Spiritual Renewal and Messianic Hope

In these chapters of Micah, we see striking parallels between the struggles of Israel and Judah and the events surrounding the work of the Messiah. 

I. Chapter 4 

A. In the “last days” there will be conversions to the Lord among the nations (1-5). 

1. This passage parallels at several points the words of Isaiah 2:2-4. This refers to the “latter days,” the prominence of the mountain of the Lord, the streaming of the nations to it because of its righteousness, and a reign of peace. The Micah passage also has elements of Daniel 2, particularly this, that “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; … it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).

2. The beginning of the revelation of the Messiah to Israel was the beginning of the “Last Days.” 

      • Hebrews 1:1, 2 says, “God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom he has appointed the heir of all things.” The “last days” began when the Word made flesh actually dwelt among us, when the sacrifices were fulfilled in his once-for-all death, and he ascended and placed all things under his feet (Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:19-23; Hebrews 1:3, 8-9,13; 2:9). 
      • The effectual work of the Spirit upon Israel described in Jeremiah 31:31-36 and Ezekiel 36:22-38 and 37:1-14 is effected in light of the reality that “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd” (Ezekiel 37:24). 
      • This effectual operation of the Holy Spirit will include the nations, for Ezekiel 36:23 says, in the context of the judgment and restoration of Israel, “and the nations shall know that I am the Lord.” Also, at the reign of David and the establishment of the everlasting “covenant of peace,” Ezekiel says, “The nations also will know that I the Lord, sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forever” (37:26, 28). In Ezekiel 38 at the judgment of Gog, verse 23 reads, God speaking, “Thus I will magnify myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.”

3. The picture of the coming of the nations to worship the Lord is expansive (2-5). It seems to cover from the days of Christ’s incarnation, the trickling of Gentiles and Samaritans into the kingdom during his lifetime, the expanding of the missions to the Gentiles in Acts, and the final consummation of peace when the chosen of the Lord from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be under his gracious scepter “forever and ever.” Some might see this as a description of the millennium; others might interpret it as the final state of rest, peace, and eternal joy under the eternal rule of the triune God.

B. Verses 6-13 describe the preparation of Zion to be the center of the divine purpose of redemption. It includes insight into the purpose of the coming captivity.

1.  Those who will constitute the kingdom will be those who have been afflicted, the poor, the outcast (6, 7). God has chosen “the base things of the world and the things which are despised, … and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:28, 29). God will show that though the people who inherit the blessings of the covenant should be under wrath forever, he will claim them as his own. He will make the outcasts “a strong nation.” He will “reign over them in Mount Zion” (7c). This clearly refers to the rule of God over his redeemed people, those who look to “Jesus, the Author and finisher of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The writer of Hebrews told his readers, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God and the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12: 22-24).

2. Verse 8, Mount Zion, the place of God’s reign, is that place where God rules in the beauty of holiness and of mercy, of righteousness and of grace. It is the place where he established his worship through the perfection of sacrifice. It is fulfilled in the Messiah. The “tower of the flock” refers to the safety of God’s sheep and the “former dominion” refers to the glory of the Davidic and Solomonic period except without the flaws of both. That dominion will be established by David’s son—“Hosanna to the Son of David”—even a “greater than Solomon.” 

3. Verses 9-13. Until that time, the daughter of Zion must suffer, achieve partial victories while still under distress. They must endure even in pressure as a testimony to the sovereign purpose of God until Messiah is born. Their struggle will be a like a woman in childbirth (9, 10a). They will be taken to Babylon (10) and will be rescued through the work of Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:10, 11) and Cyrus of Persia (Ezra 1:1-4) and Ahasuerus (Nehemiah and Esther). Their attempts at rebuilding the wall and the temple will be opposed and perilous but successful even though the people of the land conspired against their efforts—“Let her be polluted, and let our eyes gloat over Zion” (11).

4. All of these nations, though intending the extension of their power, were used in God’s decree and by his providence to preserve and purify Zion. They solidified her identity and made way for the eventual appearance of the Messiah who would gather his people from over the whole world throughout all the generations of men until he would bring all of history to a close by his power and glory (2 Peter 3:3-7; 10-13).

II. Chapter 5  God’s working with Israel and Judah parallels the works of judgment and grace in the coming of the Messiah.

A. Messiah born to suffer (1). 

1. Israel will go into captivity and the land will be devastated by Assyria. They laid siege and took away the population (2 Kings 17:1-6). But Judah, still ruled by the house of David, though it repels Assyria by the angel of death (2 Kings 19:35-37), will succumb to an invasion by the Babylonians (4:10; 2 Kings 25:1-11). King Zedekiah saw his sons killed before his eyes and then was blinded. 

2. When Messiah comes, the first response will be rejection. “The rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2).  “The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ Then he [Pilate, the Roman procurator] delivered him to them to be crucified” (John 19: 15, 16). Even as the nations dared humiliate the kings and judges of Israel and Judah, even so will “They will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.” The kings of Israel and Judah were smitten and humiliated for their own sins; Jesus, smitten on the cheek by both Jews and Romans (John 18:22; 19:4; Luke 22:64), bore humiliation and rejection for the sins of others.

B. Messiah is born in humility, but he is born to rule (2).

1. His provenance is from a small town, too little to be considered. Although it is the “House of bread” and the city of David, its power and population were so diminutive as to make it insignificant. But Jesus was born there, and the scribes knew it would be so (Matthew 2:5, 6).

2. The Messiah, would go forth from his birth into Egypt and then back to Israel to live in Nazareth (Matthew 2:12-15; 23). In this, he fulfilled two other prophecies (Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:15). Though he goes forth into his routes of escape and into his life of rejection and escape (Luke 4:28-30; John 7:1; 8:59; 10:39; 11:53), it is all in pursuit of a final purpose of aggressive submission to the judgment of men as indicative of his reception of the infinitely greater judgment of God—not for himself but for his people. When the time came, he showed that he had come to do the will of his Father (John 10:35-38;  14:29-31), as the text says, “One will go forth for me” (2b).

3. Not only from Bethlehem at the time of his birth does this prince go forth, but he has been going forth from eternity. As the eternally generated Son of God, his going forth in generation was “from the days of eternity.” In his manhood he went forth from Bethlehem; as Son of God he went forth from eternity.

C. Messiah born to redeem a people in God’s time (3-5a).

1. He will shepherd his flock. He will do this by the will of his Father, “In the strength of the Lord” (4a; John 10:11-16), being sustained by the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout his life (John 5:17, 19-23; 7:16-18; Hebrews 9:14).

2. When he saves them he will keep them: “And no man shall pluck them out of my hand; … No man is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-30)—“And they will remain” (4).

3. He is the reconciler, so “He will be our peace” (5a; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

D. That God is quite able to deliver and secure peace despite seeming impossibilities was seen in the case of the defeat of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35-37). Despite all the boasting and threatening, the prayers and intercession of the king of Judah were effectual in laying waste the enemies of God’s people. As the Lord delivered from the formidable army of Assyria, so Jesus prays for, dies for, and delivers his people. He delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Colossians 1:13, 14).

E. The remnant shall reign through the power of the gospel (7-9).

“The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man. 8The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which mauls and mangles as it goes, and no one can rescue. 9Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed.” Micah 5:7-9

The images in this passage intrigue me as they seem so opposite in their impression but are written of the same group of people. In a passage like this we see the value of two contexts of interpretation. One, we see that the entire book of Micah and the oscillating themes he employs provide interpretive direction. Two, we see the importance of the larger canonical context of doctrine as each text contributes to the body of doctrine and at the same time yields to its instruction.

One aspect of Micah that helps is the recurring theme of the sinfulness of the people, their rebellion even in the face of divine favor (1:1-16; 3:2 -they “hate good and love evil;” 7:1-6 – “All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; Each of them hunts the other with a net. Concerning evil, both hands do it well”). They were like this in spite of having been “ransomed from the house of slavery” in Egypt and were led by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Balaam’s intended curses were changed into blessings (6:3-5). Ingratitude, self-will, perverse hearts, and hatred of righteousness smothered their consciences. Israel and Judah were pictures of fallen humanity.

In addition, we find the encouraging theme of the preservation of a remnant that expands beyond Israel: ‘I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep in the fold” (2:12, 13); “Many nations will come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us about his ways and that we may walk in his paths’. . . . He will render decisions for mighty distant nations…  ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant and the outcasts a strong nation, and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on and forever.’” (4:1-3, 6, 7).

Another theme of Micah is the certainty of God’s purpose in redemption. When God gathers the remnant of Israel (2:12), he will send the “breaker” before them, they pass through the gate and “the Lord is at their head” (2:13). When they are in exile in Babylon, the Lord said, “There you will be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies” (4:10). Bethlehem will be the place from which the ultimate Redeemer goes forth and “the remainder of his brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And he will arise and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will remain, because at that time he will be great to the ends of the earth. This one will be our peace” (5:2-5).

Violence constitutes another theme, a theme that appears in our text. The Lord looks on the nations as sheaves gathered to the threshing floor and commands, “Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion, for your horn I will make iron and your hoofs I will make bronze, that you may pulverize many people, that you may devote to the Lord their unjust gain and their wealth to the Lord of all the earth” (4:13).

Our text sees the “remnant of Jacob” as “among many peoples” and “among the nations” (5:7a, 8a). This picks up the image of many peoples streaming to the mountain of the Lord to walk in the paths of the Lord, embrace his law, and adhere to his word (4:2). This theme of redemption coming to the nations was difficult to absorb by the Jews of the first century, but this was indeed the “plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” that the remnant now known as the “church” would display the “manifold wisdom of God … according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In light of that divinely ordained principle, “the remnant of Jacob among many peoples,” Paul was given the grace “to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-11).

The image of dew and showers (5:7) shows the gentle irresistibility of the operation of divine grace.  “Dew from the Lord” simply appears through a process that is not controlled by man and cannot be resisted by man. Showers “do not wait for man or delay for the sons of men” (5:7). They fall with gentleness and health giving nurture for the vegetation. No one can say to either of these forces of divinely ordained functions of nature, “Stop.” The remnant of Jacob is scattered throughout every nation and will not yield to human contrivances or resistance. God’s chosen remnant has appeared like dew and fallen like showers in China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Egypt, Italy, Australia, Romania, Japan, France, Chile, Mexico, Mississippi, Minnesota, Las Vegas and on and on. Gentle but irresistible it is. Micah pictured the broad covering of the remnant over the earth, and Jesus looked at the secret but effectual operation of the Spirit in individuals that constitute that dew-like covering as the wind blowing wherever it desires (John 3:8). Where it comes from and where it goes is a mystery, but its effects are clear. None can stop the dew from covering the ground, and none can stop the wind from shaking a leaf, and none can stop the Spirit from effecting the new birth.

The second image seems almost antithetical to the first: from gentleness of dew to a lion among a flock of sheep. We must see that Micah pictures in both of these the reality of effectuality. For effect to take place on hardened and resistant objects, the power must be effectual. The dew and the showers show the determined work of the Spirit in calling a people by his internal life-giving alteration of affections. The second image—the lion and the young lion—demonstrates at least two realities: first, the conquering power of divine truth over all alien philosophies and religious persuasions and, second, the confidence with which the preacher of the gospel will go forth when armed with the “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). For Ezekiel to go to the rebellious house of Israel, God told him that he would make his forehead “like emery harder than flint.” As a result, Ezekiel went “embittered in the rage of [his] spirit, and the hand of the Lord was very strong on [him]” (Ezekiel 3:9, 14).

Micah already has written about threshing the nations and the power to “pulverize many peoples,” and in this image he shows that the minister must be armed and ready for the battle with the full persuasion of the dominance that naturally inheres in revealed truth from God and the seal upon the gospel by the resurrection of Christ. The gospel message is the truth and all else is a lie. A young lion has all that he needs in the middle of a sheep herd to subdue his prey and has no doubt that he certainly will do so. A lion is the chief “among the beasts of the forest.” Even so, the minister of the gospel is called to wield weapons to subdue his prey. He rages against sin and falsehood in direct proportion to his love for the Savior who has given to sinners a soul-saving work carefully explained in a soul-saving message. His weapons are effectual to overcome all that is lifted up against it. Paul testified, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). We see the same image of sure preparation and perfectly fit weapons when we are commanded to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The strength is given us for fighting against opposing powers. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” For this battle we are armed with truth, righteousness, a confident readiness given by the gospel of peace, the reality of faith in a Savior who has conquered death, an invincible salvation that defies the fear of death, the sword provided by the Spirit in giving revealed and inspired truth, and prayer by which we call on the King of kings to bring about his will on earth even as it is done in heaven (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

The remnant of Jacob appears like dew that covers the ground, present and refreshing with no force able to inhibit its emergence. The remnant of Jacob proceeds like a young lion among the flocks of sheep—more than conquerors, perfectly panoplied to achieve its goal, armed with invincible weapons in order to effect the invincible purpose of God for the salvation of his elect and the manifestation of his glory. 

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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