Who Is This Peaceful One? Advent Reflections on Micah 5:2-5a

Who then does Micah have in mind? This is no simple heir of David; here is someone primordial, someone from the most ancient of times yet also uniquely prepared to act decisively in the present. Micah 5:3 returns us to Isaiah's metaphor of an unnamed woman in labor whose imminent birthing will signal some crucial event. The text is less than transparent, but it appears to mean that this woman's birth will announce the end of the period of Israel's history when God has "given them up" (or perhaps "handed them over") to some enemy; after that time ends, and when the child is born, then "the remainder of his brothers and sisters will return to the children of Israel."

After that return (from some exile or another?), "he (the promised one) will stand and be a shepherd in the strength of YHWH, in the majesty of the name of YHWH his God" (Micah 5:4a). David's memory as shepherd surely informs this metaphor. As a result of the appearance and actions of this powerful and Godly shepherd, "they shall dwell ("in safety" may be implied), because now he will be great to the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:4b). The shepherd's work expands from concern with the flock of Israel to the entire world. And how will this shepherd effect his Godly power over the ends of the earth? "This one will be of peace." That peculiar sentence seems to suggest that the shepherd's chief work will be the unity of the whole world and that unity will be gained through acts of peace. The word "peace" is especially startling here, since the next verses of Micah speak of an attack of the Assyrian hordes that YHWH will repulse, presumably in less than peaceful ways (Micah 5:5-6).

Hence, the Godly shepherd, the one who comes from some ancient day, will act in peace for the benefit of the entire world, not only for the safety and well-being of Israel/Judah. Again, one can readily see how the person of Jesus could be envisioned in these obscure lines from Micah. Still, I think it extremely important to listen to the words first in the context of 8th-century Micah. The times were very dangerous with threats from northern Israel and Syria along with the far darker threat from the giant empire of Assyria looming on the horizon. Be prepared; get your armies in shape, turn to YHWH of battles for your survival! But in the midst of all that martial talk we find Micah's portrait of an ancient one who is to come who will move through the flocks of the world in peace, eschewing the ways of war and battle. Read like that in the context of the prophet Micah, we might indeed find our Jesus, not the predicted one but the one who might indeed bring to us something new in the world, a way of peace in the midst of terror and fear and struggle. That is the Jesus I hope to meet this and every Christmas, the one who works for righteousness through peace and bids me do the same. Merry Christmas to you all!

12/11/2015 5:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.
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