Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 50. Micah
Mic 4:2,3 I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
After the story telling of Jonah we are back to pure prophecy in Micah. Recently, within a TV gardening programme, I saw a luxurious garden of an apparently famous lady gardener in England, now in her eighties. The buildings in this garden she had created used to be stables and the ground outside occupied for decades by horses. Thus the ground was saturated with horse manure which over the years broke down within the earth making some incredibly fertile soil producing such luxuriant plants. Now I think some of the prophetic books of the Bible are like this and Micah is a classic example. Within this splurge of prophetic condemnation of Israel and Judah, common to so many prophets, (with good cause) this muck, this judgmental prophecy, which has good origins but causes such a stink in the nostrils and unpleasant reading, also manages to be the ground for some incredibly wonderful and beautiful plants that break through in the midst. Words of faith, words of hope, both break through to provide light in the darkness of such prophecy.
God’s word comes to Micah in the reigns of “Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah,” (1:1) another of the prophets prophesying somewhere either side of 700BC. He predicts the fall of Samaria: “I will make Samaria a heap of rubble,” (1:6 fulfilled 722/1), as well as invasion of Judah (1:9-16) and, even more amazingly, speaks of the Exile some 150 years off: “You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued.” (4:10)
We should not be put off by such warnings of such future happenings because in the middle of the book, chapter 4 is a highlight chapter, that starts by speaking about “the last days” (4:1) when the world will turn to Israel for hope (4:2), God will judge all peoples (4:3a) and a time of peace will follow (4:3b), a time of wellbeing where all worship the Lord (4:4,5), a time where the lowly, the rejected, the exiles, are gathered to be the Lord’s people (4:6,7), and Israel and Jerusalem be restored (4:8). After this ‘last days’ talk, the prophecy comes back to the present centuries where there will be turmoil and eventual exile and subsequent restoration (4:9,10). Coming further back, returning to the very present, other nations are against Israel but will fall because of Israel, because they do not understand the Lord’s plans. (4:11-13) It is a spectacular panorama of history! Such are some of the ‘big plants’ that grow out of this overall unpleasant ‘horse yard’!
But there some others as well. Although so much is this prophecy denouncing Israel and Judah (e.g. 1:5), there is also the hope of restoration (whether it is after the Exile is unclear but the picture lends itself to that): “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. 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.” (2:12,13) Is the ‘pen’ Babylon out of which they will break free at the Lord’s leading and return to their own land.
Yet there is much condemnation of the wrongs of His people: “Jacob’s transgression …..the sins of the house of Israel,” (1:5), of Samaria, “she gathered her gifts from the wages of prostitutes.” (1:7) i.e. Israel in the north appeared to prosper by her association with foreigners and not the Lord. They plan iniquity (2:1), they steal from one another (2:2), they prophesy falsely (2:6), violence and injustice is common (2:8,9), their rulers practice injustice (3:1-3), judges and priests take bribes (3:11), there are occult practices and idolatry (5:12-14), they have forgotten the Lord and His goodness to them down through the centuries (6:3-5), there is no one godly and upright left (7:2), and there is family disharmony (7:6),
Because of all this judgment will come: God is coming (1:3), Samaria will fall (1:6), the children of the people of north and south will go into exile (1:16), disaster will come (2:3), what they have will be taken away (2:4), God will distance Himself from them (3:4-6), the land will be ‘ploughed by an enemy’ Jerusalem will fall (3:12), Assyria will invade (5:5), the destruction has already started (6:13), they will be further ruined (6:16), such is the ‘muck of this stable yard’.
And yet life springs out of it, there are ‘plants’ from the Lord in the mist of this. For example, a ‘Messianic glimmer’, out of Bethlehem will come a ruler (5:2), a teaching that led the wise men to Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem, (Mt 2:3-8) and this ruler will shepherd his flock and bring peace (5:4,5). Or there is that famous little word of guidance, a summary of what God wants from His people: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)
And yet the greatest of the ‘plants’ bursting forth in this unlikely place of judgment, comes right at the end – the prophet’s declaration of what he knows of the Lord: “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.” (7:18-20) He extols the Lord’s uniqueness, a God who pardons and forgives and who delights to show mercy, yes, a God who will bring judgment but always does it to purge and purify and bring forth a righteous remnant, and that remnant will know the blessings promised to Abraham. In this midst of all the muck, this is the glorious truth that upholds the prophet and which should also uphold us. God is good, God is love, God is righteous and all He does is with the goal of us experiencing these characteristics of His in our everyday lives. May it be so.