Saturday, November 19, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (12)

The last five verses of Micah 4 and the first verse of chapter 5 contain two very different sets of instructions, both directed to the “daughter of Zion”, which we have established is a collective designation for the men and women descended, however distantly, from those Jews whose national identity was epitomized by the city of Jerusalem. Other than a single reference to the “daughter of Zion” by David in Psalm 9, all uses of this phrase in scripture come from a 230-year snippet out of Israel’s extended history.

This being the case, it would not be the least bit unreasonable to conclude Psalm 9 is prophetic, and speaks of the same subject matter with which all these later prophets are concerned. Even a brief scan of the psalm demonstrates this to be true.

We will come back to that.

The Daughter of Zion

The 230-year period during which the prophets employed this expression began with the end of the northern kingdom and terminated with the ministry of the prophet Zechariah. Jeremiah used the phrase “daughter of Zion” eleven times, Isaiah seven, Micah four, Zechariah two and Zephaniah one. All addressed Jerusalem during one of two periods during which they were (or will be) under the discipline of God: (1) prior to (and into) the Babylonian captivity; and (2) during the great tribulation. The former time of affliction ended in years of captivity, the latter will end in triumphant glory, as Christ returns and establishes his kingdom.

The logical question to ask is “Why are these two sets of instructions in Micah 4 so very different from one another?” The logical answer is that Micah is addressing not just one of these groups of the children of Zion, but both in their turn. One of these things is not like the other.

Micah 4:9-10 — Writhe and Groan

“Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.”

The first instruction to the daughter of Zion is “writhe and groan”. Micah is addressing the Judeans of his day on through the following century. Judah was entering a period when first Assyria then Babylon would besiege it, and during which its continued existence as a recognizable nation would appear imperiled.

The Assyrian Siege

Conditions in Jerusalem during the invasion of Sennacherib were dire. The Assyrians had taken all the other fortified cities in Judah. Only Jerusalem remained. Sennacherib’s emissary warned the Judeans that if they held out, they were doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine. Starvation was a real possibility. Samaria took three years to fall. Jerusalem might take longer, but apart from divine intervention, the ending was just as inevitable.

Yet God would respond to Hezekiah’s desperate prayer. The end would come for Jerusalem, but not on this occasion, and not to this besieger. Isaiah gave the king this message for Sennacherib:

“She despises you, she scorns you — the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you — the daughter of Jerusalem. Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the heights? Against the Holy One of Israel!”

Sennacherib had gone too far. The angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians, and the siege ended. However, bear in mind that during this very same period Micah was ensuring Judah knew that they were only receiving a reprieve. “Writhe and groan,” he preached. Babylon would succeed where Assyria had failed.

The Babylonian Siege

2 Kings 25 tells the story of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in a paragraph or two, but we get most of the grim details about the conditions in Jerusalem during the siege from Jeremiah, who lived through them. The siege lasted a year and a half and resulted in famine and disease so severe that the king and his soldiers eventually fled the city, only to be immediately captured. The city was burned, its leaders, priests and great men taken to Babylon or executed, and only the poor left behind to care for the land.

Prior to deserting his people, King Zedekiah displayed little in the way of leadership, making the words “Is there no king in you?” eerily accurate. At one point he implied to Jeremiah that he lived in fear of his own officials. Considering both Israel and Judah had assassinated their kings from time to time, this was probably prudent. Jeremiah consistently counseled surrender, knowing both from direct revelation and from the prophecies of Micah and Isaiah that God’s purposes could only be served and his people blessed and restored by accepting his chastening with humility. No rescue or redemption could be effected until the people of Judah cried out to the Lord in repentance. Continued resistance would only bring on the sword, famine and pestilence.

Rescue and Redemption

Judah’s exile would last seventy years, a revelation given to Jeremiah and appealed to in prayer by Daniel when the period of discipline had run its course. Micah anticipates this in verse 10: “You shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.” The elders of Jeremiah’s day remembered Micah’s words even though a century had passed; they even saved his life on one occasion.

So there was hope to be had for Judah. Micah foretold it, and Jeremiah detailed it. He instructed his people, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” The Lord would rescue and redeem them in Babylon. The book of Esther describes the salvation of the Jewish people from certain extinction under the Persians. Esther lived in Susa, but Babylon was a significant city in the Persian Empire, and many Jews still lived there in the time of Esther.

But all that was well in the future. Until Jeremiah’s counsel was heeded, “writhe and groan” was the order of the day.

Micah 4:11-5:1 — Arise and Thresh

“Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, ‘Let her be defiled, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.’ But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples; and shall devote their gain to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.”

A Future Siege

Jerusalem has been besieged repeatedly throughout her history. We have considered two famous sieges today, but there have been many others, including the Roman siege of AD70. Here is yet another: “Siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.” This siege is future, and is not laid against Jerusalem by one great world empire like Babylon or Assyria, but rather by “many nations” assembled against Israel.

It’s interesting that Micah speaks of a judge and not a king being struck on the cheek. The Hebrew is šāpaṭ, or law-giver, sometimes a reference to God himself. Perhaps the suggestion is that in surrounding Jerusalem, these nations are insulting the God of Israel’s remnant, much as Assyria did during the reign of Hezekiah. But the consequences of this insult against God will be much greater for the invaders. Revelation speaks of blood as high as a horse’s bridle (about four feet) “outside the city” (presumably Jerusalem) for 1,600 stadia (300 kilometers). How many dead bodies might be required to produce such a volume of liquid is anyone’s guess, but many commentators view the statement as hyperbole. (It seems awfully specific for hyperbole.)

In any case, it is clear this second siege Micah describes will not end like the first. There will be no exile to Babylon or anywhere else for the people of Jerusalem. Christ himself will fight on their behalf, and the repentant nation will fight with him: “You shall beat in pieces many peoples.” He will empower his people to conquer and trample their enemies: “I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs bronze.”

Far from writhing and groaning, here the command is “Arise and thresh.” The armies besieging Jerusalem think to destroy her, but do not know that God himself has gathered them to the threshing floor of his wrath. This battle ends the great tribulation and ushers in the millennial reign of Christ, to which Micah has already referred and to which he will refer again.

Psalm 9

Earlier, I mentioned David’s use of the term “daughter of Zion” in Psalm 9, the earliest of all such references. The psalm was clearly written in view of the events of this second siege, though David obviously had no idea it would take place over 3,000 years after his death. Consider the following quotes:

“You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins.”

“Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!”

The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught. The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.”

“Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O Lord! Let the nations know that they are but men!”

Amen to that. Incidentally, in that final quote, which is the culmination of the psalm, David uses the very same word for “judge” as Micah. The nations may strike the judge of Israel on the cheek, but they will find themselves subject to his righteous judgment.

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