Commentary: Micah 5:2-5a Part 2
Micah 1:1 tells us that he prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah. This puts the outer limits of his dates at 742687 B.C. Over this lengthy time range the circumstances of Judah underwent considerable change. Israel, the northern kingdom, had become a vassal state to the all consuming Assyrian Empire. Assyria would conquer and destroy the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., killing many of its residents and scattering many others into exile throughout the far flung Assyrian Empire. The people of Judah knew that they were next. For two decades they lived in fear, not knowing how long it would be before the Assyrian juggernaut would inevitably consume them.
In 701 Sennacherib and the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem. They demanded surrender. The prophet Isaiah counseled the king of Judah, Hezekiah, neither to surrender nor to fight, but to let God handle the situation and that God would inspire Sennacherib to leave Judah and return to Assyria. 2 Kings 19 tells us that an angel of God killed 185,000 Assyrians in their camp that night and that Sennacherib abandoned his siege. Sennacherib did abandon the siege to send his troops to the other side of the Assyrian Empire to fight against the Babylonians. Judah was miraculously spared and lived in relative peace during the rest of the reign of Hezekiah.
We date some specific prophecies of Micah, including 5:25a, more precisely within this large time range. 5:3 with its hope for the return of the messiah's kindred was apparently prophesied after 722 B.C., when the kindred of Judah were exiled from the northern kingdom. 5:1a, "siege is laid against us," may refer to the siege of Jerusalem in 701. 5:5b evidences fear that Assyria might soon invade Judah, which would date the prophecy shortly before the miracle of 701.
Elements of Structure
Although the word "messiah" never appears in 5:25a, it is clearly a messianic prophecy. Facing the cruel reality of the Assyrian threat, the prophet expresses hope. He looks beyond the fearful circumstances of the present to a coming time of security safeguarded by the messiah.
The structure of this brief passage is that of a standard prophetic oracle written in Hebrew poetry. In Micah, as in many of the prophets, it is difficult to determine where one oracle starts and another ends. Micah has used the messenger formula in 4:6, indicating that the words of God are being spoken through the prophet in the first person. In 5:10 the messenger formula recurs indicating the beginning of a new oracle. Preachers might want to incorporate all of 4:65:9 into their understanding of this text, since it all appears to be one oracle.
Message and Exegesis
Micah appears to have been hoping for the coming of a new Davidic king who would bring peace and security to Judah and bring back home the Israelites who had been exiled by the Assyrians. Prophesying in a time of horrible fear of what might soon happen with an Assyrian invasion, Micah longs for the kind of physical security that will abolish those fears. He appears not to be thinking of spiritual peace or a spiritual messiah or life beyond death. He appears not to be thinking of anything that will happen 700 years after his prophecy but of things that need to happen soon.
Throughout the New Testament and throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have continually wrenched Old Testament prophecies from their historical contexts and interpreted them as being fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. This is particularly the case with messianic prophecies. Although the New Testament clearly validates this means of interpretation, the modern Christian preacher might want to include the original historical context of prophecies like Micah's in preaching these texts.
Our text begins with the statement that the messiah is to come from Bethlehem, a village in Judah about five miles southeast of Jerusalem. David came from Bethlehem and was anointed king there by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:113). The Hebrew word for "anointed one" is "messiah." Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:6 quotes from Micah 5:2 showing Jesus as fulfillment of the Micah prophecy. That Bethlehem is one of the "little clans of Judah" may emphasize the humility of the messiah. That his "origin is from of old" for Micah refers to the time of David but for Christians could refer to preexistence of Christ (John 1:15, 14).
V.3 implies the exile of the people of Israel but their return at the time of the coming of the messiah.
V.4 gives the messiah the image of a shepherd feeding his flock. The same image is used for God many times in the Old Testament, most notably Psalm 23. Some New Testament writers use it for Jesus (John 10:10; Hebrews 13:20). Like a shepherd the messiah will care for his sheep, and keep them safe and secure from predators. Although Old Testament messianic prophecies never say that the messiah will be the incarnation of God or the divine son of God, this one comes close in saying that the messiah will feed his flock in the "strength" and "majesty" of God.
V.5 says that the messiah "shall be the one of peace." This is far different from the idea of the warrior messiah seen elsewhere in the Old Testament (Psalms 2, 20, 45, 72, 89, 110, 132; Habakkuk 3:1315; Zechariah 9) and common during the lifetime of Jesus. The messiah will have the strength of God not to conquer but to bring peace. He will be like the messiah of Isaiah 9, "the Prince of Peace."
J. Christian Wilson