“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)
Hope deferred. Noah Webster defines the word defer as meaning to delay or to put off; to postpone to a future time. Solomon thought about this too. In Proverbs 13:12 he shared, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
That’s interesting. Here that word is again being used in Song of Songs 1:4. “Draw me after you: let’s run! The king has brought me into his bedroom.” The word in Proverbs is mashak. It can mean to draw, continue, defer, extend, forbear, handle, make long, scatter, and stretch out. Here in Song of Songs, it’s the related word moshkeni. It can also mean “to draw up, to raise, to extend, to draw in, to entice or allure, to draw out (as with a weapon) and to drag or seize.” They are different words, but related, and maybe that matters today.
I mean, here we have this woman who has been waiting. She has kept herself pure and now is rejoicing wholly in her groom who rejoices just as much in her. She has waited and now she gets to enjoy the reward of that wait, intimacy with the one she loves. She calls her lover and at the same time she offers herself to him. No one forces anyone. There is “vulnerability and submission along with honor and glory” in love. Lust, on the other hand, is about domination. There is none of that here. Intimacy is about love. And this verse in Micah, about the ruler coming from Bethlehem is all about that type of love and that type of intimacy and how we miss out on it because we chase after others and other things. It’s about a “God who loves through surrender and vulnerability leading to glorification.” (Skip Moen)
The story in Micah is about love twisted. Israel should have been saying to God, “Draw me after You: let’s run!” They should have been saying, “Draw me after You: let’s do life wholly together!” “Bring me into Your bedroom so I can know You intimately and You can know me intimately, so that we can be one.” But they were drawn to others and were void of intimacy with the One who truly loved them and could provide all they could ever desire that was wonderful and good and pure and true.
Hope deferred leads to something; it leads to a sick heart. It’s the Hebrew word chalah. This means “to be rubbed or worn; to be weak, sick, afflicted, or to grieve, make sick…(be) diseased, (put to) grief, be grieved, (be) grievous, infirmity…be wounded.” So hope deferred leads to this. Which makes me think if this Hebrew idea of hope, tocheleth, is a hope based on a specific expectation, or a specific Person, and if that expectation is twisted, this is what results. But if our hope is where it was meant to be in our original design, in You, Lord, then our hearts won’t be sick, chalah.
Proverbs reminds us that when the desire, the ta’avah, comes, when what we hoped and longed for expected is here and we hold it in our hands or in our being, we will be delighted and satisfied. Not only that, but it will be a tree of life. Solomon is taking us back to the garden of Eden. What happened when hope and desire were twisted then? Adam and Eve lost the tree of life. But God is telling us there is a way back to the Tree of Life. There is a way back to Him. There is a way that we can untwist our hope and desire and set it back on the One who rightfully deserves it.
Sickness of heart comes from a distorted reality. It grows as we grow away from who we were created and intended to be and to worship. Sickness of heart comes from keeping ourselves from the One who gives us true hope and joy and fulfillment and life and love. Sickness of heart is brought on by our own twistedness. But God loves us so much that You add to our sickness of heart so that we might learn to yearn for You again. When Solomon said in Proverbs 13:25, “The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want,” it’s the same thing going on here. Either my hope is in You, God, who fully satisfies my soul, and I eat of You and want nothing more than to be engulfed by You and for You to draw me to You wholly, or my soul fills my life with things that disappoint and cannot satisfy.
Hope deferred. It may not seem like it in the present, but it’s worth it. The suffering that Israel went through was terrible but it wasn’t pointless. It was for a purpose, to untwist twisted hope. And sometimes hope is so twisted that it takes generations to reshape it. Because here is the promise of hope in the midst of hardship for the people of God to wait for and look forward to, this ruler to come out of Bethlehem Ephratah, to rule Israel; “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Here’s the lover who has always been waiting to draw His people to Him in complete intimacy and will not give up on her. Here’s this prophecy and many others that His people have and had and yet when the time came, when Jesus, the lover of their souls, fulfilled this prophecy, many who should have known, refused to acknowledge the truth. They refused to submit, they didn’t want Him to draw them to Him. They wanted to force Him to come their way.
The truth is that we still act the same way today. It’s not that those particular children of Israel were so bad and worse than us. We’re just like them, just as stubborn, just as twisted by our own desires and hopes that we’ve set up so that we lose sight of the truth which is only found in God, the one who created us. The funny thing is that sometimes we think God looks so small compared to everything else going on in our lives. What a misconception. But the smallest things are often of the greatest importance and not so small as they seem. Like Bethlehem, that everyone made fun of, “like, what good thing comes from Bethlehem?” But then again, the King of the Universe was born there as a little baby, a little baby who came to deliver the world through sacrificing Himself for our sins as he deferred hope to just the right time.
Some things have to be deferred to the right time. Like a caterpillar in its chrysalis has to go through the whole hard process or it won’t succeed in being a butterfly. A woman has to wait until the right time for delivery or the baby may be endangered. And so to Israel and even us, those who come to believe and be grafted in, can’t be returned or be grafted in until our hope is no longer twisted, but in the One who is Hope personified for us.
What am I longing after? What and who do I want to be drawn to and what and who do I want to draw to me? Is my every desire toward You, like it should be? Is it on You because it ought to be or because how could I think of anyone else? Are You truly the One who is satisfying my deepest needs and desires? Are You my delight? Do I run to You and cling to You and care if You cling to me? Do I want nothing more than to spend intimate time with You? Can I get enough of You? Because if I can, something is wrong, something is seriously wrong.
In this world, some hope in You is deferred until I enter eternity with You. But because You sent Jesus into Bethlehem to fulfill the hope of Your people Israel and the hope of mankind we can know that our hope is not deferred forever. He has come! And we can run to Him! Run Israel, into the arms of the lover of your soul! Run, Gentile, into the arms of the lover of your soul! “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’”
And they did. Because it’s not a secret. God has made Himself known through His word and through Jesus Christ. Come and see your Savior. Hope is here. Draw after Him and He will draw after You. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) May our heart cry and our hope be “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3) You know it’s not only our prayer, but it’s Jesus’ prayer too. He asked not only for the disciples, but for those who would untwist their thinking and draw to Him, that “they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us…” I want a lover who wants me just as much as I want him. And maybe, the reality is, that Jesus, the Lover of our souls, loves us more than we could ever know how to love Him. But, I want to learn to love back like that, and I want to be enveloped in His love as I learn. Hope doesn’t have to be deferred. It can be experienced in a relationship with Jesus Christ if I only submit and and respond.