Minor Prophets: Micah Speaks of the Shepherd


Micah has been likened to a horse, thinking of the warhorses of Assyria pounding towards Judah. However, I see Micah more associated with the cow, because this prophet talked about banging swords into plows.

Horses and mules were pretty scarce in Judah, but there were plenty of bulls and cows, so the farmer usually had his plow pulled by oxen.

Chapters 4-5 offer near-term and far future prophecies, some of which are still to be fulfilled. Last week, Micah prophesied of Jesus’ first advent, not realizing the Messiah would come twice—first as the Savior of the world, and then—still future to us—as Judge of the world.

This week looks at Jesus’ second advent.


Shepherd of Israel

Israel’s greatest leaders were shepherds—the list is long! Here are just a few:

  • The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who all amassed great flocks and herds, and lived a pastoral lifestyle in the Promised Land.
  • Moses, who lead the Hebrews out of enslavement, through the parted Red Sea, into the wilderness, and to the edge of the Promised Land, had first spent 40 years in Midian as a shepherd.
  • David began as a shepherd boy and became Israel’s greatest king. God founded a dynasty through David’s line.

Psalm 23 likens God to a good shepherd,

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Psalm 23:1-3, 6 (NRSV)

This is just a part of the many illustrations in the Hebrew scriptures Micah was working with in his prophecy,

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.

Micah 5:4 (NRSV)

These depictions are evocative of life with the Lord, and became the foundational imagery for descriptions of Jesus such as the Good Shepherd and True Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11 (NRSV)

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.

Hebrews 13:20

And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

1 Peter 5:4 (NRSV)

The Shepherd Shall Rule to the Ends of the Earth

The apostle Paul also wrote of this time, when the Good Shepherd would be “great to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:4, the end of the verse)

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Paul, quoting the Prophet Isaiah in Romans 14:11 (NRSV)

And

So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

Philippians 2:10 (NRSV)

Peacemaker and Deliverer

“And he shall be the one of peace.”

Micah 5:5 (NRSV)

There are two aspects to this prophecy. To those who receive the Good Shepherd, there will be a deep inner peace, for all will have been made right between them and God, and therefore between them and each other. Paul spoke of this peace in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, writing, “Jesus is our peace,” and explaining how, in Jesus’ body, all those who have come to him in faith are united in a mysterious but very real way to God and to each other by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Micah also had in mind a concrete and physical peace for Israel. In his prophecy, Micah spoke of deliverers the Good Shepherd would raise up to protect his flock from marauders, typified in the Assyrians.

The Dew of Blessing

But rather than be characterized by fierce warfare, Israel would become as much a blessing to the earth as the morning dew is to the fields.

Then the remnant of Jacob,
    surrounded by many peoples,
shall be like dew from the Lord,
    like showers on the grass,

Micah 5:7 (NRSV)

This was God’s intent from the beginning, when the Lord promised to Abraham that from him would come a people through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.

So there is a balance, here, in this future time. Israel will be the source of God’s blessing, as sweet and consistent as the daily dew. Yet Israel will also have the strength of a young lion, well able to overcome all enemies. So, it seems, this is not quite yet the end of the age, when all evil shall be expunged from the cosmos, but rather the time that comes right before it.

Purification

And to this end, during this time, the Lord will purge God’s people of all that has held them back from being truly united with God in full communion.

This time of purging and purification will be painful. There are times when to cut off from ourselves those wrongful things we love so deeply seems impossible. It takes the Lord to remove them from us, when you and I cannot find the wherewithal to let those things go, on our own. Micah enumerated what God intended to remove from the people:

  • 5:10, horses and chariots, the armaments of war, and perhaps all that war conjures up in the human spirit—force of power, domination, colonization, subduing of enemies, enslavement and butchery, and that mixture of violence and lust that so warps the spirit.
  • 5:11, cities and strongholds, and perhaps what makes it necessary to build barriers around cities, and makes cities so valuable to conquer and jealously protect.
  • 5:12, sorceries and soothsayers, the dark spiritual powers that belong to the realm of those beings adversarial to God and humankind. Beyond that, is the human desire to harness power and use it apart from God, independently of God and the wisdom of God, to fulfill personal desires, and always, inevitably, at the expense of others.
  • 5:13, images and pillars, that “you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands.” The people were enamored with their own creativity, ingenuity, artistry, and personal accomplishment. Their monuments, palaces, shrines, and perhaps even the holy temple itself on Mount Zion had become sources of personal pride, much in the spirit of the Tower of Babel.
  • 5:14, sacred poles, and the towns surrounding them, for the people continued to have a mixed religion, celebrating the festivals of most high God as well as participating in the rituals and rites surrounding Ba’al and Asherah worship. Particularly egregious was the implication that Ba’al and his consort were stand-ins for YHWH, as though the Lord were not the one God of the Shema.

Judgement of the Nations

The purification that comes with the refiner’s fire begins with God’s own people, then moves out into the rest of the world. The last verse in this chapter speaks of the judgment to come, as God will bring God’s justice on those nations that did not obey.

Centuries later, the apostle Peter would speak of this very phenomenon among God’s people, writing,

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?”

Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

1 Peter 4:17-19 (NRSV)

This is a hard saying for us, and yet, there it is. God is transforming all those who belong to the Lord into the character of Christ, and the process is painful, though necessary. It is God’s expressed intention to finally, one day, cleanse the entire cosmos of all that has gone wrong, and return all creation to the shalom of its origin.


[Sheep | Pixabay.com]

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