We have finished our study through the book of Galatians after 7 months. It was a wonderful study full of Grace and the Gospel. Today we begin a study in the book of Micah, one of the twelve Minor Prophets. Generally we don’t read the Minor Prophets, they are full of gloom and judgment and frankly we don’t like to be exposed to condemnation. We aren’t alone, for even in Micah’s day the people didn’t like the message he brought and at one point the other prophets even told him to be quiet. They said,
““Do not prophesy,” … “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us” (Micah 2:6 NIV).Isn’t that just like human nature, to avoid the things we don’t like, or the things that make us uncomfortable and to dwell on the things we do like? It is true of me, so I will be the first to admit that when I was praying and God said, preach Micah, I was and am scared. I am not sure that I will like what I find in Micah, and I am scared that I won’t be able to stay focused on Jesus as we go through the book and continue to point toward him as we wade through all the judgment and condemnation.
So let’s start off this morning with an introduction to Micah as we explore the first two verses. The letter opens with these words,
“The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah — the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”
(Micah 1:1 NIV)
Right off the bat we learn a few things about the letter that are of interest. First, this is God’s word given to a particular man, whom we would call a prophet. A prophet is someone who speaks messages from God to people, most of the time they are messages of judgment, or condemnation, but they can be messages of hope and direction as well. As we go through the book we will find both of these kinds of messages within its pages.
This is important to understand, that these are God’s words, for there are some uncanny ideas floating around in the world about the Holy Scriptures. I read an article this week by a Seminary professor that was discussing the origin of the prophetic material. After numerous pages, in the final paragraph, he clearly displayed his understanding of the Bible and its origin. He wrote something along the lines of the men who compiled the Scriptures purposefully looked for prophets that said conflicting things so that in the future the coming generations would be able to look back, regardless of their situation, and say, ‘See, it was foretold.
We need be prepared to combat ideas such as these, for this is God’s word not the random ideas of men and women collected together in order justify whatever they believe. Picking and choosing what you like in order to justify your wants and desires is to treat religion and the Bible, particularly, as a buffet, where each piece can be taken or passed over as one chooses. But if that is the case, hasn’t the word of God been denigrated to the word of humans and even worse, hasn’t it be lowered to a doormat, where we decide what to protect ad what to stomp into the ground. And if that is the case, aren’t we in danger of loosing the word of God to our emotions and passions? But 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us,
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be built up.”
But part of building up involves tearing out that which is unsuitable for building upon. That is why we excavate the land in order to lay good foundations and why we seek to have those foundations built on rock, not on sand, or clay. Does anyone remember seeing the houses in California that slipped off hillsides a number of years ago? I remember, I was in Engineering school, studying soil mechanics and what happens when certain soils become saturated with water. It is amazing; the slightest bit of movement, a strong wind, a little tremor, anything and the whole thing gives way.
I present that idea and ask you to hold it with me as we study the judgments of Micah. These judgments are kind of like bringing in a backhoe and excavating the junk and dangerous ground in order get down to what is solid and secure so that good construction can begin. We are going to potentially find many places where God wants to shake us up and tear things out of us, so that he can continue his construction project in our hearts. And remember, that construction project has as its aim to produce in us the character of Christ, known as the fruit of the Spirit, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”(Gal 5:22-23)
Second, we learn to whom the Word of God came: Micah of Moresheth. This is fascinating because most of the time we learn that a prophet is the son of so and so. Isaiah begins with these words, “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw” (Isa 1:1); Jeremiah starts out “The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah” (Jer 1:1). In fact, we know the father of “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Zephaniah, and Zechariah, but Micah’s father’s name is not mentioned” (WBC v32 p4). What we have instead is the location of hometown: Moresheth.
Moresheth was a small town located about 22 miles SW of Jerusalem. It was very rural. According to Ralph Smith, “When a person becomes known by his place of origin two factors are usually involved: (1) the person no longer lives in his place of origin. If he did there would be nothing to distinguish him from his fellows. Micah’s small town origin probably stood out because he lived and worked in Jerusalem; and (2) although Micah lived and worked in Jerusalem he was actually a citizen of the small town, Moresheth, and still identified with the people there” (WBC v32 p4).
It would kind of be like saying, “Scott from Concrete, or BillyJo from Louisiana.” Depending on whom you are talking to that will either be taken as a derogatory statement, or it will immediately befriend you to them. Their upbringing, says a lot about who they are. Now being from Moresheth, and being a rural person by upbringing means that Micah is not particularly fond of the city. He isn’t real thrilled with cities and what happens in them and he isn’t real happy with the political, religious and economic elites. In fact, God uses him to bring down scathing criticism upon the highfalutin people of his generation.
So for those of us in love with the country, we will probably jive with a lot of Micah’s criticism, but for those of us in love with the city, we may find ourselves being chaffed by his rough imagery about the future of such people and such places.
So we have seen that God’s word is being spoken and that it is coming from a country aficionado who doesn’t like the status quo more than likely. But the third thing we learn in these opening words is the time frame that Micah ministers God’s word to the people. It is over the reign of 3 kings: Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Jotham came to the throne in 742 BC, Ahaz in 735 BC and Hezekiah in 715 BC with the end of his reign in 687BC. This gives Micah at most 55 years but probably something more like 30-40 years or ministry. He wasn’t a flash in the pan prophet; he was a long-termer, in it for the life. He had a heart to see people repent and return to God in full worship involving heart, soul and mind. That’s why he cries out in Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
And that is a message that was desperately needed in his time. We know that Jotham’s reign was good, but that idolatry persisted (2Kings15:35) and that he embarked on a massive military buildup during his reign. “He built towns in the Judean hills and forts and towers in the wooded areas. Jotham made war on the kind of the Ammonites and conquered them…The other events of Jotham’s reign, including all his wars…are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah” (2Chr 27:4-5, 7)
We know that Ahaz’s reign was horrible. “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire…He offered sacrifices and burned incense” (2Kings 16:2-3); he pilfered the temple for gold and silver to pay off Assyria. He was defeated by Israel at one point and they plundered the nation and took captive many people until Oded the prophet chastised them and forced them to return their southern countrymen (2 Chr 28:9ff).
We know that Hezekiah started a revival by removing the idols. In fact it says, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him…” (2 Kings 18:5-6). He restored the Passover, and strived to walk after God, but even his pride got to him and he failed in raising his son, Manasseh who becomes one of the worst kings Judah ever has.
Each of these things is alive and well in our world today. We live in a world bent upon military superiority and the use of violence to achieve various ends. Our world spends 2.4% of the world GDP on Military and Defense issues; that is up 45% since 1999 and equates to $1.464 trillion. The USA spends 41.5% of the world total, or $700 billion. Our next closest competitor: China at 5.8% or $78 billion dollars. Then comes France, 4.5%, U.K. 4.5%, and Russia 4%. But lest we just pick on the first world countries, what about Oman which spends 11.4% of its GDP, Qatar and Saudi Arabia each spend 10%, Iraq and Jordan each spend 8.6%, Israel spends 7.3%. In fact there are 19 countries that spend over 5% of their GDP on military expenditures, 27 countries spend over 4% (US, Greece, Israel are the only 1st world countries to do this) and there are now 1st world countries in the 3% category. We live in a world fascinated with military might, not unlike Jotham’s world.
Then there is the idolatry that runs rampant around the world. The search for fame, security, prestige, money, and political correctness are all idols, just as much as golden calves, Buddha’s and other graven images. We idolize diversity, naturalism, science, and self-indulgence. These are the idols we sacrifice our children on as we run ever more frantically to chase what the world offers. We are not unlike Ahaz.
And how about our lack of parenting? Hezekiah’s story is heartbreaking, he brought on a revival, but he failed to raise a son who knew the Lord and served him completely. How many of us struggle with passing on the faith and ensuring that our children know the Lord? How often have we turned over the spiritual development and instruction of our children to others – whether they are Christian schools, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers or any number of other “professionals”? Statistically we are repeating the sin of Hezekiah, by not taking responsibility for raising our children and teaching them the faith.
These are stark realities. They were graphic and hard to swallow in Micah’s time as he prophesied the Word of the Lord as it related to Jerusalem and Samaria. And the are hard realities that we must stare at as well, for the prophet’s first words are “Hear, O peoples, all of you, listen, O earth and all who are in it, that the Sovereign Lord may witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple” (Micah 1:2). Micah’s words, though prophesying against Jerusalem and Samaria are words of instruction for all people of the earth to learn from. The basic lesson is this, “If God is upset about what these two city-states have done, consider your own country and what it is doing. If God is bringing judgment upon them for their sin, will he overlook your national sins?”
Now it would be easy to stop the sermon there and leave you to ponder the reality of our world and God’s indictment upon it, but there is going to be plenty of judgment in this series of sermons, so let me point you to some of the hope that is held out at the end of the book. Micah 7:18 presents the only hope our world has and we have as individuals. The passage says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us, you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers, in days long ago” (Micah 7:18-20).
So in a world being judged by God, there is hope, and that hope rests in God’s grace and mercy, in his forgiveness and covenant faithfulness. Micah assures us that God will forgive the sins of his remnant and Romans 11:5-6 tells us, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” And Acts 15:16-18 tells us that the remnant is composed of those who seek the Lord and bear his name. They are the Christians whom God calls and builds up into his body, at least that was the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council. 16″After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things 18that have been known for ages.”
People of God, be encouraged for God has not left you without hope as you look upon the judgment that is due. That hope is found in his grace, grace God lavishes on us. Listen to these last verses as we close,
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:3-8)
Do you see the good news? In Micah, forgiveness is promised for the remnant through God’s compassion, and in Ephesians, Christ is the one who brings forgiveness and compassion, the God-man himself is our hope in the midst of Judgment. So don’t ignore your sin, but let God convict it and condemn it and rid you of it so that in Christ you can experience the fullness of freedom that has been promised to all who believe. Amen.