Grief and optimism in witness – Micah 1-2

We’re used to grief and optimism in witness. We grieve that people don’t seem interested and yet we’re optimistic about the power of the message we have. It saved us!

Sometimes we’ll have more grief than optimism; other times it’s the other way round.

Micah preached his message at a time of moral bankruptcy, to people who weren’t a tiny bit interested in what he had to say. It all feels very familiar, as we’ll see. And yet, there’s a strength of feeling and emotion in Micah (because it’s in God) that we Christians don’t always share.

So Micah will expose our society for what it is, and expose your heart response to it – and lead us into right emotion.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You’ll find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

God does judge (Micah 1)

There’s a decent chance that if you follow a Bible-reading plan that you’ll skip through Micah fairly quickly. There’s (probably) only 1 verse that you’d recognise and the rest of it feels much like other prophets. No big deal.

Part of the problem (for us) is that the prophets take a bit more effort than other parts of the Bible. To understand them, you need to know a bit of the history books (1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles). Equally, to understand those books properly you do need to call the prophets to mind.

Read Micah 1:1. We know very little about Micah himself, except v1.

  • Remember that David was king around about 1000 BC.
  • Then Solomon, then the kingdom split into Israel (Samaria) in the north, and Judah in the south.
  • All the kings of the north were bad; most of the kings in the south were bad (not all). David’s line was in the south.
  • Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were later kings in the south.
  • In those years, the Assyrian empire was growing and threatening the whole region. Would God give up his people from the land he’d promised them in covenant?
  • Actually, because the people had broken the covenant they were due for exile (the final covenant curse).
  • While Hezekiah was king in the south, Assyria spread from the north and took all northern Israel into exile.
  • It was 722 BC; other people were moved into Samaria.

And Micah was one of God’s prophets (at the same time as Isaiah and Amos) at such a time.

Everyone is to hear!

In Micah 1:2-4, he calls on the whole world to listen to his message! A message of judgment and, ultimately, hope. In Micah 1:5 it’s clear that the specific judgment to be displayed is against Smaria and Judah. The irony is awful. They were supposed to make the LORD known to the world by proclaiming his righteousness – but not by being subject to his judgment.

In Micah 1:6-7 the fate of Samaria (north) is made clear. It will be flattened, made a heap of ruins. The Assyrian invasion.

And yet Micah 1:8-9 makes it abundantly clear that the LORD takes no delight in this. He loved those people. Their rejection brings punishment, but doesn’t delight the LORD.

And in Micah 1:10-16 he lists town after town where judgment will also fall in Judah. Each one is a kind of Hebrew play on words.

  • So v10, You people in Beth-leaphrah [lit. “house of dust”], roll in the dust to show your despair
  • We might say, There will be no more Moreton. Thorns will blight Thornton Hough. Heswall’s walls will fall. Birkenhead will lose its head. Rock Ferry will be smashed on the rocks. Bromborough will bow in horror.
  • Not as abstract ideas, but as a foreign invasion of people who will take you from your home under God’s hand.
  • Very real mourning and terror.

The reality of God’s judgment

What you need to grasp here is the reality of God’s judgment.

  • Right. God is right to judge. He is the righteous judge. He determines what sin is and holds everyone accountable.
  • Certain. God is patient, but no sin goes unpunished.
  • Universal and specific. People in your street, your family, your home town, your workplace. You. Each and everyone will be judged by God for what we have done.
  • Awful. For those people, at that time, they faced removal from their homes, a loss of culture and heritage. Gone. No option, no appeal, no hope. But still, only a dim shadow of the realities of hell – separate from all that is good forever.
  • Lamented. “I will mourn and lament” says Micah, just as Jeremiah did 100 years later. As God’s prophets they reveal his intent, his words, and also his heart. Lament.
    • You might wonder about your own heart concerning the lost: Do you lament? Does that fuel your prayers? Does it drive you to mission and witness?
  • Yet take heart. He grieved and grieves over your sin, yet called you to faith too.

Gain the world, lose your soul

In Micah 2:1-5, he gets more specific about the particular sins the people were committing.

  • It begins “what sorrow” or “woe” (הֹ֧וי), the language of lamentable judgment. The language of Jesus.
  • And the sins here are about covetousness and theft. Greediness for the things that others have and devising ways of taking them.

God gave the land to his people, and they were taking it from one another. So the punishment was like-for-like: Others would take all the land from them all.

That covetousness and greed isn’t hard to spot today.

  • It’s right there on the Russian border with Ukraine.
  • Powerful British politicians have lied and schemed and skimmed of billions of pounds from our economy, while taking £20/month off Universal Credit.
  • And you and I get caught up in covetousness as we get drawn in by our culture to want a better house, a better car, a bit more money… forgetting how rich we are in a world where a third of the planet lack toilets and clean water.

They say, “You can’t take it with you.” So make sure your happiness and security is built on something you can’t lose. Gain treasures in heaven; hold onto this world only lightly.

There will be a day when you stand before God to give account. He won’t be interested in your bank account, or your assets. There’s no sin in being rich, but there’s nothing more valuable to you than your own eternal soul before God. He will judge you. All sin is punished.

Before we come to Micah’s first words of hope to you, we first need to be realistic about the truth.

People don’t want truth

In 1 Timothy we’ve seen how important the truth is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that God wants everyone everywhere to be saved. That’s wonderful truth, but for it to mean anything you need to be clear on a couple of things: You need to know that you are a sinner, as God defines sin – not you. And that your sin has consequences – judgment – from which you need saving.

How do people respond to that? Read Micah 2:6. “It’s not true. It’s not going to happen.”

  • In Micah 2:7-10 the case against them is stated again.
  • Theft, evictions, not caring for the poor or vulnerable.
  • Broken covenant, rejecting God’s love and wisdom.
  • So he restates his rejection of them.
  • Hell itself is a confirmation of choice – choosing “not God”.

It’s no surprise that people don’t want to hear that they’re sinners – it means they have to change, to repent, to give up idols that they love. Though many people do still quite like church (the singing, the community) but not actually the bit about honouring God in every way.

  • Liberal churches are easy to find. Shallow treatment of the Bible. Morals that fit with society rather than Scripture.
  • Churches that will teach as “good” things the Bible (God) clearly calls “bad”. The simplest and most obvious today is same-sex unions being blessed as marriage by many churches around the world, despite what the Bible says.

It was like that in Micah’s day, and always. Read Micah 2:11.

And yet the truth that you area sinner before God is actually Good News. It’s grace. Because it’s your first step to true life. Precisely because Christ Jesus came into the world for you.

Hope in God

Read Micah 2:12-13.

There are a couple of fairly obvious possible situations in mind:

  1. In Hezekiah’s day, all the towns of Judah were overrun exactly as in Micah 1, and King Hezekiah was trapped like a bird in a cage in Jerusalem.
    1. When Hezekiah prayed, the LORD rescued them by killing 185,000 enemy men outside Jerusalem.
    2. Gathered together like sheep in a pen, they were kept safe by God.
  2. It may be a reference to God bringing his people back out of exile in Babylon – out of the pen, and free again.

As with all images of liberation, the truth of freedom in Christ is never far away. You are a sinner, but Christ came from heaven to save you.

  • He has already saved you from hell. That’s certain.
  • He is saving you from your dependence on the idols of this world, freeing you from slavery to sin.
  • God will save you from the decay and sorrow of this world to eternal life, an immortal body, a bliss with him.
  • He gathers us Sunday by Sunday, and he will one day gather us to himself – a great big noisy crowd of us together with him.
  • He has broken through death, through the curtain into heaven itself, and opened the way for you and me to follow.

God will judge everyone’s sin. No sin goes unpunished. Judgement is right, certain, universal and specific, awful, and lamented by God in love. Share in that lament, and take heart that that is how God sees the lost people you love.

Amazing Grace

In amazing grace, he takes punishment on himself for all who come in repentance of their sins.

Forsake the world, and gain much more in Christ! Expect people to want to hear about other things. But be hopeful too, simply because of what you know about the Lord. He came to save you; he will save others.

Weep, grieve, lament. Pray, and keep witnessing. That is how the Lord will call lost people to himself. He will strengthen you for every task he calls you to. Take heart.