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Bible Commentaries
Micah 5

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-15


Micah 4:8 - Micah 5:1-15

WHEN a people has to be purged of long injustice, when some high aim of liberty or of order has to be won, it is remarkable how often the drama of revolution passes through three acts. There is first the period of criticism and of vision, in which men feel discontent, dream of new things, and put their hopes into systems: it seems then as if-the future were to come of itself. But often a catastrophe, relevant or irrelevant, ensues: the visions pale before a vast conflagration, and poet, philosopher, and prophet disappear under the feet of a mad mob of wreckers. Yet this is often the greatest period of all, for somewhere in the midst of it a strong character is forming, and men, by the very anarchy, are being taught, in preparation for him, the indispensableness of obedience and loyalty. With their chastened minds he achieves the third act, and fulfills all of the early vision that God’s ordeal by fire has proved worthy to survive. Thus history, when distraught, rallies again upon the Man.

To this law the prophets of Israel only gradually gave expression. We find no trace of it among the earliest of them; and in the essential faith of all there was much which predisposed them against the conviction of its necessity. For, on the one hand, the seers were so filled with the inherent truth and inevitableness of their visions, that they described these as if already realised; there was no room for a great figure to rise before the future, for with a rush the future was upon them. On the other hand, it was ever a principle of prophecy that God is able to dispense with human aid. "In presence of the Divine omnipotence all secondary causes, all interposition on the part of the creature, fall away." The more striking is it that before long the prophets should have begun, not only to look for a Man, but to paint him as the central figure of their hopes. In Hosea, who has no such promise, we already see the instinct at work. The age of revolution which he describes is cursed by its want of men: there is no great leader of the people sent from God; those who come to the front are the creatures of faction and party; there is no king from God. How different it had been in the great days of old, when God had ever worked for Israel through some man-a Moses, a Gideon, a Samuel, but especially a David. Thus memory, equally with the present dearth of personalities, prompted to a great desire, and with passion Israel waited for a Man. The hope of the mother for her firstborn, the pride of the father in his son, the eagerness of the woman for her lover, the devotion of the slave to his liberator, the enthusiasm of soldiers for their captain-unite these noblest affections of the human heart, and you shall yet fail to reach the passion and the glory with which prophecy looked for the King to Come. Each age, of course, expected him in the qualities of power and character needed for its own troubles, and the ideal changed from glory unto glory. From valor and victory in war, it became peace and good government, care for the poor and the oppressed, sympathy with the sufferings of the whole people, but especially of the righteous among them, with fidelity to the truth delivered unto the fathers, and, finally, a conscience for the people’s sin, a bearing of their punishment and a travail, for their spiritual redemption. But all these qualities and functions were gathered upon an individual-a Victor, a King, a Prophet, a Martyr, a Servant of the Lord.

Micah stands among the first, if he is not the very first, who thus focused the hopes of Israel upon a great Redeemer; and his promise of Him shares all the characteristics just described. In his book it lies next a number of brief oracles with which we are unable to trace its immediate connection. They differ from it in style and rhythm: they are in verse, while it seems to be in prose. They do not appear to have been uttered along with it. But they reflect the troubles out of which the Hero is expected to emerge, and the deliverance which He shall accomplish, though at first they picture the latter without any hint of Himself. They apparently describe an invasion which is actually in course, rather than one which is near and inevitable; and if so they can only date from Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah in 701 B.C. Jerusalem is in siege, standing alone in the land, like one of those solitary towers with folds round them which were built here and there upon the border pastures of Israel for defense of the flock against the raiders of the desert. The prophet sees the possibility of Zion’s capitulation, but the people shall leave her only for their deliverance elsewhere. Many are gathered against her, but he sees them as sheaves upon the floor for Zion to thresh. This oracle (Micah 4:11-13) cannot, of course, have been uttered at the same time as the previous one, but there is no reason why the same prophet should not have uttered both at different periods. Isaiah had prospects of the fate of Jerusalem which differ quite as much. Once more (Micah 5:1) the blockade is established. Israel’s ruler is helpless, "smitten on the cheek by the foe." It is to this last picture that the promise of the Deliverer is attached.

The prophet speaks:-

"But thou, O Tower of the Flock, Hill of the daughter of Zion, To thee shall arrive the former rule, And the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Zion. Now wherefore criest thou so loud? Is there no king in thee, or is thy counselor perished, That throes have seized thee like a woman in childbirth? Quiver and writhe, daughter of Zion, like one in childbirth: For now must thou forth from the city, And encamp on the field (and come unto Babel); There shalt thou be rescued, There shall Jehovah redeem thee from the hand of thy foes"!

"And now gather against thee many nations, that say, ‘Let her be violate, that our eyes may fasten on Zion! But they know not the plans of Jehovah, Nor understand they His counsel, For He hath gathered them in like sheaves to the floor. Up and thresh, O daughter of Zion For thy horns will I turn into iron, And thy hoofs will I turn into brass; And thou will beat down many nations, And devote to Jehovah their spoil, And their wealth to the Lord of all earth".

"Now press thyself together, thou daughter of pressure: The foe hath set a wall around us, With a rod they smite on the cheek Israel’s regent! But thou, Beth-Ephrath, smallest among the thousands of Judah, From thee unto Me shall come forth the Ruler to be in Israel! Yea, of old are His goings forth, from the days of long ago! Therefore shall He suffer them till the time that one bearing shall have born. (Then the rest of His brethren shall return with the children of Israel.) And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of Jehovah, In the pride of the name of His God. And they shall abide! For now is He great to the ends of the earth. And Such a One shall be our Peace."

Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, but when Micah says that the Deliverer shall emerge from her he does not only mean what Isaiah affirms by his promise of a rod from the stock of Jesse, that the King to Come shall spring from the one great dynasty in Judah. Micah means rather to emphasize the rustic and popular origin of the Messiah, "too small to be among the thousands of Judah." David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, was a dearer figure than Solomon son of David the King. He impressed the people’s imagination, because he had sprung from themselves, and in his lifetime had been the popular rival of an unlovable despot. Micah himself was the prophet of the country as distinct from the capital, of the peasants as against the rich who oppressed them. When, therefore, he fixed upon Bethlehem as the Messiah’s birthplace, he doubtless desired, without departing from the orthodox hope in the Davidic dynasty, to throw round its new representative those associations which had so endeared to the people their father-monarch. The shepherds of Judah, that strong source of undefiled life from which the fortunes of the state and prophecy itself had ever been recuperated, should again send forth salvation. Had not Micah already declared that, after the overthrow of the capital and the rulers, the glory of Israel should come to Adullam, where of old David had gathered its soiled and scattered fragments?

We may conceive how such a promise would affect the crushed peasants for whom Micah wrote. A Savior, who was one of themselves, not born up there in the capital, foster-brother of the very nobles who oppressed them, but born among the people, sharer of their toils and of their wrongs!-it would bring hope to every broken heart among the disinherited poor of Israel. Yet meantime, be it observed, this was a promise, not for the peasants only, but for the whole people. In the present danger of the nation the class disputes are forgotten, and the hopes of Israel gather upon their Hero for a common deliverance from the foreign foe. "Such a One shall be our peace." But in the peace He is "to stand and shepherd His flock," conspicuous and watchful. The country folk knew what such a figure meant to themselves for security and weal on the land of their fathers. Heretofore their rulers had not been shepherds, but thieves and robbers.

We can imagine the contrast which such a vision must have offered to the fancies of the false prophets. What were they beside this? Deity descending in fire and thunder, with all the other features of the ancient Theophanies that had now become much cant in the mouths of mercenary traditionalists. Besides those, how sane was this how footed upon the earth, how practical, how popular in the best sense!

We see, then, the value of Micah’s prophecy for his own day. Has it also any value for ours-especially in that aspect of it which must have appealed to the hearts of those for whom chiefly Micah arose? Is it wise to paint the Messiah, to paint Christ, so much a workingman? Is it not much more to our purpose to remember the general fact of His humanity, by which He is able to be Priest and Brother to all classes, high and low, rich and poor, the noble and the peasant alike? Is not the Man of Sorrows a much wider name than the Man of Labor? Let us answer these questions.

The value of such a prophecy of Christ lies in the correctives which it supplies to the Christian apocalypse and theology. Both of these have raised Christ to a throne too far above the actual circumstance of His earthly ministry and the theatre of His eternal sympathies. Whether enthroned in the praises of Heaven, or by scholasticism relegated to an ideal and abstract humanity, Christ is lifted away from touch with the common people. But His lowly origin was a fact. He sprang from the most democratic of peoples. His ancestor was a shepherd, and His mother a peasant girl. He Himself was a carpenter: at home, as His parables show, in the fields and the folds and the barns of His country; with the servants of the great houses, with the unemployed in the market; with the woman in the hovel seeking one piece of silver, with the shepherd on the moors seeking the lost sheep. "The poor had the gospel preached to them; and the common people heard Him gladly." As the peasants of Judea must have listened to Micah’s promise of His origin among themselves with new hope and patience, so in the Roman empire the religion of Jesus Christ was welcomed chiefly, as the Apostles and the Fathers bear witness, by the lowly and the laboring of every nation. In the great persecution which bears His name, the Emperor Domitian heard that there were two relatives alive of this Jesus whom so many acknowledged as their King, and he sent for them that he might put them to death. But when they came, he asked them to hold up their hands, and seeing these brown and chapped with toil, he dismissed the men, saying, "From such slaves we have nothing to fear." Ah but, Emperor! it is just the horny hands of this religion that thou and thy gods have to fear! Any cynic or satirist of thy literature, from Celsus onwards, could have told thee that it was by men who worked with their hands for their daily bread, by domestics, artisans, and all manner of slaves, that the power of this King should spread, which meant destruction to [flee and thine empire] "From little Bethlehem came forth the Ruler," and "now He is great to the ends of the earth."

There follows upon this prophecy of the Shepherd a curious fragment which divides His office among a number of His order, though the grammar returns towards the end to One. The mention of Assyria stamps this oracle also as of the eighth century. Mark the refrain which opens and closes it.

"When Asshur cometh into our land, And when he marcheth on our borders, Then shall we raise against him seven shepherds And eight princes of men. And they shall shepherd Asshur with a sword, And Nimrod’s land with her own bare blades. And He shall deliver from Asshur, When he cometh into our land, And marcheth upon our borders."

There follows an oracle in which there is no evidence of Micah’s hand or of his times; but if it carries any proof of a date, it seems a late one.

"And the remnant of Jacob shall be among many peoples Like the dew from Jehovah, Like showers upon grass, Which wait not for a man. Nor tarry for the children of men. And the remnant of Jacob (among nations,) among many peoples, Shall be like the lion among the beasts of the jungle, Like a young lion among the sheepfolds, Who, when he cometh by, treadeth and teareth, And none may deliver. Let thine hand be high on thine adversaries, And all thine enemies be cut off!"

Finally in this section we have an oracle full of the notes we had from Micah in The first two chapters. It explains itself. Compare Micah 2:1-13 and Isaiah 2:1-22.

"And it shall be in that day-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah-That I will cut off thy horses from the midst of thee, And I will destroy thy chariots; That I will cut off the cities of thy land, And tear down all thy fortresses, And I will cut off thine enchantments from thy hand, And thou shalt have no more soothsayers; And I will cut off thine images and thy pillars from the midst of thee, And thou shalt not bow down any more to the work of thy hands; And I will uproot thine Asheras from the midst of thee, And will destroy thine idols. So shall I do, in My wrath and Mine anger, Vengeance to the nations, who have not known Me."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Micah 5". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/micah-5.html.
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