But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd 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.
And he shall be their peace.
Just before our passage today begins, Micah exhorts Israel to muster her troops, warning that “many nations are assembled against you” and again that “siege is laid against us.” I suspect it was just as tempting in Micah’s time as it is now to look out at these enemy forces and see in them our deepest danger.
But how did Israel get into its current mess? Micah and indeed all of the prophets pull no punches here: “All this for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5). At this point in Israel’s story, we see that her looming captivity is freely chosen. She is no longer in Egypt. With no foreign coercion, she has bowed down to false gods. (To feel better about our contemporary political regimes, read the story of King Ahab who reigned when Micah was prophesying.) And so we understand that the evil from without flows from a brokenness within.
Into this bleak vision, Micah speaks a word of comfort. A ruler is coming, one whose advent is “from of old.” And not only will He put to right all of the ills of this world so that Israel may “dwell secure,” He promises to be their peace (Micah 5:5). This is a crucial phrase.
This side of heaven, our enemies from without may still threaten, and indeed harm. From the earliest days, followers of the Ruler from of old who was born in “little” Bethlehem have suffered — often precisely because they follow Him. But while we still wait for Him to come, to “stand and shepherd” in these ailing places here below, we do well to remember that Jesus Christ has promised peace now: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Micah foresaw this, however dimly, in describing the Messiah Himself as our peace. We typically think of peace as an inner state characterized by an absence of anxiousness, hurry or restlessness. But peace, Micah shows us, is actually not an absence: it is a presence. The presence of the true ruler whom we now know we can follow each day, whatever our outer circumstances.
Dr. Joshua Kraut is an assistant professor of French at Hope College.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.