b. 4:9-5:1 The Circumstances before the Kingdom
Micah in 4:9-5:1 combines two prophecies, one in the near future (if a century can be called that) and one in the far future. However, many scholars point to three distinct sections, 4:9-10; 4:11-13 and 5:1 all beginning with the word “now.” The first prophecy 4:9-10 and 5:1 provides specific details regarding the Babylonian captivity. The second prophecy, 4:11-13 refers to the final campaign of the enemies of Israel just prior to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. As with many of the writing prophets, Micah combines near and far events within a compact section or passage. As there were no verse and chapter divisions in the ancient Hebrew text the arbitrary choice of a chapter division following 4:13 is unfortunate as the modern Hebrew text clearly has 5:1 as verse 14 of chapter 4. Micah 5:2 begins a separate declaration dealing with a different prophetic subject. Also 4:11-13 could have been a separate oral message that was later transcribed for inclusion in this part of Micah’s written work. This section known as 4:9-5:1 is an integral part of Micah’s written text.
4:9 Now why do you cry out so loud?
Is there no king among you?
Is your sage ruler perished?
Is that why pangs have taken hold of you
like a woman in labor?
4:10 Writhe in pain and groan, O daughter of Zion,
like a woman in labor;
for now you must leave the city,
and live in the open field,
and will go to Babylon.
There you will be rescued;
there the LORD will redeem you
from the hand of your enemies.
The prophecy of Micah 4:9-10 and 5:1 pertain to the days of the Babylonian captivity which began with attacks against Jerusalem in 605 B. C. and cumulated with the complete destruction of the city and its temple in 587/586 B.C. Micah is prophesizing events that will happen approximately 100 years in the future to his time. Although God’s covenant people should have known that His judgment would fall upon them for their persistent wickedness and rebellion against Him, they will react to the actual events of the destruction of their coveted buildings and walls with loud wailings of distress. They could not believe this destruction would happen as Micah 3:11b reveals their presupposition, “Is not the LORD among us ? No disaster will come on us.” They may have misunderstood the prophecies of the psalmists, such as Psalm 125:1; 133:3 and 146:10. Micah also had stated the future security of Zion in 4:7.
Micah in 4:9-10 reveals the painful reactions of Jerusalem’s residents in a future day (605-586 B.C.) when the physical Davidic house will fall, and the people will be left without their king and counselor. The words “sage ruler” in 4:9 translate the Hebrew yâ‘aṣ which many English versions translate as “counselor.” The dual role of ruler and counselor is emphasized by Isaiah, see Isaiah 9:6-7. Perhaps, because of the depiction of this dual role as applicable to the future Messianic ruler, some understand that Micah is referring to their divine ruler and counselor rather than to their earthly king. But their divine ruler will not perish and as this prophecy, in light of 4:10, clearly regards the days of the destruction of their city and temple by the Babylonians, their “ruler/counselor” who will perish most likely is a reference to Zedekiah who also is the one referenced in 5:1 who will be struck on the cheek. The pain and agony of that future generation (to Micah’s day) will be likened to labor pains which for emphasis is stated twice, at the end of 4:9 and also at the beginning of 4:10. The phrase “daughter of Zion” refers to the covenant people of God who relate to their Creator and Redeemer who has taken residence in Zion. See notes on 4:8.
Micah in 4:10 reveals that in that future day, God’s judgment upon them will come at the hand of unlikely opponent who was not yet a prominent power in 702/701 B.C. The Assyrians had control of the citizens of Babylon during these days and some understand that Micah was thus cryptically referring to Assyria. However, Assyria never captured Jerusalem and thus we must allow this prophecy to stand as a revelation from God who also revealed it to Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah. See Isaiah 39:5-7. What God knew and no other, was that Assyria’s days of power were coming to an end. Soon another power would dominate the Ancient Near East whom these prophets spoke of long before they ascended to prominence. Isaiah also spoke of another ruler, whom God revealed to him by name, “Cyrus” also long before this king would ascend to power. See Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1.
The cause of the distress of the daughter of Zion described as “labor pains” was further revealed by Micah in 4:10, who declared that the citizens of Jerusalem (Zion) would have to leave their beloved city and live (for a time) in the open field and then they would be deported to Babylon. This likely was a reference to the gathering of the people of Jerusalem into deportment camps in the fields of Judah, where they would wait until they were marched forcibly to Babylon where they would endure exile for seventy years. Another prophet declared, “For this is what the LORD says, after seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and fulfill my promise to you by bringing you back to this place.” Jeremiah 29:10.
The declaration by Jeremiah of the reality of their exile and the promise of their regathering to Jerusalem is also revealed by Micah in 4:10. Notice that in both instances, Jeremiah 29:10 and Micah 4:10, the painful reality of captivity is accompanied by the joyful promise of rescue and redemption by their covenant God. The primary reason for the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of the people to Babylon is that God’s people continually broke the stipulations of His covenant. Primarily this was the covenant that God made with Moses and the people of Israel at Sinai, although it also involved the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. God warned His people of the consequences of their disobedience to Him before they entered into the land of promise, Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 4:1-40; 8:19-20 and 28:15-68. God later spoke to His servants the prophets, revealing His wrath for the people’s sins and revealing the consequences for their continual rebellion against Him, (a few selected passages), Isaiah 7:17-25; 22:1-14; 29:1-4; 42:14-25; Jeremiah 6:1-30; 7:1-34; 8:1-3; 13:12-27; 32:20-35; Ezekiel 7:1-26; 16:1-59; 20:1-32; Daniel 9:1-14; Amos 2:4-5; 6:1-8; Micah 2:10; 3:12; 4:10; Habakkuk 1:1-17; and Zephaniah 1:4-18.
One of the most grievous sins committed by both Israel and Judah was the worship of idols and false gods which God commanded them not to do, Exodus 20:2-5. Jeremiah reminded them of God’s wrath for their persistent rebellion against God by continually worshipping of false gods, Jeremiah 19:1-15. The author of 2 Kings explained that idolatry was the main reason God removed the people of the northern kingdom, Israel from their land, 2 Kings 17:6-23. Another reason for the Babylonian captivity was the wickedness of the sins of the kings who occupied the throne of David. The pages of the books of 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles are filled with the accounts of the evil actions of these kings. Even the righteous acts of Hezekiah could not prevent the certain judgment of God upon His covenant people, Isaiah 39:5-8. Other reasons for the captivity include social injustice, Micah 2:1-10; and insincere worship, Isaiah 29:13; and Ezekiel 33:30-32.
God had revealed some of His purposes for the years of the captivity in Babylon. The main purpose certainly was the elimination of the practice of idol worship and removal of places, often called the high places, where God’s people went to worship idols and false gods. Another purpose was to allow the land to be restored so it could “enjoy its sabbaths” Leviticus 26:34-35. God’s greater purpose, which was seen in the return of a number of exiles (but not all) to Jerusalem, was to have a faithful remnant of His covenant people who would be loyal to Him alone and keep His covenant. This will ultimately be fulfilled in the days of the Messianic kingdom where a remnant of His people will be truly faithful to their God, Zephaniah 3:12-20.
Just as it was the LORD who purposed that His people would go into exile in Babylon, it was also His purpose to rescue them and redeem them from the hand of their enemies, Micah 4:10b. The LORD’s earthly agent in this rescue was Cyrus about whom the Lord revealed to Isaiah 44:24-45:13. Cyrus issued a decree in 538 B.C. allowing the exiles to return to Jerusalem, see 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4. The English word redeem in Micah 4:10 is the Hebrew g̱â’al, which has the basic meaning of a “kinsmen redeemer.” The book of Ruth is a commentary on this word revealing the responsibility of a kinsmen (closest relative) to redeem, to rescue a relative from distress including financial poverty. The LORD in Micah 4:10 promises as His covenant people’s kinsmen, to rescue and redeem His family by bringing them back to their homeland.11
4:11 Now many nations are assembled against you.
They say, “Let her be defiled,
and let our eye gloat over Zion.”
4:12 But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD,
nor do they understand his plan;
for he has gathered them as the sheaves to the threshing floor.
4:13 “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion;
for I will make your horns iron,
and I will make your hooves bronze.
So you will beat into pieces many peoples.”
You will devote their stolen gain to the LORD,
and their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.
In Micah 4:11-13, the prophet declares a message regarding the future far beyond that of the Babylonian captivity and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. This message regards the days at the end of the Tribulation period when the Messiah will return and defeat the enemies of His faithful remnant. This remnant will be empowered by God to defeat their enemies that God has caused to assemble against them. These nations will come with the intent of completely defiling Zion and gloating over Zion’s expected demise. God’s plans (thoughts) for these enemies is to have them come to reap their reward for opposing God and His covenant people. These oppressors will be defeated by a much smaller force of God’s faithful remnant. God will enable His people to break their enemies into pieces and devote the plunder (stolen gain and wealth) from their enemies to the Lord.12
Some understand this message as applying to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians, vv. 11-12 and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, vs. 13. However, the words of this message contradict such an understanding. The statement beginning Micah 4:11, “many nations are assembled against you,” simply cannot apply to the peaceful return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. The event described in 4:11a has not yet happened. In times past, the armies of single nations, Assyrian, Babylon, and Rome, besieged Judah and Jerusalem. These nations were not met with the people of Judah who defeated them. In the days of king Ahaz, a few nations sought to destroy Judah, but they were not many nations, nor many peoples and the weak forces of Judah were ineffective against them. These armies were defeated by the Assyrians. The evil schemes of king Ahaz in appealing to the Assyrians for help had seemed to be successful in rescuing Judah but would later turn to disaster as the Assyrians during King Hezekiah’s rule completely overran Judah and only Jerusalem was sparred. Isaiah chapters 7-8 and 37; 2 Kings chapters 16, 18-19; 2 Chronicles chapters 28 and 32.
In Micah 4:11, the prophetic message clearly refers to days that have not yet occurred. The days when many nations will assemble against Jerusalem/Zion are revealed in Psalm 2:1-12; 48:4-7; Isaiah 17:12-14; 29:5-8; 63:1-6; Ezekiel 38-39; Joel 3; Zechariah 12-14; Revelation 14:20; 16:12-16; and 19:11-21. Some understand that these days will include the destruction of the future revived Babylonian empire,13 but others would see the mention in Revelation of Babylon as referring to the corrupt world commercial, political and religious system in place during the great Tribulation.14
The intent of these nations is to defile Jerusalem. The word defile is the Hebrew ḥânêp, meaning to pollute or make profane. Isaiah used this word, to describe the defilement of the earth by its inhabitants, “The earth is defiled by its inhabitants; because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.” Isaiah 24:5. The intent of the nations during the days just prior to the return of the Messiah will be to not only overrun Jerusalem/Zion but to make it profane so it will not have any link to a righteous God. The nations desire is that the last stronghold on earth representing God and His Messiah will be made the same as they are, brute, without righteousness, totally wicked and removed from anything that is holy. That is why they intend to “gloat” (Hebrew ḥâzâ), over it. The phrase, “let our eyes gloat over Zion, has the meaning of a look of evil pleasure at what they intend to do with righteous Zion. However, in magnificent contrast, God’s intention is for His covenant people to, “Look on Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful home, a tent that will not be removed; its stakes will never be pulled up, neither will any of its ropes be broken.” Isaiah 33:20 Also Isaiah declared, “O LORD, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people, and be put to shame; yes, fire will consume your adversaries” Isaiah 26:11. (The bolded words in the above verses is ḥâzâ). God will turn the eyes of His enemies from wicked pleasure to horror as He will consume with fire those who would dare oppose Him. God will also turn the eyes of His people to look with joy on the peaceful and secure city of their delight.
In Micah 4:12, the prophet reveals God’s plans for these opposing nations. They will think their intention and plot to overthrow Jerusalem in the last days will be of their own devising. They will have no comprehension that their motives and motions are directed by the sovereign God of the universe to lead them directly into a deadly trap. The prophet Joel declared a similar prophesy (extended quotation):
9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war,
rouse the mighty men.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weak say,
“I am strong.”
11 Come quickly, all you surrounding nations,
gather yourselves together there.
Bring down your warriors, O LORD.
12 Let the nations rouse themselves,
and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
13 Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, tread grapes for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
for their wickedness is great.
14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon will be darkened,
and the stars will stop shining.
16 The LORD will roar from Zion,
and utter his voice from Jerusalem;
the heavens and the earth will shake.
The LORD will be a refuge to his people,
and a stronghold to the people of Israel.
Joel in this passage reveals the location where the nations that come against Jerusalem/Zion will meet their certain doom. In Joel 3:2, 12 this location is the “Valley of Jehoshaphat,” which has the literal meaning of “Yahweh judges.” This valley is not exactly identified,15 see Daniel 11:45. Zechariah 9:11-17; and 12:1-11; and Revelation 16:16, yet it will be of sufficient size to accommodate the armies of many nations who will be gathered by God to come to Israel with the intention of destroying God’s heritage. It will be the place of the battle (campaign) of Armageddon. The metaphor of being gathered as “sheaves to the threshing floor,” Micah 4:12, sets up the description in 4:13 of God’s empowerment of His faithful remnant to destroy the gathered armies. See also Micah 5:9.
In Micah 4:13, the nations that are gathered by God to come against His covenant people, will be threshed and beaten into pieces. The picture here is that of a ancient threshing floor in which an ox with its strong hooves thresh the sheaves of grain separating the sheaves from the grain. A well-known verse, Deuteronomy 25:4, “Do not muzzle the ox when it treads the grain,” reveals the use of the oxen in this capacity (as well as a lesson for payment for work done, 1 Timothy 5:18). Isaiah declared a similar prophecy for God’s covenant people who will destroy their enemies by means of the threshing sledge, “Look, I will make you to be a new sharp threshing instrument having many teeth. You will thresh the mountains, crush them and make the hills like chaff.16 You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, and the whirlwind will scatter them. Then you will rejoice in the LORD; you will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:15-16. In sharp contrast to the days when God’s people will be oppressed and threshed, Isaiah 21:10, the Lord will reverse the fortunes of His people and they will be an instrument of the Lord to “thresh” their enemies. See also Proverbs 20:26.
The significance of the “threshing floor” should not be forgotten by students of the Scriptures. King David was instructed by the seer (prophet) Gad, to erect an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah (Ornan) the Jebusite. It was this threshing floor which David would purchase which would later be the site for the temple, 2 Samuel 24:18-24; 1 Chronicles 21:18-30. The “threshing floor” would become the most holy place in all of Israel and it will be in a far future day, a symbol of the Lord’s destruction of His enemies by the instruments of threshing, His covenant people.
The Lord’s people are also described as having horns of iron. Horns are depicted in the Scriptures as symbols of power and destruction for the goring ox, Exodus 21:28-36; Deuteronomy 33:17, for people, 1 Kings 22:11 and most importantly as a metaphor for God’s power, “God brought them out of Egypt; he is for them like the horns of a wild ox.” Numbers 23:22. Also, “God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, And will crush their bones in pieces, And shatter them with his arrows.” Numbers 24:8 (NASB). See also Deuteronomy 33:17; and Psalm 75:10. Horns, as a metaphor of strength, are depicted in a Messianic context in the O.T. in 1 Samuel 2:1, 10; Psalm 89:17, 24; 92:10; 132:17; 148:14; and in Luke 1:69 in the N.T.16 God empowers His people in Micah 4:13, with the symbols of hooves of bronze and horns of iron to break their enemies into pieces.
God’s people will, after defeating their enemies, devote the plunder (stolen gain) and the wealth of their enemies to “Lord of the whole earth.” This title for God is extremely significant for the peoples of the earth will then know for certain that the “Holy One of Israel” Isaiah 17:7, is the true Lord of the whole earth. The psalmist declared, “The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.” Psalm 97:5-6. See also Zechariah 4:14; and 6:5.
5:1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
they have laid a siege against us;
they will strike the ruler of Israel
with a rod on the cheek.
Micah 5:1 should be understood as completing the prophetic message of 4:9-10 as these verses discuss the events of Judah’s distress pertaining to the Babylonian captivity. Micah 5:1 has been the source of much debate among Biblical scholars with many suggestions regarding the historical situation to which it applies. Some suggest is fits best with the Assyrian assault of Judah. Others suggest it refers to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, and some suggest it refers to the days of Messiah’s first advent.
The difficulties of exact placement of this prophecy center on the first and second phrases, Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops. The ESV, KJV, LEB, NASB, NIV and NKJV all have wording very similar to the DASV. However the CSB has “Now, daughter who is under attack, you slash yourself in grief.” The New Revised Standard Version, following the LXX has. “Now you are walled around with a wall.” Biblical scholars also have varying interpretations of the Hebrew text for these phrases. Without going into a lengthy discussion of the various interpretations of the English versions and Biblical scholars it is deemed best to take the wording of the DASV as a very reasonable translation of the Hebrew text for these two phrases.
As the context of Micah 4:9-10 and 5:1 points to the days of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem the prophet’s declaration to the inhabitants of Jerusalem to “muster your troops” indicates the attitude of the people who have rejected God’s covenant and His rule over them. They are thus left with no other defense but to prepare themselves for impending war. They are called “daughter of troops” as an identification with the phrase of 4:8, 10, “daughter of Zion,” and “daughter of Jerusalem” in 4:8. The LORD is clearly telling His people who have rejected Him to defend themselves as they have refused to look to Him for defense.
The phrase in 5:1, “they have laid siege against us,” refers to the campaign of the Babylonians who first came against Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and completed the destruction of the city in 587/6 B.C. The days of the Babylonian campaign against Jerusalem are described in 2 Kings chapters 24-25 and 2 Chronicles chapter 36. See also Daniel 1:1-2. The siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians included the subservience of the last Judean kings to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the deportation of many of the sons of the royal and noble families of Judah to Babylon along with much of the general population of Jerusalem as well as the eventual breaching of Jerusalem’s walls and the complete destruction of the city and its temple. Many articles of temple worship were taken to Babylon. But many of these accompanied those who later returned to Jerusalem following the decree of Cyrus, Ezra 1:1-11.
The last part of Micah 5:1, “they will strike the ruler of Israel with a rod on the cheek,” refers in context of 4:9-10, 5:1 to the capture and abuse of king Zedekiah, 2 Kings 25:5-7. The word “ruler” Hebrew šâp̱aṭ, in this last phrase of Micah 5:1 is also translated as “judge” in many English versions as it has the literal meaning of governing as well as judging and passing sentence in a legal proceeding. The kings of Judah and Israel acted in this dual capacity as well as monarchs throughout history who ruled over their realms as well as being the final arbiters of important judicial matters. The Messiah will be both ruler and judge in His earthly kingdom, Isaiah 9:7 and chapter 11. Some understand that this last part of Micah 5:1 refers prophetically to the beatings of Jesus Christ during His first advent, but this did not occur during warfare or when Jerusalem was under siege by a destroying enemy.
Notes for Micah 4:9-5:1
- See Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, pages 91-92 for a discussion on the LORD as kinsmen-redeemer. See also R. Laird Harris, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, article 300 (g̱â’al), pages 144-145.
- Walter Kaiser, Micah, pages 62-63.
- Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah, Chapter 14
- John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near, Moody Publishers, 2007, page 233.
- R. D. Culver, Article on Armageddon, ZPEB, Volume 1, page 311.
- Eugene H. Merrill, Psalm 89 God’s Faithful Promise of Messiah, The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy, Note 25, page 641.