Skip to content
Dec 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 9, 2012 – Micah 5:2-5

The Second Christmas Candle

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
To little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.
Micah 5:2

INTRO: It isn’t typical for a Christian community as informal as ours to observe the season of Advent

That is, adopting a practice of formally preparing ourselves for Christmas
– but I’m finding an unexpected benefit
– when I feel the pressures of our consumer culture, returning to Advent helps me reorient myself to what matters most

The theme for the second Sunday of Advent, is Bethlehem
– this is the second candle that is lighted in the darkness of winter

We’re going to track a theme in Micah that builds to chapter 5

The way Micah introduces himself is unique among the prophets
– he connects himself with a place – his village, “Micah of Moresheth”
• most common, “the son of”
• Amos tells where he’s from, but links to his profession

With his first words, he calls not only people to hear, but also a place, “earth”
– it is not unusual for God to call the earth and sky as witnesses in his court
• but it is a reference to place in a passage that is full of references to places
• even God, in Micah’s opening announcement, is coming from “His place” (1:3)
– as God descends, his presence changes the topography of the land
• “high places,” “mountains” and “valleys”–more places
– why is God on the move? because of rebellion and sin (1:5)
• Micah pinpoints two locations of these crimes: Samaria and Jerusalem
• capital of Israel and capital of Judah, respectively

Historically, the prophets saw Judah follow in Israel’s sinful footsteps into idolatry and devotion to pagan gods
– the metaphor Micah uses is that Judah had become infected by Israel’s illness
• v. 9, “It has reached the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem”
– notice this sense of movement to a specific place
Right from the start, Micah gives us a key to decoding his prophecy:
– he has a message and he is going to use geographical space to tell it

Am I making this up or is it really here in his writing?

In verse 10, Micah says, “Tell it not in Gath” – a famous line from David’s lament over the death of King Saul
– Gath was a Philistine city close to Micah’s village (v. 14)
– beginning with “Beth-le-aphrah” (“house of dust”), Micah begins making a play on words using each of the city names he lists
• for example, “roll yourself in the dust”
• he does this seven more times, down to verse 15
○ the Hebrew names and their meanings are somewhat obscure in the text, but we get a clear idea of what Micah is doing
○ he is using these places to make a point–i.e., the calamities that will fall on villages and their inhabitants when God is on the move

Also in these verses, as Israel’s sin came all the way to gates of Jerusalem,
– so the calamity will come to Jerusalem’s gates (v. 12)
• by bringing us to these gates two times, Micah emphasizes its importance
• the gate is where everything enters the city
○ it was also where city leaders gathered to hold court
– then, in verse 13, he mentions the “daughter of Zion” (the ultimate place)
• “daughter/s” sometimes refers to villages in the vicinity of Jerusalem
• but is also refers to the people living in Zion

Turning our attention to Zion we see an interesting development

Zion is another name for Jerusalem
-what makes the word Zion special, is that it’s God’s name for his city
• Zion is God’s vision – the place where he would dwell among his people on earth
○ a place of prosperity and peace
– Zion is an ideal, a possibility, a dream
• Jerusalem is a religious center and political capital
• Zion is a spiritual community devoted to the will of God
– Zion is the “ultimate” place – spiritually more than geographically

But Zion had failed its destiny – it had been misruled by its leaders
– it became emblematic of exploitation and oppression (3:10)
– so God would erase Zion and start all over again (3:12)

When Zion becomes its true self, nations will stream to it,

For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem

– God would retrieve his broken people,
• bring them to Zion and “reign over them” (4:6-7)
– then Zion would recover its former power and glory (4:8)

Things are starting to look up, right?
– Micah paints this picture of God’s dream city, up and running
– but there’s a hitch

Zion is a dream at this point, it was not yet a reality

It was in the process of “becoming”

Writhe and labor to give birth,
Daughter of Zion,
Like a woman in childbirth

What comes next is shocking
– to create Zion, the people in Jerusalem must leave

For now you will go out of the city,
Dwell in the field,
And go to Babylon.
There you will be rescued

– nations would take advantage of Judah’s vulnerability and “gloat over Zion” (4:11)

But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD (4:12)

• when daughter of Zion has their day, God’s people will rule the nations (13)

Chapter 4 ends in suspense

The tension between the present and future, between sin and salvation,  and shame and glory
– we hold our breath, waiting to see what will happen next
• waiting to see how God plans to restore Zion
• waiting for instructions about what we’re supposed to do to make it happen

But Micah suddenly drops Zion from his story
– he has nothing more to say about Zion in the last three chapters

I’ve been joking with Barbara regarding a current media cliche
– in following a criminal investigation, it goes something like this,
“But what would happen next, no one could have seen coming”
– the cliche actually works here

But as for you,
Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel

• Israel’s future lay in the hands of this coming ruler
• and this ruler was going to come from Bethlehem

So there is all this build up to Zion, only to end up in this little, insignificant dot on the map

It would seem that Bethlehem was Judah’s best-kept secret

Small enough to go unnoticed – too small to be listed in guide books
– not a center of commerce, no political significance
– it’s like driving through backwoods of Maryland or W. Virginia and seeing sign, “George Washington slept here”
• the sign on the road off the main highway could have read, “King David lived here” or “Rachel was buried here”
○ nothing else about it was noteworthy
○ it’s amazing that Micah’s use of spatial references descends from Zion to Bethlehem
– all these geographical places have led us to one particular place and one particular person

We find a theme in Bethlehem that permeates story of Jesus

Not only is Bethlehem insignificant,
– but the ruler who came from there was born in a stable
• for a crib, he was placed in a food trough
– the whole story of Jesus is one of unrecognized majesty and greatness
• why did Judas have to kiss Jesus in the garden? (Mk. 14:44)
• in order to identify him — otherwise, the mob would not have been able to recognize Jesus from any of the other disciples
○ his true nature was so buried in our humanity, he cannot be distinguished from one of us

This is the “hidden life” of Christ (Col. 2:3)
– we also learn to live the hidden life (Col. 3:3)
• in revealing himself to us through Jesus, God has placed his treasure in “jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7)

CONC: In Micah’s use of geographical space, he also makes reference to personal spaces

There is a negative example in chapter 2
– people “scheming iniquity” on their beds before they go to sleep (v. 1)
• what they “covet” and “seize” are also spatial, “fields” and “houses”

There is a positive example in chapter 4
– regarding the people of Judah in the day that Zion is a reality,

Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid . . .

• a picture of tranquil repose in the shade of their fruitful vineyards and orchards

In the same way, I think we can personalize space — i.e., Bethlehem
– this little, insignificant village reveal qualities of the hidden life

– we all want to be noticed
• but attracting attention has a downside – it’s easy to become a target
• humility is being okay with it when we are overlooked
○ it is being devoted to something greater than ourselves
○ it is being content with the fact that God knows us

– being able to reduce the many surplus things of our lives to the one thing that is necessary (Lk. 10:41-42; Php. 3:13-14)
• resist the pressure of our culture and all the stuff it tells us we must have
○ simplifying our lives mostly consists in learning to say “No” (to more activities, more stuff, more obligations)
• otherwise, we create spaces in which we cannot survive

Arise and go,
For this is no place of rest
(Micah 2:10)

○ when we focus on the one thing, we find freedom to enjoy life

– willing to wait on God
• waiting on God doesn’t mean wring our hands or pacing
○ it is looking at him, watching him, enjoying him
• sometimes, if we’re patient regarding a bad thing, it turns out to be a good thing

We can find complete happiness in our little, insignificant “Bethlehem” lives,
– because, humble as they are, Jesus makes himself at home here


Leave a comment
  1. Ed Northen / Dec 13 2012

    I am using Advent as focus for my time in solitude and silence. The three main themes are, God who has always been, The incarnation of God into humankind and history and the future coming of God. This has allowed me to focus so that I might allow God’s Spirit to move and take me to new places. Used in this way Advent is not a legal obligation I am required to fulfill but a springboard into the presence and mysteries of God. I say light another candle. Below is a poem I wrote which came to me in these times of silence and solitude. it is called Incarnation. Blessings to you (Chuck) and Barbara from Idaho.


    Light splits
    Collected darkness

    The rules
    Of physics

    It’s radiance

    It delays

    From time
    Or form

    As if
    Something former

    Or perhaps
    Portending something

    A transformation

    A uniting

    Of Origin

    The art
    Of becoming

     copyright Ed Northen

  2. Ingrid / Dec 22 2012

    Ed, man of wind, water, earth and sky, brightening the world, with words of light.

    May the spirit of God continue to open your eyes to all that is wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us.

Leave a comment