December 16, 2020, 4:00 AM

An Advent Reflection on Micah

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.

Micah is the prophet who gave us one of the loftiest descriptions of what it means to be a follower of the God who came wrapped in human flesh in Bethlehem two thousand years ago: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).

Micah is also the one who gave us one of the most cherished passages of Advent/Christmas prophecy.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah (EFF-ra-thah), 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.”

We don’t know that much about this prophet Micah. He is somewhat of a mystery; but we can reasonably guess that his parents must have been devout followers of God because they gave their son a name that would always serve as a reminder of God’s goodness and most especially his grace. Micah’s name means, Who is like God?

The question you may be asking yourself is just how this interrogative name convey God’s goodness and grace? In a play on his name in Micah 7:18-19 – the final words of this prophecy – Micah asks, “Who is a God like you, pardoning [sin] and passing over [disobedience] for [those who are inheriting the promise of salvation]? [For don’t you know? God] does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will [stomp] our [sins] underfoot. [He] will [throw] all [of] our sins into the depths of the sea.”

The Psalmist echoes these words almost word for word (Psalm 103:8-12):

“The LORD is merciful and gracious… He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

This is a great reminder – no check that, this is an over-the-top reminder for us as well:  Who is like our God? Our God, the one who created the universe; the one who supports the vast array of stars in the heavens; the one who filled the oceans of the earth; the one who shaped the mountain ranges of the world with his fingers; the one who holds history in his hands much as we might hold a paper map in our own hands. We might well wonder along with Job of old, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him… ?” (Job 7:17)

Why does God care so much for us? Why has God been so faithful to us when we are so faithless? Why would God enter the fray of human existence to save us? Why would God make His rescue mission so personal and costly by becoming human in the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth? Why would God endure the scorn and wrath of the very ones that He created and gave life? O Lord, who is a God like you?

The answer is no one! Not even close.

When Micah received his oracles from God, it was during the latter half of the eighth century B.C. (c.750-700). Micah prophesied during an eventful time in the history of God’s people. The Assyrian empire was on the rise, and the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen and had been carried away into exile.

The remaining southern kingdom of Judah seemed oblivious to the very things that had precipitated the fall of their northern brothers and sisters— Forgetting about God and doing their own thing— Mixing and matching the religious practices of their neighbors.

Not only that, Micah reminds them that they are becoming too preoccupied with their wealth. The rich are oppressing the less fortunate. Those with the power and responsibility to lead the nation, the priests and rulers, have prostituted their messages for gain and influence. Unless they repent, judgment will surely come.

The well-known prophecy in Micah 5:2; that speaks of a divine-sent Messiah coming from little, insignificant Bethlehem, was given to the people of Judah, who were now between a rock and a hard place.

The date was 701 B.C. and the Assyrian army under the leadership of their king, Sennacherib, had Jerusalem surrounded, and ready for the kill. They were breathing threats against the people; and not surprisingly, the people were scared. What could they do? Who would save them? Their king, Hezekiah, was just as afraid as they were.

The prophet Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Micah, said, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard” from the Assyrians. Don’t fear their threats or their numbers or their mighty weapons. I will deliver you. Trust me.

However, Micah speaks to their predicament as well; but he takes a longer view of the situation. Micah not only prophesies that Judah will be delivered by God from the hand of Sennacherib; he goes on to speak of an even greater deliverance:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah…” Micah sees a time coming when God will send help from the least likely of all places. From the smallest and most insignificant of towns, God will send help.

He says further that, “…from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” God will bring forth a different kind of leader, one who will, as he says will “shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,” and the people will, under this different kind of king, “dwell secure…and he shall be their peace.”

How different than the expectations of the day. Salvation won’t come through military exploits. Deliverance won’t happen by the extraordinary efforts of one or more heroes. No, God has something different in mind. How different His ways from the brutal Assyrians. How differently God does things to the way that we would do it!

In thinking about how God does things, the apostle Paul may described it this way: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men….But God [chooses] what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; [He chooses] what is weak in the world to shame the strong….” (1 Cor. 1:25, 27)

God did deliver Judah from the Assyrians, quite miraculously, in response to the godly, humble contrition of King Hezekiah; and the deliverance came without a single shot being fired, so to speak. Not one citizen of Jerusalem shed their blood in the delivery. Not a sword was drawn. Not one enemy soldier came within a miles of Jerusalem. God’s ways are different. O Lord, who is a God like you?

And that brings us to Bethlehem. The victory over Assyria was merely a foreshadow; a foretaste of a greater and even more unlikely delivery: God sent a King to the little town of Bethlehem. This King arrived as a little baby boy – helpless and human. Oh, but what a salvation it is that has come through this little child!

We are not now at present surrounded by any bloodthirsty Assyrians. But we are people who are held captive by various and sundry things. We all have things that worry us to a fault. We all have our pet sins that seem impossible to conquer. We all tend to pour our life and energy into far too many things that have little to no value as far as eternity is concerned. No one here tonight is exempt from the need of a Savior.

In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news – man had flown!

My friends don’t miss the “big news” this Advent-Christmas season. The manger in Bethlehem is a great story. The baby Jesus is warm and cuddly. The Christmas carols we sing are special. The unique Christmas traditions that we share with our families are wonderful this time of year. But, let’s not miss the “big news” that God in Christ took upon himself human flesh so that we might be delivered from the power and penalty of sin. Let’s not miss the “big news” of God’s love for the world;………..God’s love for you!

Who is like our God that he would do such a thing?

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