In many homes and churches in Jersey (in the whole world, actually) the above words (in bold) will be read these days – Christmas time.
They are on some Christmas cards. They are of greater importance than all that has been written in 2009 about global warming. (Your response is probably, “Don’t be stupid, Syvret – that can’t be true.”)
The words were written around BC 740 – and preserved since then in the national archives of the nation of Israel. In BC 0 (also AD 0), Micah’s manuscript was closely examined and the words in bold above were quoted to King Herod the Great (King of the Jews BC 40 – AD 4) - because he wanted to know where the Messiah of Israel would be born.
So, yes, Herod was advised that, as the carol says, the Messiah would be born in the “little town of Bethlehem” because it was in their national archives that Micah had written that the LORD had said, “...you, Bethlehem, ... who are too little....from you shall come forth ...”
But wait. Micah wrote that the LORD had said, “...from you shall come forth for me...” Would this future Messiah come out of Bethlehem for the LORD – that is, to do precisely what the LORD God Almighty wanted done?
But that’s not the only reason why Christmas is SO VERY important.....
It’s important because of Micah’s next words, “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth....” The “he” is, again, the LORD God Almighty: the LORD who “shall give them up” until the one who is to do what He wants done will be born in Bethlehem.
What was it like – to be “given up” by God? Micah spelt it out in BC 740. The nation of Israel was divided in civil war. There was the north (Israel) and the south (Judah). Both territories were determined to get ahead of each other. And within each territory those who were a bit ahead of others were focussing on getting further ahead, by fair and by foul.
Life was already awful then for two reasons: first, those striving to get ahead hurt themselves through their seeking of what appeared to be good - everyone; second, all who strived to get ahead hurt all others terribly - everyone. (One of the consequences of all my strivings to get ahead is global warming.)
Micah had to deliver this message from the LORD, “He will give them up until....” But he had to spell it out in all its practical, physical, historic, awfulness. “Writhe and groan ... like a woman in labour, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon.” They would go into concentration camps similar to those in WW2 – but in Babylon, the heart of the Assyrian Empire at that time. In addition, a century or so later the southern part of Israel would also go there, having been virtually wiped out, when the Babylonian Empire had got ahead.
Those who heard Micah’s message first hand knew whether to cry or laugh. They cried – and went on crying. It took 740 years of the LORD “giving up” his people to the consequences of their own self-strivings before the announcement came true and “she who is in labour has given birth”. But throughout some of them lived in confident hope.
Why is Christmas SO VERY important? Let this Bethlehem baby, aged 33, speak for himself. “The Son of Man will be given up to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and give him up to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
Let one of his followers in AD 58 now speak. “Jesus our Lord ... was given up on account of our trespasses and raised on account of our being made righteous.”
Yes, Jesus was given up to put an end, for some, to God’s giving up on them, giving up on his own people. Successful for them, he was raised.