This post is adapted from Pastor Groff’s sermon by the same name delivered on December 25, 2022.
“The night is always darkest just before the dawn.” The idea behind this saying is that when your life seems to be about as bad as it possibly could be, then relief must be coming. In the darkness of deepest night, after hours of impenetrable gloom, the sun must be just below the horizon, about to break into a new day. If you have ever thought something along the lines of “surely things are about to get better, they just have to,” then you might just as well have reminded yourself, “the night is always darkest just before the dawn.”
There is a ring of truth to this little saying. There is something hopeful and encouraging about it. There is also something profoundly biblical about it. Oppressive darkness giving way to glorious daybreak is a pattern that we see again and again in the narrative of Scripture. When God’s people are faced with seemingly unbeatable trials and difficulties, they are then delivered, not through some impersonal inevitability, but through divine intervention.
In the opening verses of Micah chapter five, God both reminds His people of their sin and promises to deliver His faithful remnant out of devastation and distress. This divine promise of deliverance is fulfilled in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the incarnation of God the Son realizes all of Israel’s hopes for salvation. No matter how heavy the darkness of sin had become, the light of God’s salvation in Christ infinitely outweighs it. We can and should draw strength from the fact that God’s purposes for the good of His people are far greater than the intimidation and distress of sin within us and around us. When distressed by sin’s devastation, Christians must look to their Savior for peace.
The Devastation of Sin
Notice how Micah 5:1 divides into three statements: Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; They have laid siege against us; With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek. These three statements give us three features of The Devastation of Sin: Sin’s Devastating Character, Sin’s Devastating Condition, and Sin’s Devastating Consequence.
What is Sin’s Devastating Character? Sin is trouble. Micah gives us two textual clues in verse one’s opening phrase to show us that there is no way around Sin’s Devastating Character: it is trouble. The first word “Now” directs our attention back to chapter four, verses nine and ten where God announces the punishment for sin: the devastation of exile to Babylon. “Now, why do you cry out loudly? Is there no king among you, or has your counselor perished, that agony has gripped you like a woman in childbirth? Writhe and labor to give birth, daughter of Zion, like a woman in childbirth; for now you will go out of the city, dwell in the field, and go to Babylon.” Notice that God’s message doesn’t stop with an announcement of punishment, for He uses a simile to characterize the devastation of exile due to sin. He compares it to the agony – or travailing – of childbirth. Now, we see that the daughter of Zion in Micah 4:10 is the daughter of rebellious troops in Micah 5:1 who is gripped with agony, “like a woman in childbirth.”
Micah makes clear that sin is agonizing trouble, but are you convinced of that? We take so many measures to avoid getting into trouble, to avoid agony, to stay comfortable. But what precautions do you take day by day to avoid sin? Can you name even one thing you do each day to stay out of the trouble of sin? If you cannot, then ask yourself, “do I truly know of Sin’s Devastating Character? Do I know that sin is trouble indeed?” Do you yet understand that sin is rebellion against a holy God?
In addressing the people of Jerusalem as the collective “daughter of troops,” Micah openly rebukes them for their sinful rebellion. He is ringing the alarm bell over their idolatrous injustice which united them into a troop of covenant-breakers in opposition to God Himself. Micah’s words would have stung as they landed upon the ears of his hearers, but as Proverbs 27:5 and 6 tell us, “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Micah’s prophetic alarm over Sin’s Devastating Character is an urgent expression of God’s care for His people to warn them both of Sin’s Devastating Character and of Sin’s Devastating Condition described in the next clause, “They have laid siege against us.”
The people of Jerusalem where Micah was ministering would become uncomfortably familiar with the realities of siege warfare, and we should notice that Micah includes himself with them in their distress. He too was familiar with what it is he is describing, even as he pronounces God’s message of warning and judgment. In the middle of Micah’s ministry, the northern Kingdom Israel would fall to the Assyrian Empire after a brutal siege of Israel’s capital city, Samaria. In the southern Kingdom Judah, where Micah lived, the Assyrians would be turned back after God’s miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the terror and threat of siege warfare were pressing realities in the lives of Micah’s original hearers.
Today, we do not worry about siege warfare as such. We do not live in royal cities with walls and moats. We do not expect to see siege towers and battering rams at our front doors. But how would you feel if you knew that someone out there was targeting your home to break in and do you harm? Would that change how you live, even day-to-day? Would you not want to escape from that threat of danger? When threats lurk around our doorstep – either personally or nationally – our whole lives are changed. That is the Devastating Condition of Sin.
Not only is sin trouble, but it is an all-consuming and terribly brutal trouble, like a siege. Sin includes not only any transgression of God’s law – which gets us into trouble – but includes any want of conformity to God’s law, which keeps us in trouble. And the consequences are deathly serious.
The final clause of this verse tell us about Sin’s Devastating Consequences, “With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.” The description of sin’s devastating consequence here is that of serious insult and dishonor to the representative leader of the nation. For a conquering king to strike his conquered foe in the face is the height of both personal insult and political subjugation, and the judge of Israel stands for all those leaders whom Micah identified in the early chapters of his prophecy as corrupting and perverting justice. They will be shamed and humiliated by their conquerors. Though this prediction did not come to pass in Micah’s lifetime, the Babylonians would lay siege to Jerusalem and conquer Judah in 586 BC, not even 140 years following the Assyrians’ conquest of Samaria to the north. In other words, judgement deferred is not the same thing as judgment revoked. Without repentance and forgiveness for the sin of rampant injustice, the people of Micah’s day were faced with inevitable judgment for their covenant-breaking rebellion against God’s righteous rule.
If you are harboring sin in your heart and trying to hide it from God, then stop withholding the confession He invites you to make for pardon, and instead heed His warning. Judgment is coming. At Judgment Day, Christ Himself will come to judge the living and the dead, to separate covenant-keepers from covenant-breakers. His description of this great division in Matthew 25 – much like Micah’s prophetic utterances – highlights considerations of biblical justice. All those who fail to uphold God’s perfect standard of justice will be liable to judgment. That is Sin’s Devastating Consequence pictured for us in this verse.
The Promise of Peace
Though the opening of Micah chapter five confronts us with a vivid one-verse description of The Devastation of Sin, the emphasis of what follows is not that of judgment and woe. In fact, this first verse introduces a glorious Promise of Peace in verses two and following. This is not the first time that Micah will follow a passage of judgment with a passage of promised grace. But this is the first time that such a pairing will be so heavily imbalanced in favor of the promised grace. His earlier couplets are closer to being equal in length between the two parts.
The Promise of Peace in Micah chapter five is ultimately fulfilled in Christ alone, the Son of God who set aside the outward manifestations of His heavenly glory and took to Himself a human nature: Christ Jesus who suffered, bled, and died for the salvation of sinners, that we might not taste devastation, but rather enjoy eternal delight in Him. Indeed, our Savior was smitten, stricken, and afflicted, even struck on the back and upon His cheeks according to Isaiah 50:6. And because He absorbed in Himself the devastation due to our sin, we can enjoy communion with God in the forgiveness of sins today. We will examine The Promise of Peace expressed in these verses in three parts: Peace’s Origin, Peace’s Action, and Peace’s Identity.
Verse two gives a statement of Peace’s Origin in God’s covenant promise to the historical King David, which promise itself is grounded in eternity past. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth from Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Notice the two dimensions here. The promise God makes in verse 2 is in connection with a very specific place: Bethlehem Ephrathah. This was King David’s Bethlehem, a surprising but historically significant hometown for a king. Even Herod’s counselors in Matthew 2 remembered that it was indeed this Bethlehem Ephrathah that would be the birthplace of the promised Messiah, the Christ. And what covenant promise did God make to King David? God promised to build for him an everlasting royal house, or dynasty.
The historical accounts of this promise are found in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17, but Psalm 89 reiterates the promise in the context of the devastation of sin, judgment, and exile detailed in book three of the Psalter. We read in Psalm 89:34-37 of God’s irrevocable covenant promise in the face of sin’s devastation: “My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful.” What a promise! The Promise of Peace finds its historical origin in God’s royal covenant with David whom God anointed to be king and ruler over His people Israel.
But how can God make this promise of eternal dominion to a human king? This is where the second dimension of verse two comes into play. The promised Ruler who shall come forth is Himself eternal. Peace’s origin is not only covenantal in time and space, but eternal in the decree and essence of God Almighty, “from long ago, from the days of eternity.” This is confirmed by Isaiah’s description and titles for this same bringer of peace in Isaiah 9:6-7, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”
The covenantal and eternal dimensions of Peace’s Origin combine to secure for us an unshakable confidence in God’s Promise of Peace. There is no turning back the eternal purposes of our everlasting God. Though they are not impersonal, they are – in a comforting and covenantal sense – inevitable. When you struggle with creeping doubts or anxieties due to sin and its devastation, when you begin to pay heed to Satan’s lie that God could not possibly love a sinner like you or that the trials you are facing are signs of divine rejection and condemnation: meditate on the covenant promises of our eternally faithful God. You and I are fickle and changeable, but God is immovable, steady, steadfast, and secure. “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” And so is His Promise of Peace, rooted as it is in His eternal decree and being. Having established Peace’s Origin, we can now move on to Peace’s Action.
Verses three and four are full of activity. “Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.” We can break down Peace’s Action into seven progressive movements in these two verses.
First, Micah again describes the punishment of God’s covenant-breaking people in terms of giving up into exile, which is the devastating consequence of sin threatened in God’s covenant with Israel recorded at the end of Deuteronomy. Micah is good at reminding His hearers of God’s righteous judgment, even as he applies consolation from God’s steadfast purpose to save. That’s where the second movement comes in, as we return to the Labor & Delivery Room to witness the happy conclusion to the distress of giving birth. The distress of delivering a baby is almost immediately overshadowed by the initial embrace between a mother and her precious little one. By this image, Micah brings the birth scene from chapter four, verses nine and ten to a happy – even peaceful – conclusion. But the picture we have is like a page out of a coloring book, and the next five movements color in the details.
In the third movement, Micah predicts the return of the sons of Israel as the remnant of the promised Ruler’s departed brethren. Though Micah never once uses the word “covenant” in his book, the combination of terms in the second half of verse three – remainder, return, sons of Israel – call to mind God’s covenant with Israel. In like fashion to the vocabulary of our worship services, Micah’s prophecy describes a renewal of relationship and communion between God and His people. This relationship is further defined in the fourth and fifth movements, as the promised Ruler arises – or stands – in order to shepherd – or feed – His flock. This promised Ruler is described as a Good Shepherd committed to caring for His sheep, for He is identified with Israel’s God – the LORD – as He does so. He rules “in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.” The end-result of this Good Shepherd’s rule and reign is expressed in the sixth and seventh movements. The people shall remain – or abide – secure in His care, because His greatness will extend – literally, “He will be great” – to the ends of the earth. In other words, Israel’s enemies will be just as subject to His sovereign rule as they are, which means that Israel will be secure in His care.
If our passage ended at this point, we could rejoice at our God’s great acts of deliverance and demonstrations of His faithfulness. And we should marvel at His mighty deeds of redemption recorded for us in Scripture. But that is not where our passage ends, for in verses two through four, we have been speaking of the origin and action of a Person. The first half of verse five tells us who He is, “This One will be our peace.” This is Peace’s Identity. Not only does He bring peace to His people, but He Himself is their – or our – peace. There is no peace for men apart from Him, for He Himself is peace. This is precisely Paul’s point in Philippians 4:4-7 where he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Regrets about the past, worries over the present, and concerns about the future certainly can distract you from The Promise of Peace we have in Christ. When distracted and forgetful of God’s Promise of Peace in Christ, you are then vulnerable to attack by the Accuser who seeks to remind you of your devastating sin-guilt before the judgment throne of God. The darkness begins to creep in and choke out your spiritual vitality as you lose sight of your Savior. Therefore, whatever else may be occupying your thoughts and clamoring for your attention, you absolutely must focus on the one Person who gives – indeed who Himself is – man’s one true and lasting peace, just as the sun is man’s one true and lasting physical light in this world.
When was the last time you woke up before dawn and watched the sunrise? The sun is in some sense both light and the bringer of light which casts away all darkness of night. But the sun is merely a created thing, and the sun’s effect on darkness is but a pale reflection of the spiritual reality we have been considering: that Christ not only brings peace, but is Himself our peace that casts away all distress, fear, anxiety, and devastation of sin. When distressed by sin’s devastation, Christians must look to their Savior for peace. There is nothing, no one, and nowhere else to look.
In the verses following our passage, Micah goes on to describe the effects of peace for the people of Israel. The coming of Christ will bring peace for them in terms of victory over their enemies. In Ephesians 2:14, Paul rightly and powerfully applies the first half of verse five in reference to the removal of tension between Jews and Greeks, who are reconciled in Christ. But this reconciliation between man and man is possible only through the reconciliation that Christ works between God and man, which is the reason for His coming in the first place.
In Romans 5:1, Paul declares, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Can you say with confidence that your sins have been pardoned, that you have been declared righteous before God through faith in Him, and that you have everlasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ? If there is anything that Christ’s miraculous and prophesied coming demonstrates, it is that there is no other way to experience the divine blessings of joy everlasting but in and through Him. You must make your way to God the Father through Christ the Son and Christ alone who has come to bring and to be peace. Have you caught yourself going after other remedies: trusting in your own good works, people-pleasing, and pleasure-seeking? These will not bring you peace and life. They will bring you only heartache, bitterness, and spiritual death. Peace is promised in Christ alone, for He alone is our peace. God in Christ shall be glorified as the only Savior of sinners. This is the glorious message of Micah’s prophecy in the opening verses of chapter five, and this is the essence of the gospel message which impels us as Christ’s people to gather Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day to sit under the Word read and preached, to ponder the mysteries of God, and to celebrate our Good Shepherd’s blessed presence in our midst.
A Closing Prayer
Almighty God, we ask that as it has been Your pleasure to stand firm to Your covenant promises to show us favor through all seasons, culminating in the appearance of Christ the everlasting Redeemer of all nations, we ask that we might continue to enjoy this same protecting and providing favor this day. Though we have in various ways provoked Your wrath against us, yet we pray that You would so humble us, that You might sustain us by Your Word, and may guide us to live according to those promises which we find in Scripture, that we may at length overcome our enemies and possess our souls in honor until that day when You shall send forth Your invincible might and glory in Christ Your only begotten Son, who shall utterly destroy the devil and His servants, and preserve us safe and secure from all harm. We pray all this in His blessed Name, Amen.