Micah pronounced the downfall of King Zedekiah of Israel and then launched into he another vision of the coming Kingdom. This time he prophesied the coming of the real and eternal King, the Messiah. The greatest of all Kings and rulers is to come out of a lowly town of Bethlehem, the city of David. The Messiah, like his ancestor David, will rule over all the people of Israel. He will defeat all those who oppose Him or them. He will bring down all the idols and all the false religions as well as all those people and prophets who promote evil and sin. The Messiah will be honored by all.
As we are aware, Jesus is the Messiah who fulfilled the prophecy! He was born in Bethlehem. He did not come as a military genius or a political leader, or even as a community activist or organizer. Yet He came to establish a kingdom. He did this by sacrificing His own dignity, position and life through His death as a common criminal. He then called weak, despised and inept people to spread the kingdom not with swords, guns, or bombs or even the legal system but with truth, compassion, mercy and love. Though the lot of His followers has never been easy they have brought down mighty kingdoms by letting people know that they God loves them even though they (and certainly we) do not deserve it. God’s acceptance can do more to change the hearts of men than threats, violence or death. Thus though we Christians feel weak and despised, we can rejoice because we know the Lord has chosen us to bring His great message to all the world. We by God’s help can change the world but only through the gospel.
Micah delivered an oracle about the future Kingdom of God one that is similar to statements made by other prophets. He describes the mountain of the Lord, a reference to His Kingdom, the greatest that will ever exist. He goes on to state that one day all nations will acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord. They will come to Him, to walk in obedience to all His commands. Because all will follow the Lord there will be no more wars or conflicts. People will treat others with respect and love. Yet before this happens, both Israel and Judah will be destroyed and the chosen people will be scattered among the nations. The only hope that will encourage them during this time is the certainty of this coming Kingdom.
This hope is what we still cling to today. We must because life in the 21st Century is filled with tribulation and sorrow. There are times when we question what God is doing and why, times when it seems that He has forgotten or abandoned us. When we pray, we ask that He would enlighten us. We turn to scripture to discern His will and His ways for us, our loved ones and our nation. The Lord speaks to us and enlightens us along the way, but not always, and not immediately. We learn His plans and His lessons usually only after we have endured pain and suffering for a time, perhaps even many years later. In these times if we did not have faith in the certainty of God’s promises, goodness and wisdom, all such adverse circumstances and trials would cause us to fall, turn to the world or, in many cases do away with ourselves. Unfortunately many who seemed once to be on fire for the Lord have gone these ways and deserted the Lord the path. Our faith in God’s ultimate triumph over injustice and suffering is the only thing can keep us focused on the right path without becoming filled with despair or unbelief.
Micah had harsh words for the leaders, priests and so-called prophets in Samaria and Judah. The images that he presented of the political, religious and social leaders in the first few verses graphically portrayed in harsh terms them as cruel, heartless, unjust and uncaring towards their fellow countrymen. They perverted justice and took bribes to advance their own prosperity and power at the expense of the poor and oppressed. The so-called prophets were no better because they did not prophesy the truth, ignored the sinful behavior and hypocrisy that characterized the leaders of Jerusalem and most of the people, and preached only what the people wanted to hear. They ignored sin and truth because falsehood and lies were more profitable for them. In any case, all were under the false assumption that they were right with God not realizing that they were really on the road to destruction.
Micah’s portraits of the leaders and prophets in Israel and Judah are appropriate for today’s life. Politicians and leaders routinely pervert justice and show favoritism in return for votes, money, acclaim, or prestige. They use and abuse people so that they can attain their own selfish goals and will say what the people want to hear to do it. But we find such charlatans in the church as well, notably those on TV or involved in “healing” ministries but in the local churches as well, big and small. They speak lies and ignore the truth about ungodly behavior so they can manipulate people into supporting them and make them rich. They are not interested in what the people really need unless they can manipulate them with sin and guilt and cause them to give them money or power or homage. Thus they lead people astray. Today’s preachers should, like Micah, preach against sin on every level of society even if it is risky.
Micah was from a small town in the hill country of Judah. He was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos but the Lord called him to preach to both Judah and Israel as well as the people of Jerusalem. As the Assyrians invaded Samaria, refugees from the northern kingdom flocked to Jerusalem to escape. They brought with them their corrupt and idolatrous worship of Yahweh as well as its accompanying sexual immorality. Such detestable practices were not merely tolerated by the leaders, priests and the rich in Jerusalem, they were welcomed and implemented. The leaders should have known better and forbidden these practices. Micah warned the people of Jerusalem that that the Lord was as displeased with them as He was with Samaria.
Micah’s name means, “who is like Yahweh” and thus is a statement of the unique sovereignty of God. Yahweh alone is worthy of worship and praise. In addition, the Lord is worthy of praise because He will bring comfort for He has promised to deliver those who repent and who serve Him, who extend justice and mercy toward their brethren and to the poor and oppressed. The people were happy with the way they were and did not see the need to do this. Therefore, the Lord was then going to suppress all their iniquity. After all, those who do not walk in the ways of the Lord though they talked as if they did and acted with grand shows of religion and piety demonstrate by their behavior that they worshipped gods other than Yahweh. Even in the modern church many come and claim to worship the Lord with their lips and words, but their actions and lifestyles demonstrate that worship other gods they deem more important than He. Nevertheless the Lord will be exalted and with Him those who truly serve Him, to the detriment of those who falsely honor Him.
In the final chapter Jonah finally revealed to the Lord his reason for disagreement. He knew that if God was sending him to preach to the Ninevites, they were going to repent. God was going to forgive their sins and spare them His wrath. Jonah wanted none of this. The Assyrians were bloodthirsty savages who tortured and killed people indiscriminately and with sadistic glee. They were pagan idolaters who deserved the worst of God’s punishment. Jonah wanted them overthrown, destroyed and indeed they were, but in God’s preferred way. They were overthrown by their sincere and total repentance and trust in The Lord for mercy. And for that reason Jonah, though finally obedient to his call, was not pleased.
In the Church today as in the world, we often see this desire for justice, for God to,be fair and just and punish the wicked. And what we find out from Jonah is that, thankfully, The Lord is more concerned with bestowing compassion and mercy than He is in dispensing strict justice. He is not fair or just when she forgives those who repent, even when those people are guilty of what we deem the most heinous of sins and crimes. And that is good, for that means we too are spared God’s justice, for that justice has been satisfied in Jesus. Therefore we Christians ought to be in the business of dispensing compassion and grace in Imitation of our Heavenly Father. We should take as much relight in it as He does. Judgment belongs got Him alone not us, and we should not complain when He stays His hand. He desires all to come to repentance, and so should we.
In the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed. He thanked God for sparing his life by sending this fish to save him from drowning. He had not expected this; he expected to die, in fact apparently preferred death to preaching to the Ninevites. Otherwise he would have instructed the sailors to row back to land. Nevertheless he was filled with gratitude. He did not apologize for his refusal to carry out the Lord’s command although he did mention idolaters (2:8). Perhaps he meant the sailors in the ship who had first offered sacrifices to their own gods before acknowledging the power of Yahweh or maybe he meant the very people of Nineveh in an attempt to convince God to not extend grace to them. After all they worshipped worthless idols in addition to being bloodthirsty sadists.
Even after he was spit up back on land, when he went to preach to Nineveh, he still did not like God’s way of doing things. The sermon he preached to Nineveh was a bare bones condemnation that resulted in total repentance far beyond the half-hearted effort he put into it. The people from the King on down were convinced of the truth of the message and repented thinking that perhaps God would relent and stay His hand, which He did. Though the forgiveness was real, it is true that the repentance did not last into the next generation. Nineveh and Assyria eventually returned to their ways and were obliterated. Perhaps the next generations, having seen the power of the Lord were more guilty because they chose to ignore it. All then today who hear the gospel but reject it will come under God’s judgement unless they repent.
The Lord called Jonah to preach judgment upon the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Jonah refused and ran in the opposite direction on a ship bound for the western shores of the Mediterranean Sea. He was not afraid of what the Assyrians, the cruel and brutal enemies of Judah, would do to him. He was not afraid to die at their hands. He ran from God’s call because he hated and despised the Assyrians because of their extreme and sadistic cruelty to their enemies. Jonah did not want to give them a chance to repent for he believed that God should condemn and punish them as they so justly deserved. He ran because he knew that God was going to extend mercy and spare them. In the process he disregarded the consequences his behavior had on others. He placed the sailors in grave danger as God sent a storm to get him to do what he was supposed to. In addition, he ignored the fact that without his preaching, the people of Nineveh were bound for eternal damnation.
Many Christian teachers and parents love to tell the story of Jonah to children as a means of getting children interested in the Bible. They emphasize the fact that he was swallowed by a great fish, something which appeals to children, like a fairy tale. Yet this emphasis misses the point of this short prophetic work. The story of Jonah reveals the mercy and faithfulness of God as well as the darker side of the Christian life: legalism and a heart filled with judgment and condemnation towards those we deem heinously wicked. Though we may think they deserve punishment in God’s economy, God delights to extend mercy towards all, even those we think the most despicable. We may not like that for we want God to act in judgment, but mercy is a great blessing: He extended mercy to us who also deserved only condemnation.