 1 Pet 2:8)

  • 9:6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (see Luke 1:31)

  • 11:1 Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him (see Luke 3:23)

  • 28:16 Therefore the Lord God said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable. (see Acts 4:11-12)

  • 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, (see Matt 11:2-6)

  • 40:3 A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. (see John 1:23)

  • 52:13 See, my servant will be successful; he will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were appalled at you—his appearance was so disfigured that he did not look like a man, and his form did not resemble a human being—15 so he will sprinkle many nations.

  • 53:7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment, and who considered his fate? For he was cut off from the land of the living; he was struck because of my people’s rebellion. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but he was with a rich man at his death, because he had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.


What do we learn about Jesus from these Old Testament prophecies? A lot! Jesus had some "big shoes" to fill; hopefully that helps explain why some Jews were skeptical that a carpenter's son who grew up in Nazareth could ever be the Messiah.


Your Hopes and Dreams for Your Community

Some of you are actually in community leadership (economic development, long-range planning, etc.), so you've thought about this a lot from that perspective. Try to step back from that. Think like a citizen who hopes to live in the same neighborhood for the next X years. What do you want your community to be like in 5 years, 10 years?


Here's my twist. Try to imagine being a citizen of Ukraine or Hong Kong (you may have to do some research for this one). What would be your hopes and dreams for your community in 5 years if you lived in a part of the world facing wars or the threat of war? Compare and contrast that answer with the previous.


I think we will have some similar lists, but probably with very different emphases. In our passage this week, God gives the people a vision of a future, after the coming invasion. We're going to learn that God wants better for us than we could comprehend. On Thanksgiving Week, that's something to be thankful for.

 

This Week's Big Ideas

Idea 1: Antisemitism in the News

In this week's passage, we're going to read about Israel's many enemies, in that day and in the last days. The Bible skeptic would say, "Bah -- Israel couldn't possibly be relevant 2,500 years after Micah wrote these words." And yet here we are. Not only is Israel relevant, but Jews are still hated in a way that boggles the mind. And in a way that's pretty fresh right now.


*Kyrie Irving and Kanye West enter the chat.*


If you don't keep up with pop culture, you might have missed this. These guys (for reasons no one really understands) decided to drop some antisemitic views to their millions of social media followers. And then Dave Chapelle couldn't help but stir that up even more with his Saturday Night Live monologue (11/12/22).

We don't have time to explain what they said. What I find the most interesting (and depressing) is the social media response to their antisemitism -- how many people have jumped in to support antisemitic views (and we really, really don't have time to go into that). My point simply is that after all of this time, there is a visible presence of hatred towards Jews in the world at large.


If you want to learn more, here are some articles:

This might come up when you read how God will defend His people from their enemies.


Idea 2: Progressive Fulfillment in Prophecy

We've talked at length about the difficulty of understanding Old Testament prophecy (most recently in our final post from Hosea, covering Hosea 11 and Hosea 13). I'm going to ask everyone's forgiveness for grossly oversimplifying things, but here are some general categories for how we can understand Old Testament prophecy:

  • Simple, literal fulfillment. This would be like this week's Micah passage saying that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

  • Typological fulfillment. This would be like Jesus comparing His death with Jonah in the fish -- Jonah's experience was a type of Christ's.

  • Dual fulfillment. This would be like Isaiah's prophecy of the virgin giving birth; it was fulfilled in Isaiah's day, but it was completely fulfilled in Jesus.

  • Symbolic fulfillment. This would be like the prophecy that "Elijah must come first", fulfilled in John the Baptist, not a literal return of Elijah.

  • Progressive fulfillment. That's what we're getting into this week.

Progressive fulfillment is the idea that some prophecies get fulfilled in part in the course of history, but then they are fulfilled in full in eternity. I'm having trouble trying to word this -- I'm not saying that part of the prophecy gets fulfilled, or that the prophecy is fulfilled partially. It gets fulfilled, but it gets more fulfilled with time, and it gets fully fulfilled at the end of time.


The best example I can use is this week's passage -- a prophecy about a shepherd who will rescue God's people from their enemies. It gets fulfilled when God defends Jerusalem from the siege of Assyria in ~700BC. It gets more fully fulfilled when Jesus walks the earth as the Good Shepherd, defeating the curse of sin. But it will get completely fulfilled in the last day when Jesus returns to destroy God's enemies and give God's people eternal peace and rest.


That's complicated. Does it make general sense?


The point I would want us to clarify in our groups is that God's prophecies are much more complex than anything a human would come up with. They are wayfinders -- they help us see where God's plan is unfolding so we do not lose heart when bad days come, and so we stay focused on the right path.

 

Where We Are in Micah

Here's the outline I'm working with:

  1. God judges all people (1:1-2)

  2. God judges His people (1:3-3:12)

  3. There will come a day of worldwide peace and worship (4:1-5:15)

    1. God will reestablish Zion (4:1-8)

    2. God will rescue His people from captivity (4:9-13)

    3. God will raise up a good leader (5:1-6)

    4. God will bring back His remnant (5:7-9)

    5. God will protect His kingdom (5:10-15)

  4. God's case against His people (6:1-7:6)

  5. God will forgive and restore (7:7-20)

We are in the middle of a wonderful section in which God explains how He will "undo" the damage caused by the corrupt leaders -- He will essentially "start over". He will let His people be conquered and their nation destroyed, then He will bring back His faithful remnant and give them a fresh start with a good leader.


You should already notice the "progressive fulfillment" at work here. This prophecy was a little bit fulfilled in Jesus' day. God brought His people back and helped them rebuild Jerusalem, and then He sent Jesus (the Perfect Shepherd) to them. But this prophecy won't be fully fulfilled until the last battle describe in the Revelation.


And that's because God still had some more "explaining" to do. We've talked about the doctrine of "progressive revelation" -- the idea that God reveals His truth in "bite-sized chunks" that His people can understand. The most common example of this is the doctrine of the Trinity. God revealed Himself as Father in the Old Testament, but dropped "hints" that He was even more than that. In the Gospels, we meet God the Son, and there Jesus dropped further hints about a third Person. Then, in Acts, we meet God the Spirit.


In the case of this week's prophecy, God eventually explains (through Jesus) that His people aren't the physical descendants of Abraham but the spiritual descendants of Abraham. "Israel" is not a nation on a map, but the collection of God's children all over the world. In Jesus' day, the Jews had interpreted this prophecy to support their "privileged status" as God's people. They would have to learn what God meant by "His people" before they could fully appreciate what Micah's prophecies entailed.

 

Part 1: In That Day (Micah 4:6-8)

6 On that day—this is the Lord’s declaration— I will assemble the lame and gather the scattered, those I have injured. 7 I will make the lame into a remnant, those far removed into a strong nation. Then the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time on and forever. 8 And you, watchtower for the flock, fortified hill of Daughter Zion, the former rule will come to you; sovereignty will come to Daughter Jerusalem.

If it were me, I would have picked the first few verses of the chapter. They give us very helpful context:

  • One day -- the last days -- the nations of the world will stop warring against God's people and instead go to Jerusalem for instruction and arbitration.

  • That day will bring peace, where swords are not needed and everyone has his own "fig tree" for rest and refreshment.

I think you could spend a lot of time there. Indeed, I think those verses more easily capture the purpose of this passage than the verses we're covering! As you will see from the excessive notes below, there are a lot of details to explain.


And in the last verses of this chapter, we see that at the time of the prophecy:

  • The people for all intents and purposes didn't have a functioning king.

  • The people were about to go into exile (in Babylon! a key point) and they were as afraid of the future as a woman about to go into labor.

  • The surrounding nations saw this as a sign of weakness and were "licking their chops" at the opportunity to exterminate God's people.

  • But this was all a part of God's plan to discipline His people for their wanton sin; nations who overstepped their role in His plan would be punished severely.


So, "that day". When we see "that day" in the Bible, we often associate it with the last day, the day of God's final judgment. Your response might be like mine: "how can the nations be coming to learn about Jesus if they've been judged and cast into hell?" Well, a helpful reference for us would be Revelation 21:

23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never close by day because it will never be night there. 26 They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it

When heaven comes to earth at the last day and Jesus reigns upon the New Earth, it will still be "the whole earth" (earth as God intended). We will live all over the earth, filling and subduing it as God intended. But some people will live in Jerusalem, and that how I think I see this passage. God will bring to Jerusalem a special group to His heart -- the poor, the lame, the vulnerable -- and He will care for them Himself. This probably means Jewish Christians, but more about that below.


Note that God admits to being the one who "injured" them. In other words, nothing happened to the people that He did not bring about. He did it so that they might be eternally saved.


The Jews were facing a world of violence and oppression, but a day would one day come when they would have peace and security on the mountain of God (Mount Zio / Jerusalem). That's the background for the rest of our very long passage.

 

Part 2: One Will Come (Micah 5:1-6)

Now, daughter who is under attack, you slash yourself in grief; a siege is set against us! They are striking the judge of Israel on the cheek with a rod. 2 Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times. 3 Therefore, Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of the ruler’s brothers will return to the people of Israel. 4 He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord his God. They will live securely, for then his greatness will extend to the ends of the earth.
5 He will be their peace. When Assyria invades our land, when it marches against our fortresses, we will raise against it seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men. 6 They will shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with a drawn blade. So he will rescue us from Assyria when it invades our land, when it marches against our territory.

The beginning of verse 1 illustrates how difficult the Hebrew of Hosea is. That first phrase could mean "Marshal your troops, you city of troops" or "Strengthen your walls, you walled city" or "Slash yourself, you daughter of violence". Whatever the translation, the key to the verse is the phrase "a siege is upon us!"


Even though our first section talked about the last day, this seems to be before that, a time when the siege will be successful. The point seems to be that though this siege will be successful, there will come a day when God will defend His people against all enemies.


Jerusalem was besieged in 701 BC by Assyria, and God miraculously preserved them. Jerusalem was besieged again in 605 and 586 BC by Babylon, and they were conquered and taken into exile. And they were besieged in 70 AD by Rome, and they were destroyed utterly. And don't forget that the enemies of God will surround Jerusalem in the last battle (see Rev 20:9), but that time God's enemies will be destroyed.


The "ruler whose origin is from antiquity" seems very obviously (to Christians) to be a prophecy of the Messiah. We have the benefit of progressive revelation to understand that the Messiah is God the Son who literally has lived and reigned with God the Father and God the Spirit from before time began. And we also know that the Messiah is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem. (Because we're going to have plenty of opportunity to talk about Bethlehem in the weeks to come, you might move through this part of the passage quickly. "Ephrathah" possibly identifies the district.)


Implication: because this is a prophecy about Jesus, it seems most likely that Micah is prophesying first about the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (after which Israel will be repopulated and Jesus will be born). But I think it's also a prophecy that will be fully fulfilled in the last battle, when Jesus will have brought together all of His brothers and will fully defend them and defeat their enemies (see Rev 20). And don't forget that Jesus specifically widened the scope of what it meant to be His brother (or sister): "Mark 3:35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


So, what about verse 3?


We understand that Israel being abandoned will be the literal outcome of that siege in 586. But "until" is a word of hope -- God will send a ruler to His people who will not be like the failed rulers of the past.


Because of the connection with Jesus, a lot of casual readers assume that "she who is in labor" must mean Mary, right? That works for me. I've seen compelling arguments that this refers to the remnant of Zion -- that Jesus will come from the lineage of David. The leader guide says it could refer to the remnant itself coming out of exile; that's less likely. If anything, it would refer to chapter 4 and the pain being feared by the people in Jerusalem who were about to be captured.


As you might expect, Isaiah gave a prophecy very similar to this one:

11:10 On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples.

The nations will look to him for guidance, and his resting place will be glorious.

11 On that day the Lord will extend his hand a second time to recover the remnant of his people who survive—from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the coasts and islands of the west.

12 He will lift up a banner for the nations and gather the dispersed of Israel;

he will collect the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

13 Ephraim’s envy will cease; Judah’s harassing will end.

Ephraim will no longer be envious of Judah, and Judah will not harass Ephraim.

14 But they will swoop down on the Philistine flank to the west.

Together they will plunder the people of the east.

They will extend their power over Edom and Moab,

and the Ammonites will be their subjects.

15 The Lord will divide the Gulf of Suez.

He will wave his hand over the Euphrates with his mighty wind

and will split it into seven streams, letting people walk through on foot.

16 There will be a highway for the remnant of his people

who will survive from Assyria,

as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt.


The end of verse 3 is better translated "The rest of the ruler's brothers will return to be reunited with the people of Israel" -- clearly delineating the people of Judah and Israel, something Isaiah's prophecy makes even more clear. To me, this points to an event still in the future. Remember that from Nehemiah all the way to Jesus' day, there's a huge divide between Jews and Samaritans (something the hearers in Isaiah's and Micah's day probably wouldn't have guessed at).


In verse 4, "He" refers to the Messiah, Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd, the ultimate shepherd-king that David had hoped to be (John 10). His work will be to lead the people well and protect them in their pastures. (Psalm 23 gives you a great look at what David thought of God as Shepherd.)


Here's a great quote from Peter Craigie, Twelve Prophets:

Matthew's quotation of Micah's prophecy has set it in a new perspective for the Christian reader of the Old Testament. The deliverer has some to this world in the person of Jesus; like David, Jesus is the new Shepherd of God's sheep, offering security from external enemies and a life of security. Jesus, of the Davidic line, is above all a gift of God to this world. To those who feel shut in on every side, like the besieged citizens of Jerusalem who first heard these words, Jesus brings the prospect of deliverance and security. And that is the essence of the Christmas message: God makes a gift to a besieged world through whom deliverance may come.

But wait, there's more!


Some translations, like the NIV, connect the first part of verse 5 with verse 4. That's not necessary. Really, this verse should be translated

And He will be [our] peace when the Assyrian invades our land.

It forms a kind of chiasm with verse 6:

  • And He will be our peace

    • When Assyria invades our land

      • When it marches against our fortresses

  • And He will rescue us

    • When Assyria invades our land

      • And marches against our territory

In other words, not even the greatest human instruments of war can conquer the Prince of Peace.


Aside: The Code for Big Bads in the Bible. My guess is that most of us, when we read about Assyria, think that anything to do with this prophecy must have been fulfilled with Assyria. But consider Revelation 18:21 -- "Then a mighty angel picked up a stone like a large millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, In this way, Babylon the great city will be thrown down violently and never be found again." -- we know that the angel wasn't referring to the literal city of Babylon rebuilt into a new empire by the same name. (The reference to Nimrod could be a hint that Babylon will soon rise up to overthrow Assyria.)


In other words, "Assyria" was "The Big Bad" of Micah's day, so it makes sense that Micah's hearers would associate "Assyria" with all that opposes God and God's people. So, any nation who wants to destroy God's people would fall under this prophecy.


That's why I brought up antisemitism as a potential topic for discussion. It's a reminder that even today, there are people who want to deal violently with Jews, knowing they identify as "God's people". And when that happens, God will raise up people to shepherd them. To me, that begs even more questions. What about the times Jews have been exterminated over the years (like the Crusades, or the Holocaust)? Who led them then? And can we still keep our emphasis on Jews when I believe that the progressive fulfillment of this passage means it actually applies to Abraham's spiritual descendants, the Christians? This is where I calmly raise my hands in surrender and say that as long as we are on this side of the final fulfillment of the prophecy in the last battle, it can mean all of those things and more.


The phrase "seven even eight" is just a poetic way of saying "more than enough".


To really get in deep with this prophecy, we need to go on to the next section.

 

Part 3: Then the Remnant (Micah 5:7-9)

7 Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or linger for mankind. 8 Then the remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, among many peoples, like a lion among animals of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which tramples and tears as it passes through, and there is no one to rescue them. 9 Your hand will be lifted up against your adversaries, and all your enemies will be destroyed.

"Then" when?


The bigger question is if this prophecy is focused on "physical Jacob" or "spiritual Jacob". This has flummoxed Bible scholars for centuries, so we won't get a clean answer today. A number of scholars point this to Romans 10 (here's a representative verse):

25 A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved.

In other words, in the last days, God will fulfill this prophecy by gathering Jews from all over the world, returning them to Jerusalem, and defending them in their land. This is the Dispensational view that is still held in parts of the American evangelical world -- God will rapture the Christian church before the Tribulation, and then He will deal with the Jews in all of the ways described in these Old Testament prophecies.


I side with those who see God bringing the Jewish remnant to be a part of the great multitude of every tribe, nation, and tongue we see in Revelation 4. Not physical Israel but spiritual Israel. There's too much made (in the New Testament) of God tearing down the walls that divided Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female to see why He would at the end of history do an about face and treat with physical Jews in isolation.


However, that is not at all at odds with what I said in the first section that God would keep in Jerusalem a group of people that He would care for personally -- the poor, the lame, the scattered. That group could certainly include the remnant of physical Abraham who would be on earth, namely Jewish Christians. I reserve the right to admit that I don't know what I'm talking about, but perhaps things will work out like this: Christians will be all over the earth, but as the last battle approaches, God will gather them together in Jerusalem where He will defend them for His enemies. Then, He will send them back out into the New Earth, but He will keep in Jerusalem that special group mentioned in these chapters.


But then there's an ominous description of them. He says that the remnant will be "like dew from the Lord" (like the people would be "showers of blessing" all over the earth). This sounds great until we see that they will also be like "lions in the sheepfold". There's not a much more one-sided contest than a lion against a flock of sheep. So, yeah. God's people will be like a gentle rain. And also a raging lion. Yikes!


To be clear, we learn in the Revelation that Jesus and His angel armies will be the ones who defeat God's enemies, not us. That's important. But it also wouldn't have registered in Micah's day. They hadn't learned the lesson of "turning the other cheek" yet. They had been violently harassed by so many enemies that they would have taken more solace from the image that one day they would be the lion. I guess we would describe this as a metaphorical fulfillment. In Jesus, they would indeed be like a lion, but not in the ways they probably expected.


Jesus' message to turn the other cheek and prayer for persecutors didn't go over well. The Jews thought it made them look weak. But no, that kind of "meekness" is the greatest strength in the human world -- the strength that depends on God to be the Shepherd who will defend His sheep. He will turn us, poor, lame, isolated, scattered, into the greatest nation in history. Not the United States, but the New Jerusalem, the one nation that will last forever, because Jesus will truly be its King.


For our part, this lesson is about trusting the promise of God to deal with our enemies. Our job, until Jesus comes back, is to share the gospel with an unbelieving and violent world.

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