An Unexpected Deliverance (Micah 5)

The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.

*Originally preached in November 2021*

Sermon Audio: An Unexpected Deliverance (Micah 5)

What is the purpose of life after conversion? Why doesn’t God simply kill us after we become Christians? That may seem like an odd suggestion, even off-putting. Yet, consider what it would be like if we didn’t have to deal with sin, deal with temptation, deal with suffering, but were just immediately whisked into God’s presence as soon as we were saved? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Why does God decide to leave us here for a good while till we return to heaven? God does this because He is not only wanting to save us from hell, but He is wanting to restore what was lost at the garden.

71 years ago, yesterday, CS Lewis released the very first edition of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the book, four regular school children (the Pevensies) stumble into the magical land of Narnia, populated by talking animals, tree nymphs, and other mythical characters. But they quickly discover the wicked White Witch has transformed the land into a frigid and joyless “always Winter, never Christmas.” But, the gracious and just creator of Narnia, the Lion Aslan, has returned to conquer the Witch and her armies, to restore Narnia, and “make the rivers run with sweet wine.” But the four Pevensie children, much to their surprise, are told that they are the ancient, foretold rulers of Narnia, “Sons of Adam, and Daughters of Eve,” who will sit on the thrones to rule Narnia for the true King, Aslan. When the they protest this and attempt to escape, Aslan assures them, draws them in, is even willing to die for them.

Narnia is a very a thin veil for Lewis’ Christianity. Lewis knew that the story of Creation was a story of men and women being designed to rule and reign over God’s world as viceroys under His sovereign Lordship, but that a wicked serpent had usurped that plan and sought to overthrow the plan. But Jesus, the true King of the World, came to conquer the serpent, to die for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, so that we might be restored to the original design of serving as Kings and Queens of the earth. If that sounds too grandiose, too fantastical, then let me attempt to show that to you from the Bible.

In our text today we are going to see Micah promise Israel that God is going to deliver them, to send them the long awaited for Messiah. But this deliverance will be a surprising, unexpected deliverance in many ways. He will rule His people like a King, He will care for His people like a shepherd. This Shepherd-King will come and deliver His people and transform them into shepherd-kings themselves. 

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
on the cheek.
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.
When the Assyrian comes into our land
and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
when he comes into our land
and treads within our border.
Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the LORD,
like showers on the grass,
which delay not for a man
nor wait for the children of man.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
and all your enemies shall be cut off.
And in that day, declares the LORD,
I will cut off your horses from among you
and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
and throw down all your strongholds;
and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
and I will cut off your carved images
and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
to the work of your hands;
and I will root out your Asherah images from among you
and destroy your cities.
And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
on the nations that did not obey.

–       Micah 5:1-15

Waiting for The Shepherd-King

Verse 1 of chapter 5 gives us the dire setting that Israel is in. Israel is besieged and being called to summon her troops, and the “judge of Israel” is being struck on the cheek with a rod. This could be a reference to God being mocked by the pagan armies, but it likely refers to the king of Israel (likely Hezekiah, see Isa 36-38; Micah 1:1). Being “struck on the cheek” wasn’t just a physical assault, but an assault on someone’s dignity, a way to degrade and belittle someone else. So the King of Israel is being mocked, degraded, and belittled while Israel is besieged. What does God do in response? He promises to send a deliverer.

God promises to raise up a “ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient of days,” (Micah 5:2b). This “ruler” is none other than the promised Messiah. Starting all the way back in Eden, when God cursed the serpent He promised that from the offspring of the woman a deliverer would come:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

–       Gen 3:15

This offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, even as it bruised His own heel. This theme of expectation of a serpent-crusher is woven through the whole of the Old Testament. Over time the identity of this promised deliverer becomes more clear: He will descend from the family of Abraham, from the tribe of Judah, and eventually, the promised deliverer begins to take on royal tones—He will be like a King (Gen 17:6; 49:10; 2 Sam 7). Now, God again promises that His Messiah is coming. But here we find the first surprise of God’s deliverance: the Messiah will come out of Bethlehem, from the region of Ephrathah.

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,

–       Micah 5:2a

Rather than raising up in the capitol of Judah, Jerusalem—which is what one would think would happen—the Messiah will come from the “little town of Bethlehem” where, as the old Christmas hymn puts it, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” We see two more aspects of the surprising, unexpected nature of God’s deliverance in the next verse:

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.

–       Micah 5:3

What’s unexpected here? First, God’s Messiah doesn’t not descend out of heaven like an angel or materialize on earth as a full-grown man. He must be born. So, He comes first as a helpless infant. Second, God will “give [Israel] up until the time.” The NIV and CSB translate that as God will “abandon” them until the time. In the gospel of Matthew when Herod hears of the wise men coming to worship the Messiah, he asks the scribes and chief priests where the Messiah was to be born, and they quote Micah 5:2 (Matt 2:1-6). So we know without a shadow of a doubt that the deliverer, the Messiah that Micah is prophesying of is Jesus. But what is surprising is that Micah is writing this 700 years before Jesus is born. So when Micah says that God will “give them up until the time,” what does that mean? It means that God is going to send His people into exile, He is going to let them reap the consequences of their covenant breaking for 700 years. They will be dominated and oppressed by foreign nation after foreign nation after foreign nation. God is going to make Israel wait for a long time.

There are many things we could glean from this, but one thing we see is that God is a God who does not operate on the same time table we do.

It could be that God makes Israel wait another 700 years for the Messiah as a form of punishment—but we aren’t explicitly told that. The New Testament describes Jesus’ arrival to simply be when “the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4; cf. 1 Tim 2:6; Mark 1:15). The mysteries of God’s providence are hard to discern. Peter actually explains that God’s perceived “slowness” is His merciful patience: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” (2 Pet 3:9).

I don’t know what you are currently waiting on God for; maybe you are waiting for God to intervene in what has felt like a dead spot in your marriage, to crack open the stony heart and bring repentance of someone you love, to give the gift of faith and conversion. Whatever it is, what I want to encourage you with is that waiting on the Lord is not an unusual aspect of the Christian life. 14 times in the book of Psalms alone we are exhorted to “wait on the Lord,” and Psalm 25:3 promises us that, “None who wait for you shall be put to shame.” Your waiting may actually be a means of God’s love towards you.

When Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, His first response is to wait. John explains, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was,” (John 11:5-6). An odd response for Jesus, the wonder-worker and healer, upon hearing of his dear friend being ill. In fact, Jesus waits so long that Lazarus dies. Now, Jesus goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), but this shows us that sometimes God’s love and His mysterious providence look like Him being inactive, waiting. 

Receiving From the Shepherd-King

What will this promised ruler from of old do when He arrives? What will happen when Jesus shows up on the scene? Micah 5:3 already explained:

…when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.

–       Micah 5:3b

So, first we see that when the Messiah comes “the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” First, is it not astounding itself that those who return to Israel are considered “brothers” of the Messiah? Like a magnet drawing iron-filings to itself, when Jesus shows up He draws men and women to Himself, but not only the way a celebrity draws fans to themselves. Jesus does not draw you to Himself in order to have a distant, superficial relationship with you, where maybe you are fawning all over Him but He doesn’t even know your name. No—Galatians explains to us “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons,” (Gal 4:4-5). And because we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, we are now inheritors of the promises of Israel, we are part of God’s family. That’s the first thing we receive from the Shepherd-King, Jesus. But not only that:

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.

–       Micah 5:4-5a

This is why I am referring to Jesus as the “Shepherd-King” here, “He shall stand and shepherd his flock.” So, we are not only brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are also His sheep. Jesus refers to Himself as the “good Shepherd” who lays down His life for His own sheep (John 10:11). In the strength and majesty of Yahweh, the name above all names, Jesus will shepherd His sheep. So, what does a shepherd do? He leads them and guides them to green pastures and still waters (Ps 23). He cares for them and mends them when injured; He leaves the 99 to seek out the one that is lost and rejoices over the recovery (Luke 15:3-6). He protects them from the wolf and bear. The shepherd sometimes cracks the rod over the head of a vicious enemy who wants to devour the sheep. 

Of course, wonder of wonders, our good Shepherd not only defends the sheep at the risk of His life, but defends the sheep at the expense of His life. He dies to save His sheep. Satan in the book of Revelation is described as “the accuser of the brothers” (Rev 12:10)—that’s what Satan does, “accuses [the brothers] day and night before our God,” (Rev 12:10). In fact, that’s what “Satan” literally means, “Accuser.” Satan’s greatest desire is to expose and point out all of your flaws to the Father, to show all of the reasons why you deserve to be condemned. But Jesus steps in between us and the Accuser, He speaks another word–a word of pardon sealed in blood. He is willing to lay down His life to pay the debt our sins had deserved so that the Accuser is left silenced—we overcome him by “the blood of the lamb,” (Rev 12:11).

So, the people “dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. He shall be their peace.” It is a terrible thing when a sinner, a created being, exalts himself to some kind of megalomaniacal platform, craving greatness and fame and status. History has shown us that when you an individual amasses great deals of power and craves the adulation of the masses, terrible catastrophes occur. We cannot trust that kind of power to be vested in a sinner. But what about in someone who isn’t a sinner? What about when it is in a sinless Messiah, God in the flesh? Well then the exact opposite happens. Rather than the earth suffering and peoples lamenting, the earth flourishes and people dwell secure. The great malady of our world, deeper than any other economic, ecological, sociological, or political problem, greater than any pandemic, any war, any famine, any natural disaster is that many people do not yet see Jesus as great. They ignore and sideline and trivialize and mock the King of the Universe, the Good Shepherd. They do not realize that security and peace are bound up in His person—you cannot have a world free from suffering and selfishness and sorrow apart from Him.

Becoming Shepherd-Kings

My argument is that the main message of Micah 5 is the that the Shepherd-King will come and bring deliverance and transform His people into shepherd-kings themselves. We won’t have the time to explore how this flushes itself out through the whole chapter, but let’s take brief fly-over of the rest of the chapter:

When the Assyrian comes into our land
and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
when he comes into our land
and treads within our border.

–       Micah 5:5b-6

When the Assyrian comes into the land, what will Israel do? They will raise up “seven shepherds, and eight princes of men” who will “shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” “Nimrod” is the ancestral father of both Assyria and Babylon (Gen 10:8-11), both are the biggest enemies Israel is facing during Micah’s time. So, when the biggest, baddest enemies come knocking on Jerusalem’s door, looking to eat their lunch, what will these people do who have been redeemed by the Shepherd-King?  They will raise up their own, mini-shepherd-kings. The formula of listing “seven…and eight” isn’t referring to a literal seven and eight, but the sequential numbering is a common Hebrew pattern of just referring to a multitude. But notice how verse 6 shifts away from the plural “they” back to the singular “he”? “He shall deliver us…” So, the people of God are raising up their own shepherd-kings, but it is ultimately the Shepherd King who will deliver them, save them.

But how are we to apply something about using the sword to us today when God’s people no longer a nation-state like Old Testament Israel was? Does this mean that we are to use physical violence to overcome our enemies, to expand God’s Kingdom? That is unlikely because last chapter, when the promise of the Messiah was again foretold Micah explicitly stated that the age of the Messiah was an age where swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:3; cf. Isaiah 9:5-7). And a few verses later in chapter 5, when Micah is describing God’s cleansing of Israel from her sin, He also
specifies:

And in that day, declares the LORD,
I will cut off your horses from among you
and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
and throw down all your strongholds;

–       Micah 5:10-11

Horses, chariots, fortresses and strongholds are all used in warfare, and all of these in the day of the Messiah will be cut off from God’s people. I don’t have time to navigate all of the issues this brings up, but suffice to say I am not attempting to make an argument of pacifism or anything like that. Rather, I am limiting myself to understand how this promise applies to us New Covenant Christians. As we transition from the Old to New Covenant, we see God’s Kingdom transition from being bound up with a demarcated land-mass in the Middle-East, and being transformed into a diffuse, spiritual Kingdom that saturates the whole of the earth. And since God’s Kingdom is no longer displayed through a land with borders, this is why there is no New Testament equivalent to the conquest commands given to Joshua and the Kings of Israel. 

We make disciples of all nations, we do not drive out nations the way Joshua did. We fight a battle, but not against flesh and blood but against spiritual enemies (Eph 6:12). Jesus shows us how the kingdom advances par excellence: it is not through killing others, but through our own suffering, our own deaths. So, Micah is using the threads of current events of his day (the Assyrian invasion) to make a prophetic tapestry of what the future, Messianic age will look like. There will still be enemies that need to be conquered, but they will not be enemies that we use the weapons of the world against. 

With that in place, what does it mean for us to be “shepherd-kings”? That is a title of authority; in what way do we have authority like that?

We could speak of the authority we have been given as members of the church to welcome in new members, and dismiss unrepentant members (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5); we could speak of our authority to recognize true doctrine and reject false doctrine (Gal 1:6-9); we could speak of the authority give to us to spur one another in the faith, to exhort one another and so be spared from the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-14; 10:23-25). But let’s look at what Micah emphasizes:

Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the LORD,
like showers on the grass,
which delay not for a man
nor wait for the children of man.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
and all your enemies shall be cut off.

–       Micah 5:7-9

Notice, the final phrase that Israel’s enemies shall be “cut off”, but then in verses 10-15 we have the repeated phrase that God will “cut off” Israel’s military prowess and their idolatry (vs. 10-13). That is an interesting contrast–as Israel “cuts off” her enemies, she is simultaneously experiencing a purging herself–a cleansing where her sword and her idols are being removed from her.

Here, in verses 7-9 we see that the renewed people of God are two very different things at the same time: (1) they are an unmitigated blessing to the nations (“dew from the Lord…showers on the grass” is always used as a picture of divine blessing in the OT). This is what God’s people are going to be–in the nations, bringing life and refreshing to the world. They are fulfilling what Adam and Eve were intended to do in Eden; they are to be an unmitigated blessing to the nations. (2) They are an implacable force against evil among the nations. They are both of these things at the same time.

So, if you have a community with a church in it, that church is going to be a blessing to that community. A church is a community of people who have been humbled by the overwhelming grace of the gospel; it is a place where the root of our pride and arrogance has been cut, so we do not walk around thinking we are better than anybody. Rather, we are so stunned by the undeserved grace we have received that we desire to help and bless and love other people with no strings attached. So we love our neighbors, we work hard at our jobs, we strive to make our neighborhoods and communities better places to live. We try to do what Adam and Eve were supposed to do in the garden: cultivate beauty, protect goodness, and bring life. We are an unmitigated blessing to the nations, dew from the Lord.

But, we are also an unmovable object when evil rears its head. So, you put a church in a community, while it is an unmitigated blessing it also is an implacable force against evil. Christian churches should be remarkably frustrating to evil and wicked rulers, but also totally baffling. We do not resist their evil devices the way the world does–we do so while simultaneously working for the benefit and the good of our community. We do not buck the authority of rulers just because we don’t agree with what they are doing or it makes our lives uncomfortable; rather, when they attempt to make unrighteousness reign in our community, when they attempt to exploit image bearers, when they attempt to pervert justice, we, God’s representatives, stand in the gap and say, “No.” We will resist.

Daniel serves as an excellent model for us. Daniel was a blessing to the nation of Babylon, to king Nebuchadnezzar–a wicked nation, no doubt. Babylon had exiled God’s people! And yet, Daniel serves the king and make Babylon a better place to live in. But, as soon as Nebuchadnezzar institutes evil and requires disobedience to God, Daniel is as unyielding as iron. He would rather die before sinning against God. That is what we need to be, friends. Blessing, and frustration, at the same time. Paul himself later explains that Jesus’ disciples are supposed to be so saturated with Jesus that people smell heaven on them. And for some people, that aroma will be an aroma of life, and to others it will be an aroma of death:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. – 2 Cor 2:14-16

But it is Jesus that is to be our aroma, nothing else. We should be wary of letting ourselves be saturated in anything else that may be turning people away–not our politics, not our cultural traditions, not our pet projects. It is Jesus who both draws and repels. And it is our job to so saturate ourselves with him, to submit to him.

We are being restored as Kings and Queens of the earth, guarding, protecting, cultivating, bringing life. We will bring life and we will bring death, at the same time; life to life, and death to death.

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