Third Week Of Advent
© 12.15.08 By D. Eric Williams
Who is this Micah who wrote concerning little Bethlehem and the everlasting ruler who would come from that town? Well, he was a prophet who spoke the word of the Lord in the days of "Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem" (Micah 1:1). And Micah said that out of Bethlehem would come an everlasting ruler in Israel.
The history of the founding of this town is unclear but it seems that it is was established as an Israelite town by either Caleb or a son of Caleb named Salma. He is described as a father of Bethlehem. Also Hur - a contemporary of Moses and in fact a craftsman of Moses who worked on the tabernacle - is also described as a father of Bethlehem. It seems that Hur is the forefather of those who established Bethlehem as an Israelite town.
Nevertheless, Bethlehem Ephratha (Bethlehem means "House of Bread" and Ephratha means "place of fruitfulness"), has a long history which predates the Israelite occupation of Canaan. We read about Jacob and his burial of Rachel after she died a little distance from Ephrath when he "buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem)" (Genesis 48:7). Yet it is not until the time of David that Bethlehem looms large in the history of Israel. Bethlehem is the genesis point for the Davidic line.
It is in Bethlehem that the love story of Ruth and Boaz takes place – the parents of Obed, grandparents of Jesse and great grand parents of King David. It is also where Samuel anointed David as King. Of course it is the region wherein David practiced his trade as a shepherd.
One interesting point concerning the town of Bethlehem is that tradition tells us that the descendants of Hur pursued the trade of weavers. As you recall Hur was a chief craftsman of Moses who was skilled in metal work, embroidery and indeed almost every type of handiwork. Well, the ancient tradition suggests that his descendants – including Jesse -- were weavers. This gives a bit of color - if you will - to the description of Goliath's spear as being as large as a weavers beam. The reason David wasn't a weaver was because the older sons would have taken over the family business and left David with the dregs, thus leaving him with the unenviable position of caring for the sheep.
During the reign of Saul, Bethlehem was occupied by a Philistine garrison. As you recall, it was during this time that David longed for a drink of water from the well of Bethlehem. In response, three of the mighty men –Adino, Eleazar and Shammah - broke through the Philistine lines and brought the water back to David. He refused to drink it however because it represented (so to speak), the blood of the men who had gone to get the water at the risk of their lives. I don't know about you, but I would have been insistent that David drink the water. After all if I risked my life to get someone a particular cup of well water I would be pleased as punch if they actually enjoyed the gift.
Later, Bethlehem was fortified by Rehoboam son of Solomon. Nonetheless the city remained very small. Indeed, after the exile there only 123 to 188 "children of Bethlehem" returned (Ezra 2:21, Nehemiah 7:26).
In the days of Constantine a church was founded on the spot where Jesus was supposedly born. This took place in about A.D. 330. And apparently Bethlehem remains largely Christian to this day.
Of course it is the place where the wise men found Jesus - as a toddler - in a house. It is also the site of the massacre of the innocents perpetuated by King Herod in his zeal to eliminate any claimant to the throne of Israel. We assume that this resulted in the death of probably 25 to 50 baby boys from birth to two years of age based upon the supposed size of the town.
So, out of little Bethlehem...
Comes An Eternal Ruler
Micah describes Bethlehem is so small that they were unable to muster a military unit of a thousand men. He says that "though you are little among the thousands of Judah" meaning that they were most likely unable to assemble the thousand men required for the typical military unit. You see, Israel would organize their military by thousands, 100s, tens - and each unit would have a commander.
So without even the requisite 1000 men for a typical military units, Bethlehem is not an influential town in Judah. This is although David is a "son of Bethlehem." You see, David's fame was not tied to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem. Or, if not Jerusalem then Hebron. Indeed, Bethlehem was of such little significance that later pretenders to the throne overlooked it when attempting to establish their legitimacy as a new king. Absalom went to Hebron to declare himself King (two Samuel 15:7 – 10). Later, his brother Adonijah attempted to declare himself as king in the Kidron valley just outside Jerusalem (1 Kings 1:9).
But no one attempted to establish their reign or announce their reign in Bethlehem. Bethlehem did not provide any aura of royalty; it was of no consequence in matters of state. Instead Bethlehem is a starting point for humility. David was taken out of Bethlehem because he was a humble man. I suppose you could say that Bethlehem engenders humility and those who come from Bethlehem are "sons of humility." Thus, humility is the birthplace of the Messiah's reign.
God says through the prophet Micah that it is "to me" that his ruler will look. In other words, his rule is not for personal gain or a matter of personal ambition. He is not attempting to advance a personal or party agenda. Instead, he is "to me" – to God and for God. That is why this ruler comes forth; to do the work and purpose of God. This is a key issue because unlike any other king this ruler does not have his own interests in mind. Nor does he have the interests of the people in mind. True, there is a benefit to the citizens of this particular reign but ultimately it is the interest of God or the purpose and glory of God that this everlasting ruler has in mind. Remember, Jesus, even on the eve of his brutal execution, confirmed that it was not his will but God's will that he had come to perform.
And yet he had come forth to be "ruler in Israel." We need to remember that this announcement is taking place hard on the heels of a prediction or perhaps we should simply say a statement that Israel is under the thumb of a foreign power. In verse one of Micah chapter 5 the prophet says that "they shall strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek." The northern kingdom of Israel had very likely been swept away by this time. It was in the reign of Hezekiah that the Assyrians came and wiped Israel off the map. The Assyrians then proceeded to invade Judah and threaten the city of Jerusalem. Clearly Israel had been struck with a rod on the cheek. Nevertheless Micah claims that there will be a ruler in Israel. He is one who will not be subject to the winds of change. His rule will not waver or bend in the face of opposition. His power is not subject to circumstance and political machinations. Why is this? Because he is "from everlasting." Literally he is from the days of eternity.
And yet we are talking about one who is born in Bethlehem. How can it be that this one is from the days of eternity? Well, eternity belongs to the everlasting son. And this everlasting son was clothed with humanity. When we consider Jesus Christ we must consider both Jesus the man and the everlasting son who is very God of very God. We apply the name Jesus Christ to the eternal son but we must not lose sight of the fact that the eternal son is true deity. He is one of and the same with Yahweh. Thus the prophet Isaiah reminds us:
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. ..."You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:3, 10-11).
And again in Isaiah 45:21-22:
Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
We must never lose sight of the fact salvation is carried out by God alone.
In his justice God determined that salvation would depend upon payment for a breach of covenant. This was a covenant of grace that was enacted in view of future satisfaction – and this on the part of mankind. I mentioned last week that God was "unable" to fulfill the duty of the kinsman redeemer. Of course I meant that in his sovereign will he had determined that he would not be able to do such a thing. Obviously, he is the one who established the validity of the role of kinsman redeemer. He illustrated the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer in the law; we must remember that the kinsman redeemer in the Mosaic law is but a type.
However, it is required that a true kinsman, a true man pay the debt of failure to fulfill the covenant stipulations. In other words a life is required to satisfy the debt of mankind that was "rung up" because of his sin and covenant unfaithfulness.
This covenant of grace was established in full knowledge that the failure of man required a future "settling up" – a life payment. It would be like moving into a house with no down payment and then making only token payments - interest only payments - with the understanding that a balloon payment loomed in the future. Do you see how it works? There was never any intention that man apart from God would make adequate payment. It is not possible and it was never possible. Instead, God graciously entered into the contract (unilaterally really), with an eye on future satisfaction. The idea is that man was allowed to enjoy the benefits of the covenant relationship now but made to realize that a payment was due down the road.
The various administrations of the covenant were designed to reveal the incalculable value of the covenant relationship and thus the incomparable value of that future payment. And the old covenant sacrifices were merely "payment of interest" and never designed to reduce the principle.
Hence the eternal son came down to live among us. Indeed it was God literally living among mankind, like us in every way. He was not wearing a costume, not draped in the skin of a man, not a robot animated by an alien power but very God of very God – the full and absolute nature of God joined with the full and absolute nature of man in a single person without any confusion of the two. Therefore God truly knows our condition. He is not a mere outside observer but he is one who has lived among us and has been subject to all the conditions of human existence.
Therefore this "son of Bethlehem"" is man and God, two distinct natures which found a union in Bethlehem.
This is the reason that Israel was "given up" so that all of the nation would be reduced to a low condition. There would be no king arising from Jerusalem because no vital dynasty remained. The entire nation is reduced so that Bethlehem would be as likely as any other place for a king to arrives. There was no hope apart from the coming of the Eternal one. In other words this is why the nation was given up. But only until she who was in labor gives birth.
Is this a reference to Mary the mother of Jesus? Well, yes and no. In order to better understand the purpose of the words of Micah, let's look at Revelation Chapter 12. Here we read:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
The woman in Revelation 12 represents the people of God. Mary in a sense personified or "gave a face" to the people of God.
Micah tells us that the people of God or the bride of God labored for centuries and travailed for generations, looking for and hoping for the Messiah. And Jesus came forth from the Jews; he was brought forth, so to speak, from the womb of Israel. The Apostle Paul says that from the Jews, "according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God" (Rom. 9:5). We might say that it was "mother Israel" who brought forth this son of Bethlehem, this son of humility. Mary was the one who actually and literally gave birth to Jesus Christ yet she was merely a representative of Israel. Indeed she was the face of the old covenant people.
So these words of Micah are both symbolic and literal. The symbolism finds its fulfillment in a literal birth of Jesus Christ the offspring of the virgins womb.
And so the eternal ruler...
Gathers A Remnant
The results of this eternal ruler coming for us is a gathering together a remnant.
The idea of a remnant in Israel has a long history. Indeed we can go all the way back to the days of Jacob and Joseph when Joseph tells his brothers that all of the things which took place were designed to ensure the survival of a remnant. Hezekiah cried out to God that he might preserve a remnant from the Assyrian juggernaut (2 Kings 19:4). Micah himself assured Israel that God would gather a remnant and "put them together like sheep of the fold like a flock in the midst of the pasture" (Micah 2:12). The apostle Paul discusses the phenomenon of the remnant in some detail in Romans chapter 9 through 11. The fact of the matter is that there is no time in history when there is not a remnant. In other words there is no time in human history when all members of the visible Church are simultaneously members of the invisible church; at no time in human history will the entire visible assembly of God be made up only of people who are elect. You see it's not merely membership or etniticity or participation in the sacraments which makes one a member of the elect of God. You may possess the covenant sign of circumcision or baptism or you may participate in a covenant meal of Passover or the Lord's supper but that doesn't mean that you are among the elect. Certainly if you partake of the sacraments you are liable to the dictates of the covenant. And certainly if you claim membership in the household of God then you are placed under the burden of the covenant stipulations. But unless one is elect - unless a person is a new creation - they are not among the remnant. As Benjamin Warfield said concerning the apostle Paul in the book of Romans:
St. Paul represents that in rejecting the mass of contemporary Jews God has not cast off his people, but acting only as he had frequently done in former ages, is filling his promise to the kernel while shelling off the husk. Throughout the whole process of pruning and ingrafting which he traces in the dealings of God with the olive–tree which he has once for all planted, saint Paul sees God, in accordance with his promise, saving his people. (Warfield, Works, II:52).
So Micah says that when this eternal one is revealed in Bethlehem a remnant will be gathered and will return to the children of Israel. Now, we must remember that Israel is a term that is applied to both the whole and the remnant alike. This is what Paul does when he says that all who are Israel are not Israel. This can be confusing but the point is that the coming of the eternal one will draw in the remnant. They will see him for who he is and will be wooed by God's Holy Spirit to submit to the rule and the reign of the eternal King.
Isaiah who was prophesying about the time of Micah says that the one who comes out of Bethlehem is the root of Jesse and will stand as a banner to the people. People rally around a banner. They flock to it finding commonality with those who likewise rally to the banner of the eternal ruler.
This remnant includes both Jew and Gentile alike. Open your Bible to Amos 9:11 – 12. The prophet says that:
"In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name," declares the LORD who does this.
This is the passage that James quotes at the Jerusalem Council as recorded in Acts 15. James quotes the Septuagint version of the text which makes it clear that the remnant is not determined by ethnical standards. It is a reminder that the remnant is a term which applies to any person who follows the everlasting ruler. He does not mean just a portion of the children of Israel; it means a portion retrieved from all of humanity. Thus the remnant is a term that is not limited to any particular administration of the covenant.
So, the eternal ruler gathers a remnant and...
Promises Eternal Peace
The benefit – I suppose we could say – of the rule of this son of Bethlehem, a son of humility, is eternal peace. Micah says that he will stand to feed the flock. To stand is to serve or to wage war. To sit is to judge or to idle away one's time. So the eternal ruler will stand to serve and to fight for his flock. Indeed he will fight to protect them and to help and serve them rather than take a position of ease. Jesus reminds us that he came among us as one who serves; hence his description as one who stands to feed the flock.
It is interesting how closely the idea of Christ as the shepherd and his birth in Bethlehem are tied together. Here again we see that he is a shepherd who comes to feed his flock. We think of this even when we see pictures of modern Bethlehem and the shepherds who frequent the fields which surround the city.
But what does it mean that he will feed the flock? Well, this means he gives them nourishment. It means that he opens their eyes and hearts to understand the things of the kingdom. He feeds them by word, in doctrine and teaching and explanation along with application of God's truth. He feeds his flock by renewing their minds and showing them how they can embrace the mind of God and make it their own.
Additionally, who wants to truly follow him must feed upon his blood and his flesh. To do this means that Christ must permeate all of our life. It means that we must be wholly given over to him and wholly taking in Jesus Christ. It means an absolute commitment and a life permeated by Christ and his rule.
The covenant meal attests to this. We receive the bread and wine which are true representations of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. They are not an incarnation of Jesus Christ but his presence in the elements is real. Thus our taking and eating and taking and drinking powerfully symbolize our absolute surrender to Jesus Christ. We are in a covenant relationship with this eternal ruler and in that relationship he must permeate our very being so that all of our thoughts words and deeds express Jesus Christ. Thus, the everlasting ruler stands to feed his flock.
Micah says that he does this in the stength of God. In other words he has a supernatural power and it is a supernatural relationship not a mere human contract. If this everlasting ruler were to establish a simple human relationship based upon human effort it would amount to nothing. Instead he brings a heavenly energy to the equation.
And he does so in the majesty of God. This is a kingly role and not without its pomp and circumstance. This is not to say that we throw out the idea of humility. We must combine the idea of Christ the "son of humility" and the truth of God's awesome majesty. When Micah tells us that the eternal ruler will stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord and the majesty of the name of the Lord his God he reminds us that this one is divine. He is true deity – a heavenly man.
No mere human reason can explain who this everlasting ruler is and what he accomplishes. No simple thoughts of man can explain the doctrine of this one who stands to feed his flock. It requires heavenly wisdom – the mind of God. It requires understanding and a penetrating insight that is unattainable by human means. This everlasting ruler is no mere conjurer but is one who displays the power of Yahweh. This is the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
The result is that the remnant shall abide in peace. The Hebrew says that they will sit and be at ease. There will be no more wandering. Truly the remnant will have no desire to wander. They will have found the shepherd they have always longed for.
You see, in this everlasting ruler the promise of rest in the land is finally fulfilled. Remember I said last week that when the promises of God find fulfillment in the old covenant administration that fulfillment is simply a type. I mentioned that the promise of a son on the throne forever given to David found its fulfillment in the dynasty of the Davidic kings. But this is just a type. Indeed that type fell short. Likewise the fulfillment of a life of security in the physical land of Canaan was a type. This promise found fulfillment in the days of Solomon and according to scripture even in the days of Joshua. Yet this fulfillment was a type. And, as a type, it fell short of the absolute fulfillment. Every type finds its absolute fulfillment in the antitype. The promise of a Davidic dynasty found its absolute fulfillment in the antitype Jesus Christ. Likewise the land of promise finds its absolute fulfillment in the antitype Jesus Christ.
Look over at Micah 4:3–5. There we read:
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.
This is simply a restatement of the promise. The goal of the land promise was not a mere possession of the land but a life of peace. In other words it was a promise of a life of self-government under God and right relationship with the Creator.
Just as eternal life is not mere unending existence but everlasting relationship, likewise the land promise is not simply possession of a particular piece of real estate but a life of right relationship with God and blessing in him.
If we look at the first chapter of John where Jesus met Nathaniel we see that Christ apparently has this portion of Micah in mind when he greats the "true Israelite.". In John's Gospel we read:
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:47-51).
In the first chapter of John's Gospel Christ reveals himself as the fulfillment of the land of promise, the true house of God and the true gateway to heaven. This is no mistake. What Jesus means to accomplish when he tells Nathaniel that he saw him under the fig tree is draw the mind of his listeners to covenant blessing of the promised land. In fact, Jesus calls Nathaniel a true Israelite, meaning a member of the remnant.
Thus this eternal ruler, the shepherd who stands to feed the flock, provides the environment for abiding. This peace can be realized in any geographic location. It is the shepherd, the everlasting ruler who provides the peace not a physical location on the globe. Christ is the true land.
All of this is possible because the everlasting ruler is great. He rules all and he fulfills all. You might even say that he "absorbs" all.
Look over at 1 Corinthians 3:21–23:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Certainly the context is specific; Paul tells the people in Corinth that they should not boast in mere men. They should not boast in Apollos or Paul but their boasting must be in Jesus Christ. Paul is telling them that it is wrong to boast in temporal or material things. Likewise it is foolish for us to become excited about a temporal or material fulfillment of God's promises. No doubt, there are material and physical ramifications of God's covenant blessings. But to place hope in the temporal realm is to encourage a false hope.
Land may be taken, families may be lost, financial means may be wiped out and yet Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.
Therefore, in Christ all of God's promises are yes. All of the ministers of God, all the benefits of God's relationships, all the blessings of God's actions are ours in Jesus Christ.
And these blessings of peace are everywhere and anywhere for those who are in Jesus Christ. Even to the ends of the earth – even there the peace of the everlasting ruler is evident to his flock. Even there the peace of God that passes all understanding is upon us.
God's activities always benefit his people. Obviously God does what he does for his own glory but it is not off the mark to say that God's plan and the outworking of his will always brings benefit to his people.
It requires eyes of faith to see the blessing and the wonder of an eternal ruler out of Bethlehem. It requires eyes of faith to recognize omnipotence wed to humility, experiential understanding met with unlimited knowledge in this son of Bethlehem, a son of humility. Frankly I'm not going to take time to spell all of this out; I encourage you to meditate upon these things.
Moreover, as part of the remnant I encourage you to praise God for his mercy and to do your best to cultivate the new creation that you might confirm your membership in the remnant. As you work out your salvation, as you cultivate the new creation you will find that your assurance of salvation is strengthened. In my experience those who have a lack of assurance are those who are unwilling to live a life of obedience to God's Word.
I also want to conclude by reminding you that you enjoy eternal peace in this one who stands to feed his flock. Our great shepherd of the sheep, that son of Bethlehem, cares for us deeply. He is our majestic King and is able to provide true security for us no matter where we are or what circumstance we may find our self in. He is the one who mediates a right relationship with Almighty God.
Let us praise God this advent season for the miracle of Bethlehem. It is a miracle that is so much more then the birth of a baby named Jesus Christ. It is a miracle of the covenant confirmed and blessings bestowed through the life and ministry of that baby in a manger who grew up to be the man on the cross.