He has shown you, O man, what is good,
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
This is probably the most familiar passage from the prophet, Micah, contemporary of Isaiah, who prophesied in the 8th and early 7th century BC. during the reigns of [Uzziah]*, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Isaiah 1:1; Micah 1:1.
Like virtually all the prophets, Micah’s message is judgment because of the sins of the house of Israel. Micah 1:5. But in the midst of this message of judgment, there are powerful statements of hope, promises of deliverance from sin and the provision of righteous leadership. That sounds like Good News! Let’s take a look.
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
If this seems familiar, it is virtually the same as Isaiah 2:2-4, some of the words on the UN building in New York City. It seemed impossible for Israel in the days when this was prophesied. It seems impossible now in these days of Isis, Iran, North Korea, Russia as the nations of the world are just as set on war as a means to greater glory. Has anything really changed? Efforts toward peace are commendable, but will not be achieved by the nations meeting in New York.
But there is more, pointing to the one who will bring peace to the world, one of the most pinpoint prophecies fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth
Do you see how this is fulfilled in Jesus?
Israel’s despair will be lifted only when she who is in labor bears a son; her hope tied to the birth of a specific baby. And the place, Bethlehem, is specifically named. …out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel. Bethlehem is a most unlikely place for greatness to originate. It was David’s hometown a few miles from Jerusalem, and before that, the place of heartbreak for Jacob, where Rachel was buried. But there is a double reference here as the description is added, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” What does this mean? old, Hebrew qedem, and ancient times, Hebrew olam, is used for great antiquity or eternity. “strong evidence that Micah expected a supernatural figure”. **
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, magi came from “the east” to worship. They went to Jerusalem for information about the king of the Jews. From Matthew 2:4-6, we know that Micah 5 was the source for the information that Bethlehem was to be the place of birth for the Messiah, the coming righteous king. Yet, born in Bethlehem, his origins were from an earlier, ancient time. How can that be? Just a descendant of someone from the ancient past, David or even Abraham? It’s not that simple as Jesus Himself put this into perspective in his discussion with the religious leaders, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am.” John 8:58
What does this mean? Jesus claimed existence prior to Abraham from 2000 years prior. And his choice of words, I am, are unmistakable. Jesus claimed to be God, from the most ancient of times, beyond time, from eternity. Thus Micah gives us one of the most important prophecies concerning Messiah. He is both man, from Bethlehem, and God , from eternity. This is another prophecy alongside Isaiah 7:14 of the Incarnation, God taking on humanity.
Like the other prophets, there are reminders of God’s past deliverance.
My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
Micah 6:3, 4
But deliverance from Egypt, the rescue/salvation story of the Old Testament, pointed to a much greater rescue, and a greater rescuer than Moses, the baby in Bethlehem, who came to be the Savior and King, God incarnate. This is the Gospel foretold by the prophet, Micah.
What about the more familiar verses of Micah 6:8, to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God? How does that fit into the story? Trying to reform ourselves and the world to bring justice, mercy, and humility is all good, but destined to fail if we approach it from that direction. It is the transformation of the heart brought about by faith in Jesus and what Jesus called being born again, that will produce Micah’s famous triple. These are evidences that Jesus has changed our hearts.
The closing verses of Micah are filled with God’s grace, fulfilled in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, initially given to Israel, but ultimately to the whole world, to all who will believe in Christ.
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
You will be faithful to Jacob,
and show love to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath to our ancestors
in days long ago.
* Uzziah is included in Isaiah, but not in Micah. Isaiah apparently started his ministry in the latter years of Uzziah for it was In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD seated on a throne, high and exalted… Isaiah 6:1 Otherwise, Micah and Isaiah had parallel ministries and most likely knew each other.
**This is explained by Thomas McComiskey in his treatment on Micah in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7, Daniel and the Minor Prophets.