Micah 5:1-5a – The Shepherd Leader

Coptic Church icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd

Jerusalem, enemy troops
    have surrounded you;
they have struck Israel’s ruler
    in the face with a stick.

Bethlehem Ephrath,
you are one of the smallest towns
    in the nation of Judah.
But the Lord will choose
one of your people
    to rule the nation—
someone whose family
    goes back to ancient times.
The Lord will abandon Israel
    only until this ruler is born,
and the rest of his family
    returns to Israel.
Like a shepherd
    taking care of his sheep,
this ruler will lead
    and care for his people
by the power and glorious name
    of the Lord his God.
His people will live securely,
and the whole earth will know
    his true greatness,
because he will bring peace. (CEV)

In Micah’s day there was no peace on earth, goodwill to all. In the eighth century B.C.E. the powerful Assyrian Empire came and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, deporting many of the people and re-populating the cities with their own.

The Assyrian takeover of Israel not only left the northern kingdom in shambles but had a large impact on the southern kingdom of Judah.  All of Judah and Jerusalem were in extreme duress.  Even though Judah had not been conquered and was intact, they were still forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians to keep them at bay. 

The problem became even more exacerbated because the leadership of Judah sought to maintain their power and lifestyle.  The leaders neither looked to God for help nor looked out for the interests of the people.  Instead, they expected the already burdened poor to shoulder the burden of the tribute to the Assyrians.

What is more, thousands of refugees from Israel flooded into Judah and Jerusalem.  So, the already scant resources in Judah were pushed to the brink. Those in authority, the ones with resources who could make something of a difference, ended up taking advantage of the situation by buying fields and land at a fraction of its worth.  In some cases, they leveraged their power by simply pushing people of their land and taking it over. It was anything but a time of security, peace, and actions of goodwill.

Into this terrible situation of hardship and survival, Micah prophesied judgment upon the leaders who were oppressing the poor and displaced.  Micah’s message of hope was that a new kind of leader will come from humble origins, just like the common oppressed people of Judah.  The refugees, the displaced farmers, and the poor will have a champion.  He will feed and shepherd them, leading them to green pastures.  This leader will serve the people instead of the people serving the leader.

Christians see Jesus in Micah’s prophecy. Just as the ancient Jews needed hope and the promise of a different ruler, so today we, too, need hope and the anticipation of the leader who will come again using his power for security, peace, and goodwill.

Christ’s authority is different than earthly politicians and officials.  Israel and Judah had been so filled with bad kings and self-serving leadership over the centuries that Christ’s disciples could barely conceive of a different kind of rule. So, Jesus called his disciples together and said:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-43, NIV).

The people of Micah’s day needed to see beyond their terrible circumstances to hope of better days with food, peace, and protection.  We, too, feel insecure and anxious. We want leaders to be wise and just toward the vulnerable, the poor, and the displaced.  But while we look to our politicians and election cycles for our hope, the prophet Micah is jumping up and down, pointing us to a different leader – a shepherd leader.

Micah said the shepherd leader will come from Bethlehem.  When Micah proclaimed this, King David, the original shepherd king, had been dead for nearly three-hundred years. The people immediately made the connection between the coming leader and David.  There would be restoration and renewal!  A benevolent kingly reign is coming! 

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of Jesus the Bread of Life

“Bethlehem” is two Hebrew words put together: beth (“house”) and lechem (“bread”) thus being “House of Bread.” God was communicating that the coming shepherd leader would provide abundant food and care for them. God wanted, and still wants, a society that does not feed on itself, but is a house of bread for others. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Christ feeds us so that we will become a people who offer bread to others – both physical and spiritual bread.

Jesus is the bread for all the hungers we have in this life. We hunger for security in our world; satisfaction in our daily work; loved ones to be healthy and happy. In short, we hunger for peace. Our spiritual stomachs growl with hunger for spiritual food.  Many are spiritually starving because they are searching for peace and goodwill in places without food.

Satisfaction, contentment, and peace have come from the most unlikely places of Bethlehem and Nazareth. Can anything good come from villages in Judea that do not even show up on most maps of the ancient world?  Peace, hope, and goodwill can and do come from the least expected places and people. 

Christ was not born in the halls of power. Yet, through him there is peace, in the complete sense of the word. Jesus is the One who brings a full-orbed wholeness and wellness to life, no matter the situations around us. Jesus is our peace:

Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock; he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them onto his lap. He will gently guide the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11, CEB)

“Yes, I will feed my flock, and I will lead them to a place of rest. I will search for the lost sheep. I will bring back the sheep that were scattered and put bandages on the sheep that were hurt. I will make the weak sheep strong, but I will destroy the fat and powerful shepherds. I will feed them the punishment they deserve.” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, ERV)

 “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.” (John 10:14-16, MSG)

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger.” (John 6:35, NKJV)

When Jesus originally said those words, it was scandalous, unheard of rhetoric. So, Jesus, the stinker he could be, pressed it even more:

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world… Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man… you have no life in you. (John 6:48-51, 53, NIV)

We are to ingest Jesus – to be filled with him. We need Jesus because he is our house of bread, our peace, our shepherd, and our king. Believing in him is to give our lives to him. The greatest Christmas gift we can give this season is the gift of our lives to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.

Lord Jesus, I have strayed far from your flock and taken matters into my own hands. I have chosen to feed in pastures that will never take care of my real hunger.  I need Your forgiveness. I believe You died on the cross for all the things I have done and left undone.  You rose from the grave to give me life. So, I want to stop going my own way and start going yours. Amen.

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