This week, I’ll offer two reflections on the book of Micah. Micah, like Isaiah, prophesied during the late eighth century BC, during the rule of evil kings, including Ahaz. He foretold of God’s coming judgment upon Israel, mainly in the form of exile.
Have you ever listened to a sermon or speech and thought of people you know that the message applied to? “Oh, I wish Billy were here to hear this one”—that kind of thing. And then, without warning, the sermon takes a turn and, if you’re honestly listening, you find that the message pierces your own exterior and goes right for your heart? It exposes your own sin and calls you to repentance. The book of Micah opens this way. He begins broadly saying, “Hear, you peoples, all of you,” and speaks of God coming with judgment. Picture Israel hearing these words, becoming excited that God is coming to judge the wicked nations. But then Micah turns the tables on them in verse 5: “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel.” Suddenly, they are in the very center of God’s judgment! He hasn’t come only to judge other nations, but them.
Micah proceeds to describe why this judgment is coming. The people have become idolatrous, unjust, and evil. Micah observed the rich exploiting poor farmers, taking their land without proper compensation. Chapter 2 opens by describing these people as oppressors, who use power to exploit the weak and poor (2:1-2). Thus, the Lord will “devise disaster” against them for the evil they did to others (2:3). Furthermore, the rulers of the people had become corrupt. Chapter 3 describes them as “you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people” (3:2). These leaders also used substituted violence, motivated by greed, for authentic spiritual leadership: “[Rulers] who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money” (3:9-11). They used financial and political power to enforce their own selfish agendas. Their leadership was corrupt and unjust and yet they dared to think God was still supportive of them: “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us” (3:11).
How naïve. Even with their proliferation of injustice, oppression, and violence, the people assumed any judgment from God would be on others, not themselves. But we are not exempt from judgment simply because we have what we think is an esteemed label: “Jew” or “Christian” or “Pastor,” etc. God holds his people to the standards of his righteousness. He desires justice and mercy. God will not ignore abusive lives or rulerships, particularly those that masquerade in his name.
In chapters 4-6 Micah, as a true prophet, gives faithful words for the future. He offers a scenario after judgment, of God’s reign of peace. The first picture he gives comes in 4:1-5, where he describes a time when the nations of the earth would come to the Lord to learn and live his ways. It would be a time when plowshares would replace swords and pruning hooks replace spears (v 3), describing united efforts at peacemaking and productivity to replace violence and war. In chapter 5 Micah describes the scene with Messianic overtones. From Bethlehem would come “one who is to be ruler in Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord…and he shall be their peace” (5:4-5). The Messiah brings Shalom—the peace of God to the ruptured world of humanity. Verses 5-6 describe efforts that other nations might make to continue violence against the people of God and the Lord’s kingdom of peace. “Assyria” here represents people/nations who would terrorize the vulnerable and weak (Assyria was this way during the time of Micah, and he uses them to help his hearers fully appreciate the future time he speaks about). The good news of the section is that the Messiah would protect them and establish a rule of peace.
Of course we know Israel expected a military Messiah to liberate them from political oppression. But that is not congruent with God’s Shalom. Revelation sets forth the way of God’s conquer through the Messiah, the Lamb that stands slain, but victorious. We don’t conquer with violence like the world, but with faithful lives in the midst of persecution. “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
And so our path is to trust in Jesus. The Messiah has come. God’s reign of peace has begun, and is awaiting completion. Rather than abuse and exploit and oppress for personal advantage, we are to live with sacrificial love, faithful obedience, and ongoing testimony to the power of Christ. Micah’s vision of the future didn’t discount the season of judgment, but offered hope beyond it. Likewise, Jesus didn’t find a way out of suffering for our sinfulness, but he offered life through it. So now, we can endure hardship; we can even lay down our lives, because Christ has conquered for us. His victorious, resurrection life abides in us. His kingdom of peace, mercy, and justice gives us a way forward, a vision of light past the present darkness. His message should pierce every heart, bow every knee, inspire every life:
“Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”