When Times Are Bad ...
A Study in the Minor Prophets: Micah
June 1, 2002 - This article continues our Bible study on the Minor Prophets. Top Bible scholars explain the major themes of these books—and show how the prophets’ messages affect us today.
by Bruce K. Waltke
While the United States collectively experienced the terrorist attacks of last September 11, some of us quietly face our own terrors, such as I did several months ago when a specialist diagnosed my symptoms as Parkinson’s disease. (Later the diagnosis was proved wrong.) She assured me that medication would relieve my symptoms for five years, but after that I could expect my organs to break down gradually and finally fail.
Micah, a representative from God’s heavenly throne to Earth, has a message for people facing terrors. Unfortunately, most Christians have never heard Micah’s 19 sermons—sermons that could give us insight into our fears and help to relieve them.
Micah preached during and for times of terror. According to the book’s superscription,(1) Micah delivered his sermons while the feared Assyrians, noted for spreading terror, gradually engulfed the entire Middle East until only Mount Zion survived.
Micah’s sermon predicting the birth of Messiah in Bethlehem(2) was probably delivered while the Assyrian commander besieged sinful Jerusalem. Micah’s famous words, "What does the Lord require of you but to love justice, and to show mercy and walk humbly with your God,"(3) probably were delivered during the Passover of that year (701 B.C.).
Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, boasted that he had shut in King Hezekiah as a prisoner in Jerusalem. The Assyrians demanded that Judah’s leaders surrender so that the worshipers of the Assyrian god Ashur could dispossess the people of Israel from their inheritance and carry them into exile. About this time Isaiah, Micah’s contemporary and peer, diagnosed a fatal illness in Hezekiah, Judah’s king.
Micah combined his originally independent prophetic sermons into three cycles (chapters 1-2, 3-5, 6-7) of judgment and hope. Each cycle first teaches the people to fear and second relieves their fears. Also, each cycle begins with Micah’s command to hear and to listen.
Blinded by their own avarice, the false prophets saw no connection between Israel’s moral decadence and the rampaging Assyrian army.(4) But, in an earlier invasion against Samaria, Israel’s northern capital,(5) the true prophet, Micah, saw the Lord’s hand in the movement of the Assyrian juggernaut.
Sent by God and filled with a spirit of justice, Micah upheld the values of the Mosaic Covenant. He preached against the people who increased their wealth while others lived in poverty.(6) He preached against dishonest practices that prevailed everywhere.(7) The nation was so rife with moral corruption that even its religious leaders participated in debauchery. Prophets(8) and priests(9) prostituted themselves spiritually, and for financial gain they joined themselves to falsehood rather than to God’s truth.
To be sure, the nation looked religious as it thronged the temple and offered lavish gifts, but the moral covenant, which mandated a loving spirit toward God and one’s neighbor, had been replaced by a covenant among the powerful and rich to despoil the poor.(10)
Many people are alarmed by political support of corrupt governments that oppress their poor, by the increasing disparity between the poor and the wealthy who earn millions even as they pay their workers a minimal wage. Our judicial systems often seem to lack discernment in distinguishing between justice and mercy.
Many people have turned from attending church to attending sports events, and the media seems to honor people who disregard sacred marriage and sexual decency. Instead of loving one another, we sue each other. The message of Micah calls our nation to repent by turning back to her Christian heritage.(11)
Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I have taken Micah’s message to heart, heeding the admonition in Ecclesiastes: "When times are bad, consider."(12) As I have considered my life, I have thanked God both for loving me enough to discipline me and to forgive my transgressions. He has hurled my iniquities into the depths of the sea, just as at the beginning of Israel’s history,(13) He hurled Israel’s taskmasters into the sea’s depths.
To escape God’s judgment upon a sinful land, Micah had only the shadow of the covering
blood—the blood of the Passover lamb—but we have the covering blood of the Lamb that takes away the sins of those who apply it by faith. Micah built his sermons of hope on the sure foundation that God would keep His covenant promises to Israel.(14)
Micah included, for example, this promise: "You will ... show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago."(15) All those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith in Him are Abraham’s seed,(16) so this promise of mercy is for us, as well.
Micah drew the first cycle of his sermons to conclusion with the prediction that a remnant would break out of Jerusalem’s besieged gates "with their king before them, the Lord at their head."(17) This was fulfilled when the angel of the Lord slew 185,000 soldiers of the besieging Assyrians, causing Sennacherib to withdraw. But on Sennacherib’s return home his own sons assassinated him.(18)
Micah began the second cycle of his sermons by announcing that in the last days many nations will encourage one another to go up to Mount Zion to hear the Word of the Lord.(19) This prophecy will have its ultimate fulfillment in the new heavens and the new earth spoken of in Revelation. But this prophecy is being fulfilled every Sunday morning as Christians from nearly every nation go up to heavenly Mount Zion to hear the Word of the Lord from One who is far greater than Moses and who offered His own blood to mediate a new and a better covenant.(20)
We can see further examples of the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecies. God’s Word shaped Western laws and values of human life and freedom. These values gave rise to hospitals that opened their doors to the sick, even to those who were not wealthy. All this, Micah predicted, would occur after the Babylonians had carried Israel into captivity(21) and God had started over again with a new but greater than David, symbolized by the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem.(22) This King of kings would bring peace to His people and would protect them,(23) and though only a remnant they would refresh the earth like dew.(24)
Micah called upon his nation to repent before it was too late; King Hezekiah responded and the nation was saved. Godly leaders today also call upon nations to repent.