Last week we talked about sin. Guess what, this week we are going to talk about sin some more. Last week we learned: God judges sin totally, completely and unmercifully. Sin must be punished; it must be judged and done away with. This week we are going to see one man’s response to sin.
After hearing God’s declaration that punishment is coming, Micah responds in mourning and sorrow. Great lament rises in his heart and overflows into his body and through his words. Listen to these words again, “Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl” (Micah 1:8). Micah is in great distress about the judgment of God upon the sin of the divided kingdom. He is in mourning like one at a funeral, or one who has been abandoned by everyone around him or her. Jackals and owls cry and moan in desolate, uninhabited places.
Micah’s words and his expressions are filled with grief, but even they are pictures the judgment that is coming. His choice of words, support God’s judgment that Israel and Judah are going to be razed. There is going to be nothing left. The statement about going barefoot and naked isn’t a picture of a pregnant woman in the summer heat, no it is a picture of people going into exile and leaving with nothing. They have been stripped and Micah in his grief is a foreshadowing of the reality that is coming upon the Land.
Micah’s response to the sin in the land and the judgment of God that is coming upon it, reminds me of the mourning I saw in Africa. When someone dies, the women just cry out in deep travail. The mourning cries are eerie and loud, they seem almost like overkill, but they are sincere. They are the cries of people who have lost something very precious. When Jen and I lived there, they struck us because our daughter Morgan can wail. When she was upset, we used to kid that we should hire her out at the funerals as an extra mourner. We used to joke that she must be Mbunda because her cries matched the cries of the people. This is Micah’s response to sin and judgment: he grieves and grieves deeply.
But then Micah goes on to compose a poetic song about his mourning that rehearses the disaster coming. The poetic nature is pretty hard for us to capture in English, but in the Hebrew it is very evident. It is a series of plays on names of the fortress towns of Judah. In Beth Ophrah, roll in the dust (Micah 1:10b) is something akin to “In the house of dust, roll in the dust. In fact, let’s briefly explore each of these word plays. The first one begins in Gath with a call not to speak about the tragedy to Israel’s neighbors. Don’t let them exult in the sin that is being judged. Gath is one of the towns where the Philistines herald. In fact, David first spoke these words, Tell it not in Gath after the death of Saul and Jonathan (2Samuel 1:20). David mourned the defeat of the house of Saul, so also Micah is mourning the defeat of the House of David.
Then the House of dust is to roll in the dust, again, they are to continue to mourn the defeat that is coming. Rend your garments we might say. Lick your wounds, trouble has come. Humble yourself and accept your medicine, as opposed to being prideful and arrogant. Respond appropriately.
“Pass on in nakedness and shame, you who live in Shaphir,” you who live in beauty (Micah 1:11a). The call to beautiful, and the opulent, the well groomed and the fashionable is the forsaking of these things, and whether you forsake willingly or are forced, you will be stripped of all of this.
“Those who live in Zaanan will not come out” (Micah 1:11b). Those who live in the town that always goes out will go out no longer. This is a slight on the brave, self-assured fighting men of Zaanan who presumably were some the first to engage in battle, they will be fearful and won’t try to fight the enemy who is coming against them. A call to self-reliance is met with the reality that there is always someone or something bigger and scarier than we can handle. So instead of being self-made men and women, taking on the world, be humble, rely on God, not on your strength.
“Beth Ezel is in mourning; its protection is taken from you” (Micah 1:11c). Beth Ezel means ‘house of helpers and it is in mourning for now it needs help. Now the help they have given to others wont be returned for the cities all around it will fall and be destroyed.
“Those who live in Maroth writhe in pain, waiting for relief, because disaster has come from the Lord, even to the gate of Jerusalem” (Micah 1:12). Maroth means bitterness, those who live in bitterness, will experience bitterness without relief. The bitter heart brings forth all kinds of evil and nasty things. James reminds us “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14, 16). Bitterness is the result of feeling like you have gotten the short end of the stick or been treated unfairly or unjustly. When we dwell in this kind of place, we writhe in pain; we struggle wanting relief and as long as we fail to forgive, we will live in bitterness and disaster will overtake us.
“You who live in Lachish, harness the team to the chariot. You were the beginning of sin to the Daughter of Zion, for the transgressions of Israel were found in you” (Micah 1:13). Now we come to the city that gets an entire verse, 3 couplets to her. All the other cities have had one couplet: name-play on name. But now 3 couplets are devoted to Lachish. Rehoboam fortified this city, (2Chr 11:5-9) it had a double wall around the city and was so strong and such a trophy for Sennacherib to destroy that in his bedroom in Assyria, he had murals of the siege of Lachish painted as decoration. This city was top notch. It was the home of the chariot regiment of Judah. It would be like being Coronado, CA home of the Navy SEAL Team 1, or Ft. Lewis, WA or Ft. Bragg, NC the home the Green Berets.
But what does Micah say/prophesy about these places. You, who live in the Chariot city, harness your racehorses to the team. This is very important, for Hebrew has a word for racehorses and chariot horses. Micah tells them not to harness the chariot horses, but the racing stallions, for they aren’t going to be fighting but fleeing. All the military might you have, will not protect you on the Day of Judgment, when God tears down the cities and nations of the world. He goes on to say that this city was the start of sin in Zion. Archaeological evidence suggests that not only was Lachish a huge chariot city, but it also housed at least 3 temples for idols.
Now what was the sin that began there? Was it idolatry or military might? Yes, I say, both, the two are interconnected. In importing chariots into Judah, the kingly leadership was directly defying a command of God found in “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again”
(Deuteronomy 17:16). Military might is a form of idolatry; it is an outward expression of a heart that has turned from dependence on God to dependence on worldly ways and means.
Hosea saw it that way “But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses…” (Hosea 10:13; 14:3). Isaiah makes the connection even more explicit, “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. You have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans. Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made” (Isaiah 2:5–8).
If you recall the story of David and the counting of his fighting men, God saw it as rebellion and punished it as such, for depending on military might by default means that one is not depending on God any longer (2Sam 24:10ff) In fact, resorting to worldly strategies for security and prosperity is met by God with destruction. He tears down every city and nation that turns this way. Here we would do well as individuals, families, churches and nations to heed the words of the Psalmist, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalms 20:7).
“Therefore you will give parting gifts to Moresheth Gath. The town of Aczib will prove deceptive to the kings of Israel” (Micah 1:14). Moresheth Gath, Micah’s hometown, plays on the bridal/dowry theme, saying the city will be given to another and its wealth and more will be taken. Tribute will be exacted from you as the conquerors carry away the prize, and Aczib, the town of deceit will be of no help. The nation has deceived itself that a town named deceit can save it. In fact, this town has been unearthed in Israel and in it they have found 4 cemeteries, significantly more than cities of comparable size.
The final two cities named are Mareshah and Adullam. Mareshah is a play on the word conquers, so conquerville will be conquered and Adullam is a city of caves. It is where David hid from Saul (1Sam 22:1). But even in this place where people will hide from judgment, God will come even there and find you and visit his wrath. And sandwiched between all of them is the city of Jerusalem. The one that I didn’t name. When Micah lamented the sin “has reached…even to Jerusalem itself”(Micah 1:9b), and then he hid her name right in the middle of the poem, he was showing that all of these sins are present in God’s holy city as well. And he calls the people to mourning. Mourn the sin that has been found in you.
A passage like this may be depressing to us, we want to say, that is the old testament, the minor prophets, get on Scott. Move us forward to the New Testament. Okay, I will. Let’s look at Luke 19:41-46:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Jesus responded the same way to sin in the Land of God and the City of God that Micah did. He mourned, he wept, he cried out to the city to repent and respond. Did you catch what happens next in the gospel narrative though? After mourning over sin, Jesus goes in the temple and says, that it is to be a House of Prayer. The proper response to sin is mourning and prayer, a turn gin to and seeking of God’s face. Remember, it says in Micah, “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” (Micah 7:18).
Prayer is our doorway to repentance, and experiencing God’s compassion, his love, his never failing grace. But the first thing is that we must recognize our sin individually and corporately. If God judged his chosen people for their secularism, if he judged them for their opulence and beauty, if he judged them for being self-reliant and trusting in military might what makes us think that we will be spared. Our nations, our church, our family, ourselves are within the watchful gaze of God and that gaze melts mountains and splits apart valleys. That gaze brings judgment on all the evil that has been done by peoples. Are we mourning the sin of our land or is it passé and normal? Are we saddened by the infectious disease that has overtaken us? Our nation’s trust in money and military might, strangely resembles that of Judah and the history books tell us that the Assyrians, then the Babylonians and then the Romans all took there turns are punishing Judah for their sins.
Might we not be far from economic catastrophe and military upheaval?
If we learned only one thing today, this would be it: The proper response to Sin is deep grief. Grief like we have lost everything. Grief that sin exists at all, grief that it exists in the Land of God, Grief that it exists within us. Grief that sin is so prevalent and pervasive, so natural, that we don’t even recognize it as unnatural any longer. Grief that the sin of the outside world, is present in our midst, as an incurable reality that must be reckoned with before the very face of God. Sin is here; it has “…come to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself” (Micah 1:9).
Will we mourn? Will we pray? Do we believe 2Chr. 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Invitation to join me this Wed at 6pm for 45 minutes before the Elder meeting to pray…
Now if sin and mourning it and praying are the lessons we are to learn from the text this morning, there is a second lesson we are to learn from our liturgy today. Today is communion Sunday; the truth of the matter is every day is a communion Sunday. The second lesson for us to learn is that when we mourn and pray, God hears our prayers and he answers by revealing to us the One whose sacrifice obliterated sin.
Under the old covenant, God laid out a series of very particular rituals that had to be done in order for a relationship to exist between God and his sinful people. The ritual pointed to Christ. I would like to look at one of these rituals this morning; it involved 2 goats.
[Aaron] is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 6 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.
10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
He shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”
Jesus fulfilled the both roles. He was the scapegoat and he was the sin offering. He was crucified for our sins; His blood paid the atoning price for us. At the same time, He took our sins on His head, and was cast out of God’s presence, even crying “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”, so that we might never be forsaken.
[Pass the Bread]
As you take the bread this morning, mourning your sin and praying to God, be assured that His son suffered and died for you. Take eat remember and believe.
In a same way, Jesus is also the Passover lamb.
1Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb [a] for his family, one for each household.
The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
Just as Jesus fulfilled the role of the scapegoat and the sacrifice, so also does Jesus fulfill the role of Passover lamb. He is the true lamb without defect. Just as the blood when applied to the lintel of the house caused the angel of the Lord to pass over and spare death to those within the home, so also does His blood applied on our hearts cause God to pass over punishing us.
[Pass the juice]
As you drink this morning, rejoice that in the recognition of sin and the mournful repentance of it, comes a freedom to live because of the gift of Christ’s blood for you.
[After the juice:]
[Jesus the] high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27[He is] Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
He hears our prayers. Praise the Lord.