We are now in the 3rd week of our Micah series, our 4-week look at the short, 7-chapter book of prophecy written by the prophet Micah. And it is clear from what we’ve seen in the first two weeks of looking at Micah is that God is watching, and he knows and cares about what is going on! In the first week of our series we saw God’s response to the evil behavior of a group of rich, powerful people who thought they could get away with using deception and fraud and violence to steal land from local farmers. God’s response was that he was done with this injustice and if things didn’t change soon, he was going to do something sweeping about it! And guess what? When things didn’t change, He did do some sweeping things to end that injustice! Then, last week we looked at God’s disgust with the evil judges, politicians and prophets in Jerusalem who were only interested in using their positions of power for personal gain. In fact, the words God gave to Micah as warnings to these evil public officials and prophets were stunning; God called these people cannibals… an accusation I’ve not found anywhere else in the Bible. But, what we also have seen in the last two weeks is this: any time God sends words of warning and judgment to his people, no matter how severe those words may be, he always couples his harsh words of warning with reminders of his unending love and faithfulness. So, what we’ve seen in the last two weeks is that God does get angry… and I believe His anger over the kinds of sin we have seen so far in Micah was completely justified… but what we’ve also seen is that God is faithful to his promises. Even when his people have been disobedient in the extreme, God has not abandoned them! No, God always makes certain that his people are given some assurance of a hopeful future… a hopeful future of God’s making! And we’ve been using a specific phrase as a way to remind us that there are always these 2 aspects to any Old Testament prophetic message: when God speaks though his prophets, he intends to afflict the comfortable… and we’ve seen a lot of afflicting the comfortable in our first 2 weeks of this series, especially those who were comfortable at the expense of others… but God also always speaks through his prophets to comfort the afflicted… and goodness we’ve also seen a good deal of comforting as well!
Well, this week we are tuning a bit of a corner. In each of the last 2 weeks the passages we’ve looked at contained both ‘afflicting of the comfortable,’ and ‘comforting the afflicted.’ And we made certain that we focused equally on both halves of Micah’s messages. But, this week it will be a bit different… what we will primarily be looking at this week are words God gave Micah that speak to God’s faithfulness… this week we won’t be talking too much about people acting like cannibals or murderers or gluttons. We are going to be looking at 3 short, prophetic passages that were… at least to the ancient Jewish people… as hopeful a group of messages from God as any others that we find in the Old Testament. I know that sounds a bit hyperbolic, ‘the most hopeful messages in the entire OT’, but I believe I’m right on this. We do know that the Jewish people held on to the hope that the 3 short passages we’ll be looking at gave them for centuries… and that they held on to this hope with great passion. We know from history that the Jewish people leaned on these passages to help them through times of great oppression… they sang these words as songs and they spoke often to one another about the coming hope that these passages promised. Plus, and what I am about to say may seem odd, I am also convinced that one of the reason we still have these passages, one of the main reasons that the Holy Spirit worked overtime to make sure that Micah was copied and kept and read and given authority as the literal word of God was so that we, that you and I could better understand the heart, the mission and the ministry of Jesus. I know this may sound like a big jump… from ancient Jewish people living in the hope of better days to the ministry of Jesus, but stick with me and my bet is that you too will see that the message that God gave to the minor prophet Micah was anything but minor… in fact, it is, and has been for centuries, a major source of hope and comfort… such is the power of these 3 passages.
And here are the passages we will be looking at today: Micah 2:12-14; 4:6-8; 5:2-5. (Page number 767 and say hello to Fishers and Online people) Just a bit of context to all that we are going to be looking at today… all of these passages of comfort and hope are, as is to be expected, found in the middle of God’s messages of complaint against the leadership of the two Jewish nations of Judah and Israel… and in particular, God’s primary complaints in these sections of Micah were against the kings who were ruling over the Jewish people. We aren’t going to spend much time today reading all that God had to say to these failing, disobedient kings, but take my word for it, if you go back and read the historical accounts in 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles, the passages that tell us about these kings, you will discover why God was done with these rulers. Now, God’s, shall I say ‘rough tone’ here in Micah may be a bit surprising… but it was well founded… these kings had sought protection from their neighboring, pagan kings, they had placed their faith in the false gods of these surrounding nations and they were acting like their God, the one true God, was more of a ‘lucky charm’ that owed them success! I feel that God’s disgust for the way these kings were leading his people was completely justified. Well, here, let me read you just one quick example of God’s words to these faithless kings… God says, ‘Under your leadership: The rich among you have become wealthy through extortion and violence. Your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth. “Therefore, I will wound you! I will bring you to ruin for all your sins. You will eat but never have enough. Your hunger pangs and emptiness will remain. And though you try to save your money, it will come to nothing in the end. You will save a little, but I will give it to those who conquer you. You will plant crops but not harvest them. You will press your olives but not get enough oil to anoint yourselves. You will trample the grapes but get no juice to make your wine. (Micah 6:12-15) Okay… can you tell that God is done with these people? But, again, he was absolutely right in being done!
But our main focus today isn’t on the failures of the earthly kings of the Jewish people. No, our focus today is on what God promised he was going to someday do to bring an end to all this injustice and violence and false religion. Well, here, let’s look at Micah 4:12-14. Now, I know that we looked at this passage some during the first week of this series, but we felt it was worth revisiting for just a bit. God says, “Someday, O Israel, I will gather you; I will gather the remnant who are left. I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture. The Jews were known as a nation of shepherds, which by the way, was considered a very lowly, if not a disgusting job in the ancient world. And yet, God says he, too, wants to be known as a shepherd… a shepherd of his people… a shepherd who gathers up his people and gives them safety. Yes, your land will again be filled with noisy crowds! I mentioned to the folks at Fishers two weeks ago that this business of a ‘noisy crowd’ has to do with a village marketplace where everyone is busy trading and buying and selling… and all of this activity is being done in the complete confidence that nothing will interrupt the joy of the moment. A village filled with a noisy crowd was a sign that things were good… really good! Your leader will break out and lead you out of exile, out through the gates of the enemy cities, back to your own land. Your king will lead you; the Lord himself will guide you.” Now, here is the first place that we find a promise from God, that he, himself, is not only going to be present with his people, but that the Lord, himself, is going to replace the human kings that have brought so much suffering into the lives of the common people. The Lord will be the leader who rescues his people and guides them into their own land. Now, that would have been a huge promise of hope to the Jewish people who were suffering under the yoke of wicked, self-serving kings.
Then in Micah 4:6-8 we read this. In that coming day,” says the LORD, “I will gather together those who are lame, those who have been exiles, and those whom I have filled with grief. This list, the lame, the exiles, and those who have been punished are all people that no one would have expected God to care about, let alone want to ‘gather together.’ In the ancient world if someone was lame it was assumed that someone, the lame person or possibly the lame person’s parents, had secretly sinned in some way to bring on this infirmity… Exiles were also thought to be people who had done something sinful to warrant being punished by God… again, it was assumed that there was some sin by someone that was grievous enough to have caused them to be carried off from their homeland. And when Micah talks about ‘people who God had filled with grief’… these, too, were people that were clearly being punished for their sins… or so everyone believed. And yet, God said he was going to gather these people! No one would have ever expected this sort of graciousness at all! And yet God goes on… 7 Those who are weak will survive as a remnant; those who were exiles will become a strong nation. God isn’t just going to gather them up; he is going to make a strong nation out the weakest of people. Now, if you were going to build a great nation from scratch you probably wouldn’t start with the weak, or the lame or with exiles. I’m just saying! But this is what God was promising his defeated and weakened people. He was going to make the weakest strong! Then I, the LORD, will rule from Jerusalem as their king forever.” God is repeating something he’d said earlier… and for good reason! God was making sure that his people understood that he wasn’t kidding when he said he was going to be their king! And the hopeful words don’t stop there. Look at what God says next: As for you, Jerusalem, the citadel of God’s people, your royal might and power will come back to you again. The kingship will be restored to my precious Jerusalem. Now, this is what every Jew not only wanted to hear but longed to see come to pass! The royal Kingship restored… and not just a king over some meaningless, little state of farmers, but as a nation with might and power… and everything centered in the once great city of Jerusalem! But it’s clear that God had no intension of repeating the past by allowing terribly flawed human kings to take on this responsibility… no, God said he is going to take this responsibility on himself. You can see why these first two prophecies were so important to the Jewish people. It gave them the hope that there was a bright day coming. But it gets even better… it gets even more hopeful Micah 5:2-5 says this, But, you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. Ephrathah was a family name… a family name associated with the great king David… and it became a way to refer to the region around Bethlehem. And by the way, to say it ‘was only a small village’ is a bit of an understatement. It was so small that it was left off the official Jewish royal list of towns and villages. But, again, it was the hometown of the great King David and so it only makes sense that a coming ruler... a king who will come in the name of the Lord… would come from the unimportant town of Bethlehem. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Now, I am going to say straight up that I have read any number of explanations as to what this verse means and none of them make enough sense to share with you, so I’m just going to say, I have no idea what is up with this verse, but it must have meant something very specific to the first readers. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been here! But what is next is easily understood… Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace. This verse tells us what kind of king God was promising: one who will lead in the strength of the Lord… one who is honorable… one who brings peace! And so, when we put these 3 passages together, they give us a picture of great hope. This is what they say: ‘There is a day coming when God, himself, will gather his people… the Lord will even gather the weakest and the least of all people… and he will build a strong nation out of these gathered people… he will build a nation that is guided by a king who lives in the strength and majesty of the Lord… and his reign will be honorable and filled with peace, and if all of that isn’t enough… this reign of the Lord will last forever!
You can see why these promises from God meant so much to the Jewish people. They had suffered greatly at the hands of the great powers of the world… and their own kings… they were a defeated and scattered people and they longed to not only see their homeland again, but to see their homeland thriving, respected, peaceful and strong… and Micah’s prophecy promised that someday this would all happen… that God himself would make this all happen.
But, for some reason the Jews took it upon themselves to try and figure out how all these promises would come about… The Jewish teachers of the day made lists of what they thought was coming and when things would happen and what this new King would do and be and on and on… and we still have those lists. And yet, sadly, we know from history that what they imagined was far different than what eventually happened… the only thing they got right was where this amazing, coming king would be born! And we also know that when the king arrived, many people, especially the religious leaders, because they had specific expectations about this coming King, missed his coming completely! And by the way, who is it that we know was born in Bethlehem just as Micah prophesied? Who is it that came from the family linage of the Great King David just as Micah prophesied? Who was it that stood looking over the great city of Jerusalem and declared, ‘O, Jerusalem, ‘How often I have wanted to gather your children together just as Micah prophesied?’ Or who was it that when confronted with a huge crowd of Jewish people responded with great compassion because the people looked to him like ‘sheep without a shepherd just as Micah prophesied?’ Who was it that often ‘gathered together the lame and the weak and those from faraway lands’ and healed them all just as Micah prophesied? And who was it that all four gospels tell us, (which is very unusual, by the way) entered Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by a joyous multitude, shouting, ‘Blessings on the King, the son of David, who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel’ just as Micah prophesied? And who was it that said, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the father’ and promised to give us the gift of peace just as Micah prophesied?’ Of course, the answer to all these questions is Jesus. And I could go on and on and on showing ways that Jesus fulfilled so much of what Micah prophesied in today’s three little passages, but I am going to stop here…but can you begin to see why I said earlier that we still have Micah’s prophecies so that we, that you and I, could better understand the heart, the mission and the ministry of Jesus. Micah speaks of a king who is present, literally physically present, leading and guiding his people. Micah tells us about One who is concerned for even the weakest of his lambs… a king who will build his people into a nation of strength and power… a king who is royal and will bring honor to his people… a king who will bring his people security and peace that will last forever. And as I hope you know this compassionate and powerful king is still on the throne! And what a gift of comfort and hope it is to know that Jesus is, without regards to anything that is going on in the world… The King! And I guess the only questions that really matter when faced with these realities is ‘Am I willing to give my life to this king? Am I ready to follow him as he leads and guides? Am I prepared to allow him to include me in his gentle yet strong nation? My answer is, ‘Yes.’ My question for you is ‘Will you join me as I follow King Jesus?’
Micah was a prophetic book that was written to speak to specific people in a specific time. It was purposed to let the comfortable know that their time of afflicting others was coming to an end and to let those suffering under affliction know that comfort was at hand. But couched within these prophecies that spoke to the people of Micah’s day is also a vision of the great King of the Kingdom of God… and Jesus is that king!
Here is the bottom line for me: I am confident that there was a real day when a king was born in Bethlehem fulfilling Micah’s prophecy. And I am confident that there was also a real day when that same man from Bethlehem was declared King over Israel by a joyous, raucous crowd in the great city of Jerusalem fulfilling Micah’s prophecy. … And I am also just as confident that there is a day coming when God, himself, will finally gather his people… the Lord will gather the weak and the strong… the greatest and the least… and he will build a strong nation out of these gathered people… and the entire world will be guided by this honorable king who calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is, who was and is to come… the Almighty one who lives in the strength and majesty of the Lord… and his kingdom will be filled with righteousness and peace, and his reign will last forever and ever! And can I tell you that knowing all of this gives me hope… hope that sooner than any of us may expect The Lord Jesus is going to keep his promise to rule over his world as our king and shepherd forever and ever just like Micah prophesied. And all my heart can say to this is, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come!’