Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly - Part 6

Series: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sermon by David Strain on Jun 30

Micah 7

Now if you would please take your Bibles in hand once again and turn back to the prophecy of Micah. If you’ve been with us on Sunday mornings, we have been working our way through the book of Micah and we’ve come to the final chapter this morning, Micah chapter 7. You’ll find that on page 780 of the church Bibles, if you’re using one of our church Bibles.

You should know that beginning next week the pulpit will be filled by our assistant pastors. They will be speaking to you over the month of July, Sunday mornings, about the means of grace - the Word of God read and preached, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, the fellowship and worship of the Church. Then on Sunday evenings, David Felker will be preaching God’s Word to you. I will be taking the church group that are visiting Scotland. We’re leaving tomorrow. Please pray for us and I will be praying for the ministry of the Word and for all of you.

But today we conclude, as I say, the prophecy of Micah. And one of the things we have noticed, a feature of Micah’s prophecy, is the way that he holds two things together. He sort of alternates back and forth between them. On the one hand there is a remarkable honest and realistic view in Micah of the problems of his own immediate context. The elites in Micah’s society are abusing their power. There is oppression and there is injustice. The people have fallen into spiritual and moral decline before God and the Lord is going to send the Assyrians to bring judgment on the northern tribes of Israel, the northern kingdom, and even on the southern kingdom of Judah as well. He’s very realistic about his immediate circumstances and time. There’s present suffering, things are difficult, but he’s also full of hope. He alternates back and forth. It’s as though from time to time the clouds part overhead and there are bright rays of sunshine that show a future then long in the future, from Micah’s vantage point, he really is speaking about the era in which we now live of Gospel advance where the good news about Jesus will reach the ends of the earth and the nations shall come streaming to Zion to worship the living God. They will come to the church of Jesus Christ.

And Micah holds these two things together. And it’s a very helpful model to see. We’ll see it here in Micah chapter 7 especially clearly. He’s realistic about present suffering and he’s full of hope about the future and he holds those both together. If all he had was a view of present suffering, his realism may give way to despair. And so he tempers his realism with hope for the future. But if all we had was an assurance of future glory, his hope may actually collapse into sort of a naive view of things which has no way of weathering the storm of present suffering. But both together provide enormous strength and faith in the midst of difficult days. It’s a pattern that we need to learn from Micah and one that I want us to examine closely here in chapter 7. The first half of the chapter really is reflecting on Micah’s present circumstances and the second looks much more directly toward the future.

And as we track through the chapter, we’re going to notice four tools that Micah deploys as he deals with both present suffering and future hope to help his heart deal with present suffering and future hope. And so in verses 1 through 7, Micah shows us lamentation. He engages in a song of lament. Lamentation. And then in verses 8 through 13 as he thinks about his present circumstances, he turns from a lament to proclamation. He starts to preach, really to his own heart, the great varieties of the faith, the great central truths to which he clings in faith. Lamentation. Proclamation. And then as he thinks about the future, verses 14 through 17, he turns to petition. He begins to pray. He calls upon the Lord as the great Shepherd of His people to bear His arm once again and to deliver them as He had done in the past. Petition. And then finally, 18 through 20, adoration. He gives thanks to God as he sees again His character, as he remembers His grace. He is a God who forgives sin. “Who is a God like You?” he sings with a grateful heart. Lamentation, proclamation, petition, and adoration. Four tools to use in the midst of present sufferings and as we cling to future hope.

Before we read the passage, let’s pause and pray and ask for God to help us understand. Let’s pray together.

O Lord our God, Your Word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, piercing, penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and laying bare the secret thoughts and the intentions of the heart before the eyes of the One with whom we all have to do. And so now with reverent fear, trembling, we come to hear Your voice, praying for grace by Your Spirit’s power, to live in its light in new obedience, trusting and clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ alone, for we ask it in His name, amen.

Micah 7 at verse 1. This is the Word of God:

“Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus, they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

 

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, ‘Where is the Lord your God?’ My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.

 

A day for the building of your walls! In that day the boundary shall be far extended. In that day they will come to you, from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. But the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their deeds.

 

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, who dwell alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things. The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall be in fear of you.

 

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

Amen.

Lamentation

Some years ago, Carl Trueman wrote an essay, an important essay that I’d commend to you - you can find it easily online - entitled, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” What can miserable Christians sing? He’s from Britain so you can understand a little bit of his proclivity for that particular kind of title! He was complaining, actually, that the church in the West has lost its capacity for lamentation. “It has drunk so deeply at the well of modern western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing.” And then he adds, “A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party, a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals.”

You see what he’s saying. If we’ve lost our capacity for lamentation, if the vocabulary of our worship and our prayer lives is only ever upbeat and happy go-lucky, we’re left without words when things go horribly wrong, when unexpected sorrow lances our hearts and tragedy strikes like lightning as it sometimes does, like a bolt out of the blue. The syntax and the grammar of our Christian lives will be unable to accommodate sadness and hardship and loss. We won’t know what to say. And so, we urgently need to recover the language, the pattern and practice of lamentation. “If you do this,” Trueman says, “you will have the resources to cope with your own times of suffering, despair and heartbreak and to keep worshiping and trusting through even the blackest of days. You will also develop a greater understanding of fellow Christians whose agonies of, say, bereavement, depression or despair sometimes make it difficult to prance around in ecstasy singing, ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam!’ on Sunday mornings. And you will have more credible things to say to those shattered and broken individuals - be they burned out bank managers or down and out junkies to whom you may be called to be a witness of God’s unconditional mercy and grace to the unloved and the unlovely.” Lamentation gives us vocabulary when sorrow penetrates our own lives and tools for ministry when it penetrates the lives of others. And so, we need to relearn it. Micah chapter 7, 1 through 7, is a song of lamentation.

Micah models some of that for us in our passage - what to do when God in His providence does not bring success but sorrow, does not bring celebration but sadness. Notice the graphic language with which chapter 7 begins. “Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” You see the picture, the metaphor? “I’m like a fruit tree that’s been picked clean. I’m past the peak. Harvest is over. It’s all winter from here for me.” That’s how he feels about things. How come? What’s going on? Well look at verses 2 through 6. Micah catalogues the sorry state of life in Israel and Judah in those days. Look at them for a moment, verses 2 through 6. “The godly have perished,” replaced by bloodthirsty predators, verse 2. The leaders, the judges, the princes, the great men, they take bribes; they use their positions to indulge their wicked proclivities, verse 3, so that now the punishment of God is about to descend, verse 4. Neighbors, friends, spouses even - none of them can be trusted, verse 5; sons turn on their fathers, daughters on their mothers. Enemies are found inside one’s own household, verse 6. Micah’s point is that every part of the community, every sphere of life has declined dramatically into moral and spiritual chaos and it breaks his heart. And so he sings in lamentation, “Woe is me!”

But we mustn’t misunderstand. You see, the great difference between lamentation and a song of abject despair - you can see it if you look at verse 7. Lamentation, you see, knows where to turn with tears. Lamentation knows what to do when sorrow pierces our lives. Look at verse 7. “As for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” You might now know why God is doing what He’s doing in your life. You may not know how or even if it will ever end. It feels heavy and hard and sore. But lamentation is faith that runs to God with the trial and pours out grief before Him instead of running from Him because of the trial. That’s what Micah is doing here. His heart is breaking for the condition of His people. He’s lamenting. But true lamentation runs to God with grief rather than away from Him.

And do look again at verse 7 and notice the language that Micah uses in particular. He says not, “My God will fix me,” not, “My God will change my circumstances, deliver me from the sources of my sorrows.” He may. He may. We should ask Him to. But Micah says, “My God will” - what? “He will hear me.” Sometimes that’s what we need most urgently, isn’t it? Not just a solution to our sorrows but to know that we’ve been really heard, really heard. That as we pour out of grief, as we throw our “whys” at the heavens, that there is One seated on the throne who really understands. It is the testimony of holy Scripture, dear suffering brother or sister, that on the right hand of the throne of God is seated One who has been touched with the feeling of your infirmities. He knows. He knows. And you can bring your lamentation to Him. He hears you. He hears you. The Lord Jesus Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and He knows, and He hears you. That’s the first thing that I want you to see here. It’s lamentation. You can go to Him and pour out even your darkest sorrows and be confident that He hears. You have the ear of the living God as you run to Jesus Christ. Lamentation.

Proclamation

Then the second thing the prophet does as he responds to present sufferings is not just lamentation but also proclamation. Look at verses 8 through 13. Micah turns to preaching. It looks as though in verse 8 that he’s preaching to his enemies. You see that in verse 8? “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy!” But then if you look down, keep reading down to verse 10, it becomes clear that he’s speaking now about his enemies to someone else. Verse 10, “Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her,” and so on. How do we make sense of what’s really going on here? I think in verse 8 Micah is speaking to his enemies rhetorically, but the real target of his proclamation is his own heart. If you read through this section, 8 through 13, it reads almost like a creed Micah is reciting for Himself for the strengthening of his own faith - great central truths about the reliability and the grace of God. And so look at verse 8. Here’s a promise worth clinging to, worth preaching to our hearts in the darkest of our days. Look at verse 8, “When I fall, I shall rise. When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” How much better we would all be if we would simply remember those lines and repeat them to ourselves often? “When I fall, I will rise. When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” There is no gloom so deep and impenetrable into which, in God’s providence, you may descend that the light of His truth and grace cannot guide you through. “When I fall, I shall rise. When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”

And do look down at verse 9 in particular because here Micah gives us some real help when we endure providential sorrows and sufferings and the Lord disciplines us by them and begins to uncover, as often takes place in our hearts as Christians, as He begins to uncover by our trials layers of secret sin. They all start coming to the surface, don’t they? They bubble up and He exposes the deep, hidden idols of our hearts. What do you do when God puts HIs finger on your sin? Look at verse 9. “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him” - so there’s Micah’s posture. There are consequences because of my sin. God is disciplining me, and I will bear up under the discipline and rebuke of God in meekness. “Until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.” It’s a remarkable statement, because you remember in the chapter immediately prior to this one how Micah characterized the Lord. He spoke of the Lord as the prosecuting attorney and as the great judge in the case of the sovereign Lord versus the covenant people. The Lord had an indictment against the people, chapter 6 says, and Micah is saying, “I’m guilty as charged. Guilty as charged.” But he’s also saying, “I have an advocate to plead my cause. The Lord will plead my cause and He will be my vindication.”

The New Testament, of course, tells us very clearly that we have an advocate with the Father. First John chapter 1 verses 8 through verse 2 of chapter 2 - “If anyone confesses his sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. My little children, I write these things to you that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but for the whole world.” Where do you look when God puts His finger on your sin, when God in His providence rebukes and disciplines you and brings you to your senses? You’ve been wandering away. You’ve been indulging your flesh. You’ve been living like a pagan, ignoring your profession of faith in Jesus. And now God has arrested you in His disciplinary rebukes. He’s gotten hold of you at last. He’s gotten our attention. Now you see yourself - what do you do? You run to Jesus Christ. He is the only Advocate for sinners. If you will trust Him, He will plead your cause and be your vindication. You have an advocate, brothers and sisters. You have an advocate with the Father who has never lost a case in the heavenly tribunal. He will plead your cause.

And you’ll notice how in verse 10 that the whole tenor of Micah’s language sort of changes. Up till now, he’s been lamenting and grieving and even grieving over his own sin. But as he thinks about the one who will plead his cause, in verse 10, his enemy, the Assyrians - personified here as a woman who has been taunting the people of God - “Where is the Lord your God?” Micah now seems to shine with assurance of confidence expectation. The enemy will be overcome, and the Lord will triumph, and the vindication of His people will be made clear. Where do you get such assurance? Not in yourself. Not in yourself. Not even in one another. You get it in Jesus Christ, your only advocate with the Father. You get it resting upon Him who pleads your cause. That’s what Jesus does for us, and as we get ahold of Him, He, only He, can really chase away the shadows of doubt and fear that can steal over our hearts.

It’s interesting, if you look at verses 11 through 13, however, that Micah doesn’t do what we often do when good news grips us and the weight of guilt is lifted from us and that the light of pardon begins to shine in our consciousness. Too often we hear the Gospel and we receive it in faith, and we keep it to ourselves. We say, “I feel so much better now!” and off we go to live our lives all to ourselves. But Micah understands having received grace, grace must go not only to his own heart but to the whole world. And so in 11 through 13, Micah turns to think about the nations. Do you see that? He talks about “the day.” We’ve heard him talk about “the day” back in chapter 4. He’s thinking again about the day of Messiah, the age in which we now live - the Gospel age; the Church age. That day, he said in chapter 4, will be a day when the nations will come streaming to Zion. And that’s the same sort of picture he uses here in verses 11 through 13. A day for building your walls. And that day, the boundary will be far extended. The ancient enemies of the people of God - Assyria, Egypt - they’ll come not now to lay siege to the city, but to bend the knee to the Lord Himself and to join the great assembly of His people in praising Him. The grace that reconciled you to God is grace for the world, grace for the nations, to reconcile others along with us.

Of course, verse 13 tells us that there’s also judgment. Micah preaches both of these things to Himself. He’s dealing with present suffering and he preaches to his own heart where he may find one who will plead his cause. And then he reminds himself that the good news will reach the ends of the earth. And then he reminds himself in verse 13 that there’s also judgment to come and not just blessing. “The earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their deeds.” Those who will not bend the knee to Christ, here in repentance and faith, will bend the knee to Christ hereafter when He comes to judge the living and the dead - not in repentance and faith but in chagrin and dismay as you hear His sentence, “Get away from Me, you evildoer! I never knew you!”

There are two destinies for every person in this room. There’s the home of righteousness at the right hand of God and there is the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is blessing and cursing, there is grace and mercy, and there is wrath and judgment. Micah rehearses both realities to his own heart as though to ensure that he never forget to tremble before the sovereign Lord, that he never lose sight of the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, whose righteousness is an awesome thing. And it also fuels the motivation, doesn’t it? It helps us care about the lost that they might be found, to remember that time is short, and judgment is coming. And so we see Micah lamenting, pouring out grief with hope to the Lord. We see Micah proclaiming, preaching, preaching truth to himself. As he confesses his sin, he looks to the one who will plead his cause, his advocate; he points us to Christ. And he reminds us that Christ isn’t just for you. Christ is for the whole world. And he preaches judgment to come. Lamentation. Proclamation.

Petition

And then, having begun to think about the future, the remainder of the chapter really is resolutely focused there. And so Micah faces the future now with two more vital disciplines. Verses 14 through 17 first - the discipline of petition. That is to say, he gives himself to prayer. Look at verse 14, “Shepherd your people with your staff.” He’s calling on the Lord to be the Good Shepherd. This is vocabulary we’ve seen Micah use before. It seems to be a favorite image of his. Messiah Himself is said to come and shepherd the people in the strength of the Lord, back in chapter 5. And so Micah now prays, “Shepherd Your people with Your staff, the flock of Your inheritance, who dwell alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land. Let them graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old.” It’s almost as though Micah were praying Psalm 23. Psalm 23 that celebrates the Lord our Shepherd and whose rod and staff comfort us, who leads us by green pastures and quiet waters.

You’ll notice that Micah models for us how to pray. He presses upon God His own character. “You are the Shepherd. Will You really leave Your flock to disaster?” He presses upon God His immutability; He does not change. “Do it as You did in days of old! You are the same, aren’t You? You have not defected from Your previous promises and covenant commitments, have You? Do it again, Lord. You did it before; do it again among us.” He presses God to be God toward His people, to keep His Word and to be faithful to His character. He does it with boldness because, remember verse 7, “My God will hear me.” Those who really believe verses 7, that we have the ear of the living God, are much in prayer and their prayer is marked with holy boldness. Micah presses God to be true to Himself toward His people. Do you pray like that? It really is a revealing indication of how far we believe that God hears us when we cry, that we pray with this kind of boldness.

And you’ll notice in verse 15 that the speaker changes. Do you see that in verse 15? In verse 14, Micah is praying, but in verse 15, God answers. “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I, the Lord, will show them marvelous things. The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall be in fear of you.” The Lord is going to bring a new exodus, a new deliverance for His people, and He will bring judgment upon the nations that will not bend the knee to Him.

Adoration

And as Micah hears the response of God, the whole of the remainder of the chapter gives way to praise. And that’s the last thing to see here. We’ve seen lamentation, we’ve seen proclamation, we’ve seen petition - he prays. Now finally there’s adoration. As Micah hears the assurance of God, He begins to sing. Do you see it in verse 18? “Who is a God like You?” Micah’s name means, “Who is like the Lord?” and as he frames his concluding anthem of praise, celebrating the greatness and goodness of God, he does it in a play-on words, playing on his own name. “Who is a God like You? You are utterly unique. There’s no one to compare with You.” And what is it that registers with Micah, that compels him to the celebration of the uniqueness of the living God? “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

What is it that makes him sing? It is the extraordinary news that in the face of the hateful wickedness of His people, in the face even of Micah’s own acknowledged sin, God delights to save sinners. He forgives. He blots out iniquity. Like a defeated enemy, He tramples our transgressions under His feet. Like a pebbled dropped into the ocean, our sins will sink out of sight before Him. That’s what makes His heart sing. Does it make your heart sing to know that today, believer in Jesus, you are ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven? Does it make your heart sing that you have an advocate with the Father because of whose obedience and blood today you stand robed with righteousness, accepted in the beloved, clean in God’s sight?

As Micah deals with present sorrows and an uncertain future, he lifts his voice and he begins to sing. He praises God, “Who is like You? There is none like You, a Savior who blots out iniquity!” He of course trampled our sins under foot when, at the cross in the Lord Jesus Christ, He crushed the serpent’s head. He cast our sin into the depths of the sea when He was made sin for us and was Himself immersed and plunged into the ocean depths of divine judgment that we have deserved. Praise God, Micah says, for pardoning grace. And we may heighten the praises because we know by what means such pardon was secured - even the blood of God’s own Son.

How do you fight fear? How do you fight fear in your heart? Micah says you fight fear by singing praise.

You probably have seen online or on television the scenes of the mass protests in the streets of Hong Kong - 2, 3 million man protests, filling the downtown area; extraordinary scenes. Protesting against tyranny. Do you know what their anthem is? What is the song that gives voice to that movement of protest and hope? Three million people - what are they singing? This is what they are singing - “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord! Sing, Christ is risen from the dead!” That’s what they’re singing. To fuel hope in the face of dark days, under the bootheel of tyranny, that’s what they’re singing. That’s how you fight fear and strengthen faith. You pour out your tears in lamentation to the Lord who hears you. You preach good news to your heart till you believe it again. You have an advocate with the Father. You are accepted and beloved. You pray and you pray until you pray - “O Lord, be who You are. Keep Your promises and shepherd Your people.” And then you lift your voice and you sing into the darkness words of Gospel hope - “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord! Sing, Christ is risen from the dead!”

Lamentation. Proclamation. Petition. And adoration.

Let’s pray together.

O Lord, we confess that instead of lamentation there’s often been complaint and dissatisfaction in our hearts. Instead of pouring out our tears and running to You with our whys, we’ve turned to one another with complaint, with grumbling. Forgive us. Instead of preaching truth to our hearts we have allowed discontentment to fester and unbelief to overtake us. Help us to remember that we have an advocate with the Father, one who pleads our cause, who will be our vindication, our justification, and to ground our assurance for time and eternity upon Him - the Lord Jesus Christ. And help us not to neglect prayer. Our prayerlessness has given the lie to our profession that we believe You hear us. Please forgive us. Give to us new confidence that we have Your ear, and in that confidence help us to run often to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. And help us to lift our voices and with them our hearts in true adoration, to sing into the darkness a song of hope - Sing Hallelujah to the Lord! Sing, Christ is risen from the dead! For we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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