The beginning of Micah, our reading today, is in the form of a lawsuit in the ancient world. God has a serious legal issue with Israel: a covenant broken — perhaps we’d call it breach of contract, although covenants are far more serious than contracts. So let’s open up this legal proceeding…
Let God be witness against you
Kind of an ironic twist isn’t it? Usually men are called upon to swear by God as they witness for or against someone, but here God Himself is called as a witness against someone. God, the One under Whom the mountains melt and the valleys split, has a real problem with you, Israel and Judah. The whole idea is terrifying, if we let the gravity of it all sink in! And yet… if you are a Christian by New Testament standards, you, too, are in covenant with the Lord — a “contract” that must never be broken making material things our new gods, by ignoring the Lord’s commands, by abusing His grace with unrepentant sin. God could be witness against us, too — “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.” Hebrews 10:26, 27, NAS95.
Puns with a point
The ancient Hebrew culture loved a good play on words; among other things they make things more memorable. In His fury God rolls out a list of puns with painful twists:
- Beth-le-aphrah (“house of dust”) roll yourself in the dust.
- Go on your way, inhabitant of Shaphir (“pleasantness”), in shameful nakedness.
- Zaanan (“going out”) does not escape
- Beth-ezel (“house of removal”): He will take from you its support.
- Maroth (“bitterness”) Becomes weak waiting for good, Because a calamity has come down from the LORD To the gate of Jerusalem.
- The houses of Achzib (“lying foundation”) will become a deception To the kings of Israel.”
- “Moreover, I will bring on you The one who takes possession, O inhabitant of Mareshah (“possession”).
- The glory of Israel will enter Adullam (a cave where David once hid).
You have to speak up
The indictments of some of the evil that Israel and Judah are listed in Micah 2, essentially scheming theft (sometimes through official channels — think Ahab taking Naboth’s vineyard) and false prophecies. In fact, true prophecies are seriously out of favor (v. 6a), and “ear ticklers” were far more popular: “If a man walking after wind and falsehood Had told lies and said, ‘I will speak out to you concerning wine and liquor,’ He would be spokesman to this people.” Micah 2:11, NAS95. But God’s plea with them was: “‘…But if they do not speak out concerning these things, Reproaches will not be turned back…Do not My words do good To the one walking uprightly?” Micah 2:6, 7, NAS95.
The point here is that good men must not keep silent. God’s word is what saves men — not good examples (as necessary as they are to “set the table” for evangelism), not good intentions, not unending tolerance for evil. It is crucial to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), whether you’re a preacher, an elder, a rank-and-file Christian, a neighbor, a parent, or a friend.
The problem, the prediction, the promise, and the path to it
Micah 3 and 4 is a panoramic view of what was in Israel’s present and future. The folly of Israel’s rulers was typical of the whole nation: “Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, Her priests instruct for a price And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD saying, “Is not the LORD in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.”” Micah 3:11, NAS95. And as a result of their foolishness “…Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest.” Micah 3:12, NAS95. But there was hope…
“And it will come about in the last days That the mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between many peoples And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.” Micah 4:1-3, NAS95.
But the way to the promise and hope was Babylon. “Babylon?!” Yes, Babylon.
I talked with a lot of people over the years who’ve managed to make a pretty big mess of their lives and the lives of others. I want to offer them hope, so that they won’t get too discouraged about their situation, but everybody wants everything to be OK now — with as little pain and sweat as possible. The truth is, however, that when we’ve messed things up, often (almost always) the path to the hope is through a lot of work, hard times, suffering, time, and — well — Babylon.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.