|A192 : by Tony Garland |
The fifth chapter of Micah is both a fascinating and challenging section of Scripture principally because, as with many prophetic passages, it includes references to both near-term and far-future events from the perspective of the prophet. As with many such passages, the far-future references serve as an encouragement to the near-term recipients of the prophet's message and have in view the ultimate restoration of Israel associated with the millennial kingdom following the return of Messiah Jesus in judgment (the Second Coming).
Like his contemporary Isaiah, Micah prophesied about the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians. Micah prophesied in the eighth century B.C. during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. . . . Though the theme of judgment is prominent in each of Micah’s three messages, the prophet also stressed restoration. Micah mentioned the “remnant” in each of his three messages (Micah 2:12; 4:7; 5:7-8; 7:18). He was confident that someday the Lord would restore the people of Israel to a place of prominence in the world under the Messiah. This emphasis would have greatly encouraged the righteous remnant in Micah’s day.1
Of course, this particular chapter also contains far-future references (from Micah's perspective) to the First Coming of the Messiah (Micah 5:2 cf. Matthew 2:6) when the kingdom was presented to Israel, but rejected. The millennial overtones of the passage are numerous and significant. Concerning verses 3-5, Merrill Unger observes:
This verse [Micah 5:3] connects the rejection of Israel's judge (v. 1b) to the rejection of the Messiah at His first advant (v. 2 being parenthetical). . . . The prediction is of their internal woes subsequent to the crucifixion of Christ and their scattering to the ends of the earth after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and their sufferings at the hands of the Gentiles during the long period intervening until their still future regathering and restoration to the promised Kingdom. . . . She who travaileth [v. 3] does not refer to Israel bringing forth (giving birth to) Messiah, but to her last-day Tribulation travail (Jer. 30:5-7) in bringing forth a believing remnant styled the remnant of his (Christ's) brethren, as in Matthew 25:31-46. . . . The reason for Israel's millennial bliss is given [Micah 5:4]. For now (i.e.., at the time prophesied) shall he (their King-Messiah) be great unto the ends of the earth (Mic. 4:1; Psalm 72:8; Zech. 9:10; Luke 1:32) as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16), the absolute Sovereign of the entire millennial earth, shepherding with a rod of iron rule when necessary (Psalm 2:8-12).2
Having predicted the ultimate return of Israel in faith (cf. Romans 11:26) associated with the return of Jesus (Mat. 23:39) and the subsequent millennial rule of worldwide peace (Ps. 37:11; 46:9; Isa. 2:4; 9:7; Hos. 2:18; Zec. 6:13; 9:10), the passage links the overthrow of an Assyrian aggressor with the seven shepherds and eight princely men נְסִיכֵי אָדָם [nesîḵê ʾāḏām] — leaders or princes of men.
And this [One] shall be peace שָׁלוֹם [šālôm]. When the Assyrian אַשּׁוּר [ʾaššûr] comes into our land, and when he treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princely men.3
One of the problems with the idea that this passage found its fulfillment in events near to Micah's time is that Israel was not delivered from Assyria—to which the northern kingdom fell in 722 B.C. Israel did not lay waste with the sword the land of Assyria (Micah 5:6). Thus, there must ultimately be a referent beyond 722 B.C. in view:
The “Assyrian,” as we find in the prophecy of Isaiah, sets forth the enemies that shall come up against the nation Israel in the last days. In Micah’s day the Assyrian was brutal, and he did take the northern kingdom into captivity.4
Micah envisioned the time when the Assyrian would invade the land of Israel, seeing in briefer perspective what the prophet Ezekiel later saw in detail (... Ezekiel 38:1-39:24), namely, the destruction of Israel's last foes as they will appear in Russia and the great northern confederacy just preceding the rise of the Antichrist and his armies. The millennial peace (v. 5a) that the Messiah will purchase and dispense to His restored people, Israel, will be the peace attained by striking down the mighty northern invader of the end time, either before or during the early part of Daniel's seventieth week (cf. Dan. 9:27). He will be the last-day Assyrian prefigured by the powerful enemy of the prophet's day. . . . If this is understood as a description of the millennial period, then “Assyria” designates the godless nations from which the final regathering is to take place. Hosea saw the period of oppression as existing till the Israelites would unite under the Messiah (Hos 3:1-5). Isaiah used the term “Assyria” in similar fashion in 11:11, where the Messianic Age is described (v.10). He saw the eschatological restoration as being from “Assyria,” “Egypt,” and beyond. Zechariah also used “Assyria” and “Egypt” (10:10) to refer to the nations God’s people will be gathered from when the kingdom is to be established. That the prophecy of Zechariah was written long after the Fall of the Assyrian Empire is significant because it indicates that, in the mind of Zechariah, Assyria (no longer a nation in his time) represented more than the empire that brought down the northern kingdom.5
the Assyrian—Being Israel’s most powerful foe at that time, Assyria is made the representative of all the foes of Israel in all ages, who shall receive their final destruction at Messiah’s appearing (Ez 38:1-23).6
Asshur is a type of the nations of the world by which the people of the Lord are attacked, because in the time of the prophet this power was the imperial power by which Israel was endangered. Against this enemy Israel will set up seven, yea eight princes, who, under the chief command of the Messiah, i.e., as His subordinates, will drive it back, and press victoriously into its land.7
I concur with the references I've cited above: the passage seems to take in far-future referents to the time of Micah associated with the ultimate restoration of Israel in the time period preceding the establishment of the millennial kingdom—events which are still future to our own day.
As for the seven shepherds and eight leaders which are said to be one of the means by which the Messiah will deliver Israel from the Assyrian at this future time (Hos. 5:6), there are several reasons I would remain very skeptical of anyone espousing to be able to identify these particular men in our day:
- Figure of speech. The phrase, seven shepherds and eight princely men, appears to be to be a figure of speech, an idiomatic phrased denoting several or many, or in any case: more than enough.“The numbers seven and eight here symbolize completeness and emphasize that Israel will have more than enough military leadership and strength to withstand the Assyrian advance.”8 (See also: 9, 10). This becomes more evident by the way in which the NIV renders the verse: “we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men.”11 For a similar usage, see passages such as Ecclesiastes 11:2 (seven even eight), Job 5:19 and Proverbs 6:16 (six even seven), and Amos 1:3 (three even four). Unfortunately, this realization hasn't stopped fanciful speculations as to their identity (e.g., “These are the seven shepherds: David in the centre, Adam, Seth, and Methuselah on his right hand, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses on his left. [Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs VIII, 9, 2]”12 “And who are the ‘eight princes among men?’—Jesse, Saul, Samuel, Amos, Zephaniah, Zedekiah, the Messiah, and Elijah. [Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52b]”13). In my view, it is highly speculative to take the shepherds as prime ministers and the leaders as defense ministers when it is far more likely that a figure of speech is being used to denote leadership in general rather than fifteen specific individuals from two exclusive groups.
- Insufficient information. Even if one were to take the description as necessitating exactly seven (or exactly eight or exactly fifteen) individuals, there is simply not enough information given to specifically identify the individuals involved. About all we can say is that capable leaders among the Israelites will be successfully used to defeat their future adversary when He comes into [Israel's] land and when he treads within [Israel's] borders (Micah 5:6).
- Timing. These events, being associated with the travail of Israel bringing about her spiritual trust in Messiah Jesus, are most likely associated with the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan. 9:27), the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:7)—a period which has not yet begun.
|2.||Ref-1274, pp. 1864-1865|
|3.||Ref-0080, Micah 5:5|
|4.||Ref-0465, Micah 5:5|
|5.||Ref-1297, Micah 5:3,5|
|6.||Ref-0409, Micah 5:5|
|7.||Ref-0413, Micah 5:5|
|8.||Ref-0315, Micah 5:5|
|9.||Ref-0121, Ecc. 11:2|
|10.||Ref-0039, s.v. Number|
|11.||Ref-0319, Hos. 5:6|
|12.||Ref-0407, Micah 5:5|
|13.||Ref-0407, Micah 5:5|
|Ref-0038||John Walvoord and Roy. B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983).|
|Ref-0039||James Orr, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Albany, OR: Ages Software, Inc. 1999).|
|Ref-0080||Wayne H. House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).|
|Ref-0121||E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1922).|
|Ref-0315||NET Bible notes : Study notes for the New English Translation. 1998 (electronic edition.). Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press.|
|Ref-0319||The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.|
|Ref-0407||Huckel, T. (1998). The Rabbinic Messiah. Philadelphia: Hananeel House.|
|Ref-0409||Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.|
|Ref-0413||Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.|
|Ref-0465||McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.|
|Ref-1274||Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002). ISBN:0-89957-415-7a.|
|Ref-1297||Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996).|