Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Series: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sermon by David Strain on May 19

Micah 1

Now if you would please take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to the prophecy of Micah, chapter 1. You will remember that I dodged a bullet last Sunday morning and though I had announced we would study Micah chapter 1, when I read it and realized it was Mother’s Day, and Micah 1 is about the wrath and curse of God, I decided, “Let’s not do that!” So now we’re in Micah chapter 1 this week, and you’ll find that on page 776 of the church Bibles. We’re going to begin a series working through the message of Micah. Just to try and help us lay some groundwork to understand when and where and who and some background for Micah, before we read the chapter I want to focus with you briefly on verse 1. There’s some details there that help us set the scene. And then, we’ll pray and read the passage together.

So Micah chapter 1 verse 1, if you’d look there with me:

“The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”

So what do we learn about Micah and Micah's prophecy? Well, first we should take notice of his name. His name means, "Who is like the Lord?" from which I think we can infer at least that it was a godly family from which Micah has come and they're concerned for their child, much like the covenant parents who were having their own children baptized today, is that Micah would be raised to honor and know the living God. Secondly, we learn a little bit not just about his family but about his hometown. Notice in verse 1 he is "Micah of Moresheth." Now Moresheth is a relatively modest, agricultural town in the southern part of Judah. You will remember at this point in Israel's history that the nation has been divided in two, into a northern kingdom - ten of the twelve tribes of Israel are in the north. They call themselves the kingdom of Israel with its capital city, Samaria. And Benjamin and Judah to the south with the capital city of Jerusalem, that's the kingdom of Judah. Micah is from the southern kingdom but he has an oracle or oracles for both the north and the south.

What's important for us if we're going to understand some of the central themes in Micah's prophecy over the weeks ahead, is to know and to understand he was not raised among the elites of Judah in the capital city of Jerusalem. Though that's where he serves and ministers, he's not one of them. We would probably say he came from a hick town in the boonies of Judah, which is why it shouldn't really surprise us to discover that a great deal of his preaching recorded in this book reflects a special sensitivity for the abuse of power by the elites of society at the expense of the vulnerable and the marginalized and the poor. One commentator put it this way. "Micah's instinctive empathies were with the farmers, shepherds, and smallholders of the agricultural region. He was not lured away by the glittering facade of the new culture - fine houses, advanced fashions, get rich quickly businesses. But he kept a firm grip on the moral realities that make for true national greatness." So Micah has a burden for the little guy, for the disenfranchised. He is sensitive to the abusive power.

Then a third thing to notice in verse 1 by way of preface to our study of the chapter has to do with the time - when Micah ministers. Noticed again verse 1. Micah's ministry takes place, we are told, "in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." That means he preached for around fifty-three years or so, from about 740 BC to 687 BC. His contemporary, the prophet Isaiah, was his colleague in the capital of Jerusalem. You might call Micah the cliff notes and the prophecy of Isaiah the full deal because it's the same themes; many of the same emphases you find in both books. And as you may know, the big issue geopolitically for God's people both in the northern and in the southern kingdom at this point is the threat posed by the Assyrians. The Assyrians were the superpower of the day. It looked like they were poised for invasion at any moment. If you were with us last Lord's Day evening, you will have heard a remarkable sermon from Cory Brock, which I want to commend to you if you didn't get a chance to hear it - go to the website or the app and please listen to it - where Cory was talking about the story of Jonah and the extraordinary revival that took place in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Well, that was at least a generation before Micah and Micah's ministry. And whatever happened in Nineveh, whatever repentance and turning to the Lord there was in Nineveh, is a thing of the distant past. Assyria is back in its vigorous paganism and in its predatory international politics.

And Micah’s concern, as we’re going to see especially in the first three chapters of the book, is that the internal spiritual and moral decay of the life of God’s people will bring them under divine rebuke and chastisement and discipline and God will use the Assyrians to bring a terrible season of judgment upon them. Israel in the north, Judah in the south, were both descending into patterns of overt worldliness and greed. The rich were preying upon the poor. Idolatry and syncretism were rampant. The church, at this time, suffers a sort of cultural captivity and no one seems to notice. And so God sends His prophet, Micah, to sound the alarm. It’s an alarm bell we still badly need to hear in our own context and time. How easy for us, amidst affluence and ease, to ignore the weakest and the least in our city, to look the other way at someone else’s problem. How easy for us in our cultural Christianity in this part of the south to worship cheerfully on a Sunday while ruthlessly tearing down the little guy Monday to Friday because “It’s not personal; it’s just business.” How easy to indulge open wickedness in our children and in our children’s children because in our shame culture it’s easier to look the other way than to face up to it so long as everyone looks the part and says the right things and no one opens any closet doors we rather they left closed, we’re all good. That was very much the sort of problems that were plaguing Israelite society in Micah’s day and those are very much the issues and challenges among us. And God, as we will see, has much to say to us about it all.

Well so much by way of general introduction, the sermon really hasn’t started yet, so you may as well get comfortable! We’re going to tackle chapter 1 under four headings. First in verses 2 through 7 we are going to think about the shock of the judgment of God. The shock of the judgment of God - verses 2 through 7. Then secondly, the posture of the servant of God, verses 8 and 9. Thirdly, the irony of the wrath of God, 10 through 16. Then we’ll back up and look at verse 15 at the end and notice the path of the mercy of God. Okay, so that’s the outline. The shock of the judgment of God, the posture of the servant of God, the irony of the wrath of God, and the path of the mercy of God. Before we dive into the passage together and begin to work through those headings, let’s pause once again and ask for God’s help. Let us pray.

O Lord, would You give to Your people now ears to hear what the Holy Spirit says to the church from this portion of Your holy, inerrant Word. For the name of Jesus and His glory we pray, amen.

Micah chapter 1 at the first verse. This is the Word of God:

“The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem? Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards, and I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations. All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the fee of a prostitute, they shall return.

For this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches. For her wound is incurable, and it has come to Judah; it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem.

Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all; in Beth-le-aphrah roll yourselves in the dust. Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir, in nakedness and shame; the inhabitants of Zaanan do not come out; the lamentation of Beth-ezel shall take away from you its standing place. For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good, because disaster has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem. Harness the steeds to the chariots, inhabitants of Lachish; it was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion, for in you were found the transgressions of Israel. Therefore you shall give parting gifts to Moresheth-gath; the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing to the kings of Israel. I will again bring a conqueror to you, inhabitants of Mareshah; the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam. Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair, for the children of your delight; make yourselves as bald as the eagle, for they shall go from you into exile.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.

As a young man beginning in ministry, I was once on a train with another friend in ministry and it had been a particularly difficult season in the work and I was blowing off steam and describing to my friend’s great amusement some of the unusual characters that the Lord had brought to us. And we were laughing and cutting up all through the train ride, exaggerating the oddities of this person and mocking the quirks of that person. And just at the stop right before mine, toward the end of our journey, there was an older couple that had been sitting across from us very quietly the whole time. And they got up to leave, but before they disembarked the gentleman leaned over to interrupt us and he said very quietly to me in a voice heavy with sarcasm, “Well, it’s lovely to hear some Christians speak so warmly about God’s people,” and then he turned and walked off. And it was a word from the Lord to me at that moment and my sin was suddenly exposed and I realized how boldly and openly I had been sinning. Now I was a serious Christian, I was in ministry, I loved the Lord and the Lord loves me, and yet here I was tearing apart God’s people for the amusement of others, right out in the open without a second thought. My sleepy conscience apparently hadn’t noticed the subtle creep of worldliness in my heart and so God, in His great kindness, sent that quiet older Christian couple onto that train to pour an ice cold bucket of conviction over my head that day. And it came to me in that moment as quite a shock.

The Shock of the Judgment of God

And that’s actually the first thing that I want you to see here in Micah, because Micah does something similar to the self-assured, worldly people of God in His generation. Think with me here about the shock of the judgment of God. Notice how Micah begins in verses 2 through 5. Verse 2, he announces he has a message from the Lord, do you see, for all people. “Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.” Then in verse 3, he describes the Lord like a judge coming forth from his chambers to take his place in the courtroom to press his lawsuit against them - “The Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.” And His coming is then described in verses 4 and 5, do you see, in terms that were virtually a literary convention among the prophets. Micah speaks about God’s coming with the shaking of the earth and the mountains melting like wax, and so on. It’s traditional language for the coming of God in judgment.

And the people of Judah and Israel, Samaria and Jerusalem, they would have heard oracles like this one before. And for the most part, when they heard this sort of vocabulary, an oracle of God against the nations summoning them to attend upon His justice, it generally spelled good news for the people of God. God is going to judge their enemies. He's coming as a Judge and He is going to deliver them. And so you can picture congregations smiling and nodding as Micah's sermon gets underway. "This is good stuff, Micah. Keep going. We like it so far!" And then verse 5 lands on them like that bucket of ice cold conviction that I experienced on the train that day. "All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel." "I'm sorry, what was that? Did he say what I think he said, Jacob and Israel? I'm sorry, excuse me old chap, sorry to disturb you, Micah, in the middle of your sermon. I think you misspoke! You said Jacob and Israel. You meant Assyria and Babylon, Egypt and Moab, right?" But no, they heard him right. Micah keeps on preaching, doesn't he? The news of the Lord's coming forth is not good news for the people of Israel. It's very bad news indeed in fact.

Look at what he says. “What is the transgression of Jacob?” or better, “Who is the transgression of Jacob?” Sin and sinners cannot be nearly so easily separated as we might wish. “What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?” These are the capital cities, the representative seats of religious and political power. And Micah is saying they are the epitome of the wickedness against which the Lord is coming to press His lawsuit. And His judgment will be terrible when it comes. Look at verse 6. “I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards. And I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations.” The city, he says, will be so obliterated it will be reduced to the kind of rubble and boulders farmers plow up to make room to plant their vineyards.

Why will God do it? Verse 7 gives us a hint. Look at verse 7. "All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return." The people have turned to pagan idols instead of turning back to the Lord, like an unfaithful husband going to prostitutes, Micah says. And so, He will hand them over to the unfaithful Assyrians whose idolatry was a legend. It's a sermon that would have landed like a slap in the face for Micah's original hearers. His rhetorical strategy is brilliant. He sets them up with what looks like a familiar oracle against the nations. "Hear you people, O you people, all of you. Pay attention, O earth and all that is in it." And then he turns and says, "No, judgment begins at the house of God."

It's like that moment - do you remember the story of David and Nathan? Nathan tells David a story about injustice and David bristles in outrage at the sin of this man that is so obvious to him. He can see the sin of others very clearly but he does not see the sin in his own heart. So Nathan turns and says, "No, no, David. The man in the story is you. Thou art the man," he says. "I'm talking about you." That's what Micah does for the people of Judah and Israel. At first, they think this is another story of God's coming judgment against the nations and then Micah turns the finger and says to them, "Thou art the man. I have a word for you."

There is a valuable if painful lesson for us here, isn’t there. Don’t we pride ourselves on our rich heritage? Don’t we revel in our many blessings? Aren’t we quick to identify perhaps the faults and weaknesses of the people around us while firmly asserting that our church is the purest, the truest, the most faithful? “No,” says Micah, “thou art the man. It’s you. God has a case against you. He comes out from His place to judge you.” God is never indifferent to sin, not even in the hearts of His own people. And Micah wants to see the awful danger to which presuming upon the grace of God exposes us. He will discipline and rebuke us if we shrug our shoulders in indifference and fail to repent of worldliness. The shock of the judgment of God. Can you feel it? The shock of the judgment of God. “Thou art the man. Stop looking out there. Start looking in here.”

The Posture of the Servant of God

Then secondly and more briefly, look at verses 8 and 9 and notice the posture of the servant of God. The shock of the judgment of God, now the posture of the servant of God. Notice how Micah himself responds to this heavy message that he is sent to proclaim. Verse 8, "For this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches. For her wound is incurable, and it has come to Judah; it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem." There's no sense of glee here, is there. No schadenfreude. He's not rubbing his hands and saying, "Finally they're all going to get what they deserve." No, he must preach judgment now, that's part of his commission, he cannot refuse it, but he laments as he does. He grieves as he does. Actually, the language is particularly striking in verse 8 because it describes the sort of behavior that was reserved for public funeral rites, for formal mourning over a bereavement. That's how he feels at the message that he's been sent to proclaim. He grieves. His heart is breaking for wayward Israel. He's like the apostle Paul, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved." He's longing that they might be brought back from the precipice. He's lamenting over them.

You may know the story of Andrew Bonar. We know his brother, Horatius, a bit more than Andrew because of his hymns that we still regularly sing today. But Horatius and Andrew both were dear friends of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and one day Andrew and M’Cheyne were out walking together and M’Cheyne turned to Andrew Bonar and asked him what he’d been preaching on. And Bonar replied, “Well, I’ve been preaching on hell, the reality of it, the gravity of it, the coming judgment of God upon the wicked.” M’Cheyne paused and asked in response, “Ah, yes, but did you preach it with tears?” Did you preach it weeping? Does your heart break when you consider the danger to which those who will not bend their knees to Jesus expose themselves?

We mustn’t refrain from telling the world the bad news. The good news makes no sense without the bad news. God is holy, judgment is coming, everyone must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Hell is a reality from which we must seek escape in the only refuge for sinners - the Lord Jesus, crucified, risen and reigning. We must preach the bad news so that the good news might shine the more clearly as God’s remedy. But when you preach the bad news, does your heart break? It’s one of the great marks of someone who will love their lost friends and family enough to cross the pain threshold and open their mouths and speak at all for Jesus. They see their lostness and because they love them, their hearts are breaking for them and they long that they might come and be found and rescued and redeemed by the Savior. We must preach the bad news, but we must preach it with tears.

The Irony of the Wrath of God

The shock of the judgment of God. The posture of the servant of God. Then thirdly, the irony of the wrath of God. Look at verses 10 through the end of the chapter. I wish we had time to walk through this in detail; we really don't. But it reads a bit like a travel log, you know. Micah, in his mind, walks through all the cities and towns of the land and he speaks a word of warning or one of coming judgment or characterizes how the people will mourn or seek to flee for refuge when the judgment comes. What we miss in our English translations is the ironic play-on-words that Micah uses all the way through the second half of the chapter. As he names each town, he finds Hebrew verbs that sound like the name of that town and there's a pun, there's a play-on-words. He's not trying to be witty or clever, but he trying to bring some force and power to his message.

And I tried to find a way to bring it out in English and I struggled for a while until I came across James Moffatt's handling, his idiosyncratic translation of the Scriptures. His handling of this part of Micah gets close to capturing it. Let me read it to you and see what you think. Verse 10, if you look at verse 10, you'll see the ESV and listen to Moffatt's version. Moffatt says:  "Weep tears at Tear Town. Grovel in the dust at Dust Town. Fair forth stripped, O Fair Town. Stir Town dare not stir." Or verse 13, "To horse and drive away, O Horse Town." And so on and so forth. You see what Micah's doing? He's not trying to be cute or funny. These are not Mad Libs. This is not a joke. Judgment, he says, in verse 12 is going to come all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. Verse 14 implies it, talking about parting gifts. Verse 16 comes right out and says it - Assyria is going to come and take everyone away from their land into exile, into captivity. This is no laughing matter.

What is Micah trying to do? He’s trying to say, “Judgment is coming and there is no earthly hiding place. There’s no earthly hiding place.” He’s trying to say, “Even the very names of your secure homes, your safe, familiar communities are a kind of prophecy of doom against you waiting to fall at any moment.” Here’s the point I think Micah is really making. The safe and familiar can lull us into a false sense of security. “Nothing can touch us,” we tell ourselves. “All is well,” we say. But there is nowhere to hide from the justice of God.

So listen, if you’re not right with God today through the Lord Jesus Christ, that’s such an important message for you to hear - hard to hear but so important. Do not be lulled into a sleepy, spiritual indifference by the easy familiarity of your comfortable life. One day, the Lord will come out of His place. He will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. One day, all accounts will be settled and you will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. “Wake up!” That’s what Micah’s saying to his generation. He’s sounding the alarm. Do you hear it? “Wake up before it’s too late.” The shock of the judgment of God. The posture of the servant of God. The irony of the wrath of God - there’s an alarm seeking to shake us out of our spiritual slumber that we may flee from the wrath to come.

The Path of the Mercy of God

And then finally, look with me at verse 15. Where should we flee from the wrath to come? I want you to think with me about the path of the mercy of God. Verse 15, “ will again bring a conqueror to you, inhabitants of Mareshah; the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam.” Mareshah was a defensive military position and Micah is saying when the invasion comes, even Mareshah will be conquered. And the reference to the glory of Israel, that’s probably a reference to the leaders, to the nobility of the people. That’s how they thought of themselves - “We are the glory of Israel.” And Adullam, you may recall, was a complex of caves; a sort of stronghold to which David resorted, 1 Samuel 22 if you want to go back and read it later, during the gray days of his conflict with his predecessor as king of Israel, King Saul. And to him, David gathered a sort of ragtag band of misfits and dropouts. First Samuel 22 says this about that moment in David’s history - “Everyone who was in distress and everyone who was in debt and everyone who was bitter in soul gathered to him at Adullam.” And Micah is saying to the glory of Israel, “You’re no better than the band of ne'er do wells and thugs that gathered around David in the caves of Adullam.”

Still a word of rebuke, a word of judgment, but actually if you pay attention to the way the Biblical storyline unfolds you will find here amidst all the gloom of Micah's oracle of woe, at least the beginning rays of a hopeful dawn. The full dawn will wait for the second half of Micah's book where it's filled with the notes of Gospel hope, but here there's a slim beginning ray of hope for mercy. Because those who gathered around David as socially misfitted though they were, as weak and unlikely a band to take over as an army that they were, they were nevertheless the beginnings of God's kingdom through David. Through them, through this ragtag band of misfits and ne'er do wells, God established David's throne. Under King Saul, Israel had lost its way, but through this unlikely group, a new beginning will dawn.

Something like that is hinted at here as the glory of Israel comes to see itself as it truly is before God - not as glorious at all, but as wicked, rebellious, selfish sinners who need rescuing and they flee to David's ancient stronghold. God is going to preserve a remnant of His people there and from them, He will build His kingdom anew. You remember, don't you, that eventually those who went into exile return, albeit to a vestige of Judah's former glory, they rebuild Jerusalem and from them will come great David's greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom God will redeem His people and build His kingdom and the gates of hell not prevail against it. Yes, there's gloom and darkness and notes of judgment here sounding a warning, a dire warning we need to hear. But there's also a slim ray of Gospel hope if you have eyes to see it, that one day God will still bring a new beginning for His people by a new David, a greater than David, by the Lord Jesus Christ.

So what does Micah want us to do with all of this? What should our response be? If there's any possibility of hope for us, for refuge and for a new beginning, where will it be found? What must we do? Look at verse 16 very quickly and then we're done. Verse 16 counsels the people to "cut off their hair," do you see that, "shave their heads for the children of their delight." Micah is not trying to establish a new trend in hairstyles. Micah again is actually talking about public funeral rites in similar terms to what he used earlier to describe his own reaction to the coming judgment. He's saying, "I'm weeping and grieving for you and I want you to join me in mourning over sin before you must be left instead to mourn in the wake of judgment that falls. Mourn now or mourn later. Mourn now over sin in repentance and find relief, or mourn later as judgment falls from which there will be no rescue."

Those are your choices. Mourn now over sin and flee back to Adullam where David's stronghold is. Run back there not as the glory of Israel but as a sinner who needs rescuing - broken and messed up. Go back where rescue can be found. Go back where it all started, where God will build His kingdom again. Come to Jesus in repentance. Flee the wrath to come. There is a refuge. There is a stronghold. There is a hiding place for sinners, for me and you, in great David's greater Son, who bore the wrath and curse of God that everyone who believes in Him might live. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." He meant blessed are those who mourn over the reality of their sin, who have been shaken out of the comfort and ease of their affluent, safe surroundings to see how precarious their position really is. Mourn and flee to Christ and find refuge in Him.

This is a hard message. But the truth we need to hear sometimes stings, doesn’t it? If it stings your heart today there is a remedy in the good news about Jesus. May God help us all to flee the wrath to come and find our refuge in Him. Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we praise You that though judgment is coming, Christ bore the wrath of God, the judgment of God in the place of all who will trust in Him that we, every one of us, might flee for refuge to Him. May we anew mourn over our sin, be awakened from our slumber, and run to Christ, for we ask it in His name, amen.

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