Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.V.
(1) O daughter of troops.—This verse coheres better with the former chapter, to which it is attached in the Hebrew Version. Micah again interpolates a prediction of trouble and dismay between the sentences describing triumph and glory. The sentence of smiting the judge has its historical fulfilment in the indignities which happened to King Zedekiah.
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.(2) But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah.—This is a passage of immense significance, through the interpretation given to it by the chief priests and scribes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Beth-lehem Ephratah: the two names, modern and ancient, are united, each of them having reference to the fertility of the country. In the Gospel the scribes quote, evidently from memory, the passage from Micah, in reply to Herod’s question; and their first variation is in the title of the town—“Thou, Beth-lehem (not Ephratah, but), land of Judah.” So also the people protested against Jesus on the ground of His being from Galilee, for, “Hath not the Scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:42.)
Though thou be little.—Strictly, art little among the thousands, or chiliads: a word analogous to our “hundreds;” a division of the tribes. In St. Matthew the word is paraphrased by princes, as representing the chiliads.
Yet out of thee.—St. Matthew—“for out of thee,” the illative conjunction—helps to show that the quotation is really a paraphrase, conveying the ultimate intention of the prophet’s words, which contrasts the smallness of the chiliad with the greatness of its destiny.
Whose goings forth have been from of old.—The nativity of the governor of Israel is evidently contrasted with an eternal nativity, the depth of which mystery passes the comprehension of human intellect: it must be spiritually discerned. The Creed of the Church expresses the article of faith as “Begotten of His Father before all worlds.” He came forth unto Me to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting, from the days of antiquity.
Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.(3) Therefore will he give them up.—There is a suggestion here of a parable, setting forth the smallness of Bethlehem, which gave birth to the mighty Ruler that was to come from it. So the nation was to be brought very low before the nativity of the Virgin-born.
And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.(4) He shall stand and feed—i.e., He shall stand with the majesty of an assured sovereignty, uniting the dignity of king with the tenderness of a shepherd’s care—a thought which, underlying the notion of a Jewish monarch (see Psalm 78:70-72), becomes a distinguishing attribute of the King Messiah (Isaiah 40:2; see also Note on Ezekiel 34:2).
His God.—The Messiah was to be subordinate to the Father in heaven—“My Father is greater than I”—and they—i.e., His subjects—shall abide. It is impossible to conceive this prophecy as satisfied by any event short of that which is the foundation of the Christian faith.
And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.(5) And this man shall be the peace—i.e., He shall Himself be Peace (after the same idiomatic expression David speaks of himself, “For my love they are my adversaries, but I am Prayer”—Psalm 109:4). This sentence is connected with the former instead of the following passage, with which the Authorised Version joins it.
When the Assyrian shall come into our land.—This may refer to the imminent apprehension of the invasion of Sennacherib, but the actual event does not correspond to it. It may look forward to the time when the enemies of Israel attacked the Jews in the Maccabean period, and the shepherds, seven or eight—i.e., an indefinite number—successfully resisted the attacks upon the flock. The intention of the passage may be spiritually interpreted as pointing to the eight principal, strictly anointed men, who, as Christian pastors, receive their commission from the Messiah.
And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.(6) They shall waste.—Literally, feed upon, consume, depasture. The Land of Nimrod represents the opposing world-power.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the LORD, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.(7) As a dew from the Lord.—The Jews should, on their return from captivity, pour down their influence upon the nations, as God-sent showers upon the grass. So, through the dispersion of Jewish Christians, on the death of St. Stephen, the Lord caused the knowledge of the truth with which the Jews were cloud-charged to descend upon many people: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass; as showers that water the earth” (Psalm 72:6).
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.(8) As a lion among the beasts of the forest.—There is righteous wrath as well as all-embracing mercy with God. Christ, whose graciousness is likened to the dew, and His gentleness to the lamb, is at the same time the Lion of the tribe of Judah. At the opening of the “sixth seal” the kings of the earth and great men are represented as in extreme terror at “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots:(10) It shall come to pass in that day.—The prophet now passes on to the purification of the Church from the defilements mentioned by Isaiah (Isaiah 2:3-10), with reference to the ultimate holiness which shall be established “in that day.”
I will cut off thy horses.—The possession of horses was imperatively forbidden to the Jewish king (Deuteronomy 17:16), and Isaiah describes the land as at this time “full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.” As symbolising the power of man, these horses shall be cut off, and the reliance of the Church shall be on God alone. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).
And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strong holds:(11) I will cut off the cities.—Fenced cities and the other paraphernalia of war will be unnecessary in the Messiah’s kingdom: “they shall not learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).
And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee: so will I destroy thy cities.(14) I will pluck up thy groves—i.e., either the statues, pillars, or trees connected with the worship of Baal and Astarte. Some such statue was placed by Manasseh even in the house of the Lord, from which it was brought out and burnt by Josiah (2Kings 23:6).
Thy cities—i.e., the pollutions, tumults, &c., of which the cities were the strongholds.
And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.(15) Such as they have not heard.—Rather, which have not been obedient—i.e., which had not availed themselves of the opportunities of learning the true religion.