Sermon Ideas For Micah 5:2-5a Part 1
In the first verse from the reading of Micah (5:2), the prophet reports YHWH-God addressing the Judah clan of Ephrathah situated at Bethlehem. This was the clan of David's father, Jesse (read: 1 Sam 17:12; Ruth 4:11) YHWH-God, through his prophet, promises a monarch for Israel who will trace back from ancient days, from of old, undoubtedly to the glorious and idealized rule of David, covenanted with God forever. (1 Sam 7:12) For Americans, such statements are more easily stated and repeated than understood. The reason for this is that Americans, like much of the Western world, have never lived under functioning monarchs. We have no feel for kings, and have little understanding of what it means to have a king, to be controlled by a king. A king had the universally recognized right to do as he pleases with all persons and things within his realm. His subjects affirmed and defended the king's right to do as he wished. This presumably redounded to the good of all. Ultimately, there are only royal rights; all other rights derive from the king's permission, which may likewise be revoked.
Now what is involved in the promise of Micah is a radical change in kingly governing style. What people in the past expected of their monarchs is well described in 1 Samuel 8:11-17. There the king is described as one who will "take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves." The closest we can come to appreciate this in U.S. experience is to imagine a government run by the Pentagon and the IRS alone, with the Pentagon having the right to control any and all persons as it sees fit. All this is done in the name of our favorite person chosen to rule over us by birth within a traditionally royal family, hence chosen in fact by God alone. The monarch, indeed, had as his main foreign policy task, to defend his people, that is to make war every spring. (2 Sam 11:1) For this purpose he needed resources. Hence the analogy of a world controlled by one person (legitimated by birth), with the resources, concerns and total interests of the Pentagon and the IRS, is fairly on target.
During the time of this oracle, the kingly system obviously was not working. In the prophet's judgment, that was due to the evil done by the people and their leaders. Thus the present experience of YHWH-God's people was an experience of God's absence. YHWH abandons his people for a time, until the coming of a promised ruler, when Israel will be reconstituted. The promised king's ruling style will be that of a shepherd, with God's strength and honor, resulting in security for the flock and honor for the king. The outcome is peace--the presence of all things necessary for a meaningful human existence.
Thus Micah's image of YHWH-God here is that of a provident God, who sees to the fortunes of his people, but theirs alone. The rest of the world, though under God's control, really serves as setting for the people. What YHWH-God requires of his people is a response to his direction. Everything unfolds as entirely God's doing, yet also as entirely the people's doing. God abandons his people until the coming of his chosen ruler; yet the people too have chosen to abandon God. Of this Micah is quite sure, since that is exactly what he had witnessed. He accuses the people of having abandoned God. The fortunes of the people unfold as negatively as they do because the people choose so; yet God oversees his people and holds out to their heirs the promise of a shepherd-king who will be honored yet provide his subjects with security and peace. This is Micah's scenario, based on a provident God's concern and care for his own.
Micah's "right time" for all this to happen is "when she who is in travail has brought forth." (Mic 5:3) It seems this reference to a childbearing female links Micah to the reading from Luke. Luke presents Mary as the pregnant one, soon to be in travail and soon to bring forth. The role of her child is security giving (apotropaic). She can travel alone from Galilee to Judea without fear for her life or her honor (Lk 1:39) for the fetus guarantees her safety. This feature is recognized by Elizabeth's fetus and by Elizabeth herself. (Lk 1:41-45) On what basis can Luke make such observations? From Jesus' (and John's) subsequent career. All descriptions of infancy in antiquity were based upon the adult roles of their protagonists. There is no reason to believe Jesus' situation was any different. Similarly all prophetic descriptions of infancy of those chosen for a role by God are based upon the requirements of the adult fulfillment of those roles. The prophet can speak thus of the one from Bethlehem Ephrathah, because he knows what is required in someone performing exactly what David did.
Although Matthew is not part of this year's lectionary, the author(s) of the first gospel sees Jesus' birth in Bethlehem as fulfilling God's promise in Micah 5:2 (Mt 2:6): Jesus is to be ruler in Israel. Indeed, as the chief priests with the scribes and elders witness, of course unwittingly: "He is king of Israel!" (Mt 27:42) It is his origins that are from of old, from ancient days. as his genealogy clearly indicates. (Mt 1:1-17)
Advent focuses on the Christian hope that the coming of Jesus as Messiah with power results in his being honored and in our having a secure existence in peace. This hope was articulated from of old in prophets like Micah, for Israel. With Jesus as Messiah to come, the Christian Advent urges us to pray that this be forthcoming for humankind.
Bruce J. Malina