Saturday, December 10, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (15)

The vast majority of Jacob’s descendants elected not to return to Israel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, preferring the lives they had made for themselves in other nations during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. 587 years later (or thereabouts), when James wrote his epistle, the twelve tribes were still largely “scattered abroad”, and this almost two decades before the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD70 and dispersed the Jews yet again.

It may be argued that Jacob’s descendants have been “in the midst of many peoples” and “among the nations” for the better part of the last two thousand years. Israel is still scattered abroad today, despite the existence of a national home for the Jews. Seven million live in Israel, while 8.25 million live elsewhere, six million in the US alone. And these are just the ones who identify as having this very specific type of Hebrew background.

In a sense, then, there is nothing new about what we are about to read in Micah.

Micah 5:7-9 — Two Comparisons

“Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which delay not for a man nor wait for the children of man. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver. Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off.”

Then again, there may be. This may be understood one of several ways. (1) Perhaps individuals from a revived Israel will go throughout the world at the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ doing his bidding and bringing enemies to heel. (2) Alternatively, perhaps all the believing children of Jacob will reunite as one nation among nations, and Israel, despite its small size, will dominate the world’s political landscape.

A Multitude in the Midst of the Earth

There is also a third possibility. Remember, this is not “Jacob” generally, as we might call Jews today, but “the remnant of Jacob”. The words translated “in the midst” are not terribly specific, and could support either of the first two readings, but I can’t help noticing the Hebrew equivalent of the phrase “in the midst” also occurs in an ancient prophecy about Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons. Here is what Jacob himself said about the children of Ephraim and Manasseh back in Genesis:

“Bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

Here we have the same “midst of the earth” language. Jacob prophesied that the children of Ephraim and Manasseh would “spawn” like fish. The world will be teeming with them. When Micah prophesied, Joseph’s offspring were already being dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire.

Jacob (Among the) Nations

There is also this: the second time, when Micah says, “the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations”, the words “among the” are inferred by the translators. That reading may be correct, but what it literally says is that the remnant of Jacob will be Gentiles or nations [gôy]. There is an outside chance this is a reference to the ten “lost” tribes of the Assyrian diaspora, who, if they still exist at all, have lost the majority of their obvious ethnic identifiers through generations of intermarriage. They are still Jacob’s descendants, but they have become a multitude of nations in our world today.

In keeping with that thought, it’s also interesting that Jacob said, “let MY name be carried on”. Here, Micah uses the phrase “remnant of Jacob” rather than “remnant of Israel”, which he used in chapter 2. That may be a distinction without a difference. Still, the prophet could be saying the children of Ephraim and Manasseh will become a dominant political force during the early millennial reign of Christ. It would be natural for such a group to take its place in the midst of the nations; they have been living among the nations of the earth for well over two millennia.

Finally, a “remnant of Jacob” specifically identified with Ephraim and Manasseh is consistent with the millennial division of Israel described in the final chapters of Ezekiel. If “Jews will live all over the world in the Millennium”, as more than one commentator predicts — if they may prosper and thrive anywhere — then why would the Lord meticulously divide Israel’s territory among the twelve tribes? One possibility is that the Judeans and Israelites who kept their cultural identity throughout the centuries will be at home in Israel, while their hordes of long-estranged Ephraimite brothers become God’s “enforcement arm” among the nations.

Dew and Lions

However we may identify them, Micah uses two similes to describe this remnant of Jacob. As with much of Hebrew poetic writing, these come in couplets, the second of which restates and sometimes amplifies the first.

First, the remnant of Jacob will be like dew or showers, which come from the Lord. We generally consider dew a blessing, and some commentators take the position that Micah is saying the remnant of Jacob will be a blessing to the nations. I do not think that is really Micah’s point, though it will likely be true wherever a nation is obedient to Messiah. No, the remnant of Jacob will be like dew in that dew is both predictable and completely uncontrollable: it arrives every morning, but horticulturalists, farmers and people like me who just enjoy a nice green lawn have no say as to when or how it comes. It “does not wait for the children of men”. It is beyond our control. The arrival of the remnant of Jacob on the world scene is predictable in the sense that having foretold the rise of Jacob’s children as an overwhelming political force, the Lord will certainly accomplish it. It is uncontrollable in the sense that no man can make it happen and no man can stop it.

Second, the remnant of Jacob will be like a lion among beasts of the forest or flocks of sheep. When the king of beasts arrives on the scene, he does whatever he pleases. The remnant of Jacob will be like that. Those who incur their righteous wrath will drink it in full measure. In the aftermath of the great tribulation, no nation or combination of nations will be able to withstand the remnant of Jacob.

Micah 5:10-15 — Six I Wills

“And in that day, declares the Lord, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes; and I will cut off your carved images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will root out your Asherah images from among you and destroy your cities. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey.”

The words “cut off” refer to complete destruction, total elimination. The “I wills” are not explicit in Hebrew, but I count six rather than, say, eleven, because the first five are arranged in couplets, each being an act of God. For example, the “horses” and “chariots” are two ways of saying much the same thing. The Lord does not unleash his wrath arbitrarily on farm animals, but he is determined to destroy all man’s weapons of war. Likewise, the Lord’s objection to cities is not to civilization or urban living, but to man’s insistence on building great structures for his glory and protection rather than relying on God. The destruction of the cities in the fifth couplet is probably related to the fact that they had become centers of idolatry.

Commentators almost universally view the “you” and “your” of verses 10-14 as applying to Israel specifically rather than to the world more generally. If this is the case, then the picture is one of Israel’s purification at the commencement of Christ’s millennial reign. In order for his earthly people to enjoy his blessings, everything they relied on as a substitute for humble dependence on and trust in him must go. Fortifications are unnecessary. Instruments of war are superfluous. Tellers of fortunes are both wicked and redundant; with the Prince of Peace on the throne there is no danger to worry about and no greater power to whom one might appeal. All trappings of idolatry are anathema. There is room only for the worship of One.

The final statement in verse 15 is the only one that is not part of a couplet, and the only one, then, that applies to the rest of the world. It stands alone as the climax of the chapter: “In anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey.” Very likely this will be accomplished through the agency of the remnant of Jacob.

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