“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
Therefore, Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
And he will be our peace. (New International Version)
An Awful Situation
In the prophet Micah’s day, there was no “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” After the reign of King Solomon, Israel was divided between north and south. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.
In the eighth-century B.C.E. the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. They deported many of the Israelites and re-populated the cities with their own people. This is why the Jews in Christ’s day looked down on Samaritans. They pejoratively viewed them as “half-breeds,” a mix of Jewish and Assyrian descent.
The Assyrian takeover of Israel not only left the northern kingdom in shambles; it had a huge impact on the southern kingdom of Judah. Even though Judah had not been conquered, they were still forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians.
The problem was exacerbated with the leadership of Judah seeking to maintain their power and lifestyle. They did not look to God for help and ignored the needs of the people. Judah’s leaders expected the poor common folk to shoulder the burden of the tribute to the Assyrians. In addition, thousands of refugees from Israel were flooding into Judah and Jerusalem. They had lost their homes, their land, and had nothing but their lives. So, the already scant resources in Judah were pushed to the brink.
Those in authority and power, the ones with resources to make a difference, didn’t. Instead, they took advantage of the situation by buying fields and land at a fraction of its worth because people were just trying to survive. In some cases, the leadership leveraged their power by simply pushing people off their own land and taking it over.
There Is Hope
Into this awful situation, Micah prophesied judgment to the leaders oppressing the people – and hope for the poor and the displaced. Micah said a new kind of leader will come – one with humble origins, like the common oppressed people of Judah. The refugees, the displaced farmers, and the poor will have a champion. He will feed them and shepherd them, leading them to green pastures. This leader will serve the people.
Christians discern Micah’s prophecy as speaking of Jesus – which is why we look at Scriptures like this one during the season of Advent. Just as the ancient Jews needed hope and the promise of a different ruler, so today we, too, need hope and the anticipation of security, peace, and goodwill.
Christ’s leadership and power is different than earthly politicians and officials. Over the centuries, Israel and Judah were so filled with bad kings and self-serving leadership, that Christ’s disciples could barely conceive of anything different. So, Jesus said to them:
“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 10:42-45, NIV)
A Shepherd Leader Is Coming
The people of Micah’s day needed to see beyond their terrible circumstances and to realize hope – better days ahead with food, peace, and protection. We, too, feel the insecurity and the anxiety of living in today’s world. We want leaders to be wise and just toward the vulnerable, the poor, and the displaced. Yet, while we look to elections and politicians for hope, the prophet Micah is jumping up and down, pointing us to a different leader – a shepherd leader.
Micah says the shepherd leader will come from Bethlehem. When Micah gave his message, King David had been dead for nearly three-hundred years. The nation had strayed far from those days when David led the people with God’s covenant love and kindness. Yet, another shepherd leader is coming and will bring restoration, renewal, revival, and hope!
“Bethlehem” is two Hebrew words put together: beth is “house,” and, lechem is “bread.” Bethlehem means “house of bread.” God communicated to the people that the coming shepherd leader will provide food and care for them.
The Bread of Life
Jesus is the Bread of Life. He generously feeds us so that we will offer both physical and spiritual bread to others. Jesus satisfies all our hungers and cravings in this life. We may not wonder where our next meal is coming from, nor struggle with going to bed hungry. Yet, we hunger for security in our world, satisfaction in our daily activities, loved ones to know Jesus, and for peace. Our spiritual stomachs growl, hungering for spiritual food. Many are spiritually starving because they are searching for peace and goodwill in everyplace but Jesus.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:35-40, NIV)
Satisfaction, contentment, and peace have come from the most unlikely sources: Bethlehem and Nazareth. Can anything good come from villages in Judea that don’t even show up on most maps in the ancient world? Peace, hope, and goodwill can and do come from the least expected places and people.
Joni Eareckson Tada and Corrie Ten Boom are two women that changed their worlds, despite being ordinary people with weakness. The two of them once met many years ago. Joni remembers the encounter:
“I relive each moment of my visit with Corrie after she was paralyzed by a stroke. Helpless, and for the most part dependent, I felt our mutual weakness. Yet I am certain neither of us had ever felt stronger. It makes me think of the Cross of Christ–a symbol of weakness and humiliation, yet at the same time, a symbol of victory and strength…. A wheelchair may confine a body that is wasting away. But no wheelchair can confine the soul that is inwardly renewed day by day. For paralyzed people can walk with the Lord. Speechless people can talk with the Almighty. Sightless people can see Jesus. Deaf people can hear the Word of God. And those like Corrie, their minds shadowy and obscure, can have the very mind of Christ.”
The Good Shepherd
Jesus Christ is our peace. He was not born in the halls of power, did not attend the best schools, or make lots of money. Nothing on his earthly resume was remarkable enough for anyone to seek him for any leadership position. And yet, Jesus stands and shepherds the flock in the strength of the Lord, providing everything we need.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.” (John 10:14-17, NIV)
Through Jesus there is peace – financial peace, emotional peace, relational peace, social peace, and spiritual peace. Jesus is the One who brings a full-orbed wholeness and wellness to our lives, no matter the situation. Jesus is the shepherd leader who brings peace amidst any and every situation this world throws at us.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11, NIV)
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in a similar situation as Micah:
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered…. They will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16, NIV)
There is something yet we must do. Jesus said:
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him…. The person who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:29, 51-59, NIV)
We are to ingest Jesus. We must be filled with him. Jesus comes into the very depths of our lives to nourish us. Jesus is our food and drink, our peace, our shepherd, and our king. Believing in Jesus is not simply a matter of agreeing with him or being his fan. Faith in Christ means 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.
Blessed Lord Jesus, many have strayed far from your flock – taking matters into their own hands and doing things their own way. Many have let their love grow cold and have chosen to feed in pastures that will never satiate their hunger. May they believe that you died on the cross for all the messed up things done, and good things left undone without you. You rose from death to give them life. Please forgive us all, change our lives, and show us how to know you. Amen.