Important Challenges from Micah
By Paul Robison

In a small Jewish town in Russia, a rabbi disappeared each Friday morning for several hours.  His devoted disciples boasted that during those hours their rabbi went to heaven and talked to God.  A young stranger who moved into town was skeptical, so he decided to check things out.  He hid and watched the rabbi.  The rabbi got up in the morning, said his prayers, then dressed in peasant clothes.  He grabbed an ax, went into the woods, and cut some firewood, which he then hauled to a shack on the outskirts of the village, where an old woman and her sick son lived.  The rabbi left them the wood and went home.  The newcomer became the rabbi’s disciple.  Now, whenever he hears a villager say, “On Friday morning our rabbi ascends to heaven,” the newcomer quietly adds, “if not higher” (McGuiggan in Larson/Elshof).

Our sermon today is based on the book of Micah.  Let's look at some introductory information, and then we'll consider some passages and some challenges that Micah presents to us.  Micah's name means "Who is like God?"

Of course, "No other pagan gods are like Him."  Nothing is said about Micah's family or occupation, but his place or origin was a small rural town about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem.  He was a contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah.  Hosea and Amos were prophets to Israel while Isaiah and Micah were prophets to Judah.  Micah was the first prophet to let the Jews know that God would punish Zion for her wickedness and failure to keep the covenant.

The date for Micah's work is from about 740-700 BC.  Politically, these were turbulent times in Judah.  The Assyrians were the major power in those days, and they invaded Israel in 730 and finally conquered Samaria in 722.  An Assyrian king name Sennacherib attacked Judah in 701BC.  He took the city of Lachish south of Jerusalem and left posterity a large picture of his victory, which is now in the British Museum.  He attacks Jerusalem, but because of King Hezekiah's prayer and trust in God, Jerusalem was spared from these Assyrian invaders.  Socially, injustice and corruption were rampant.  Just as Amos thunders against social oppression and religious ritual in Israel, so Micah did the same in Judah.  Someone described these times in this way: "Socially and morally Judah presented a dark picture [since there was corruption and idolatry everywhere]; these conditions fanned the indignation of Micah into white heat, and he did not hold back from declaring to the [leaders] their sins and to the people their transgressions. . . . The social injustices are sternly rebuked as the people are brought before the bar of Jehovah in a spiritual lawsuit" (Hailey).  Religiously, the situation was also deplorable.  Micah denounced the Baal worship that had filtered down from Israel.  But there was another problem as well.  The people thought that if they went through the worship motions on Saturday, then they could live like they wanted to the rest of the week.  "There was a widespread misapprehension that as long as the external acts of worship were scrupulously performed, then the people were entitled to God's favor and protection" (Hailey).

Now let's talk a little about Micah's preaching style and writing.  Micah was more like a "country preacher” rather than a “trained orator”.  His preaching jumps around, and he changes subjects abruptly.  His tone was crisp, clear, and forceful.  Someone else observed: "God used Micah to burn His message into selfish hearts" (Yates).  The theme of the book is God's punishment for Judah's sin and God's comfort because of His faithfulness to His covenant promises and His steadfast love for the Jews.  Unlike previous prophets who spoke of a brighter future at the end of their books, Micah is a little different in that it has a pattern where condemnation and consolation are repeated three times throughout his book.  Micah is sort of like a lawyer bringing God's lawsuit against the Jews of Judah.  A helpful outline of the book is the following one (Hendirksen):

  Jehovah's controversy with the capitals of Israel and Judah (ch. 1-2)
  Idolaters, exploiters, and false prophets shall be punished (1:1-2:11)! [2:1-4]
  The remnant shall be gathered by God (2:12-13)! [2:12-13]
  Jehovah's controversy with the leaders of Judah (ch. 3-5)
  Oppressive rulers, false prophets, and greedy priests shall be punished (ch.
        3)! [9-12]
  The remnant shall be blessed by God with a spiritual kingdom (ch. 4) and an
eternal Ruler (ch. 5)! [4:1-2; 5:2-5]
  Jehovah's controversy with the people of Judah (ch. 6-7)
  False worshipers, deceivers, and liars shall be punished (6:1-7:17)! [6:6-8;
  The remnant shall be forgiven by God (7:18-20)! [7:18-20]

The numbers in brackets are passages that will be read a little later to support the point that has been made.  So we see that God has a controversy, a lawsuit or a debate with Samaria and Jerusalem (the capitals of Israel and Judah), with the leaders in Judah, and with the people of Judah.  But along with each of the condemnations and punishments given, there immediately follows statements about the remnant to show God's consolation and comfort, which were not merited by the Jews' actions, but were given as a result of God being faithful to His covenant promises and being steadfast in His love for Israel.  God would treat the remnant of the Jews graciously; He would gather them together, bless them, and forgive them.  And subsequent history shows us that God did exactly what He promised!

Now let's read the passages in brackets so that you get a feel for how Micah communicated to his countrymen in Judah.  Under God's controversy with the capitals, we see that idolaters, exploiters, and false prophets shall be punished.  Let's read 2:1-4: "Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds!  At morning light, they practice it because it is in the power of their hand.  They covet fields and take them by violence.  Also houses, and seize them, so they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.  Behold, against this family, I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks; nor shall you walk haughtily for this is an evil time.  In that day, one shall take up a proverb against you and lament with bitter lamentation saying: 'We are utterly destroyed!  He has changed the heritage of my people; how he has removed it from me!  To a turncoat, He has divided our fields.'"  To those who destroy families, they will be utterly destroyed!  To those who take others' fields, those same fields will be given to an invader.  But in contrast to this, notice how the Good Shepherd will one day gather together His flock.  Look at verses 2:12-13: "I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
they shall make a loud noise because of so many people.  The one who breaks open will come up before them, they will break out, pass through the gate, and go out by it; their king will pass before them, and the Lord at their head."  This great gathering of flock reminds us of Jesus' words in John 10:16:
   "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold
[referring to the Gentiles];   
them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock

   [referring to the church] under one shepherd [referring to the reign of Jesus'

With the preaching of Gospel to all mankind, we see how a great gathering of the remnant occurred as both Jews and Gentiles were united in Christ!  And we see it still happening when people from all nations make Jesus their Great Shepherd by being united through baptism in His name!  What consolation Micah gave after his condemnation.  But there is still more to come!

Now let's read 3:9-12 under controversy with Israel's leaders, where we see how the oppressive rulers, false prophets, and greedy priests shall be punished: "Now hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity: Her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money.  Yet they lean on the Lord, and say, 'Is not the Lord among us?  No harm can come upon us.'

Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest." 
But then notice again, how such destruction is followed by great promises.  The first is the new spiritual kingdom that will one day be founded in Jerusalem itself!  Let's read 4:1-2: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it.  Many nations shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.'  For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."  This reminds us again of Jesus' statement in Luke 24:46-47: "Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ [the Messiah] to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."  People from many nations were present in Jerusalem when that first Gospel sermon was preached (Act 2:9ff gives a listing)!  The second great promise is that an eternal Ruler of peace would be born!  Let's read 5:2-5: "'But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.'  [Drop to verse 4]  And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great, to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace."  The Ruler referred to here is the Great Shepherd and the Prince of Peace whose spiritual kingdom endures forever!  There is no doubt about this affirmation referring to Christ because this very passage was used by the religious leaders under King Herod the Great's reign to tell the wise men where Jesus was born (Matthew 2:5-8)!  Magnificent comfort after punishment is seen once again!  But there is still more to come!

Now let's read 6:6-8: "With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?  [This is a question regarding worship.]  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Notice the terrible attitude of the worshiper here.  It looks like they are really offering to God some kind of great sacrifices, but, in reality, all they are trying to do is buy God's favor, by suggesting more costly gifts.  Have we ever known people who think that a huge offering given to God on Sunday morning will make up for their ungodly lives lived during the rest of the week?  But now notice Micah's answer to these questions in verse 8: "He has shown you, O man, what is good: And what does the Lord require of you [here's what God really wants each day from our lives] but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"  Seeking Gods' standards, demonstrating kindness towards others, and being submissive to God's will daily are the foundations to a truly religious life that God desires.  There's a summary of the entire Old Testament in about a dozen words!  Now let's read 7:12-13 where we see how false worshipers, deceivers, and liars will are condemned: "For her rich men are full of violence, her inhabitants have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.  Therefore, I will also make you sick by striking you, by making you desolate because of your sins."  But consolation for the remnant again follows desolation in 7:18-20: "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.

He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our enemies.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which you have sworn to our fathers from days of old."

"The great hallmark of the New Covenant lies in the promise of God to forgive the sins of His people. . . . The promise that God would 'bless all the families of the earth' in Abraham is now being fulfilled in the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ" (Coffman).  Because of Christ's sacrifice as the Lamb of God, our sins can be totally washed away and continually cleansed each day if we strive to live as Jesus lived!  So, we have clearly seen, in Micah's structure, God's punishment for Judah's sin and God's comfort to the remnant because of His faithfulness to His promises and His steadfast love for the Jews.

We can learn from Micah four important challenges for our lives.  First of all, we must be good citizens, noble leaders, and honest people!  We must not follow Judah's wicked cities, oppressive leaders, and dishonest people!  Peter has told us how to be good citizens in 1 Peter 2:15-17: "For this is the will of God, that by doing good, you put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.

Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king." 
Oh, how we need noble leaders!  Someone has rightly noted that there are only two kinds of leaders in the world: the first kind are those who are interested in fleece, but the second kind are those who are interested in the flock.  We must be honest people.  Two researchers made these comments: "Just about everyone lies [in America]—91% of us lie regularly.  The majority of us find it hard to get through a week without lying" (Patterson and Kim).  Have we forgotten that one of the seven things that the Lord hates according to Proverbs 6:17 is a lying tongue?  Let's strive to be good citizens, noble leaders, and honest people.

Secondly, we must expect God's punishment for our continued wickedness!

The Jews thought that just their Sabbath worship would keep God's favor and how they lived their lives during the rest of the week was their own business!

Micah shows us that they were wrong, fatally wrong, and God would punish them for such thinking.  "[Micah] pictures God as thoroughly aroused over the serious situation in the land.  God is not asleep.  He is alert, active, anxious about His people.  Giant wrongs and rank injustices must be dealt with by a visitation [of discipline from Him].  God sat in judgment upon the people who had caused so much grief and agony among their fellow men" (Yates)."  In fact, we know that God DID allow the Babylonians to take the Jewish people captive and to burn the temple and ransack Jerusalem.  Continued wickedness in our lives will still bring God's punishment.  "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7-8).  We must expect God's punishment if we chose to be continually wicked!

Thirdly, we must imitate God's steadfast love and keep our covenant with Him!

God is so consistent!  He remembers His promises and covenants, and always follows through.  You can never find in the Scriptures where God failed to keep His end of a covenant.  God's steadfast love causes Him to take such responsibility, and we should strive to do the same.  God has made a new covenant with us, which Jesus brought into effect with His blood.  We should feel it our obligation to live up to God's expectations in this new covenant.

“Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?"
 Let's take the new covenant seriously and show God our steadfast love for Him through our obedience!

Lastly, we must realize that one day Christ will gather, will bless, and will reward His righteous remnant!  Just as God kept His promises to gather, to bless, and forgive the remnant of Israel, so now we also know that Christ will gather, will bless, and will reward His righteous remnant who are anticipating His coming once again!  All the righteous will be gathered together, both those past dead and those still living: "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).  We will be blessed with seeing God face to face and living in a glorified dimension with all the saints in a prepared place for a prepared people.  Our reward will be heaven: "Then the King will say to those on His right hand: 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ...'" (Matthew 25:34)!  Christ's righteous remnant will be gathered, blessed, and rewarded!  As the promises to the Jewish remnant were fulfilled, we can rest assured that Christ's promises to the Christian remnant will be made a reality as well!

"Dennis Lee Curtis was arrested for stealing in 1992 in Rapid City, SD.  In his wallet, the police found a sheet of paper on which was written the following code of conduct: '1. I will not kill anyone unless I have to.  2. I will take cash and food stamps—no checks.  3. I will rob only at night.  4. I will not wear a mask.  5. I will not rob mini-marts or 7-11 stores.  6. If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away.   If I get chased by a vehicle, I will not put lives of innocent civilians on the line.  7. I will rob only 7 months out of the year.   8. I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.'  Well, we see that Curtis had a little sense of morality about him, but it was very flawed.  When he stood before the court in Rapid City, he was not judged by the standards that he had set for himself, but by the higher laws of the state.  Likewise, when we stand before God on that great day, we will not be judged by the code of morality that we have written for ourselves, but we will be judged by the statues found in the new covenant written by Christ's disciples" (Larson/Elshof).

How well have you sought justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God daily?  Would God have a controversy with you for your continued wickedness?  Jesus offers you His righteousness today and His reward in the hereafter.  He is ready to give you a new start and throw your sins into the depths of the sea!  Or if you have strayed, the Good Shepherd is looking for you and wanting to gatherer you back to the flock.  Who is like this God?  Nobody, Jesus is one of a kind!  Follow His code of conduct, and His next arrival will just bring you more blessings.