“The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man. 8The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which mauls and mangles as it goes, and no one can rescue. 9Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed.”
The images in this passage intrigue me as they seem so opposite in their impression but are written of the same group of people. In a passage like this we see the value of two contexts of interpretation. One, we see that the entire book of Micah and the oscillating themes he employs provide interpretive direction. Two, we see the importance of the larger canonical context of doctrine as each text contributes to the body of doctrine and at the same time yields to its instruction.
One aspect of Micah that helps is the recurring theme of the sinfulness of the people, their rebellion even in the face of divine favor (1:1-16; 3:2 -they “hate good and love evil;” 7:1-6 – “All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; Each of the hunts the other with a net. Concerning evil, both hands do it well”). They were like this in spite of having been “ransomed from the house of slavery” in Egypt and were led by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Balaam’s intended curses were changed into blessings (6:3-5). Ingratitude, self-will, perverse hearts, and hatred of righteousness smothered their consciences. Israel and Judah were pictures of fallen humanity.
In addition, we find the encouraging theme of the preservation of a remnant that expands beyond Israel: ‘I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep in the fold” (2:12, 13); “Many nations will come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us about his ways and that we may walk in his paths’. . . . He will render decisions for mighty distant nations… ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant and the outcasts a strong nation, and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on and forever.’” (4:1-3, 6, 7).
Another theme of Micah is the certainty of God’s purpose in redemption. When God gathers the remnant of Israel (2:12), he will send the “breaker” before them, they pass through the gate and “the Lord is at their head” (2:13). When they are in exile in Babylon, the Lord said, “There you will be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies” (4:10). Bethlehem will be the place from which the ultimate Redeemer goes forth and “the remainder of his brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And he will arise and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will remain, because at that time he will be great to the ends of the earth. This one will be our peace” (5:2-5).
Violence constitutes another theme, a theme that appears in our text. The Lord looks on the nations as sheaves gathered to the threshing floor and commands, “Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion, for your horn I will make iron and your hoofs I will make bronze, that you may pulverize many people, that you may devote to the Lord their unjust gain and their wealth to the Lord of all the earth” (4:13).
Our text sees the “remnant of Jacob” as “among many peoples” and “among the nations” (5:7a, 8a). This picks up the image of many peoples streaming to the mountain of the Lord to walk in the paths of the Lord, embrace his law, and adhere to his word (4:2). This theme of redemption coming to the nations was difficult to absorb by the Jews of the first century, but this was indeed the “plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” that the remnant now known as the “church” would display the “manifold wisdom of God … according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In light of that divinely ordained principle, “the remnant of Jacob among many peoples,” Paul was given the grace “to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-11).
The image of dew and showers (5:7) shows the gentle irresistibility of the operation of divine grace. “Dew from the Lord” simply appears through a process that is not controlled by man and cannot be resisted by man. Showers “do not wait for man or delay for the sons of men” (5:7). They fall with gentleness and health giving nurture for the vegetation. No one can say to either of these forces of divinely ordained functions of nature, “Stop.” The remnant of Jacob is scattered throughout every nation and will not yield to human contrivances or resistance. God’s chosen remnant has appeared like dew and fallen like showers in China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Egypt, Italy, Australia, Romania, Japan, France, Chile, Mexico, Mississippi, Minnesota Las Vegas and on and on. Gentle but irresistible it is. Micah pictured the broad covering of the remnant over the earth, and Jesus looked at the secret but effectual operation of the Spirit in individuals that constitute that dew-like covering as the wind blowing wherever it desires (John 3:8). Where it comes from and where it goes is a mystery, but its effects are clear. None can stop the dew from covering the ground, and none can stop the wind from shaking a leaf, and none can stop the Spirit from effecting the new birth.
The second image seems almost antithetical to the first: from gentleness of dew to a lion among a flock of sheep. We must see that Micah pictures in both of these the reality of effectuality. For effect to take place on hardened and resistant objects, the power must be effectual. The dew and the showers show the determined work of the Spirit in calling a people by his internal life-giving alteration of affections. The second image—the lion and the young lion—demonstrates at least two realities: first, the conquering power of divine truth over all alien philosophies and religious persuasions and, second, the confidence with which the preacher of the gospel will go forth when armed with the “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). For Ezekiel to go to the rebellious house of Israel, God told him that he would make his forehead “like emery harder than flint.” As a result, Ezekiel went “embittered in the rage of [his] spirit, and the hand of the Lord was very strong on [him]” (Ezekiel 3:9, 14).
Micah already has written about threshing the nations and the power to “pulverize many peoples,” and in this image he shows that the minister must be armed and ready for the battle with the full persuasion of the dominance that naturally inheres in revealed truth from God and the seal upon the gospel by the resurrection of Christ. The gospel message is the truth and all else is a lie. A young lion has all that he needs in the middle of a sheep herd to subdue his prey and has no doubt that he certainly will do so. A lion is the chief “among the beasts of the forest.” Even so, the minister of the gospel is called to wield weapons to subdue his prey. He rages against sin and falsehood in direct proportion to his love for the Savior who has given to sinners a soul-saving work carefully explained in a soul-saving message. His weapons are effectual to overcome all that is lifted up against it. Paul testified, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). We see the same image of sure preparation and perfectly fit weapons when we are commanded to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The strength is given us for fighting against opposing powers. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” For this battle we are armed with truth, righteousness, a confident readiness given by the gospel of peace, the reality of faith in a Savior who has conquered death, an invincible salvation that defies the fear of death, the sword provided by the Spirit in giving revealed and inspired truth, and prayer by which we call on the King of kings to bring about his will on earth even as it is done in heaven (Ephesians 6:10-18).
The remnant of Jacob appears like dew that covers the ground, present and refreshing with no force able to inhibit its emergence. The remnant of Jacob proceeds like a young lion among the flocks of sheep—more than conquerors, perfectly panoplied to achieve its goal, armed with invincible weapons in order to effect the invincible purpose of God for the salvation of his elect and the manifestation of his glory.
Dr. Tom Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He joined the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was professor of Church History and chairman of that department. Previously, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a B.A. from Mississippi College and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern. In addition to writing numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles has authored or edited nine books including By His Grace and For His Glory, Baptists and the Bible, and Why I Am a Baptist.
Courses taught: Historical Theology of the Baptists, Historical Theology Overview, Jonathan Edwards & Andrew Fuller.