Studies In Micah. Presentation 01. A Timely Message Chapter 1v1-16. Presentation 01. Dan. Introduction.
Micah was a younger contemporary of Hosea. The opening verse speaks of the reigns of Jothan, Ahaz and Hezekiah, representing a timespan, from the mid-eighth century to its end. Micah was also a younger contemporary of Isaiah who ministered in the nation’s capital, Jerusalem. In contrast, Micah was a country-dweller, from Moresheth, a village which lay between the hill country of Judah and the Philistine plain. This fertile area carried the main bulk of traffic between Asia and Africa. This was the route which the then Assyrian emperor Sargon travelled in 719 BC in his campaign against Egypt.
And so, Moreshethwas neither remote nor isolated. Micah was aware of the danger of marauding armies that made use of this strategic route in their forays against one another.
Indeed, the sense of looming doom that pervades this chapter seems to indicate that the prophet wrote near the time of the fall of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, Israel, in 721 BC. This is the setting of the prophecy. Micah’s message to Judah, is that a similar fate to that facing Israel would soon overtake Judah if they failed to heed
the warning that the ominous events in the north were proclaiming to those who had ears to hear.
Micah presents an interesting contrast to Isaiah, whose ministry was in the capital, Jerusalem and scarcely ever beyond it. It is possible to see warning trends in national life just as clearly when at a distance from great centres of commerce, culture and political activity, as it is when living in the midst of them.
Micah’s message compliments Isaiah’s, in the warning it gives to the sinning nation. And when the voice of the country unites with that of the capital in prophesying impending doom, it is time to pay urgent heed to what is being said.
Nor must such warning voices be lightly dismissed today as mere scare-mongering, as so often tends to be the case. Remember the opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “God.. .spoke in time past by the prophets...”- including Micah! What we have in this book is not only the Word of God, but also a Word from God, which is remarkable in its up-to-date relevance for our own day.
While God’s people stood on the edge of judgement and disaster, there are also notable passages of hope and grace, reminders that evil does not have the last word. This may be seen in such passages as 4v1-7, 5v2 ff, 6v1-8, 7v7-12, 18-20.
While Amos and Hosea both ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel, Micah, belonging to the south and spoke mainly to the southern kingdom of Judah. Why is Samaria mentioned in 1v1 along with Jerusalem? The historical reality was that Israel, was being attacked by the then world power, Assyria. The first attack took place in 732 BC and ten years later in 721 BC, when the inhabitants were taken into captivity 2 Kings 17. Micah makes reference to this, in such intense, language suggesting that the captivity of Israel was almost, at that moment, taking place. But the captivity of Judah lay more than a century ahead of the time Micah was prophesying.
The form of words in v1 is revealing, “The word of the Lord... the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem”. What does this mean? The events which the prophet was witnessing in the northern kingdom - the advance of the hostile Assyrians with their intent to destroy clearly reflect Micah’s prophetic ability to interpret the things that happened in the land as ‘the word of the Lord’. This explains the language of ‘theophany’ in v3-4. This is consistent with the O.T. revelation of God as One who moves heaven and earth, either on behalf of his people, to protect and sustain them, or, as here, in judgment.
This is why the prophetic books are so relevant today.
It is not that we try to make these ancient prophecies relevant to our own time - they make themselves so unmistakably relevant that it takes our breath away.
Are we Christians able to see the significance of
the events of our time? 1 Chron. 12v32 speaks
of men who ‘had understanding of the times’.
Do we possess this quality of discernment to
grasp the moral and spiritual significance of
what is happening in our land and our world ?
Are we able to ‘read’ the signs of the times
as Micah did?
Micah has an important lesson to teach as he sees disaster overtaking the northern kingdom, and the reasons behind it. He is saying to Judah, what Paul later said to his contemporaries,
“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” Rom. 2v3.
Micah heard the tramp of enemy armies, but he also heard the measured tread of the footsteps of God coming in Divine visitation! And he cries out to his own people, “O learn the lessons of history, and learn quickly, before it is too late!”
In this connection, note the significance of what Micah says in v9, “… the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem”. Even then, danger to Judah was immanent. Assyria
could easily have pressed on into Jerusalem and Micah was conscious of this danger.
Later, in the reign of Hezekiah, Sennacherib
of Assyria besieged Jerusalem [701 B.C], and Isaiah the prophet predicted the lifting of the siege [2 Kings 18, 2 Chron. 32]. Only after all these warnings went unheeded, in the reign of Zedekiah, Jerusalem was destroyed, and Judah taken into captivity to Babylon..
Micah’s message at this point, doom-laden as it was, was unlikely to boost the flagging morale of the people. His gloomy predictions would be unwelcome by those who think the preacher’s function is to bring comfort, encourage and uplift. Here is one way to measure the moral and spiritual declension of a people, they demand smooth and soothing words and fail to recognize the inevitability of the judgment that a holy God must pronounce upon sin.
As Micah’s prophecy unfolds, we will see how inevitable that judgment was, and how authentic his word concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
We learn why the Lord was coming in judgment upon his people. The capital cities were the centres of sin. This is true in two ways. Capital cities - now as then - tend, magnet-like, to gather the moral dregs of national life, and sin receives every encouragement to multiply.
Secondly, capital cities are the seat of government,
and it is corruption in high places, and royal house-
holds that poisons the national life. This was what Micah could see, as he stood in distant Moresheth .
And seeing what the corruption of wealth and
idolatry had led to in Samaria - the imminent or
actual sacking of Samaria - Micah could feel the
danger threatening his own capital, Jerusalem.
This is a lesson that all history teaches, not
only the prophets. It is also one that few great nations have ever taken seriously until it was too late. The decline and fall of great powers, ancient and modern, has been due, basically,
to moral rather than political factors, with wealth, prosperity and ease combining to sap moral fibre until collapse and ruin become inevitable - the Greek and Roman empires are obvious examples! We should be disturbed when our major political parties are concerned so exclusively with economic and social issues and so little with moral principle.
Surely Micah is speaking into our time?
In v9 we read, “her wound is incurable”. This proved to be a true and realistic assessment of the nation’s condition. Remember that Micah stands in a considerable succession of prophets who have all warned God’s people of the consequence of continuing sin. Nearly 200 years of moral and spiritual decline have marked the downward spiral
of the northern kingdom.
Micah’s is not a pessimistic prediction, to
be swept aside as fanatical. It’s a sober,
clinical diagnosis, made by one in
possession of all the facts of the
case who draws the inescapable
conclusion that it is a sickness
unto death for which there is no hope.
Micah’s position here is similar to that of a relative who has been given the shattering news that a loved one will not get better, and who tries in vain to convey that news to the rest of the family. He knows that it is true, but he cannot get them to take it in. There is something in us
that fights fiercely and irrationally against the admission of such news into our heart. So too, in national life, we engage in wishful thinking, rather than face all evidence
to the contrary. Think of Churchill’s warnings in the 1930’s. He was repeatedly told, “Germany is no threat to peace”.
The optimists were tragically wrong, because they
failed to face the facts of the situation. We should not miss the logic of Micah’s denunciations, nor their application for the world of today.
The place-names mentioned in v10ff are small towns and villages in Micah’s district that would feel the first blast of the oppressor on his way to Jerusalem. Micah weeps over the villages and hamlets of the countryside more than over the capital although he realises that
the heart of the nation’s sin lies there.
Apply this to the church today. The spiritual apathy that afflicts church life often has greater consequences, not in larger centres of population but, in rural areas.
We can be deceived about the spiritual temperature
of the church’s life if we confine our observation to
the cities, where a large population makes possible
a reasonably sized congregation. But look at what is happening in rural communities!
The reference to Lachish in v13 as being “the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion” needs explanation. It was the mistaken policy of both Israel and Judah to purchase large quantities of horses and chariots from the Egyptians. The nation was encouraged to believe that she was becoming a military power, but all the time she was simply depleting her financial resources. And
while chariots might be fine for the flat lands
of the Nile, they were unsuited to the mountainous terrain of Judah.
But their particular danger lay in the fact that these weapons caused the nation to look to herself and to her allies rather than to God.
For this reason the prophets of God viewed chariots with disapproval and saw them as a source of error. It is thought that at Lachish, on the coastal plain, the newly-purchased horses and chariots were halted and rested before finally passing on to Jerusalem. In this way Lachish could be spoken of as ‘the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion’.
The important point to note is that Lachish’s complicity in this unholy and forbidden traffic brings the divine censure upon her head, even although she herself would have had no part in making the agreement with Egypt.
This raises an important issue: How responsible are individuals for the ill-advised and ungodly policies of government leaders? For while it is the nation’s leaders who make the decisions it is nevertheless the responsibility of individuals and groups to make their voice heard and protest in the name of God and of righteousness against godless and immoral courses of action.
The Church as a whole, and individual Christians in particular must guard against, by their silence, acquiescing in evil.