The Shepherd King

A month ago we thought about the occasion in 2 Kings 8 when Elisha’s servant looked out one morning only to see the massed ranks of the Syrian army outside the door. Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes, and when he did, the servant saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around them. That superficially terrifying Syrian army was vastly outgunned by the power of God.
Part of what Paul means in Romans 12 when he urges believers to be ‘transformed by the renewal of your mind’ is learning to see things from God’s perspective, which is what Elisha’s servant was enabled to do.
Micah is one of the so-called minor prophets - minor, not in importance but in size compared to the major prophets. And in this famous passage, in which he prophesies the coming of the Shepherd King, he brings a proper sense of perspective to God’s people who are, once again, under threat.
It was their own fault that they were under threat. As we saw last time, despite experiencing the goodness of God and his delivering and protecting power, they lapsed into idolatry.
The time we are concerned with here is the last half of the 8th century BC, that is, 750-700 BC.
It was a time of great prosperity in the southern kingdom of Judah, and as happens all too often, that had led to spiritual complacency and decline. There was corruption and oppression in high places. The rich were getting richer, at the expense of those below them. Does that sound familiar?
There was also a superficial outward religiosity - plenty of sacrifices being offered in the temple, and at great expense - but their hearts were far from God and their lifestyles were like the pagan nations around them, if not worse.
This was the scene into which Micah spoke.
We shall think about it today under 4 headings:
A Powerful Enemy: v1
An Obscure Town: v2a
An Eternal Ruler: v2b-3
A Perfect Shepherd: v4-5a

A Powerful Enemy

There is broad agreement that the seige that is spoken of in v1 is the one by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, described in 2 Kings 18, and in Isaiah 36-7, in the year 701BC. Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem, and Sennacherib parked his tanks on Hezekiah’s front lawn. He openly mocked the God of Israel and belittled its King. If he didn’t literally strike his cheek with a rod, he certainly did so verbally.
Judah was militarily weak, and the situation seemed hopeless. Being struck on the cheek implies one who is so weak he can’t even defend his own face from attack.
Isaiah records how King Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance, and God answered his prayer.
The narratives in 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 32 tell us that ‘the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria’
The narrative in Isaiah 37 tells us that ‘the angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians’
What had seemed like an overpowering threat was decimated by just one angel
From the very beginning, the people of God have had to reckon with an enemy. Lying behind the visible enemies are the spiritual forces of evil, the ‘principalities and powers’ who are opposed to God and to his people. And they are headed up by the Satan, the evil one, the tempter, the accuser.
But this enemy has been defeated. In his public ministry, Jesus waged war on Satan, his temptations, and his rule in the world, casting out demons and healing those who were oppressed by the devil.
Matt 16:18 has Jesus saying to Peter ‘on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’
We may easily read this as if the gates of hell are the aggressor, but Michael Heiser in ‘Unseen Realm’ points out that it’s the church that is the aggressor against the gates of hell, and that hell would lose the battle
Micah spoke of them striking the judge of Israel on the cheek with a rod. The immediate meaning of that was Sennacherib insulting King Hezekiah. But as with many prophetic passages, there was both a short and a longer term fulfilment.
There came a time when Jesus stood before the massed ranks of his accusers, seemingly vulnerable beneath the weight of Roman power, and, we are told in Mark 14:65, ‘And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!”
Those who treated him thus were nothing more than the latest in the line of the enemies of God and of his people.
And he came, in apparent weakness, to submit to the worst that men could do to him, in order to defeat his enemies by submitting to a shameful death in order to not only go into death, but in victory come out the other side, beyond the reach of his enemies and so sealing their ultimate fate.

An Obscure Town

When you were at school and it was time for sports, did you ever experience the two teams being chosen by the teacher having 2 children come to the front and then, alternating, choose one by one who should be in their team?
What happened was always predictable - they chose the best players first, until there were just 2 children left. They probably don’t allow it these days in order to protect children from any awareness that they are not brilliant at everything.
If that kind of exercise had ever been carried out in Israel, but choosing the towns and cities instead of children, the one that was left at the end would have been Bethlehem.
The book of Joshua is all about occupying the land of promise. In Joshua 15 there is a detailed list of the allotment of land among the clans of Judah. And Bethlehem doesn’t even get a mention.
But just as we need to get a spiritual perspective on power, so also we need to get it in respect of what amounts to greatness.
One of the characteristics of human sin is that it causes people to assert, and to seek their own greatness. At the tower of Babel in Gen 11:4, the people are recorded as saying, ‘let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves’
That is exactly the language of human rebellion and self-assertion.
In the very next chapter, God reaches right into the heart of the rebellion at Babel, to Abram living in Ur of the Chaldees, and calls his chosen man out with a promise. In Gen 12:1 God says to Abram, ‘I will bless you and make your name great’ - and what God makes great is truly great
When Samuel was tasked with anointing the successor to the rejected Saul, he did not send him to any of the major cities or townships. In 1 Samuel 16 we read how God sent him to Jesse the Bethlehemite. The place regarded as too small to deserve a mention.
And what happened next is a lesson in true greatness. Jesse paraded his sons before Samuel, starting with the eldest, Eliab. Samuel felt sure he was the Lord’s anointed as he looked the part, but God told him no, ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’
When Samuel had worked his way through 7 of Jesse’s sons and rejected all of them, he enquired if there were any more and was told yes, there was the youngest, ‘but behold, he is keeping the sheep’.
How significant! God took the youngest and to the outward appearance the least qualified, and made him shepherd of his people Israel.
And when the time came for great David’s greater son to be born, it was not to Jerusalem he came, nor to any other city that was great by human standards, but to humble, obscure Bethlehem once again, David’s town.
And in doing so he ensured that when the names of London, Paris and New York have faded into footnotes of history, Bethlehem will be remembered in perpetuity as the place where the Saviour of the world was born.
What can we learn from this?
Our lives may seem small and insignificant. Our work for God may not seem to amount to much. Our little church fellowship may seem feeble compared to others. Culcheth may feel like a backwater, and someone I know once called Golborne ‘a one-eyed little town’ (which is not kind to people with one eye)
But it is only man who looks on the outward appearance. We must learn not to look with too much admiration on what is superficially impressivve - the big American megachurches may be one example -and learn to distinguish between greatness that is phoney or temporary (or both) and greatness in God’s sight.
Recent research among America’s so-called ‘Bible Belt’ revealed that an awful lot of people there thought Moses preached the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus gave us the 10 Commandments. Appearances can indeed be deceptive, and outward profession no indicator of inward reality.

An Eternal Ruler

Micah goes on to speak of the ruler in Israel who was to come from Bethlehem, of whom David was a somewhat pale foreshadowing.
And the language suggests that this is someone out of the ordinary, someone special.
When Micah says that his ‘coming forth is from of old, from ancient days’, he is using language that strongly indicates that this is no mere human ruler
In Psalm 90:2 the psalmist says, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’ - that is very similar language to Micah’s here
This was to be the one who would be the heir of God’s eternal covenant made with David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16
However, ominously - in words that are not immediately easy to understand, he indicates that a time of judgment would come first
‘He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth’
Divine ‘giving up’ or ‘giving over’ is a reference to the judgment of God. It is used in a three-fold way in Romans 1, where it refers to God giving people over to the inevitable consequences of their sinful choices. God’s judgment includes just letting people go, and it is a terrible thing.
One of the worst things about it is that those who suffer it will know that it is precisely what they chose.
You see it when people just seem to spiral into increasing wickedness of one form or other, their consciences increasingly seared, their hearts increasingly hardened.
But it is only here seen as being for a limited time - until she who is in labour has given birth. A prophecy fulfilled some 700 years later with the birth of the Messiah to Mary in Bethlehem.
Yes, this One whose coming forth is from old, is the one who came to establish his eternal kingdom, a kingdom that, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ‘shall never be shaken’
Notice that he came to fulfil God’s purposes. We can see that in two small words in Micah 5:2 ‘from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.
God is speaking through Micah and saying that the coming of Christ was for him - for his purposes first and foremost
And that should bring great assurance to us. In our selfishness and self-centredness, we can easily think that God was acting for us - as indeed he was. But behind that, and guaranteeing that, is the great truth that he was doing it for himself, to bring about his purposes. And those purposes never fail.
Isaiah 14:27

For the LORD of hosts has purposed,

and who will annul it?

His hand is stretched out,

and who will turn it back

A Perfect Shepherd

Finally, in Micah 5:4 the imagery shifts from the ruler to the shepherd.
Here is the one who not only provides wise rule, but who provides for every need and protects from all harm.
The first thing that we are told is that he will not be a here today, gone tomorrow shepherd - no, we are told that ‘he shall stand’ and shepherd his flock
‘Standing’ means he shall endure for ever
Psalm 33:4 ‘The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations’
The concept of a shepherd is exactly the imagery that Jesus drew upon to describe his provision and care for his people
It is most vivid in one of the great ‘I am’ sayings in John, in John 10 where he identifies himself as the ‘good shepherd’: “I am the good shepherd”
He is good firstly because he lays down his life for the sheep
He is good, secondly, because, as he said, ‘I know my own and my own know me’
Those who are known by and who know the good shepherd will, as Micah puts it in v4, ‘dwell secure’ - that is safe from harm, because Jesus came to take on and defeat our implacable enemy
And what is more, there will be nowhere that is not safe, because as Micah puts it at the end of v4, ‘he shall be great to the ends of the earth’
There is a time coming when all that opposes God and his people shall have been done away with, permanently, when everything is put to rights, when the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
So there we have Micah’s vision: a powerful enemy, an obscure town, an eternal ruler, and a perfect shepherd
As we approach this most unusual Christmas, we know that we are ultimately secure, because he stands and shepherds his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And he is our peace.
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