House of Ephrathah

When we think of the word diaspora, it is usually in negative terms, contextualized in a framework out of sync with biblical teaching. Seeking control where none is possible, the human being desires a permanent place–a secure homeland–even as history and biology suggest life’s perpetual transience. To correct our understanding of diaspora in a way that reflects the wisdom of Micah, we need only consider its etymology. A compilation of two Greek words, dia (δια, between, through, across) and spora (σπορά, a sowing, seed) diaspora suggests an idea of community that shatters the violent boundaries we impose on each other and the natural world. “The lilies of the field,” Matthew writes, “neither toil nor spin,” (Matthew 6:28) yet their spora–like all plant life–is carried to the ends of the earth, flourishing wherever it lands. Exhorting Jerusalem to consider this transience, Micah imagines a Zion outside of Palestine, the patchwork of a displaced “remnant” (5:7) of the “least” and the “outcast” of the people of Judah. (4:6-8; 5:2)

Employing the emotional symbols of state power, in chapter 5, Micah offers hope to a besieged city, speaking of a shepherd in Jerusalem who “will arise and shepherd his flock” (5:4) wielding the “strength of the Lord.” (5:4) This great shepherd, Micah tells us, will secure life for his people, delivering Judah “from the Assyrian when he attacks our land.” (5:6) Playing on the sin that caused Judah’s fall–the worship of temporal strength–Micah pulls a bait and switch, replacing the god Judah wants with the one assigned “from of old.” (5:2) It is true that Jerusalem will be saved, but not in the way that she imagines:

Then the remnant of Jacob
Will be among many peoples
Like dew from the Lord,
Like showers on vegetation
Which do not wait for man
Or delay for the sons of men.” (5:7)

Life for Jerusalem, Micah explains, comes from the Lord, who saves his people from the Assyrian by using the tyrant’s abuse as an opportunity to scatter the remnant of Judah “like showers on vegetation.” (5:7)

“You are the salt of the earth,” Matthew explains, (Matthew 5:13) meant to spread the seed of God’s instruction “among many peoples.” (5:7) This scattering, “like a dew from the Lord,” (5:7) secures life for Jerusalem when she trades her desire for security with fellowship, abdicating borders to embrace human kinship. Judah is the first of many called to roam the earth with the Torah. “Like a young lion among flocks of sheep,” (5:8) the Torah–the Lion of Judah–is to trample and tear down the nations even as Jerusalem has been trampled, with the wisdom of God’s judgment. In this way, the house of Ephrathah, Bethlehem of Judaea, “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (5:2) will fulfill the meaning of its name as the “fruit bearing” house of the Lord.


  1. I appreciate the teaching on the word diaspora which I have never heard used positively until now. I also appreciate the thoughts on transience. I would add that not only do history and biology suggest transience, so does good literature and art. Good literature puts the hearer into a place of examining facts, examining experience and examining truth and falsity. We cannot write about the world without expressing transience, though not necessarily overtly. Through good literature we examine our own lives and the lives of others. Remember the old adage, “The unexamined life is not……….”

    Beauty and art, like the lilies of the field, also teach us about the transience of life, as was mentioned. Which leads to the famous Dostoyevsky quote “Beauty will save the world.” The question that comes to my mind is, “But who will save beauty?” Is beauty best saved by keeping it to ourselves, conserving it for a small perhaps elite group? Huddling around it so no one else can get near? Or is it best saved by sprinkling it around the world, giving everyone possible a chance to see it, explore it and perhaps plant it in their own garden. I wonder what Micah would say….or is this exactly what the prophet/poet is saying?

    1. I appreciate your helpful insights. In answer to your question, I think beauty in Micah is functional, meaning that the text considers human beings beautiful when they behave in a specific way–in Micah–when they embrace their enemies as directed by the Torah.That is the beauty that is spread around the earth in diaspora. In the New Testament, it is this same beauty that is expressed in the weakness of the Cross.

  2. A natural portrayal of the Biblical function and beauty of diaspora is visible each autumn in ‘seed dispersal mechanisms’ of the common milkweed. Each pod’s family of helicoptered progeny unintentionally releases its members to the still or moving air, and off they waft, dispersing to colonize newly-disturbed habitats. Christians, too, are like wind-dispersed seeds. Diaspora is is not a choice but a calling.

    1. Exactly! A calling that facilitates the continuation of life through our own letting go. Though I would not use the word “colonize”…by scattering us, it is the seed of the Torah that is spread throughout the world. 😉

Leave a Reply