The Shepherd-King

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” Micah 5:2

Micah has two points of emphasis.  First, he stresses that the one to be born in Bethlehem “will be ruler over Israel” (v. 2).  This is a theme unique to Micah, of course.  We think of II Samuel 7:16, in which God promised King David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever”.  In his response David recognized that an eternal kingdom is not the destiny of mere men.  A prophecy like this requires a divine king for its fulfillment.  “So it shall be,” says Micah.  The one who is coming will be he “whose origin is from ancient times [literally, ‘from days of eternity’]”.

All human kings and kingdoms follow this course.  God lets a man rise above his fellows in power, he is overcome in pride, and eventually God brings him down.  It is not this way with Christ.  His kingdom is forever.  As we sing in Handel’s Messiah:  “And he shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah!”

We can imagine a king who would rule like this and yet be undesirable because he was a tyrant.  But this is not the way it will be, according to Micah.  The one to come will be a ruler in Israel who “will stand and shepherd his flock” (Micah 5:4).  In using this image Micah stresses the compassion and gentle care of the divine King and thus ties the closing prophecy of the section to the statement with which he began.

“And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.  And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” Micah 5:4

It is impossible for one who lives on our side of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to read this and not think of Jesus’ claim to be “the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14).  There have been other shepherds, of course.  In ancient times most kings were considered shepherds to some degree.  But Jesus is not like those other shepherd-kings.  Which of them could possibly be called a “good shepherd,” much less “the good shepherd”?  Yet Jesus is both the unique and good shepherd of all who are his people.

In John 10, where Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd”, there are two explanations of why he is so designated.  First, Jesus is the good shepherd because he laid down his life for the sheep (vv. 11, 15, 17-18).  Christ’s death was voluntary.  Peter spoke of Christ , saying, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23).  As the angel told Joseph, Jesus was born for this:  “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).  Jesus did not have to come to this earth, any more than anyone has to be a shepherd.  He did not have to die.  Nevertheless, he willingly gave his life for our salvation.  Christ’s death was vicarious; that is, Jesus died not for his own sin – he had none – but for our sins and in our place.  He indicates this by saying, “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11).

The second explanation of why Jesus is the good shepherd is that he knows his sheep and is known by them (John 10:14).  Christ knows us as “his sheep”.  To be known by Jesus is to be a member of his flock and therefore to be one for whom he died.  It is to be one who will never be snatched from his hand, as he says later.  Nothing about us will ever suddenly rise up to startle our divine Shepherd-King and diminish his love.

The above is an excerpt from Boice, J. M. (2002).  The Minor Prophets, Volume 2, Micah to Malachi.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker

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