Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
We are at the 22nd of the 52 Major Events in the Bible. Today we will look at the prophet Micah. He is one of what are called the Minor Prophets, not because what they said was not important but because they wrote less than Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Let’s pray. Father, as I have repeatedly asked this week, so again I ask that your Spirit come through this place and for those who need to be encouraged, may they be encouraged. For those who need to be confronted and challenged, may they be challenged. Father, these issues that we are familiar with, the stories that we have heard, the verses that we have read, Father, may they cut to our hearts and may we understand the message of Micah in America today. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Woe and Weal
There were a few prophets working simultaneously with Isaiah, and one of them was named Micah. The collection of his writings compose the book of Micah in the Old Testament. The Book of Micah is organized around three cycles "woe and weal," an old English phrase. By woe, they mean that Micah is pronouncing judgment, that he is prophesying the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Woe, I found out this week, is actually funeral language, so that when Jesus says “Woe to the Pharisees” he is saying “you are dead, you are in your coffin." Weal is an old English word that means blessing, and we use it because of the alliteration, obviously. Mixed in with all of Micah’s statements of “woe,” statements of judgment, are also statements of “weal,” statements of blessing, where Micah is saying that after times of judgment there will be times of blessing, there will be times of restoration. So Micah weaves the woe and the weal together, judgment and blessing. Cycle two, judgment and blessing, Cycle three, judgment and blessing. I want to look at those three cycles this morning.
First Cycle (Chapters 1-2)
The first cycle of woe and weal are in Micah, Chapter 1 and 2. Micah begins by prophesying the coming destruction of Samaria, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This happened during Micah’s life. In 722 to 721 the Assyrian Empire came down and conquered the Northern Kingdom. Micah also prophesied the coming destruction of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. They had, after all, become just like Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and in 586 B.C. the Babylonian Nation swept in and destroyed the Southern Kingdom. Micah is very clear as to the reason why God is sending foreign powers to punish his children. The first is idolatry. They had worshiped other gods, they had made graven images, and they had not kept the first and second commandments. So, for example, in Micah 1:7, Micah says about the coming destruction of Samaria, “All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces. All her wages shall be burned with fire and all her idols I will lay waste. For from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them and into the fee of a prostitute they shall return.” The Israelites had become idolaters.
The second reason for their punishment in Micah is all of the social injustice in the land. I would like to spend a good deal of time on this topic, but do not have that opportunity here. It is a strong theme in Micah, like it is in Isaiah and in Amos. It was a prosperous time. It was a time in which some people were extremely wealthy and yet, because of their wealth, they were able to oppress the poor. So there is a strong message in Micah about social injustice and the oppression of the poor, fatherless and widows. Micah 2:1-2 for example. The passage I want to focus on this morning is in Micah 2:6-7. When you read the prophets, if you are not familiar with these, you have to really pay attention to the extra space that the editors put between their paragraphs. Have you noticed that? You will be reading along and all of a sudden there will be an extra space. The prophets liked to change the speaker and they don’t tell you they are doing it. God is speaking and the prophet is speaking, then the people are speaking, and it goes back and forth. Well, in verse 6 the people whom Micah is preaching to are doing the speaking and so the people say to Micah “Do not preach...One should not preach of such things. Disgrace will not overtake us. Should this be said, O House of Jacob, has the Lord grown impatient? Are these his deeds?” In other words, the people are saying to Micah “No, no, no, no! Don’t prophesy about coming destruction! Certainly you should not be preaching about that. Certainly disgrace is not going to overtake us. After all, we are the descendants of Abraham! We are the descendants of Israel! We are God’s chosen people!” And they were, they were special. Certainly disgrace will not overcome us! That is what they are saying to Micah. The same idea is repeated again in Micah 3:11. Micah is talking about all the sin that is going on; the leaders are being bribed, the priests are teaching for a price. Then, in the middle of verse 11, the prophesy switches and the people, once again those to whom he is preaching, are saying “Yet they [the Israelites] lean on the Lord and say…Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” They are saying, “Now wait a minute! We are the Israelites! We are the descendants of Abraham! God is in our midst! Certainly no judgment, no punishment will come upon us.” You see, the people against whom Micah is prophesying believe in external religion. That is the key in Micah; that the people he is addressing and the problems he is addressing are because the people believe that religion is something that is external. The people believe that all that God requires is that we periodically go through some sort of external ritual, some religious ritual. So for the people in Micah’s day, they would go to the Temple on Sabbath. They would, perhaps, give some tithes and some offerings. They were living their lives with the trappings of religiosity and beneath this there is even a more fundamental assumption. They believed that because they are the ethnic descendants of Abraham that ultimately they are all going to end up in Heaven. There is a famous passage in the rabbinic literature where Abraham stands by the gates of Hell making sure that no circumcised Jew goes into Hell. There is this fundamental assumption that because I am born Jewish, one way or another, I am going to get into Heaven, and then on top of it I am ''doing'' these religious things; I am going to Sabbath, giving a little tithes, giving a little offering, participating in the trappings of religiosity. Here is the problem. They were saying that the rest of the week I am going to go out and do whatever I want and it is okay if I am an idolater. It is okay if I am unfaithful. It is okay if I oppress the poor. It does not matter if I down trod the widows and the orphans. That is all okay because after all, I go to the Temple of Sabbath, I give my tithes and an offering and after all, I am born Jewish. That is what I mean by external religion; that because I ''do'' certain religious rituals that I can go out and do anything else I want and it doesn’t matter. That was the theological atmosphere in Israel’s day.
In America we often have the same atmosphere. We have the same kind of thinking and it takes many different forms. For some people they say “Well, I had my religious experience. You know, I said the magic prayer, I raised the magic hand at Camp. (I love camps and am glad for the experiences that kids have, but I am ''not'' glad when that is ''all'' they have.) There is this idea that it is enough if I have certain religious experiences, or if I go to church, or if I throw my loose change at God. After all, I am born an American and my parents were very religious and there is this family plan, they think, that if Mom and Dad are religious somehow that gets me into heaven. These are all external, religious things. People sometimes think that if they do these things then they can live any way they decide to because they will receive a Get-out-of-Hell-Free card, or since we are in the prophets, I should say Get-out-of-Gehenna-free card. That is exactly the mentality against which Micah is prophesying. You see, they misunderstood the doctrine of God’s patience. God ''is'' patient with us. He does not punish us immediately when we sin. He gives us time to hear the voice of the Spirit and to be confronted with our sin and repent. But they thought that because God was patient with them that he never was going to punish them. That God’s patience with their sin was really an indication that “Hey, I can keep doing this and I am never going to be punished.”
The same thing comes up in the New Testament, in Romans, Chapter 2. Paul has been discussing the sin. Listen to what he says in Roman’s 2 starting at verse 4. “Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?” In other words, are you thinking that because God is kind and is patient that somehow he is never going to punish you? “not knowing that God’s kindness, [his refusal to punish you immediately] is meant to lead you to repentance.” Paul said, You do not understand why God is being patient. He is giving you time to repent. But because of your hard and impenitent heart, Paul says, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the Day of Wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Now if that does not scare someone, I do not know what will.) It was true in Micah’s day and it is true in our day and it was true in Jesus’ day. You know, this is the kind of thinking that says, “I am going to do a couple of religious things and then I can go out and live anyway I want to, it doesn’t matter.” That is the kind of thinking that got Jesus madder than just about anything else in the Bible. He did not save his greatest annunciations for the flagrant sinners, as we often think of sin. He saved them for the religious types. No one was railed against as much as the Pharisees. Listen to what Jesus says about religiosity on Sunday morning and living any way you want the rest of the week. Matthew, Chapter 23 starting at verse 25, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and the plate that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you are like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful but within are full of dead peoples bones and all uncleanliness so you also outwardly appear righteous to others but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” It is not nice to tell someone they are like "whitewashed tombs," especially to someone who is Jewish. You are calling them a walking defilement. You are a tomb, you defile people, but they do not even ''know'' you are defiling them because you are so pretty on the outside. Same thing in Micah and the same thing in Jesus’ day, and unfortunately, the same thing many places, especially in the American church. Well, having laid out the Woe, Micah follows by a short “weal” passage in Micah chapter 2 starting at verse 12 where the blessing comes. “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the remnant of Israel. I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock In its pasture, a noisy multitude of men.” Micah is sitting there prophesying the coming judgment of both kingdoms and then he is holding out the promise that for ''some'' of you, after you have gone through judgment, God will reach out his hand and he will save you and he will bring you again to himself. But notice the word that is used, ''remnant''. This is a tremendously important word in Old Testament theology because the promise of salvation is not for all who are Jews. The promise of future salvation in Micah and Isaiah and the prophets that go out from them is for the remnant. If you go down to the fabric store and you get a remnant, what do you get? Do you get the whole bolt of material? No, you get just a small piece. You get what is left over. Micah is saying is that not all Israelites are part of the covenantal community. That is a huge thing to say. It is gargantuan. Because up until this time there was a mindset that all Jews who do certain things make it to Heaven. The doctrine of the remnant says that is ''not'' the case, but the promise of salvation is for a smaller group of people. It is only for those who ''are'' righteous. If you read the literature on this they often refer to the remnant as the “righteous remnant,” because that is how you get to be part of the remnant.
Now the Old Testament has always taught that the blessings of the covenant are only for those who love God and out of that love for him flows covenantal obedience. (The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4) I mean, it is always taught that way. But now that sub-grouping of people have a name, the people who are Jews but who are righteous, have a name and they are the remnant. It is good to read passages like Romans 11:1-6 to see this in the New Testament, but it also comes up implicitly all over. For example, it is seen in Matthew 7 (this is one of those scary passages in the Bible). In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, starting at verse 21, Jesus says, ”Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven, (that is the person who is going to enter the Kingdom). On that day (the Day of Judgment) many will say to me “Lord, Lord” (look at what these people did. Look at the good religious things they did!) “Did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?! (Look at all the good things that we DID!) And then will I declare to them “I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” That is remnant theology. The people who are actually being saved or being restored, even after they have gone through judgment, is not the large group. In our language, it is not everyone who calls himself a Christian. It is not everyone who comes to church. Its not everyone who does religious things, but the righteous remnant are those who do the will of my Father in Heaven. The question in all our minds should be “How do you get to be part of the remnant?” I mean, that is the part I want to be in. If coming to church and doing religious things does not make me part of God’s covenantal community, if doing prophesy and exorcism and many miracles is not what it takes for me to be part of the righteous remnant, then I want to know how to be part of the righteous remnant.
Second Cycle (Chapters 3-5)
Micah starts his second cycle of “woe and weal” in Chapters 3- 5. He pronounces judgment on the rulers and the prophets and in the “weal” passage, Micah 4 and 5, and he talks about the future salvation of the remnant. There is just one thing that I want to point out in passing, but it is so important that I cannot skip it. Micah 5:2 is a famous verse that talks about the coming of the Messiah: “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 origin is from of old, from ancient days.” Last week we talked about the thread of salvation that weaves its way through the Old Testament, the promise of a coming individual who will be the Savior. Many of those verses that I gave you last week point out that that person is going to be a descendant of David. In 2nd Samuel 7:13 God promises David that one of his descendants will sit on the throne for ever and ever. In Isaiah 11 you have the prophesy of the shoot coming from the stump of Jesse, Jesse being David’s father, and now you have the prophesy of the Messiah, who is a descendant of David and therefore will be born in David’s ancestral home, which is Bethlehem. It is through this individual, the Messiah (in Hebrew), Christ (in Greek) that God will bring about the salvation of his people. Salvation is not a group project. Salvation for the remnant is through the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Christ.
Third Cycle (Chapters 6-7)
Micah then goes on to the third cycle of “woe and weal” in Chapters 6 and 7, the heart of Micah’s prophesy. The heart of the Woe statements. Please look at Micah 6:6-8. This is a passage to highlight in your Bible. And again in Chapter 6 the Israelites, not Micah but the Israelites, are speaking and they are not being very polite to God or to Micah. They start by saying, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?" (In other words, “What do you want?”) “Shall I come before you with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?" Calves were considered one of the most important sacrifices because of their value. Shall I come to God with quality? Well, maybe if quality does not work, Micah, maybe I need to do quantity. ”Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with 10,000 of rivers of oil?” And then, in a disgusting twist, they bring up child sacrifice, something they know God hates. “Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” It is like the people are saying, "Okay, what do you want Micah? Shut up! What do you want us to do? I mean, what does God want? We are tired of you nagging us!" And Micah answers them in verse 8: “He [God] has told you, O man, what is good.” (In other words, you know exactly what God wants you to do!) “And what does the LORD require of you? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Micah is not saying that the sacrificial system is irrelevant. Sacrifice is still the means of forgiveness in the Old Testament. But what Micah ''is'' saying is that external religion, religion that is of sacrifice, the religion that says "well I have gone to church so nothing else matters," that kind of external religion is absolutely worthless. One writer puts it this way: “God has no interest in the multiplication of empty religious acts.” The righteous remnant understands that true religion starts in the heart. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.” The righteous remnant is righteous because they understand that God wants our heart; that it starts inside, and then out of a heart of love for God flows covenantal obedience, love, kindness and humility.
This is not a unique message in Micah. This is all over the Old Testament. One of the strongest passages is in Psalms, Chapter 51. This is David’s penitential Psalm after he had sinned with Bathsheba and in Psalm 51 starting at verse 16 listen to what David says. This is 300 years or so before Micah. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it. You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David understands that after his sin with Bathsheba he simply cannot go kill a goat or kill a bull and everything is okay. David understands that what God wants is our heart and it is our heart that must be broken. It is our heart that must be contrite, and it is out of that brokenness that he will make the offerings, he will make the sacrifices. But they are sacrifices of praise because he is admitting his poverty, that there is nothing that I can do about my sin. My heart is broken and I am going to express it in sacrifice. If it is just sacrifice by itself, it is worthless. It means absolutely nothing. In fact, it is worse than nothing. It is damning. Isaiah 1 is the strongest of these kinds of statements in the Bible. Again, if this is not a marked passage in your Bible it needs to be. Listen to what Isaiah says about people who think that they can go and live any way they want and somehow they have their Get-Out-Of-Gehenna-free card. Listen to what Isaiah says about that way of thinking. Isaiah 1:10 says, “Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom. Give ear to the teaching of our God, you People of Gomorrah." (And he is not talking to Sodom and Gomorrah. He is talking to the Jews and speaking for God.) “'What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices,' says the Lord, 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well fed beasts. I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings. Incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the Calling of convocations. I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.'" These are all good things that are in the Levitical code. These are all ways in which God says, “This is how you can express your thanksgiving and your spiritual bankruptcy to me.” But God here says that He does not want anything to do with them. God says, “It makes me sick to see you go to the Temple and get very pious and very solemn, yet all the time that you are here in the Temple being pious and solemn your life is actually full of iniquity. It is full of sin and you are going to leave the Temple and go the other 6 ½ days of the week and live any way you want and oppress the poor and the fatherless and the widows and you are going to worship your idols and then you are going to come back next Saturday to the solemn assembly." And God says that he hates that. That he cannot endure iniquity in solemn assembly. That it makes him sick. “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates! They become a burden to me." (You see, they are worse than nothing! They are a burden to God.) “I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands [most likely in worship] I will hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers I will not listen.” God is saying through Isaiah that he cannot stand the worship and prayers of those who go through all these religious motions and at the same time their hands are full of blood. He is saying, in other words, "You are living in sin and you don’t care! I can’t stand the religiosity!" “Wash yourselves! Make yourself clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek Justice. Correct oppression. Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” This is the exact opposite of what is actually going on in Micah. And then, one of the coolest verses in the Bible. “'Come now, let us reason together' says the Lord, 'Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow, though they are red like crimson they shall become like wool.'” Isaiah and Micah, David, and many of the other prophets, especially Amos, are all saying the same thing. That if you think that going through certain external rituals is all that God requires and somehow you have your safety net and you can go out and live the rest of the week any way you want, Micah says “All you are going to get is God’s damnation for that.”
As I have been working through this passage, in my own heart I kept feeling the finger going at the other person. It is really easy when you hear this kind of passage, when you read Isaiah 1 and Micah 6, to say “Yeah, that really applies to this person or that person.” It is really easy to do that, isn’t it? I found myself this week saying, “At this point I am not going to worry about you, I am going to worry about me.” I encourage you to do the same thing. These words are written for all of our instruction. I do not know your heart or what you do the rest of the week. I do not know what you are thinking of. I do not know those things, but I do know it is human nature to turn the finger away from oneself and say “Yeah, this really does apply to that person.” I ask you to do the same thing that I have had to do this week and point the finger at yourself and ask yourself “Am I doing this? Do I think that somehow, because I go through certain rituals, I can live any other way and it is okay?” God will always, eventually, punish sin. It is inevitable. It is always going to happen. God will always, inevitably, punish sin. You and I cannot serve gods, we cannot oppress the poor, we cannot treat the widows and orphans as irrelevant. We cannot do that without eventually being punished. It is going to happen. That is the message of Micah. It does not matter ''who'' you are. It does not matter who I am. There are ''no'' exceptions to this rule. It does not matter whether I was born American, if I do very religious things, even stand up here and preach. It does not matter who my parents are. Eventually, sin is punished one way or another. Unless, of course, it is confessed and forgiven. If your and my religion is external, if you and I place our trust in religious ritual and then live any way that we want, if we go to church and then go home and verbally abuse our spouse and our kids, if we go to Youth Group and then live like everyone else at school, if you and I think that we can do certain external things to earn God’s favor and then live the rest of the week any way we want, then you and I fall under the condemnation of Micah and of the Lord. The good news of Micah and the good news of the Gospel is that after judgment comes restoration. That through the work of the Messiah (the descendant of David, who was born in Bethlehem) on the cross that you and I become part of the righteous remnant. It is not going to church. I asked the question earlier, “How do you become part of the righteous remnant?” The answer, as I have often said to you, is as simple as A, B, C. A) To admit that you are a sinner. To agree with God’s estimation of who you and I are. B) To believe that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin. That he who knew no sin became sin so that you and I could become the Righteousness of God. To believe that Jesus was the burning coal from Isaiah 6, touched to our lips to remove the guilt and to atone for the sin. C) To commit our lives to Him. To live as Jesus said we are to live; to deny ourselves and to take up our cross and follow him. That is the good news of Micah andthe Gospel of Jesus Christ, that even in the midst of punishment there is salvation for those who are righteous in Jesus Christ.
Let’s pray. Father, may your Spirit burn in our hearts. Burn encouragement and comfort for those who need it, but burn conviction in those who need it. Father, if there is any among us who think that becoming part of the righteous remnant means that we have to go to church and do nothing else, that it means doing certain religious acts and then thinking we can live our lives any other way. If there are people who think that anything but being a fully devoted disciple to Jesus Christ is acceptable to you, Father may the message of Micah 6 and in Isaiah 1 burn deeply into their hearts. We thank you, God, that you are a father of salvation and restoration and that you hold that out to your remnant of people. Thank you Jesus. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
The remnant is truly waiting for the breath of the Lord and the remnant is truly thankful that they are full of the breath of the Lord, called the Holy Spirit. May you go relieved that we do not get to be part of Christ’s remnant by doing things. We get to be part of it because of what Christ has done for us, and out of a heart of response we respond in faith and in love. Go in that assuredness.
- The human tendency is to think that Scripture applies to the “other” person but not to yourself. Is there a possibility that you think, at least in some areas of your life, that God will ignore sin because you are doing religious things in other areas of your life? This is a good time for self-examination.
- Although I did not spend a lot of time on the topic, God’s punishment for social injustice is a dominant theme in Micah. The prophets often speak about injustice in terms of oppression of the fatherless and widows. Look at James 1:27 and spend time reflecting on how this might affect you.
- Is it possible that you think you are somehow special and not subject to God’s judgment when you sin?
- Have there been any events in your life when you thought certain sins would be ignored because you go to church?
- How can we hold out hope to those in the midst of God’s judgment, to let them know that some day it will be over and there will once again be joy?
- Reread Isaiah 1:11-7 and ask yourself if the prophet’s message has any application to you or to someone you know.