The following article was originally published on the Place for Truth blog of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals at placefortruth.org.
As we survey the twelve so-called Minor Prophets, Micah seems to be the prophet most obviously oriented on Christ the coming Messiah. More clearly and directly than the other eleven books that make up this canonical collection, the book of Micah predicts the advent of Christ Jesus.
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting… And this man shall be the peace. (Micah 5:2, 5a KJV)
If we were to consider just these most famous of verses from Micah’s prophesy – cited in Matthew’s Gospel (2:6) and at least alluded to in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (2:14) – we could draw a direct line from Micah to the Messiah. At this point (5:2-5) in the book of Micah, God clearly promises to deliver the faithful remnant of His people from their distress in exile, and this promise is fulfilled in the Person and work of Christ Jesus our Redeemer and Lord. But is there any sense in which we can or should see Christ in the book of Micah as a whole? There are at least two senses worth considering.
First, the book of Micah is at heart a covenantal prosecution case against Israel. Though Micah’s prophecy never once uses the word “covenant,” it expresses Micah’s systematic evaluation of every segment of Israelite society in terms that can be described only as covenantal. Tragically, what Micah finds is that each class of Israelites (i.e., rich and poor; noble and common; even those committed to special religious service among the people) has been faithless in its covenant obligations to God detailed in the Law. Thus, God through the prophet calls on all creation to witness against His wayward people (1:2; 6:1-2).
In this careful and protracted prosecution of the covenant community, Micah anticipates Christ’s prophetic ministry of revealing God’s will against the self-made and self-serving pietism of Pharisees, scribes, and religious hypocrites among His people. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ repeatedly condemns the faux religiosity and man-pleasing of the Pharisees and their scribes (e.g., Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 23:13-36). His message is at heart a prosecution against life-destroying religious externalism and superficial self-advancement under pretenses of spiritual superiority. Christ’s message against the legalists of His day (and ours) doubles as an earnest warning away from the way of death even as He calls His hearers (and us) into the way of life in God in Him (e.g., Matt. 11:28-30). Christ and Micah arise with one voice to condemn the faithlessness and self-interest of the covenant community. What hope is there?
This is where the second sense of seeing Christ in the book of Micah comes into play. Micah is a prophet not only of Israel’s deserved doom, but also of Israel’s only hope. This characterization is supported by Micah’s prophecy as a whole.
The consequence for breaking covenant with God is grim: devastating exile (1:6; 3:12; 4:10). But that is not the end of the story for God’s people. Though they are faithless, God remains faithful and unchangeably good to them. He will bring them home in a grand restoration with humble beginnings. Initially a remnant shall return (4:7; 5:7-8; 7:18), anticipating a fuller restoration of Israel to the land (2:12; 4:6; 5:3). After the restoration of the people necessarily follows the restoration of God’s kingdom over all the kingdoms of the earth (4:1-3), which of course involves the emergence of God’s chosen king (5:2, 4).
What was Christ’s gospel message in His earthly ministry? It was (and still is) the good news of the kingdom of heaven come down to earth! Matthew reports, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; see also, 9:35). Jesus’ message was the flowering of the as-yet unopened bud we see in Micah’s prophecy. What Micah merely anticipated with earnest expectation, Christ the King proclaimed in the fullness of time. Christ is Micah’s prophesied king, and He is the one King who wields “all authority… in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Indeed, in Him we have rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28, 29) – “He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14) – for He has saved “His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).