Farming without war, childbirth without joy: A contradiction in Micah 5

After I read through the chapter, Micah 4, the children told me their first impressions. One student was confused. On the one hand, the Lord was so nice, encouraging all the nations to come to him. On the other hand, he judges and rejects the people. I noted that this contradictory dynamic existed in the text, so we would have to look into it further. The legitimate confusion arose from beautiful images of peace and triumph juxtaposed with scenes of despair and humiliating defeat.

We began this week reviewing the movement caused by the Lord, which resembles a father who punishes and forgives his children. He brings the people out of the land, just to bring them back. The Lord resembles a father, who punishes his children for going against his good will. The father may yell, he may be scary; but when he relents, the return to the father’s grace is a feeling of love and relief. The Lord in this chapter describes the return to grace and the exile.

The last verse (v. 14) confused and shocked the children on the initial read, so I defined the meaning of “siege” and the background to the bad treatment of the king. A “siege” surrounds a city in order to bar any food or water to be brought into the city, and so weaken the city’s defenders. I asked what would have to happen for a king to be smacked in the face, and the students clearly described the state of the city. First, someone would have to reject any respect for the king. Second, the person would have to break into where the king was. Third, he would have to overcome any guards that the king had. In other words, the enemies would have to defeat the city, which would culminate in a humiliating strike against the people’s revered leader.

Going through the chapter in order more slowly, we began with the encouraging image of all the nations streaming to learn about the Lord’s ways (vv. 1-5). Just like the Lord’s holy temple in Jonah 2, the Lord’s dwelling sits high on Mount Zion. Once he has judged all the nations, he won’t allow any more wars: no Israel vs. Judah, no Assyria vs. Israel, no Babylon vs. Judah. Instead the people will turn their instruments of war into ones of farming.

Farming depends on the absence of war, as the children noted. A farmer cannot work his fields if he feels he could be attacked outside, one student said. Also, if a farmer could not count on several months without troops or marauders, working the field would not be worth it. Farming cannot take place during war.

We jumped ahead to the image of the labor and childbirth (vv. 9-10)—one of pain in the hope of new life. Though no one had ever seen a child be born, they all heard about the process from their mothers. In spite of the pain, though, every mother exclaimed how happy they were when they fell in love with their new child, a new life. The city Jerusalem on Mount Zion is like a mother, and its people are like its children. Zion, therefore, would be in great pain before it “gave birth” to its people. For the children’s mothers, the payoff in the end made the pain worth it. In Zion, though, the “children” would be born only to go immediately into captivity. The pain following labor would be even more painful—the pain of having one’s child taken away.

The painful image of the people in captivity (vv. 10-11) resolved immediately after in victory (vv. 12-13). As soon as the people are in captivity, the Lord prepares to save them. Lest the nations think that they defeated Zion by their own means, the remnant that comes out of captivity will, in turn, be the means of judging their enemies by threshing and stomping on them. Ironically, the nations come to judge Judah and Israel, and then the remnant of Judah and Israel judge the nations. The Lord will ultimately “reap” the benefits of this conflict as the remnant dedicates the spoil to him.

Then we return to this humiliating defeat against Israel’s king.

The original confusion arose because of the mix of peace and war. The initial image was of the Lord’s wisdom and teaching and a peaceful, pastoral life. Then came the depth of despair issuing from labor not with new life, but with captivity. Once the Lord saved Israel from the enemies he sent against them, he defeats the enemies at the hand of Israel. At the present, though, Israel is experiencing humiliating defeat. Ultimately, we cannot expect peace without judgment, or judgment without peace.

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