The Word Made Fresh
1Now you are surrounded and besieged.
They slap the face of the ruler of Israel.
2But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
you will send forth one who is to rule Israel for me,
who has been chosen since ancient times.
3Then Israel will be given up until she who is in labor has given birth;
and the remainder of his kin return.
4He will stand in the LORD’s strength and feed his flock;
it will be in the majestic name of the LORD his God.
Then they will live in safety,
for his greatness will be known to the ends of the earth.
5He will be the one who brings peace.
If the Assyrians come to our land and walk through our palaces,
we will raise seven shepherds to face them;
eight will rule over us.
6They will take Assyria with the sword;
the land of Nimrod will be taken when the sword is drawn.
And we will be rescued from the Assyrians
if they invade our land or walk within our boundaries.
7Then those who are left in Judea will be surrounded by many nations
like dew sent by the LORD, and like rain that falls on the grass
without the need to depend on the people,
or wait for anyone to lead them.
8Then those who remain of Jacob,
though surrounded by many nations,
will be like a lion among the other animals in the forest,
or a young lion among the sheep;
when it goes through them it brings them down,
it tears them to pieces, and no one will be able to save them.
9For your hand will be raised above your enemies,
and all your enemies will be destroyed.
10When that happens, says the LORD,
I will chase your horses from you and destroy your chariots.
11I will defeat all the cities of your land
and topple all your fortresses.
12I will block the sorceries and remove them from you.
You will no longer have to depend on soothsayers.
13I will destroy the images and pillars among you,
and you will no longer bow down to idols your hands have made.
14I will pull up your totem poles
and destroy your dwelling places.
15I will retaliate against the nations that did not obey me.
1: A difficult verse to translate, scholars differ on whether verse 1 should be connected with the previous passage (in the Hebrew Bible this verse is labeled 4:14), or with the following passage, or simply stand alone. I have no opinion in the matter, but the tenor of the verse seems to connect it to the conquest of Israel which resulted in the displacement of the population.
2-5a: Following verse one, which appears to leave Israel defeated, these verses herald a new beginning. The ruler (a general term distinct from “king”) who will come from Bethlehem hearkens back to the anointing of David, who was from that village. For Christians it also hearkens ahead to the birth of Jesus according to the interpretation given by the wise men to Herod (Matthew 2:6). Christians have also often interpreted verse 3 as a reference to the Virgin Mary. It could as well simply be a metaphor for the time of painful suffering the people must endure before the restoration begins. Verse 4 seems to refer most clearly to a reestablishment of the line of David, who was a shepherd. The prophecy that the new ruler will be “the one of peace” is often taken as a description of the teachings of Jesus.
5b-6: Perhaps the best way to understand these verses is to take Assyria as a reference to any empire that seeks to overrun the land of God’s people, and the shepherds and rulers who will govern “Assyria” is then a way of saying that God’s protection will be seven or eight times as great as before.
7-9: In any case it is clear that Micah believed the time would come when Israel would be strong and independent and in no danger from other nations.
10-15: These words seem to be addressed to the Assyrians and other nations that eye Israel/Judah as a target for expansion. It also could be Micah’s condemnation of the northern kingdom of Israel, for it was their worship of other gods that raised God’s wrath against them.
Micah is writing in a time of utter turmoil for the Israelites. They are, of course, suffering because of their sinfulness. But God intends to restore them. That is good to remember when we face difficult times. Our suffering is oftentimes God’s way of getting us to turn back to our faith.