A sobering milestone was passed, without much notice, on January 14 this year. Two million deaths worldwide from COVID-19. And around 15000 people continue to die every day from COVID.
In other news, there’s widespread FAMINE across much of Africa due to conflict, climate change, natural disasters and COVID. A UNICEF report this week said that MORE THAN 10 MILLION CHILDREN across central Africa will suffer severe malnutrition this year.
It’s statistics like these that cause lots of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to ask questions like, “Does God SEE? Does God CARE? Is God doing anything ABOUT it?”
It’s tempting when we see the sin and the injustice and the suffering all around us. And even, as we EXPERIENCE IT OURSELVES. To ask the question, What’s God DOING? We know with our HEADS that God’s in charge of everything. We TRUST that to be true. But, most of the time, it doesn’t LOOK LIKE IT. It LOOKS like God DOESN’T see, and he DOESN’T care. And he’s NOT doing anything about it! We’re ANXIOUS, and UNCERTAIN, and WEARY.
What we need to do is listen to the prophet Micah. His message in these first couple of chapters is that God SEES all the sin and suffering. But that’s not all – he CARES about it. But that’s not all – he’s DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Micah lived at a chaotic time in world history. It was around 730BC. Assyria was the world super power, and it was THREATENING. It had already conquered the Arameans, and the Philistines. And Israel was next in line. And both the SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah and the NORTHERN kingdom of ISRAEL were paying heavy tribute.
Micah lived and prophesied in the SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah. And his message is about what God was going to do to the NORTHERN kingdom. To ISRAEL. How he was going to punish, using Assyria. But not only that. JUDAH was in God’s sights TOO.
Listen up, everyone, he says in v2. God’s got a MESSAGE against you. But don’t just LISTEN. V3, LOOK! Pay attention! God’s COMING. From his dwelling place in heaven. He’s coming TO GET INVOLVED. To get his hands dirty. You thought he didn’t SEE. Or didn’t CARE. But he DOES. He’s been PATIENT with you, and SLOW to anger. But not any more. He’s going to DO something.
And, v4, when he does, the mountains will MELT, and the valleys will SPLIT APART. He’ll come like a nuclear bomb exploding!
And what’s CAUSED this? V5, Jacob’s transgression. In other words, the sin of the nation of Israel. And the big ugly boil at the centre of it is THE CAPITAL CITY, SAMARIA. In v7 Micah identifies their IDOLATRY as what’s so offensive to God. Worshipping and honouring other gods. Even down to temple prostitutes.
And so, v6, God’s going to make Samaria A HEAP OF RUBBLE. And, v7, all its riches burned and destroyed.
That’s Micah’s message.
But there’s no DELIGHT in it. No joy that Judah’s neighbour and brother is suffering. V8, Micah’s response is TO WEEP AND WAIL. To go barefoot and naked. Howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl. It might all be metaphor, but he might also have done it LITERALLY! Walked around town in HYSTERICS!
Why? Because of the inescapable certainty of the coming judgment. V9. “For her wound is incurable”. The prognosis is it’s TERMINAL.
Do you MOURN LIKE MICAH at the sin in society around you? Does its blindness, ignorance, and hopelessness draw out compassion and care from you? Do you DESPAIR at injustice, and greed, and racism, and oppression? Or do you JUDGE? Or gloat? Do you dismiss them with self-righteous harshness? Or maybe just IGNORE – which is even WORSE?
Unfortunately, that’s often the reputation the Christian church has. And often with some justification. To our shame. May our love for our neighbour produce A GODLY SORROW for their situation, like that of Micah!
(Back to Micah, despairing at the fate of Israel). But it’s even WORSE. It’s not just ISRAEL. The sickness is CONTAGIOUS. V9, it’s COME TO JUDAH. “It has reached the very gate of my people, even to JERUSALEM ITSELF,” says Micah.
And then, from v10-16, Micah wants the rest of Judah to JOIN IN WITH HIS DESPAIR. He names a number of towns in Judah, and describes the suffering that’s coming for them.
We miss all the cleverness in English. But in Hebrew, he’s using puns on what the names MEAN, or SOUND LIKE, to describe what will happen there. So, v10, In Beth Ophrah – HOUSE OF DUST – as a sign of mourning, you’ll ROLL in dust. Or, v11, Beth Ezel – house of TAKING AWAY – you’re PROTECTION will be taken away. (there are more in V12-15)
Why will all this happen? V12, because disaster has come from the LORD, Not just over THERE, in ISRAEL. It’s HERE. EVEN TO THE GATE OF JERUSALEM. V15, A CONQUEROR. And v16, mourn because you’ll GO INTO EXILE.
So what’s JUDAH done wrong? Why’s God decided to come down from heaven and bring judgment? (Into chapter 2) Because there’s something rotten at the core of Jewish society. V1.
1 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. 2 They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.
The HAVES are plotting to take advantage of the HAVE NOTS. They lie awake at night making plans. Not about how they can make the world a better place. How they can relieve suffering. Or bring to pass God’s plans of justice and peace and plenty. No! They plot about how they can take from those who have LESS than them, so they can have EVEN MORE.
Why do they do it? Not because they NEED fields and houses. Simply because they CAN. They have the POWER to.
Sound familiar? It’s nothing specific to Israel, is it? It’s been the same in most societies since the dawn of time. Whoever has the power USES it for personal gain.
- Kings and dictators amass power and wealth for their own use.
- Countries that invade others do it because THEY CAN.
- Every military coup, or uprising by the people, brings down ONE autocratic abuser, and replaces them with a new system they promise will be DIFFERENT. But before long ANOTHER tyrant takes their place. And begins their OWN plan of taking from the HAVE NOTS.
Doesn’t matter what the system is, LEFT or RIGHT, kingdom or republic, capitalism or communism. The problem’s not the SYSTEM, the problem is the sin of the human heart.
(Interestingly, if you go through world history and look for the exceptions, it’s CHRISTIAN countries that are unique. Those influenced by JESUS, the SERVANT king, who came to serve. Good leaders are those who SERVE, rather than EXPOIT, those UNDER them. Whether kings or politicians. It’s Christian countries who use their armies to DEFEND the weak, rather than EXPLOIT them.)
But that wasn’t JUDAH in the time of Micah. The powerful plot evil against the weak. So, v3, therefore God will plot evil against THEM. God SEES. God CARES. And God will DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
And they’ll be powerless to save themselves. They had the power to take from the poor. But they’ll be powerless in the face of God’s disaster. They’ll be humbled. And, v5, the land and possessions they trusted in, and coveted, will be stripped away.
It’s one of the lessons we’ve been forced to learn through the pandemic. Especially those of us in the First World. The middle class. Who are used to having plenty of freedom. Who think we have POWER. Money can normally buy you choice, and options. But we’ve had to learn that it doesn’t matter HOW much money you’ve got, it won’t guarantee your health, or let you travel where you want, or give you freedoms.
That’s the bad news Micah delivers to the privileged and powerful of Judah. (Your power is useless, and God’s calling you to account).
And how is the message received? Like MOST bad news – NOT WELL!
In v6, Micah describes what OTHER prophets are saying about him. (The ones the people PREFER to listen to. Because they bring a comfortable message.) V6
6 “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; DISGRACE WILL NOT OVERTAKE US.”
In other words, “Don’t listen to HIM. He’s got it all wrong! God won’t bring judgment. He’s not angry.
And the people are choosing which message they prefer. They’re COMPLACENT, and COMFORTABLE. They like those bits where God promises to do GOOD! But they’re ignoring the COVENANT REQUIREMENTS. The WARNINGS for disobedience. But you can’t pick and choose like that.
So, v7, Micah responds with some TRUTH about God’s requirements.
7 Should it be said, O house of Jacob: “Is the Spirit of the Lord angry? Does he do such things?”
The false prophets are dismissive and cynical about Micah’s warnings. They claim ONE thing about God’s promises – that he’s not angry. That he’ll do good WHATEVER God’s people DO. But the reality’s something DIFFERENT. (v7b)
“Do not my words do good TO HIM WHOSE WAYS ARE UPRIGHT?
Yes, he’ll do GOOD, but only as his people show they trust him by DOING WHAT HE SAYS.
Which is NOT what they’re doing. V8. More evidence of how rotten the society is.
8 Lately my people have risen up like an enemy. YOU STRIP OFF THE RICH ROBE from those who pass by without a care, like men returning from battle. 9 You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever.
More examples of the “HAVES” taking from the HAVE NOTS”. Not just FIELDS and HOUSES. But the clothes off their backs. Even though, in Exodus 22, God had commanded to CARE for the poor. That robes taken as security on loans were to be returned at sunset. And vulnerable widows were to be protected, not exploited.
You see, God CARES about how we treat the vulnerable. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Old or New Testaments. God lifts up the broken and humble. And he brings down the proud and powerful. And we’re to have that same compassion and action. That’s what his kingdom LOOKS LIKE.
And so, v10, God delivers his verdict
10 Get up, go away! For this is not your resting place, because it is DEFILED, it is RUINED, BEYOND ALL REMEDY.
God’s plan was that the Promised Land would be a place of REST, and JUSTICE, and PEACE. Where the characteristics of God himself, and his kingdom, would be demonstrated. But, instead, his people had RUINED it. Ignoring God, and ignoring his commands. There was no justice, or rest, or peace. There was no cure. And they’ll be removed from it.
And that’s the way it turned out in history. When, 140 yrs later, 587 BC, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, and the temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon. God sees. God cares. And God’s doing something about it.
That’s the BAD news. But it’s not ALL the news. The chapter finishes with a glimmer of GOOD NEWS. A glimpse of a DIFFERENT future. Like a beam of brilliant sunshine piercing through dark thunderclouds. A DIFFERENT response from God. One that flows more naturally from his heart. What he loves to do. Yes, God’s ANGRY. And he’s PUNISHING. But his character is that he’s SLOW to become angry. He’s compassionate and gracious. And his anger quickly runs out of steam. But he ABOUNDS in love and faithfulness. Maintaining love to THOUSANDS of generations, forgiving sin.
And Micah brings that GOOD news. At least for SOME. God can’t WAIT to show forgiveness and compassion. V12, he promises
12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL. I will bring them together LIKE SHEEP IN A PEN, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. 13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”
There are two big ideas here, themes that run through the Bible like veins of gold through rock. The faithful remnant. And God as a Shepherd King.
All the way through the Bible, God calls to himself A FAITHFUL SUBSET to be his people. One son, but not another. One family out of sinful humanity. A faithful minority among a faithless nation. And at the end of their exile, that’s what God promises to do for his people. Many will be destroyed. But SOME will be protected.
And God, their shepherd king, will seek out his sheep, and rescue them. He’ll break down the gate that locks them in. And he’ll lead them out, back to his land. United, protected, at peace, under his care. Like sheep in green pasture.
And that’s the way it turned out in history. At least a SHADOW of that. When the people RETURNED from exile in Babylon. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. And rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. And, for a while, lived in SOME sort of peace.
But they never FULLY lived with God as their shepherd king. And the kingdom of Israel was only a SHADOW of what God’s kingdom was MEANT to be. First, Persia ruled over them. Then Greece conquered. Then Rome. And the old problems of greed and self-centredness and injustice remained.
Until JESUS came. And TAKES ON HIMSELF God’s own job description as Israel’s shepherd king. (Flip over to the New Testament. To John chapter 10). In John 10:11, he says,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
And, just like Micah, Jesus rebukes the leaders of the day. The privileged and powerful. Who were meant to be shepherds who CARED for the sheep. A few verses earlier he says, John 10 v1
1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is A THIEF AND A ROBBER. 2 The man who ENTERS BY THE GATE is THE SHEPHERD OF HIS SHEEP. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and THE SHEEP LISTEN TO HIS VOICE. He calls his own sheep by name and LEADS THEM OUT. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on AHEAD OF THEM, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Jesus is echoing what GOD promised to do in Micah 2. To be the shepherd king for his sheep. To go in through the gate. And lead out his people, who know his voice and follow him.
Jesus is calling ISRAEL to listen to his voice and FOLLOW him. Calling them back to God’s commands to live out justice and mercy and compassion and generosity. To live out God’s KINGDOM on earth.
A few verses further on, down in v9 he says
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
He’s calling whoever will listen to be SAVED. To be part of that faithful remnant. And it’s a call to WHOEVER. Not just to Israel THEN, but down through history to ANY who’ll listen to his voice. He says down in v16 that he’s got other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. And that’s US!
And Jesus’ promise for us is that when we FOLLOW HIS VOICE, we’re SAVED from God’s judgment. And we FIND PASTURE. We have LIFE. Life that’s ABUNDANT.
But that’s not all. Micah would remind us that it’s not just an INDIVIDUAL abundance Jesus promises. As we listen to Jesus’ voice, we’ll follow our Shepherd King who protects and lays down his life for his sheep. We’ll look after the WEAK. We’ll protect the VULNERABLE. We’ll share our abundance with the POOR. We’ll speak up for those who don’t have a voice.
This Australia Day we’ve got the opportunity, for example, to think about how we’ve treated INDIGENOUS Australians. Common Grace is a Christian organisation encouraging us to pursue JUSTICE. And they’ve organised a prayer service, called Change the Heart, led by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. It’s on Monday evening at 7.30pm. And you can watch it on TV, or online. Or listen on radio.
As we follow our Good Shepherd King, we’ll pray that God’s kingdom would come ON EARTH as it is in heaven. We’ll point those who don’t know his voice to King JESUS, the only one who lays down his life and saves them. The only one who brings life to the full.