Posts

Click here for the reading: Micah 7:18-20.

These final verses of Micah’s prophecy are the faithful response of the Israelite who has seen the salvation of God. The injustice of God’s people and their wanton disregard for coming disaster prompt the remnant to cry aloud to their God. Promises abound, including the promise of a ruler in Israel from ancient days. But before those promises are fulfilled, the Lord’s case is made against his people. They are cut off and the wicked are rooted out. Anger and wrath are prepared and delivered. The mounting turmoil and destruction discipline the faithful to put their trust in God, to wait for his salvation.

The righteous person must have an understanding of God’s indignation over sin. He cannot imagine that God’s steadfast love and pardoning compassion have overridden his righteousness and justice. These are not at odds as they appear to be among men. Rather, God’s mercy impels him to seek justice in some other way than by vengeance against his children.

As God passes over the transgressions of his remnant, as he treads them underfoot and casts them into the depths of the sea, he is also in the land bringing judgment. That means that Jacob and Abraham must trust that there will be shelter in the midst of the storm. Just as the children of Israel trusted that their first-born sons would be spared even as the cry went up in Egypt, so also must the faithful believe that there is blood that has been shed to cover their sins while wrath is poured out on the sons of disobedience. They must believe that they are the ones whom God has sought, whom he has called, and for whom he seeks vindication against the wicked.

Their security rests on the pledge of God to their fathers from days of old. The oath that he swore to their father Abraham is the cord that holds their history and future together. If he is not a God who keeps his word, then they of all people are to be pitied for having trusted and been put to shame. But if He is a faithful God, who keeps his word and fulfills his promises, then they are blessed among men, for God has shown them favor. There can, however, be no uncertainty about which is true of God. He has already demonstrated his faithfulness to promises even as he displayed his glory before the nations. He kept his word, risking his name by offering it to a people who would be wayward and impious. He has held nothing back, sending judges and prophets to keep his people within the bounds of the covenant. He is the good shepherd, whose goodness is manifest in his will to lay down his life for his people.

Click here for the reading: Micah 5:2-5.

Micah prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and the threat of a coming siege places this prophecy in the days of Hezekiah. In his fourteenth year, around the year 701 B.C., Sennacherib laid siege to the cities of Judah and even Jerusalem itself. This was indeed a slap on the cheek of the king, a deep insult as the example of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:24 shows. He seemed powerless to stand before Assyria. What are some examples of this complete powerlessness in the lives of your hearers? How do they approach those situations? How do the Psalms deal with such a situation, such as Psalm 28?

Yet the Lord would provide help for His people in the face of certain defeat. From Bethlehem in the region of Ephrathah would come deliverance. How odd this seemed, since Bethlehem was tiny and insignificant! It was too small to be counted among Joshua’s conquests. It was too small to even be considered a good levy of troops. Yet from the middle of nowhere would come a king over all Israel, just like David. Does God send help from unexpected places in our lives? Why do we tend to look toward the “obvious” places even when looking for help from God? Consider Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 and how it talks about God’s help in trouble.

God promised to send a ruler, one whose coming forth was from old. This made him like David, since it had been a long time since David’s time and David himself came from Bethlehem. Even though Hezekiah was better than most, there had been no king like David. The Lord thus promised not only deliverance, but restoration. The formerly good days would return and be better than ever. Why does God exceed our expectations when giving us help? Why do we tend to set our expectations so low? Why does God say that David will rule over Israel in Ezekiel 34:11-24?

When Israel returned from her exile, this ruler would shepherd God’s people. They would find the security and peace they sought. Even though they feared that Sennacherib would take everything from them, this ruler like David would restore everything in abundance. How does Jesus fulfill these promises, especially the promises of a worldly peace? How does Jesus give us comfort even in very worldly concerns? How does Paul speak about worldly concerns in Romans 8?

By the time Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in Matthew 2, the Assyrian empire had crumbled into dust. No less than three other empires had risen and fallen within that time period. Yet this prophecy gave Israel hope in the days of Assyria, for God promised here that Sennacherib would fall. Little Bethlehem stood against mighty Assyria. How do God’s future promises comfort us in present troubles? Why should we not spiritualize or generalize these promises? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 13:17?

“Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against His people, and He will contend with Israel” (Micah 6:1-2). Moses, like Micah, had also called heaven and earth as witness against Israel. Choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)! But Israel has not chosen life, but rather the way of death.

The language of “indictment” is, of course, a legal term. The Lord has brought a suit against His faithless people. Assyria must come as a punishment, which Micah clarifies in the previous chapter, but now the legal reasoning of this judgment is laid bare. God brought His people out of Egypt, out of the iron furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51). He sent Moses and Aaron (Psalm 106:26-36), and their sister Miriam the prophetess (Exodus 15:20). When Balak sought to curse, Balaam spoke a word of blessing contrary to his will (Numbers 22-24; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; 2 Peter 2:15), despite his idolatry which even later proved a snare (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14). But what has Israel done in return? She has whored after idols, from the Baal of Peor in Shittim (Numbers 25) to their godless and false worship in Gilgal (Hosea 12:11).

Micah, under the weight of this great accusation, therefore asks the question of a soul realizing the depths of sin: “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)? His three questions, increasing in severity, point to the fruitlessness of any manmade way. Burnt offerings, though commanded by God, will not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). They do not save in and of themselves, in some magical fashion, but point to the blood of Christ which alone takes away sin. Even thousands upon thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil cannot accomplish this. Nor can sacrificing even what is most dear, a child, count for anything when it comes to righteousness before the all holy God. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?

Micah’s injunction to do “what is good,” therefore, is not a call to make amends with God through obedience. He has just expressly rejected such a conclusion with the three previous questions. Rather, he calls Israel as a defendant to do what she should already be doing. It is not a word spoken to an unbeliever, but one who knows the will of God already, though he is not following it as he ought. It is a call to return to the way things should be already, for “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

The prophet Micah was more or less a contemporary of Isaiah.  Micah 1:1 notes that his ministry stretched from the reign of Jotham to Hezekiah in Judah.  His time was a turbulent one.  While Jotham and Hezekiah were both good kings in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 15:32-38 and 18:1-8), Ahaz was not (2 Kings 16).  If things had been improving when Micah began, they certainly took a hard turn not long after.  On top of that, the northern kingdom of Israel fell during his days (2 Kings 17:6).  It is a period of turbulence and upheaval everywhere.

Micah initially directs his rebuke against the people in general, warning them of their coming destruction because of their sins.  The people were complacent and distorted the promises of God to mean something entirely different.  “’Do not preach’—thus they preach— ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us’” (Micah 2:6).  God will surely not destroy His chosen people, right?  But they were carnally secure, thinking that the promises applied to them even if they did not walk in the ways of the Lord.  “If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people” (Micah 2:11)!  The Lord does not promise to save the faithless or the rebellious.  Was that the case, who would ever be condemned?

Micah also rebukes those in command, because they in particular were “eating up” the people through their sins (Micah 3).  The prophets were preaching lies and crying “peace” when there was no peace.  They were promising that the sinful people would remain in the land, though in our own day many say that God does not actually hate sin.  Manifest sinners are part of the Church, right?  Nor is it right to say that we are all sinners, which is true enough in itself.  No one deserves grace.  But to say that someone who refuses to repent of a sin, declaring it to be natural or that God has made them this way, is to declare peace when there is no peace.  “Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God” (Micah 3:6-7).

But the Lord promises to His faithful remnant that “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2).  If the day of destruction is surely coming, then the day of peace is also coming in Jesus Christ.  Bethlehem Ephrathah, being too small to supply men for military service, will be the place from whom the Ruler shall come (Micah 5:2).  Jesus, born in Bethlehem, will be the one to bring peace to the land.  There will be no more war or idolatry in the land anymore.

Micah 6-7 forms the final section of the book.  The Lord brings an indictment against His people:  why have they turned away when He has done so much for them (Micah 6:1-5)?  It will not do to offer thanksgiving without atonement, so to speak.  Sin must be atoned for, and rivers of oil will not cover over it (Micah 6:6-8).  The wicked will come to an end for their sins, especially seen in the sins against their own brothers (Micah 6:9-16).

Yet even though the righteous man suffers much, especially at the hands of the wicked, the Lord will not fail him.  He is not righteous because of anything he has done, but because the Lord “pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.  He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon His vindication” (Micah 7:9).  After all, God pardons iniquity and passes over transgression for His faithful remnant.  Casting our sins into the depths of the seas, the Lord shows that promised faithfulness.  Abraham and our fathers have not been cast off, and God does not cast us off because of His Son.