Study group is working through Micah. Whilst preparing I found myself drawn to write another meditation. This time the passage is Micah 5:1-5 but really its centred on vs 1 and 2. You can read the background here. There is lots of blood and political intrigue… along with some very famous passages.
Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge [King] of Israel on the cheek.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (5:2)
These are, for many of us, pulsating, throbbing, frantic times. You cannot fail to notice the tension of the resounding beat of the times we live in. The bold, the brash, the loud-mouthed and opinionated dominate.
Across the pond men jostle with unimaginable bluster and self-promotion. Closer to home, the voices relentlessly speak of ‘Covid, covid, covid’, limiting our lives and bringing fear and apathy in equal measure. The people seem restless, diminished, angry. I am restless, diminished, and angry. As the weeks turn to months I echo the psalmist, ‘How long O Lord’?
The noise takes many forms, competing as it does for our attention, and it will not settle until it has every part of us. Even if we could look it straight in the eye, and bring the full force of our intention upon the noise, it seldom quietens down. It is only by intense effort of the will that I can turn my mind from it. Of course, many of the noises that we are surrounded by are not in themselves bad things. Our bodies have needs. Food and warmth. Time with our trusted ones. Intimacy and alone-ness. All these are right and good. But I often feel the pull to some new sound and for the most part I cannot quiet the noise long enough to hear the still, small voice that comes to us if only we will give it space.
Mistakenly, in a moment of what was pride and foolishness, I once preached that I did not want a quiet time, but rather it’s complete opposite – the loud time. Maybe this was youthful ignorance, or stubborn rebellion. I do not know. Perhaps the passing of time brings us to a place where it is easier for us to appreciate the quiet, the still and the small.
Micah, writes when the priests, prophets and politicians – the leaders of the time – were taking advantage of the people they were meant to be protecting. The loud, proud power structures of the day were seeking all the attention and seizing the land that belonged to the families. The quiet voice of righteousness was lost and the people suffered as a direct consequence. Micah rages against the injustice. A time of chastening is at hand. It is a fearful thing. It is hard for us to imagine the dread the common dread of the common people. The Assyrian army stood outside the walls of beloved Jerusalem.
‘Now muster your troops’ commands the prophet Micah, ‘for siege is laid against us’. At times this is how our lives are. A woman may lose her source of income or her innocence. A man may lose his purpose or his health. Circumstances, bad choices, even deliberate attack leads us to feel hemmed in, trapped, humiliated, pensive about the marauding shadows that threaten to devour us. A siege against us.
‘Now muster your troops’ says Micah, and adds the mysterious ‘O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us’. What does this image of family and warfare bring to your mind? Perhaps, as Israel was referred to as a daughter it speaks of the threat the before community. Perhaps it speaks of their vulnerability.
‘But…’ says Micah. ‘But…’
‘But you….’ We would not normally address a tiny village as ‘you’ – a thing made of dust and clay. A living thing, by its nature, brings forth life. That is how it has been decreed from the start. Once life was breathed into our Mother and Father in their divine bliss, so they are instructed by Yahweh Elohim to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ and to fill the earth. Adam and Eve became living beings. They became ‘you’. God, through Micah speaks life to an inanimate thing. Life where there was no life.
‘But you, O Bethlehem…’ Bethlehem is an Anglicisation of the Hebrew ‘Bait Lechem’. House of Bread. So Bethlehem is a ‘House of Bread’. Allow your mind to wander with that one for a moment. What is bread? A house?
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah…’ or Ephratah carries many nuances. The Hebrew root means ‘fruitful’. It is also a version of the name Rachel, barren as she is described, she who gave birth to sons from whom grew two of the twelve tribes. So this house of bread is personified fruitfulness.
Micah undertakes a huge twist in the narrative. From corrupt Jerusalem, the most powerful, noisy place in all Israel, and from the daughters of the troops who were to repel the siege, our focus is abruptly yanked away, and propelled forward in time to a tiny village, so small that it wasn’t even named in the clans, or families of Judah. Unknown. Unsung. Except in prophesy. The King, the priests and prophets of Micah’s day, who with all their noisy, arrogant brashness that big city life would entail are temporarily wiped from view as Micah paints a picture. Looking back and looking forward.
Rachel – the mother-root of the nation. The head and not the tail who will walk closely with The Creator. House of Bread – the promise of fully inclusive blessing, provision, strengthening, restoration. Micah looks forward to the new ruler in Israel, who has come forth from the old, from the ancient days, the days of eternity. The thread that runs through the history.
This ‘up-side-down’ ruler from the small, quiet place, will return the people, the tribes of Israel. He will shepherd in the strength of the ‘otherness’ that comes from his Father. This will spread out into all the earth. Bait Lechem Ephratah, the ‘fruitful house of bread’ will be a source of blessing for every tribe and tongue in every nation across the whole earth. From east to west, north to south. The God-man is the perfect King, Priest and Prophet that those in Micah’s time never saw.
Consider how intimately and deeply these pictures are sown together is so few words. Consider the mind behind it who can bring such enormity out of such quietness and stillness. Not the loud, or the brash, or self-promoting for Yahweh. But rather the small, the unknown, the little ones. No wonder if is said ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit’.