Today we come to the last weekend in our Tough Love series, our series looking at the Old Testament prophets and their messages of God’s tough love for his people. And our final prophet is Micah. Micah’s story is one of those country-boy-goes-to-the-big-city stories. I’m sure you know what I am talking about when I say country-boy-goes-to-the-big-city: an innocent country boy or girl, someone that has spent their life in the simplicity of a rural community, makes their way to the hustle and bustle of a big, sophisticated city and everything changes either for the good or the bad. When I was a boy there were two sitcoms that came out at the same time that told the same essential story from two different viewpoints: the Beverly Hillbillies: country people go to the big city and Green Acres: big city people go to the country. I know I am showing my age by bringing up these two old shows, but those two shows made us laugh by highlighting the multitude of ways that country folks are ignorant of the ways of the city and the ways that city folks are ignorant of the ways of the country. The point in all stories like this is that there are places in the world, maybe not that far from home, where everything is different and we have to decide what of each world is good and what is not so good. But what we are going to find as we look at Micah today is that this country-boy-goes-to-the-city story has a twist. Yes, he will leave the country… and for good reason… and yes, he will go to the big city in the hopes of finding something better… yet, what he will find is that contrary to what he hopes, people both in the country and the city are equally in need of the some tough love… and it is his task to deliver the news of God’s tough love to everyone... whether they be country folk or city folk.
Now, we know very little about Micah personally. We know that he was from a rural village called Moresheth which, though it was only about twenty-five miles from Jerusalem in the heart of a fertile agriculture region of Judah, it was culturally a world away from Jerusalem. Other than this, we really know nothing specific about him. We do know what his name means: “Who is like our God?’ which is a pretty good name for a prophet. But Micah was a fairly common name at the time, so his name didn’t make him stand out in any way. We also know that his first prophetic messages came from the Lord near the end of a 10-year period of great prosperity in Judah, the southern of the two Jewish kingdoms. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but contrary to what most people think, the two Jewish nations of the 8th century B.C., Judah and Israel, were never important nations… they were seen by most other nations as backward and unsophisticated. We tend to think they were important because they are the main subject of the Bible, but, the truth is the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians were the important powers of the day. The armies of these major empires were continually marching through Judah and Israel on their way to somewhere else. But in the process of marching through these Jewish nations they were also forcing Jewish people to submit to their control. Well, it turns out that there was a 10 year period when all of the great powers of the ancient world were putting their energies into other locations and ignoring the Israelites. This gave the Jewish people a 10 year time of peace and prosperity simply because they were being left alone. No one was taking their crops or demanding huge tax payments. But what Micah saw happening in his hometown of Moresheth during this time of peace wasn’t a gratefulness to God for this unexpected time of peace. No, what he saw all around him was a few very rich people using their wealth and power to steal land from other, less powerful Jewish families. The rich were manipulating the economic system to enlarge their already huge estates. And this development angered Micah and God for good reason. You see, many years earlier, when the Jews had first entered Israel, they had been instructed by God to divide the land in ways to ensure that every family had an equal share of property. God had done this to make it possible for each family to take care of itself. But things were changing in a terrible way; the rich were stealing land and many people were being left destitute. Let’s look at what Micah said about all of this. We can find his words on page 656. His prophecy begins by proclaiming that the Lord is coming to deal with this problem. In chapter 1 verse 3 he says, ‘Look! The Lord is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads on the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope. All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel. What is Jacob’s transgression?’ This was Micah’s stand-and-deliver introduction of God’s intensions: ‘I’m coming to settle some sin scores.’ Micah then for the rest of the entire first chapter catalogues what God is going to do if things don’t change… and it is a rough list… you can read it later… and then he names the problem in chapter 2 verse 1: “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.” The rich were systematically driving families off of their land through deception and fraud and turning people who had once been able to take care of themselves into what they called ‘the poor.’ Here is an interesting fact: in that time there was a very specific definition for a person who was considered ‘poor.’ A poor person was someone, who through no fault of their own, suddenly found themselves in a place where they couldn’t take care of their family in the way they had once done. Their notion of being ‘poor’ had nothing to do with annual income or housing or pretty much anything we would associate with poverty. You became ‘poor’ when someone, like an invading army or an evil, rich person, or something, like a famine or drought, took away your ability to take care of your own family. Micah saw that people all around him were being made ‘poor’ in Moresheth, the rich weren’t listening to his warning and he was incensed by it…. And so what he did was pack up his bags and head off to the one place where he thought he might find some other people who would be equally incensed by this terrible development out in the countryside: the religious leaders who lived and worked at the temple in the capital city Jerusalem. And when he arrived in Jerusalem he let the leaders at the temple know what God had said; we find his words in Chapter 2 verse 3. “Therefore, (because of all of this injustice that is happening in the countryside) the Lord says: “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity. In that day people will ridicule you; they will taunt you with this mournful song: ‘We are utterly ruined; my people’s possession is divided up. He takes it from me! He assigns our fields to traitors.’” Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the Lord to divide the land by lot.” But, contrary to what Micah expected, he found that the big city priests and prophets were no more interested in hearing from this country boy than the rich landowners back in Moresheth. Listen to what they say to him… 3 Verse 6: “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us.” And then these priests and prophets turn and speak to the people of Jerusalem. “You descendants of Jacob, should it be said,“Does the Lord become impatient? Does he do such things?” Here is my take on their response. It’s as if they said, ‘Keep your mouth shut, Micah. God isn’t in this kind of business. Everything seems to be going pretty well for us right now. No one should listen to this yokel. In fact, you should just head on home, you country simpleton.’ Micah was shocked by this and his response was essentially, ‘I can’t believe it. I thought you religious folks, of all people, would see that injustice is going to be the downfall of our nation, but I guess I was wrong.’ And in verse 11 of Chapter 2 he says, ‘What I’ve found to be true here in Jerusalem is “If liars and deceivers come and say, ‘We will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ they would be just the prophets for this people.” And as he pokes around and finds out what is actually going on in Jerusalem, he finally comes to this sad conclusion in verse 9 of Chapter 3. Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness. Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” And then he gets in this final prophetic word. “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 was a pretty clear warning that things needed to change: judges judging for a bribe; priests teaching for a price; prophets telling fortunes for money. Things were really bad in Jerusalem. And what we know from history is this: while the priests, the prophets and the rich landowners didn’t want anything to do with country-boy Micah or his message, there was one person who heard what he said, took it to heart and made some big changes; that one person just happened to be Hezekiah, the King of Judah. From what we can tell, Micah’s prophecy had a lot to do with changing this young king’s heart and causing him to bring true revival to Judah which spared it from destruction for at least another generation. You can read all about this in II Kings 18. And one reason I am certain that Hezekiah responded the way that he did was because Micah’s prophecy, just like all of the other prophets, wasn’t simply all gloom and doom. His prophecies followed the same Divine Monotony pattern we’ve talked about each week with each prophet in this series: the prophet would announce that punishment was coming if the people didn’t repent of their sin, but then they would add that if they repented, God would forgive them, take them back, restore his relationship with them and bless them. Micah’s prophetic warnings followed this pattern to a tee. Just listen to some of the promises of restoration scattered throughout Micah’s words of warning. In Micah 4:2-4 he said, ‘Should you choose to turn from your wickedness then this is what will happen: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths… The nations 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. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. That sounds wonderful! If they repent God will make Jerusalem the center of peace for the world! And how about this promise of a coming King who would rule over this new world in the spirit of the great King David that we find in Micah 5:2-4, ‘You, Bethlehem Ephrathah,(David’s hometown) though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times…He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.’ Turn from your sin and acknowledge God’s desires and He will bless you with a new king who will bring peace to everyone. What a promise! And as an aside… what a promise kept! We all know who this new king from Bethlehem is: Jesus, who we know is the great shepherd of the sheep. And just to be certain that everyone knew exactly what God desired, Micah spelled it out very clearly in Chapter 6 verse 8. He has shown you, Oh 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. Justice, mercy and walking with God in humility. This was and still is God’s desire for anyone who claims to be one of his followers. Anything less falls short of God’s desire for us.
I’ve been thinking about Micah’s willingness to get up and go to Jerusalem. We don’t know if his family had lost their home and land; nothing in his prophecy hints that this was a personal issue. But, I’d bet that he’d had his eyes open, he’d seen what was happening to his neighbors and I’m sure he’d reached out to God and said something like, “Can’t you do anything to stop this injustice, Lord?” And then Micah heard God saying, ‘Yes, I can, Micah. I can… through you. I can if you are brave enough to take my message to those who are plotting this evil.’ And Micah had a choice: risk all that would come when he stood up to sinful, powerful people or stay safely silent and watch injustice rain down all around him. Micah, we know, spoke up. He delivered his message from God. He also made the journey to Jerusalem to continue to plead the case of the poor. And when he found that those in the big city were as sinful and full of themselves as the rich landowners out in the countryside he risked it all again to speak the truth… and even though from what we can tell only one person seriously listened to him, that one person was God’s means to bring an end to much of the injustice that had been rampant in Israel.
And man, do I wish I had that kind of bravery. A couple of years ago I got embroiled in a situation with one of our relatives and his wife. They were wrapped up in a mess with a Payday loan company that was charging them at least 300% interest. And they’d also signed a loan to purchase a wreck of mobile home that couldn’t have been worth more than $1000.00; from what I could tell they were obligated to pay who knows how much for decades. And these were just two of their many problems. My initial response was, “What is wrong with you?” But, the more I looked into the situation the more I realized that while they certainly had responsibility for their circumstances, they were also the perfect targets for unscrupulous people to prey on. Plus, I also found that their world was full of people in exactly the same sorts of situations. Our family banded together to help them as best we could to free them from that situation but never once did it cross my mind to step up and call out the systems that lead to this kind of injustice… to try and bring about wholesale change. And this verse has been playing over and over in my mind: He has shown you, oh 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. To act… emphasis on act… justly. To love mercy. Love is an active verb. And to be humble enough to walk wherever God may lead me. Oh, to be Micah-brave.
As we end this series I think it’s important for us to all remember that each one of the prophets we have talked about over the last few weeks had essentially the same message from God for the Jews of the 8th century BC and for you and me today; that message being: Step back, be honest about what you are really doing with your life and if you have wandered away from God into sin, come home. Come home and I will bless you with a life worth living… a life that is focused on healing our broken world. What I’ve discovered that is special about Micah’s message is that he is also calling us to keep our eyes open… to be aware of what is going on around us and to be ready to bravely step up and work to see that justice and mercy are happening. I believe that one of the great leadership moments here at Grace was when right in the middle of the 2008 financial downturn, while we were wisely cutting the budget and salaries, every pastor committed to cutting their budgets even further so we could find the money to begin our LIFT ministry for disabled children and their families. We saw what was going on: families with disabled children were being made to feel like they had no place in their church communities. They were just too much trouble to deal with and we needed to step up and change that… at whatever cost. We were, in that moment, Micah-brave. And we have also partnered with dozens of other ministries that were started by people who had their eyes open, saw great need and got busy both speaking up and stepping out… they, too, are Micah-brave.
The prophets tell us that sin has consequences. They also tell us that Jesus, our savior is coming and our repentance still triggers God’s great grace and mercy. The prophets tell us that our world is a broken place. They also tell us that God expects us to be people whose lives overflow with the justice, humility, mercy and love that heals these broken places. The prophets tell us that God’s love is tough love… he will do whatever he must… so that He can mold us into people that live to make his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.