“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 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 coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 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. And he shall be their peace.” – Micah 5:1-5a (ESV)
A couple of months ago, my family and I traveled to the beach for vacation. My one-year-old nephew was definitely the highlight of the trip. He’s getting very active these days, crawling everywhere, getting his hands on anything he can. He is also in that stage where he is learning how to walk. I would hold both of his hands and guide him along and if I would have let go, he would have fallen. Even at his young age, there was an element of trust. He knew I wouldn’t let go.
My nephew doesn’t have the strength or skill needed just yet to walk on his own (although it’s coming soon I’m sure!). In a similar way, God’s Word paints a picture of God being the Shepherd of his people. Just like my nephew was completely dependent on me to hold him up, we must be completely dependent on God to sustain our very life and soul. We need his strength, just like my nephew didn’t have the strength in and of himself.
God as Shepherd
In our 21st century culture, the word “shepherd” can easily lose its meaning on us. Many of us are removed from agricultural life, and even if we do find ourselves in a rural setting, only a few farmers today still raise sheep. The idea of God being a shepherd to his people is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, and if we consider it closely, it can bring much comfort to our hearts this Advent season.
What exactly is a shepherd? A shepherd had total responsibility for the sheep that he watched over. He was responsible for protecting his sheep from outside dangers, like other animals that might injure or kill the sheep. At times, a shepherd would have to literally fight for the sheep. His duties involved everything related to caring for the sheep; anything they needed he had to provide. They were completely dependent upon their shepherd. He fed them by leading them to good pastures, watched over them, and would make sure none of them was lost.
What are sheep like? Sheep are helpless, they can do nothing without help. Sheep often get the reputation of not being very smart. They are needy, and can’t provide for themselves.
Are you starting to draw connections? In Micah 5, God’s people received an unlikely promise in an undesirable situation. But that is our God, working in seemingly impossible circumstances. Micah is prophesying to the nation of Israel during a time when they are threatened by Assyrian invaders. The prophecy imagines a time when Israel will have tragedy (V1), and yet, there will arise a Shepherd-King out of Israel that will rule (V2), and he will be their peace (V5).
But this Shepherd-King won’t just come out of anywhere from Israel, but out of Bethlehem (V2). Let’s cut to the chase: he’s going to be from the sticks. From the town no one notices, from the country. He’s going to be a blue-collar, uneducated carpenter. No one would expect the King to come from there or to look like this.
“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 coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (5:2). A ruler would come out of the town that was least in the eyes of humans. God delights in using the weak of the world to shame the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Triumph of the Shepherd
While verse 1 recognizes the defeat of Israel, verse 2 prophesies that there will be triumph by the Messiah to follow. The Messiah ruler from the lowly town of Bethlehem will indeed be victorious. Bring yourself to feel the unexpected paradox of this pronouncement! And if this isn’t enough, verses 4-5 drop more good news on us:
“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. And he shall be their peace…” (4-5a).
The Messiah is going to endure forever and rule in the strength of the Lord, over all the earth. Therefore, the Messiah’s people (his flock) will have a dwelling place and peace as the Messiah triumphs. The KJV gives us a beautiful word picture in verse 4 of the Lord’s people: “and they shall abide…” His people will abide, remain, and dwell in the presence of our conquering God! While Micah mentions the Assyrian armies because they were invading Israel at the time of his writing, ultimately this Messiah ruler will conquer our greatest enemy, Satan himself, giving us the reason that we will abide as he is our peace.
Christ is Our Shepherd
The King that Micah 5 prophesied is none other than Jesus himself. As believers in Christ, we are the sheep of his pasture, and he is our shepherd. Our hearts long for a shepherd, don’t they? Think about your heart. Deep down inside of us, we know things are not right, they are not as they should be. We constantly, day after day, pursue the idols which cannot save or fulfill us. We pursue relationships, sexual intimacy, money, possessions, status and fame, a new or higher position in our careers, and academic achievement, just to name a few. Our heart is looking for a Savior, for a Shepherd, but it won’t be found in this list. What about the trials and circumstances we face in life? From little things such as the stressors of a Monday morning to-do-list at work, to major life events, such as the diagnosis that you dreaded, or the death of a loved one. And then if we look on a macro level, we are constantly being bombarded with news about the latest heart-wrenching allegation, or terrorist attack, shooting, or natural disaster. If you are like me, sometimes you just get overwhelmed. You get spiritually spent. Our heart is looking for a Savior, for a Shepherd.
We long for and we need one who cares for our souls, who fights for and defends us, who provides for our deepest need. The Good News of Advent, which is really the Good News of every single day, is that the one who we long for has come, and that he is coming again to make all things new! The Shepherd we desperately need is Jesus, and he came to fix our biggest need, which is our sin and separation from himself. Through his life, death, and resurrection, all who trust in God, now have peace with God (Romans 5:1). In John 10, Jesus affirms he is the Good Shepherd. He calls us, the sheep, by name, and leads us, and we follow. He is our life and salvation, as he even laid down his own life for us. He knows his own and we know our Shepherd.
This Shepherd provides abundant life for his sheep (John 10:10). Remember our Micah 5 passage promised God’s people would abide (5:4). Jesus Christ provides the true abiding life for us. In John 15, Jesus calls himself the true vine, and his followers, the branches. As we abide in him, and he in us, we bear much fruit (John 15:4). Jesus loves us, so we can abide in his love (15:9). This place of abiding in our Savior is the place where we can dwell secure. The idols we turn to do not provide the security we long for on a daily basis. Relationships are fleeting, careers are lost, and the stock markets and bank accounts are volatile. And yet, in Christ, true security, a dwelling place, and life is found. When we abide in his presence, we bear much fruit, and our joy is full (15:11).
Christian, Jesus is your Shepherd. You can stop searching and looking in other places for what is already yours in Christ, for “you shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). According to Psalm 23, your soul is restored, you are led in righteousness, you have the Lord’s presence promised forever, which dispels all fear, and goodness and mercy is promised for the rest of your days. You are spiritually cared for and even flourishing. You are kept. You are loved. You are his, all because the Lord is your Shepherd. Drink deeply from this Gospel well this Advent season.
For Further Reading: Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 10:1-21, John 15:1-17
Family Connection: After reading the Scripture with your kids, discuss these questions:
What does a shepherd do for his sheep? (He watches over them, protects and defends them from anything that might hurt them, and cared for all of their needs.)
Why do sheep need a shepherd? (Sheep are not very smart, they are helpless, they need the shepherd to do everything for them.)
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. In John 10, he says he lays down his life for his sheep. What does this mean? (Jesus calls us his sheep, because he is like a Shepherd to us, in the way that he spiritually cares for us. Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven of our sins. Because he died for us, we can have a relationship with him when we repent of our sin and trust in him.)
1 bag of large marshmallows
1 bag of miniature marshmallows
1 box of pretzel sticks
Have your kids create sheep using only the items on the table. They can tear apart the marshmallows and break the pretzel sticks if desired. Have the children decide which sheep are the funniest and the most realistic.
Use this craft to talk about how we are like sheep and how Jesus is our Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us and ultimately came and gave his life for us.