Micah 3-5: No pain, no gain

Martin Luther King once said, “Nothing WORTHWHILE is gained without SACRIFICE.” The Australian version certainly isn’t as fancy, but at least it’s shorter! “No pain, no gain”. In other words, good, beneficial things often only come as a result of struggles or difficulties.

It’s a principle that has all sorts of applications in life. Removing splinters, or stitching a wound. Or training for a sporting event. Getting fit. Studying for an exam. Establishing a successful business. Learning to skateboard. Physiotherapy after an operation. Each of them has pain, or a struggle or a difficulty you have to bear/ before you can enjoy the pleasure, or the achievement. In fact, the pain is NECESSARY to achieving the GAIN.

Or here’s one we find in today’s passage from Micah. A woman suffering the pains of labour and childbirth before the joy of a new baby. There’s no way around it. The joy of a new baby comes BECAUSE of the pain of labour. The pain has a purpose. As more than one midwife said to Caron over the course of four deliveries, “Yes, it hurts! But it’s POSITIVE pain. Because you’ll get a baby at the end! Focus on that!” (Though I’m not sure how helpful Caron found it at the time!)

And Micah uses the same picture of LABOUR PAINS to illustrate what Jerusalem will go through with the pain of her invasion, destruction and exile. Did you notice it? There in Ch 4 v9.

9Why do you now cry aloud–      have you no king? Has your counselor perished,      that pain seizes you LIKE THAT OF A WOMAN IN LABOR? 10Writhe in agony, O Daughter of Zion,      LIKE A WOMAN IN LABOR, for now you must leave the city      to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon;
Remember the situation Micah’s talking about? God’s patience has finally run out at the sin of his people. First – Israel in the north. Assyria will make the capital city, Samaria, a pile of rubble. And second, Judah, and her capital Jerusalem, is FACING THE SAME FATE. We saw in chapter 2 how God hated their greed and injustice – the rich abusing the poor.

There’s more of the same in chapter 3, where Micah zooms in on the HAVES. On those with the responsibility to look after the people. Like ch 3 v9

9 Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob      you rulers of the house of Israel,  who despise justice      and distort all that is right 10 who build Zion with bloodshed,       and Jerusalem with wickedness. 11 Her leaders judge for a bribe,      her priests teach for a price,      and her prophets tell fortunes for money. 12 Yet they lean upon the Lord and say,      “Is not the Lord among us?      No disaster will come upon us.”

And so Micah gives the warning at the end of ch 3. V12.

Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

That’s the context of Ch 4 v9, where Micah describes the pain of Jerusalem’s destruction LIKE A WOMAN IN LABOUR.

So how can the destruction of a city/ be like LABOUR PAINS? Where’s the GAIN at the end of the PAIN? Look again at what Micah says. Firstly, v9.

9Why do you now cry aloud–      HAVE YOU NO KING? HAS YOUR COUNSELOR PERISHED,      that pain seizes you like that of a woman in labor?

Micah’s reminding their situation isn’t hopeless. GOD is their king. GOD is their counsellor and guide. He’s got a plan he’s working out. And his plan is/ there’ll be GAIN at the end of the PAIN. Look at v10. (There’ll be the pain of exile to Babylon). But look at how the verse FINISHES.

(You will go to Babylon)      there you will be RESCUED. There the Lord will REDEEM you       out of the hand of your enemies.

That’s the GAIN at the end of the PAIN.

A couple of interesting things to note. Firstly, did you notice who the enemy is? It’s Babylon. Who are not even on the scene in 730BC, when Micah’s prophesying. It’s ASSYRIA who are storming the borders. Samaria hasn’t been defeated yet. That’s 722BC. Babylon won’t rise for another hundred years.

So, SECONDLY, what that means is that Micah’s warning actually proved effective! Micah WARNED Judah judgement was coming. But it didn’t fall for over 100 years. Because Jeremiah 26:18 tells us that King Hezekiah LISTENED to Micah’s warning, and sought to follow God, and God RELENTED and didn’t bring the evil he’d warned them about.

But even though God’s SLOW to anger, he knows that his patience will, again, run out. It lasts through the end of the Assyrian empire. Until Babylon rises to power. And then, 140 years later, defeats Jerusalem, and the Jews ARE exiled to Babylon. Just like Micah predicts.

So that’s the BAD NEWS. (The PAIN of judgment, defeat and exile.) But what’s the GOOD NEWS? The GAIN of what God will do AFTER THE PAIN? Micah sprinkles it generously through chapters 4 and 5.

Let’s begin FIRST with Ch 4 v11. (in v10 God’s promised that he’ll rescue his people from Babylon after their exile – off in the future).

But that’s LATER. V11 jumps back to THE PRESENT.

“But NOW, many nations are gathered against you.”

Assyria, among others, is eyeing off Judah. (That’s the PAIN). But, v12, they don’t know God’s plans. He’ll judge THEM, TOO. In fact, v13, Israel will somehow be God’s instrument in bringing that justice against the nations. (That’s the “GAIN”).

(Into chapter 5). (Off into the FUTURE again) V1, Armies would lay siege to Jerusalem, and even strike Israel’s king – probably Babylon who blinded King David’s descendant, Zedekiah, before he was led off to exile. (Pain)

But v2, here’s the GAIN. (A promise for the future). God will raise up a ruler from Bethlehem, King David’s town. Just like he promised David. A descendant for the throne. And, v4, he’ll shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, and they’ll dwell securely, and live in peace. (Gain).

But before that “GAIN”, v3, there’s PAIN. Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour gives birth. In other words, until the time of the exile is over.

It’s likely Micah and the people expected some IMMEDIATE fulfilment – an earthly Davidic descendant to rule an earthly kingdom soon after the exile. But no one can identify a likely historical figure.

The BEST match, of course, is JESUS. 500 years into the future. When the wise men turn up in Jerusalem looking for the new king who’s been born, V2 is quoted by the Bible experts to King Herod. They say the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.

And his origins really ARE from of old (v2). And he really DOES shepherd his flock in God’s strength (v4), and his flock really DO dwell securely. And his reputation really HAS reached to the ends of the earth.

It’s the ultimate GOOD that God works out after the PAIN of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile.

(The REST of chapter 5 seems to jump back to the immediate future for Micah. How Judah will deal with Assyria. And there are GOOD things God works through THAT, TOO.)

In the last days

But what I want to do is jump back to the start of chapter four. And even GREATER good things that come after the pain of exile. As we do, we actually seem to jump FORWARD in time. Notice how chapter four begins, “in the last days”. This will be the final reality. God’s LAST WORD. There’s nothing else that comes AFTER it.

Chapter 3 finishes with the image of Zion plowed like a field. V12. Jerusalem a heap of rubble. And the temple hill, a heap of dirt overgrown with thickets. (The PAIN of defeat.) But look at the contrast with ch 4 v1.

1 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established      as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills,      and peoples will stream to it.

First of all, some time in the future, God will RESTORE the temple mount. God will raise it – not PHYSICALLY – but IN SIGNIFICANCE. The most important high place and temple around.

Because, secondly, it will be a magnet for the nations. And v2, they’ll come to find out about the one, true God.

2 Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,      to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways,      so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion,      the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Notice that they’re not just LEARNING about God’s ways. They’re OBEYING them – walking in his paths.

And, look at v3, there’ll be justice and peace. God will judge them fairly. Which is an improvement on Judah’s leaders BEFORE the exile! GOD as their leader, judge and teacher.

3 He will judge between many peoples      and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares      and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,      nor will they train for war anymore. 4 Every man will sit under his own vine      and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid,      for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

There’ll be UNITY, without UNIFORMITY. National distinctives remain, but there’ll be world-wide PEACE between nations. And you won’t need a sword, or spear, anymore. You can turn them all into farming equipment.

And how’s this for a picture of rest and contentment, v4?! Every man sits under his own vine and fig tree.

And just in case you think it’s uncertain, or unrealistic. Look at the last line of v4. “For the LORD Almighty has spoken!” God always keeps his word! You can TRUST IT!

(Jump over v5 – we’ll come back to it in a moment) Then verses 6-8 give a few more details. God will gather, not just THE NATIONS, but the LAME, the EXILES, a REMNANT – a faithful portion of Israel. (Those he’s protected through the exile). And God will rule over them in Mount Zion FOREVER.

It’s a wonderful picture. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve got QUESTIONS: When will this be? Is it for some time in history? (Because it never happened like that for Israel! And they’re still waiting!) Or is it about ETERNITY – OUTSIDE of history?

And is the description LITERAL, or SYMBOLIC? In what sense does Jesus fulfil this picture? Does he REPLACE the physical temple as the focus for people to gather around?

Or should we be looking for the re-establishment of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem? (That’s certainly the way MANY Christians interpret it, especially in America.)

And what’s the PURPOSE of this promise? Why announce it, if it’s far off in the future? What difference did it make for Micah’s hearers? And what difference should it make for us today?

And if that’s the certain glorious future, why do we have to GO THROUGH ALL THE DIFFICULTIES TO GET THERE? Why does God WAIT until the last days? Why not just jump straight to the GLORY? Why the labour pains before the birth?

For what it’s worth, here’s my view. It’s describing ETERNITY. When God brings THIS world to an end, and brings a NEW heaven and a NEW earth into existence. And the New Testament talks about it in more details. When we, TOO, are given eternal, glorious resurrection bodies. And sin is defeated. And there’s no more suffering. No more PAIN, only GAIN.

Is it literal or symbolic? Yes! I think eternity will be just like BITS of this. EARTHLY, and paradise, and united and peaceful.

But since Micah prophesied these words, JESUS HAS COME, and FULFILLED them. HE is the temple, where God and man meet. The One the nations stream to. And God’s merciful sacrifice who satisfies his justice for our sin. And he’s the PRIEST, who represents us to God, and God to us. And he’s the TEACHER. The One who IS the Word of God, guiding and teaching the nations. And he’s the one God’s appointed to be the Judge of all by raising him from the dead.

He’s the descendant of King David, the shepherd who gathers his sheep. The One who every knee will bow before. And who every tongue, in every language, will confess is LORD.

And what’s the POINT? What practical difference should it make for how we live today? Have a look at v5 that we jumped over before. I think it’s best to take it as A RESPONSE from the people who hear the description of God’s glorious future.

V4 finishes the prophecy about the last days with “For the LORD Almighty has spoken”. And the people respond

All the nations may walk      in the name of THEIR gods; WE will walk in the name of the Lord      our God for ever and ever.

In other words, from NOW, as we hear the promise, until the day God brings it to pass, we’ll walk in the name of the LORD. We’ll show we trust God’s promises for the future, even in the midst of the labour pains, by living God’s way. Obeying him even when it seems like foolishness. Hoping expectantly that GAIN will come after the PAIN.

In that sense, this picture of eternity works like that midwife, who encourages the mother going through labour pains. “Focus on the GOAL. Forget the pain. Soon you’ll have a beautiful baby to hold.”

But it also does SOMETHING ELSE. It doesn’t just give us hope for a DIFFERENT life. It SHAPES THE LIFE WE LIVE NOW. It guides and fuels and inspires us to make the characteristics of God’s ETERNAL kingdom/ a PRESENT REALITY. Justice and compassion and peace and mercy. With God at the centre of it all.

That’s the FUTURE, but it’s also our AGENDA for THE PRESENT. It’s anticipatory. Aspirational. Visionary. It’s a target to be aiming for.

And as the church DOES that, the world begins to catch a glimpse of, and a HUNGER for, GOD and his kingdom.

But here’s one final question to think about: If the future’s so good, why doesn’t God just jump straight to it? Why not avoid the LABOUR and go straight to the DELIVERY? Why not skip the PAIN, and get straight to the GAIN?

For ISRAEL, Micah’s taught us the EXILE was necessary to REFINE and SHAPE his people. To gather a faithful remnant, who FOLLOW him. To humble a people who’d TURN TO HIM. That was the GAIN at the end of the PAIN.

And he’s doing the same thing in the world TODAY. The same thing IN YOUR life. And MY life. The difficulties. The injustices. The suffering. The discipline. It HUMBLES us. And makes us groan and long for eternity. And makes us depend on God. And grows us like Jesus. And teaches us patience.

NO PAIN, NO GAIN is a general principle in life. But it’s also a SPIRITUAL one. And it’s one God uses to prepare you for his glorious eternity. Listen to these wonderful promises:

Romans 5:3: We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, HOPE. NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the GLORY that will be revealed in us. NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to BE CONFORMED TO THE LIKENESS OF HIS SON. NO PAIN, NO GAIN

And here’s ONE MORE. Hebrews 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, IT PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE for those who have been trained by it. (Say it with me, NO PAIN, NO GAIN)

How do I respond to the labour pains of God’s discipline? In humility and trust, I work out justice, mercy and godliness, inspired by the vision of God’s glorious future kingdom

As Micah 4:5 says All the nations may walk       in the name of THEIR gods;  WE will walk in the name of the Lord       our God for ever and ever. Amen.

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