Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A New David

According to the opening verse of the book of Micah, the word of the Lord came to Micah "in the days Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." This means that Micah was prophesying in the southern kingdom of Judah around the same time that the northern kingdom of Israel was being destroyed and exiled by Assyria. This brought the armies of superpower Assyria right to Judah's doorstep. In fact, Assyria did conquer many parts of Judah and Hezekiah was forced to pay tribute of gold and silver to prevent further destruction. Even then, Sennacherib, king of Assyria threatened to take all of Judah, especially the capital city of Jerusalem, by force. It was only because Hezekiah sought the Lord in prayer that Sennacherib was turned back and Jerusalem was spared.

Clearly, these were dark days for Judah, barely scrapping out an existence under the menacing shadow of Assyria's mighty power. Judah's spiritual health as God's people wasn't in any better shape either. The prophecies of Micah reflect this gloomy reality. The opening verses of Micah, which describe the mighty power of God as he comes to punish Judah for its harlotry, set the tone for the book as a whole.

While Micah certainly would not be mistaken for the most cheerful piece of literature ever written, it is not without its moments of hope and inspiration. One of those is the sermon text for the final week of Advent, Micah 5:2-5. There we are told that a ruler will rise up from Bethlehem, despite its small size, to shepherd the people of Israel. Bethlehem would be nothing but a small, completely insignificant place unworthy of mention by the prophet Micah, were not for one very important person who was born there. Bethlehem was the home of King David, the model king of Israel. Therefore, to say that a leader would arise from Bethlehem was to say that another David was on his way.

So often, this is the hope of the Old Testament. Repeatedly, the prophets find different ways to say basically this same thing: one day we will have a king like David again and he will be the savior of Israel, the one whose reign is the reign of God. Its no wonder then that the earliest Christians, who were mostly Jews and had their whole lives shaped by this hope, easily saw the promise fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew makes the connection to these verses from Micah explicit in his gospel by having the religious scholars quote them to the Magi who are seeking the new born king. It is this king and his kingdom whose beginning we celebrate at Christmas but the final fulfillment of which we still await.

No comments: