Tuesday, October 6, 2009

10/6 Micah 5:1-4 Bethlehem and Christ

(the author at the entrance to the cave in Bethlehem- the traditional site of Jesus' birth- now made ornate by the church)

Micah 5:1-4
1Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel's ruler on the cheek with a rod. 2 "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." 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 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.

Calvin abridged: The Prophet was trying to encourage the people to have patience despite the upcoming siege. It is important to see that when the Prophets threaten us with wrath or denounce the punishment we deserve we either become apathetic or grow angry with God and complain. But when the Prophets comfort us, we indulge ourselves and become too secure. It is important that we have both an awareness of God’s wrath and his promises so that we may be ready to endure temporary problems and rely on Him. He calls Jerusalem a “city of troops” meaning that they choose the way of violence; they assemble (troop) together as a gang of thieves gather together for violence, so now troops will besiege them. The Lord was saying that they had been oppressive to others so now they would be oppressed in return (c.f Isa. 33:1). They governors and judges of Israel will be humbled by their enemies- suffering the greatest indignity of being struck on the cheek. But having said all this, the prophet gives them hope (vs. 2). But you, Bethlehem Ephratha, though you are small among the clans of Judah. While God was humbling the proud city and its rulers, he was also lifting up this simple, humble town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem Ephratha is distinguished from another Bethlehem of Zebulon. The word Ephrathah designates an abundance of fruit or provisions, and there David was born. “of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel”- this means that it was not God’s purpose to completely destroy his people- but he would restore them again after a time. The people would not have expected that King David would have come from such a small and simple town. David’s father was a shepherd, his family lived very simply, and David was the humblest in his family. God had surprised them before by bringing a king from humble beginnings, and he would do so again. “Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times”- means from eternity. The rise of a new ruler had long ago been determined by God and was not a sudden event. Some say this refers to the eternal existence of Christ, and I agree with them; but as some will not accept this, I prefer the simpler, immediate meaning: that Christ will not come unexpectedly from Bethlehem, but God had previously determined his coming.
Thought: God is not surprised. It was in God’s plan that the proud would be humbled and the humble would be lifted up. As God took David from the shepherd’s stalls and made him king, so God takes Jesus from the manger in the same town and makes him King of kings. Psalm 78:1 says, “from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.” David himself said, “Who am I, O sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far? …and you have spoken to me about the future of my house” 2 Sam. 7:19,20). Bethlehem meant “house of bread.” It is most appropriate that the bread of life be born there. It is a great reminder for us that God is sovereign. He is the King of kings- and we do not need to panic, nor place our ultimate trust in what the rulers of our world are currently doing. There was so much that had to happen in order for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. Thousands of miles away, Caesar Augustus, perhaps the greatest emperor of Rome, made a decree. Luke expresses an amazement at God’s leading Jesus’ family in this way so that he would be born in the place that would fulfill the prophecy. Even today you can go to Bethlehem and see what is very probably the place. It was marked by an early church. The place is a cave that was used for keeping animals (they didn’t have many wooden stables in that land- lots of rock and not many trees). Bethlehem is a real city- not a fable. The one whose origins are from of old, intersected life in the most humble way, lived a most humble life, and was lifted up to the highest place. His greatness has indeed reached to the ends of the earth. It is only in the last twenty years that we can say that the gospel has spread to every nation- and there are Christians in each nation of the world today.

Prayer: You are worthy of our praise, O Lord. You lift up the humble. So we humble ourselves before you, that you might lift us up.

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