“Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Christmas morning is a time when kids all over the place are looking forward to waking up, going to wherever their tree happens to be, and laying their eyes on their big Christmas surprise. The bigger the better too. I remember a few Christmases when I was little where I had some big toy or another greeting me as I walked in the living room. As you start getting a little older, though, something happens. The toys tend to get a little smaller. Then they get a little smaller still. And the first few times you find something smaller – still exciting, but smaller – it hits a little like a slap in the face. Yet, as the old cliche goes, big things can come in small packages. This verse offers us a potent reminder of that truth. As we continue our Advent journey this morning, let’s talk about God’s tendency to work big things in unexpected ways.
Micah is one of those little, easily forgotten books of prophecy tucked in the middle of the Bible between the flashier “Major Prophets” and the New Testament everyone is in a hurry to get to anyway. Because of this, he often gets ignored entirely. Yet in the Scriptures, there is gold to be mined in some of the unlikeliest places. If all Scripture is truly God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that those who endeavor to follow Jesus faithfully can be thoroughly equipped for every good work, then there are not parts of it we should ignore.
Micah was a contemporary of the better-known prophet, Isaiah. Whereas Isaiah tended to focus his attention on the royal court of Judah and to speak from that platform, Micah was a commoner who God nonetheless used to accomplish great things. He thundered against the injustice and idolatry of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. He focused particularly on the poor leadership the people were receiving. People who are led poorly tend to do poorly. The people to whom God had given authority over His people were shirking their responsibilities and leading the people away from Him. He wasn’t happy about it.
The result was that the people of Israel were a mess. They were sinful and thoroughly committed to their idolatrous ways. And now they were going to pay the price for it. So much of Micah’s prophecy is about warning the people of the coming judgment for their unrelenting sinfulness. He warned Israel to the north that their destruction was nigh. He cautioned Judah to the south that unless they changed their ways and left the path Israel had been blazing, they would eventually meet a similar end.
In the midst of all this sin and chaos and judgment, though, God shifts gears quickly enough as to almost give us whiplash. He turns and promises one who will rule and bring peace. This one won’t be like the other rulers they have had. His origins will be old.
There are three things worth noticing here. Let’s take them in reverse order. For Micah’s original audience, the idea of the antiquity of the origins of this prophesied ruler was significant. For them, the past established the present. The more deeply rooted in the past something was, the more trustworthy it was considered to be. This is different from how we think now. We reject the past and are sick with chronological snobbery (the idea that the present is better than the past simply because it is the present). For Micah’s contemporaries, they looked to the past as a help and a guide. If a ruler had a long and respectably pedigree, he was more likely to be followed. In light of this, while Micah’s first hearers would have thought back to David, we should think back much further than that as we talked about on Tuesday. Jesus’ roots go all the way back to eternity past. He is well-established and worth following.
Second, God is concerned with how we are led. He may be the source of all the authority there is, and authority does not exist except where He has sanctioned it, but this does not mean the authority He gives is always used correctly. In fact, in far too many cases it is used terribly. And when this happens, we have the assurance from the Scriptures and history that He will eventually deal with the problem. There is a day coming when God’s people will finally have the leader we desire. There is a day coming when Jesus Himself will rule as king in peace and righteousness.
Third and of perhaps the greatest significance for us today, Micah tells us the source of this ruler. Today Bethlehem is famous for the obvious reason of being Jesus’ birthplace. Before that, it had the rather notable distinction of being David’s hometown. But beyond that, it was pretty much a nowhere town. Nobody went there for anything in particular. It wasn’t a big city. It didn’t have any sort of regional prominence. No one expected anything particularly significant to come from there. It was just Bethlehem. Yet God does some of the most incredible work with the most surprising beginnings. Just because something seems insignificant to us doesn’t mean God can’t still use it. In fact, the more humble something – or someone – is, the more likely they are to be used by God because then He gets all the credit for it.
Here’s the point: If we think we are someone, we are soon likely to find the world can operate just fine without us. The more convinced we are of our vaunted status, the more shocking that discovery will be. But when we are willing to be comfortable being faithful whether we get any credit or recognition or authority given to us for it or not, God is much more likely to use us in mighty ways to advance His kingdom. After all, when He entered the world, it wasn’t in a palace, it was in a stable. And the news was trumpeted from the heavens, but the only audience was a group of smelly shepherds that nobody wanted around. Let us be humble like our God and see what comes of it.