In spring, the world wakes up. Leaves and flowers emerge to slowly soak our vision with color. Snow melts and rain falls. Animals come out of hibernation and birds return with ceaseless song. And the Assyrians march.
700 years before the birth of Christ the chosen people of Israel were clearly warned about their unfaithfulness. The prophet Micah along with Isaiah and Hosea were God’s transmitters at this time. Through them God spoke both warning and comfort. Wicked kings of Israel and Judah were warned over and over to stop leading the people in worshiping manmade gods. Like strong-willed children, they refused to obey for as long as they were allowed.
Now, in the spring, the Assyrians would march. Micah said, “ when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses.” The people hearing his message would have understood what I’m about to tell you.
Every spring the Assyrian Army began its annual campaign of conquering expansion. A great procession of standard-bearers, the king and his bodyguards, armed chariots, cavalry, foot soldiers, and supply wagons would leave the capital city of Assur. This army grew as it moved through territories already under Assyrian control, for each region was required to contribute troops. Eventually the great army reached unconquered areas.
Any town in the path of the Assyrian army was faced with grim choices. They could hide inside the city walls, engage the enemy in open battle, or give up. For those who decide to lock the gates, the Assyrians had developed tactics and machines to enter locked cities. The Assyrians had schools to train specialists how to mine under city walls. They developed heavy battering rams with roofs to protect the troops below and towers for archers. The end was usually swift. Soon citizens, or dismembered parts of them, were dangling on poles or hanging from trees all round the city walls. Other towns understood the message and opened their gates. They would be incorporated into the Assyrian army, taxed heavily, and relocated to prevent uprisings.
Those bold enough to face the Assyrians on the field faced a super army. The Assyrians had highly developed military tactics and weaponry. They used iron in their swords, battering rams, arrows and spears. The bronze shields and armor used by most other armies were useless against Assyrian iron. Heavy chariots drawn by two horses were manned by a driver, archer and rear shield bearer. Archers on foot each traveled with a shield bearer and a quiver of 50 armor-piercing, iron tipped arrows. Their powerful bows were as tall as they were and were lethal at a distance further than 2 football fields. Some archers rode horseback. For hundreds of years the Assyrians were a fearsome, ruthless, and unstoppable force.
The Assyrians were coming to Israel. But paralyzing fear is not the theme of Micah’s message in our reading. Micah speaks of a shepherd, of peace and security in a kingdom that spans the whole earth. Despite the fact that the Assyrians are coming.
Micah’s audience understood the Assyrians in terms of sheer terror. God, through Micah used the Assyrians to represent the sinful world. Our reading is really about the Messiah. It is an assurance that the good shepherd will stand his ground in the face of the darkest evil. Peace on earth. Peace in the face of violence. Security in the face of clear and present danger. God told his people of Micah’s time and he tells you and me about a good shepherd who leads us through the dark valley of shadows and into green pastures.
Peace has come to earth. Just as some people rejected Jesus because he wasn’t what they expected, people are still waiting for peace on earth. It’s here, but it doesn’t match the fantasy that expects an end to violence. Peace is an individual experience made possible in the heart of faith. Peace shines like a candle in the faith of a believer. Jesus changed everything. He was and is everything you need to be. So exhale. Be at peace. Be still. He did it. It is finished. Since the time of Jesus the Gospel message of forgiveness has spread to every region of the earth. The Holy Spirit is lighting little candles in the hearts of humanity. God’s kingdom of peace continues to grow within governments, across borders, throughout time.
Now the Assyrians are coming your way. The oppression of sin has arrived at your gates and methodically climbs, bashes, or digs it’s way into your life. The effects of sin cause disease, jealousy, chemical dependency, slander, and betrayal. Satan slays souls with cutting edge technology and the world ruthlessly humiliates those who resist the tide of popular opinion. The battle is on.
Jesus, our shepherd stood while an angry mob ambushed him in the dark. He could have leveled the mighty Assyrians with a word. He could do the same to a modern army. But he stood while he was accused and abused. He brought peace to the ends of the earth by allowing his own creation to use him as a punching bag. Why? So you wouldn’t have to be afraid of your past sins, present threats, or future judgement. This is peace on earth, not the absence of violence, but the knowing you are loved and rescued. You are loved by God. You are not alone. For us fights the valiant one.