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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Micah 5

 

 

Verse 1

God’s Enemies Are Determined To Demonstrate Their Power And To Smite YHWH’s Anointed (Micah 5:1).

The warning of the previous verse having been ignored the nations gather their forces for the attack on God’s people.

Micah 5:1

‘Now will you gather yourself in troops,

O daughter of troops.

He has laid siege against us;

They will smite the judge of Israel,

With a rod upon the cheek.

The nations are still determined to attack Judah in spite of Micah’s warning concerning the future. They gather themselves in troops, because they are ‘daughters of troops’, in other words that is the kind of people that they are. And thus their leader has laid siege against Jerusalem.

Their aim is to humiliate the one who is the judge of Israel. This may indicate Hezekiah. There was certainly nothing that Sennacherib wanted more to do than humiliate Hezekiah. He gloated over the fact that he had shut him up like a caged bird in Jerusalem. But the unusual term Judge may signify that the Judge of Israel is in mind, YHWH Himself. Either way they want to smite him with a rod on his cheek. The idea is of a symbol of authority being used to smite him across the cheek as a sign of his defeat, humiliation and submission.

As we know, because YHWH intervened in response to Hezekiah’s prayer it did not happen immediately. Indeed His enemies were then decimated by the angel of YHWH (2 Kings 19:35). But it did occur in the days of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh (compare Micah 4:10).

But whenever it happened it would not be the end, for YHWH would eventually raise up a champion Who would accomplish His purposes.


Verses 2-4

The Announcement Is Made Of One Who Will Rise From A Humble Small Town Who Will Deliver His People And Will Become Great To The Ends Of The Earth (Micah 5:2-4).

The promise is now made that from the small town of Bethlehem Ephrathah, which is comparatively insignificant, will come one is to be ruler in Israel Whose activities have been eternally destined, or possibly have been destined from the beginning as evidenced for example in Genesis 3:15.

Micah 5:2

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

Which is little to be among the thousands of Judah,

Out of you will one come forth to me who is to be ruler in Israel,

Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.

A ruler is to arise out of little Bethlehem whose activities have been ‘from of old, from everlasting’. The double emphasis indicates that it means from as far back as it could possibly be. Strictly speaking it signifies that he will actually have been active for that long, but was probably seen by most as meaning that His activities were in YHWH’s mind from the beginning.

The word for ‘little’ is a rarely used one and indicates ‘comparatively small’ (compare Psalms 68:27). The ‘thousands’ of Judah may refer to the large numbers of cities, towns and villages in Judah, or to the fact that Bethlehem’s contribution to the military units (‘thousands’) of Judah is very small. Or it could be the equivalent of ‘families, tribes’. Whichever way it is the unimportance of Bethlehem that is being brought out. Nevertheless it will produce this great King.

But why should he be described as coming from this obscure background in Bethlehem? The answer would seem to lie in the fact that it will not happen until the royal house of David has ceased to rule in Jerusalem. Judah will have sunk into a state of helplessness and hopelessness, and then suddenly from this small, insignificant town will arise this great leader of the Davidic house..

Bethlehem Ephrathah (compare Genesis 35:19) was called this in order to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem (house of bread) in Zebulun. It was situated a few kilometres south of Jerusalem.

‘Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.’ The dual repetition of words representing ancient times introduces the conception of everlastingness. For the conception compare Proverbs 8:22-23. Here is one Whose activities (‘going forth’) have been eternal. He is the King of the ages. For the significance of the verb ‘goings forth’ as indicating activity see Hosea 6:3; Ezekiel 12:4; 1 Kings 10:28; 2 Samuel 3:25.

It will be noted that these words parallel the ideas of Isaiah in Isaiah 9:6, ‘His Name will be called wonderful, counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Both prophets were looking for someone with divine connections

Thus the whole idea is of the ‘coming King’ Who has been destined by God from the beginning, Whose goings forth have been from eternity, Who will come forth from Bethlehem to fulfil God’s purposes. This ‘Messianic’ expectation is found in a number of passages. See Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 2; Psalms 89:27-29). Its final fulfilment through the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is emphasised in Matthew 2:6.

Micah 5:3-4

Therefore will he give them up,

Until the time that she who travails has brought forth,

Then the residue of his brethren,

Will return to the children of Israel.

‘And he will stand, and will feed his flock in the strength of YHWH,

In the majesty of the name of YHWH his God,

And they will abide,

For now will he be great to the ends of the earth.’

But the coming of this King will not be immediate. For God will first give up His people to travail and suffering like that of a woman in labour (compare Micah 4:9-10). However, once that is accomplished all who are apart will be gathered back to their people, and the King will stand among them, and will feed them in the strength of YHWH, and in the majesty of YHWH His God, and their continuance is guaranteed, and He Himself will be great to the ends of the earth (compare Psalms 2:7-9; Psalms 89:27-29). For YHWH is the Lord of the whole earth (Micah 4:13).

That the people did suffer greatly, and did then gather back from exile, and that they supremely came into a remarkable oneness in Jesus Christ, and that the King came among them in Jesus Christ, and fed them with the strength of YHWH and made known to them the majesty of God, both in His life and especially in the Transfiguration, is now well known. And from them He called a new people whose growth through the ages has been phenomenal, and is found in His church worldwide, while His Name is known wherever man is found.

Some, however, see the woman in travail as referring to the Messiah’s earthly mother, and thus see this as a direct indication that Israel will be ‘given up’ until that time.


Verses 5-8

Prior To His Coming YHWH Will Bring About The Wasting Of The Assyrians By Means Of Seven Shepherds and Eight Principal Men But His People Will Nevertheless End Up In Exile Among The Nations. (Micah 5:5-8).

The total change of subject, and the lack of any mention of the Ruler previously described, combined with the fact that at this stage the people will not yet have returned from exile (Micah 5:7-8), indicates that what follows comes prior to the coming of the expected King.

God will bring about deliverance from the hands of the Assyrians, but nevertheless His people will have been carried off into exile in order that their sins might be rooted out (Micah 5:10-15).

Micah 5:5

‘And this shall be peace. When the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.’

However, peace will be accomplished, and Assyria defeated, prior to this coming of the King, by means of treaties with other nations against the Assyrians. Such attempts were constantly made as we know from Isaiah 39. And it is probable that Josiah joined in with such a confederacy and that his death later came about because as a member of such a confederacy he was seeking to prevent the Egyptian army from bringing aid to the Assyrians, who were under attack from the confederacy (2 Kings 23 29, where ‘against’ (‘al) the king of Assyria could be translated ‘with regard to’. Josiah would have had no reason for preventing Egypt from attacking Assyria, but every reason for preventing them from helping them). His action and death may well have sealed the fate of Assyria.

Thus Micah is making clear that while Assyrian depredations will continue into the future, it will be combated by an alliance of kings and chieftains.

Note on the position of Assyria in Josiah’s time.

Nearly two hundred years after Micah began prophesying, during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), Assyria was still the predominant force in Mesopotamia and after bitter struggles was continuing to maintain its hold on its empire and exact tribute. But its empire had become too large to control and although there was no single rival empire, its own empire was creaking at the seams. The Egyptians had become strong and had exerted their independence, and the Medes, Elamites and Babylonians were constantly causing trouble to the east, while the Lydians were doing the same to the north. Palestine just sat and waited, no doubt being ‘reminded’ every now and again by the Assyrians that it was necessary to remain loyal.

The death of Asshurbanapal in around 633 BC was the beginning of the end. Herodotus mentions a Medan attack on Nineveh and depredations by hordes of Scythians, and around that time Babylon struck for independence. In 626 BC the Babylonians defeated an Assyrian army, and asserted their independence, and all attempts by Assyria to reverse the situation proved in vain. Babylon then prepared to invade Assyria, with the Medes looming in the background, and the danger was so great that the Egyptians, fearing a new emerging power, went to the assistance of Assyria and together in 616 BC they drove back the invading Babylonians. But this was then followed by an attack on Asshur, the Assyrian capital by the Medes in 614 BC, at which point Babylon and the Medes entered into an official alliance. In 612 BC Nineveh was taken by siege and destroyed.

It seems probable that Josiah entered into an official alliance with them, for he would have been seen as a valuable ally who was in a position to keep an eye on the Egyptians and prevent further interference from them. And he certainly played his part, at the cost of his life, in ensuring that the Egyptians did not arrive in time to bolster up the failing Assyrian forces. (The alternative possibility is that as a tributary of Assyria he loyally tried on Assyria’s behalf to prevent Egypt from combining with the confederacy forces. But that seems unlikely).

The final attempts of the severely weakened Assyrian army to retake lost ground failed, and without the prompt assistance of the Egyptians, delayed by Josiah, the Assyrian centuries of dominance were over. The future lay with the confederacy. But from then on Babylon would become the new empire builder, for loyalties were temporary and soon forgotten. Had Josiah not intervened it might well have been better for Israel/Judah.

End of note.

So the constant depredations of the Assyrians against Judah will eventually be met by partaking in a confederacy of ‘seven kings and eight principal men’. The phrase need not be taken literally. It indicates a sufficiency of kings, and an even greater sufficiency of tribal leaders and chieftains. We can be sure that in view of the way in which the once invincible Assyrians were seen, the confederacy would gain as much support as possible, for their scattered forces once brought together were still strong. We have no certain knowledge of the make up of the confederacy, although it may well have included among others Lydia, Babylon, the Medes, the Elamites and Israel/Judah.

Micah 5:6

‘And they will waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in its entrances, and he will deliver us from the Assyrian, when he comes into our land, and when he treads within our border.’

The confederacy will attack Assyria and waste its land, and will reach its borders and even beyond. The land of the mighty Nimrod (Genesis 10:9; Genesis 10:11), which had for so long been invincible, will itself be invaded, and in this way will YHWH deliver His people from the Assyrians with their continual depredations on Israel/Judah.


Verse 7-8

Meanwhile Israel/Judah Will Have Been Scattered Among Many Nations, Where They Will Be Like Showers Of Rain, And YHWH Will Be With Them And Watch Over Them (Micah 5:7-8).

The defeat of Assyria will not solve the problem of the large numbers of people from Israel/Judah who have been deported. There were first those from northern Galilee when that part was annexed as an Assyrian province, then those resulting from the campaigns in and final capture of Samaria, then those resulting from Sennacherib’s protracted campaign in Judah, and there would be others in the future (see Isaiah 11:11). But unknown to the world YHWH has a purpose for them.

Micah 5:7

‘And the remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples as dew from YHWH, as showers upon the grass, that tarry not for man, nor wait for the sons of men.’

The remnant of the exiles of Jacob (Israel/Judah) will be among the peoples as dew from YHWH. They will be like showers on the vegetation. The picture is one of fruitfulness and blessing. Their different way of life, their upholding of distinctive covenant laws (which would become more precious in heathen lands), and their belief in one God, will have their effects on the peoples among whom they live. They will be like a light in a dark place. And this would be even more so when the Gospel began to reach out to the synagogues and the converted remnant would begin to proclaim the Gospel to the world.

‘That tarry not for man, nor wait for the sons of men.’ We can here compare John 3:7, ‘the wind blows where it will’. God’s activity is not restricted by men nor dependent on men. He will in His own way use the exiles to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

Micah 5:8

‘And the remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.’

And YHWH will not only use His people like showers, but He will also make them strong and able to cope with their adversaries. For His people will be like lions in contrast with other wild beasts, and like young lions among a flock of sheep. The latter especially can act without restraint, and do what he wishes with no one to restrain him. For He will be present to protect them.

We can think in this context of how YHWH watched over His people in different parts of the world, Daniel and his friends in Babylon and Persia, giving them positions of great power through which they could watch over God’s people; Nehemiah and others in places of high authority in the Persian empire; Mordecai and Esther, and the way in which God enabled the Jews to be victorious over their enemies in Persia; and they way in which historically the Jews became well established in Alexandria and well able to take care of themselves. We have no reason to doubt that in smaller ways also God acted to protect His people to make them strong.

Micah 5:9

‘Let your hand be lifted up above your adversaries, and let all your enemies be cut off.’

As a result of God’s protection their hands will be lifted up above their adversaries. That is they will triumph and be successful. And in the end all their enemies will be cut off. For He will bring them through their trials and tribulations right through to the end. For His purpose for them, unknown to any but Him, was that they would be the firstfruits of the new congregation of the Messiah.


Verses 10-15

The Reason Why God Allows The Exile Of His People And Will Yet Cause More Exiles Until The Land Is Empty (Micah 5:10-15).

In another oracle (‘says YHWH’) Micah now explains why all Israel’s troubles must come upon her. It is in order to purify her and rid her of all the trappings of idolatry.

Micah 5:10-11

‘And it will come about in that day, says YHWH, that I will cut off your horses out of the midst of you, and will destroy your chariots, and I will cut off the cities of your land, and will throw down all your strongholds.’

In spite of the promises given above of the defeat of their arch enemy Assyria, they must not assume that all will be well with them. For God has the purpose in the future of rendering them totally defenceless. He will remove their horses, He will destroy their chariots, He will bring their cities to ruin, and He will throw down all their strongholds.

The warnings against depending on horses and chariots come regularly in the prophets, and in the Psalms (Psalms 20:7; Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 30:15-17; Hosea 10:13). The whole point is that they should take heed to the warning and start looking to YHWH alone.

The picture is one of massive invasion and total annihilation. And the reason for it is now given, it is because in spite of all His warnings, and all His chastening, they continue to cling to their witchcraft, and their mediums and fortune-tellers, and their idols. They just will not let them go. And thus the only way in which He can rid them of them is to remove them from the land where they practise such things.

Micah 5:12-14

‘And I will cut off witchcrafts out of your hand, and you will have no more soothsayers, and I will cut off your graven images and your pillars out of the midst of you; and you will no more worship the work of your hands, and I will pluck up your Asherim out of the midst of you, and I will destroy your cities.’

Here YHWH lists the things that cause such offence and make this people only evil continually. Witchcraft is connected with the use of the occult to affect things in the world, soothsaying has to do with contact with the dead and with familiar spirits, graven images were carved figures of the forbidden gods, including the Baals, stone pillars were representations of deities regularly found in high places, and even in the Temple, the Asherim were either wooden poles or Asherah images carved out of wood representing the female consorts of the Baals. All these things were to be removed from them and out of their hands. And because of the prevalence in their cities, their cities too will be destroyed. Only thus can the land be rid of such thing.

Micah 5:15

‘And I will execute vengeance in anger and wrath upon the nations which did not listen.’

This may well be referring to Israel and Judah. But it may also indicate that YHWH’s wrath will also be visited on the nations who have ill-treated His people because they too have not listened to Him. Certainly elsewhere the nations are blamed for going further than YHWH intended them to go (compare Isaiah 10:7-15).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Micah 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/micah-5.html. 2013.

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