Featured Items Ritchie Christian Media

Occasional Letters: Making the most of Micah

D Newell, Glasgow

In our English translation of the Bible there is only one book with seven chapters, which makes it an ideal candidate for a solid week’s reading – a chapter a day. If you have never yet tried this, may I suggest that you might find it a real blessing? Although you’ll not exhaust the book in a week’s study, you will at least come out with a practical handle on Micah’s prophecy, never again to be short-changed into thinking of him simply as the man who foretold Messiah’s birthplace. He did so much more than that.

So, just to start you off, let me offer an acrostic-based overview. What do we learn about the Man? He had a notable name, meaning "who is like Jehovah?". That, of course, is one of the great challenges of the Old Testament. Sometimes it is a rhetorical question, such as, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?" (Ex 15.11); at other times it is a statement, as in Solomon’s words, "O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth" (2 Chr 6.14). Micah’s prophecy concludes by playing on his name and asking, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity" (7.18). This introduces a sequence of synonyms expressing the abundance of God’s forgiving mercy to His people. Yes, our God is gloriously unique not only in His matchless power but also in His willingness to pardon sinners. Further, Micah was personally consistent, continuing faithfully "in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah" (1.1). These three kings were very different men: Jotham and Hezekiah were both upright, but Ahaz was an apostate. Yet despite the political power shifts in Jerusalem Micah maintained his testimony. Too often we are tempted to change direction with the prevailing gales, but believers are not to be "carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4.14); rather, we must stand firm for the immutable truth of God. More, Micah was no unfeeling preaching machine, untouched by his message. "I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls" (1.8) – that is the language of eastern grief, lamenting the terrible destruction soon to befall Jerusalem. This servant had a genuine concern for those on whom he must pronounce judgment. And since his task was to pass on an unpalatable message he required divine enablement: "truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord" (3.8). The energy for all service comes from the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1.5). But there was a real cost involved: "Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat…Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide" (7.1,5). Isolated in a hostile world Micah found he could trust no one but God; nor can we. Sooner or later we find that though friends and family fail the Lord remains.

His message involved a solemn Indictment of Judah’s sins. Brought into unique covenant relationship with God Jacob’s descendants were held especially accountable for failure, for great privilege brings great responsibility. And Micah pulls no punches. Israel and Judah were guilty of idolatry (1.5-7), running after the practices of their pagan neighbours. This was what we might call vertical sin, flagrant rebellion against God in defiance of the first commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex 20.3). But as C L Feinberg puts it, "Wherever the rights of God are lightly treated, the rights of man can fare no better", for the nation was also guilty of inhumanity - the horizontal sins of greed (2.1-2), cruelty (3.2-3), dishonesty (6.10-12), and injustice (7.3). Worse, religious insincerity was rampant. On the brink of disaster Judah still boasted in the trappings of orthodoxy, instructed by a caste of professional prophets who delivered (on payment) cosy, feel-good sermons which lulled the nation into spiritual torpor (3.11). And these errors are still alive and well. When we fail to give God His place we shall begin to treat men with contempt while deceiving ourselves into tragic spiritual complacency.

What of the book’s Construction? About a century earlier a remarkably courageous non-writing prophet with a similar name (Micaiah) had pronounced wicked King Ahab’s doom. Let me quote from the always instructive History of Israel by John J Davis and John C Whitcomb: "The last recorded appeal of Micaiah as he was dragged off to prison ("Hear, ye peoples, all of you" – 1 Kings 22.28b) may not have turned the two kings from their course of action but in the marvellous providence of God it found lodgement in the hearts of two parents a hundred years later who named their son in his honour: Micah. It is significant that Micah’s first recorded words were the final words of his namesake: "Hear, ye peoples, all of you" (Micah 1.2). No one can fully measure the impact of one godly life upon other men…". Not only did Micah begin his book with these words, he used them as a structural signal, dividing his prophecy into three distinct sections each starting with this stirring call to attention (1.2; 3.1; 6.1). Saints need to be alert when they read the Word. Like many of the prophets, Micah’s material is organized not chronologically but topically. This technique means that the reader does not (as with a detective story) have to wait until the last chapter to see how it will all end. Instead, we are encouraged with regular advance glimpses of the kingdom glory God has in store for Israel. Section One ends with the cheering picture of the nation regathered with the Lord at their head: "The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them" (2.13). Section Two climaxes with God executing "vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen" (5.15), while Section Three assures us that God will "perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old" (7.20). Micah was not blind to Israel’s sin, but knew that her failure could never annul God’s covenant faithfulness.

Micah, then, looks around (at his people’s sins) and ahead (to the nation’s Saviour). He is full of glad Anticipations. True, he foresees devastating retribution falling on the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC (1.6) and on Jerusalem in 586 BC (3.12). In fact, in one astonishing verse (4.10) he even predicts Judah’s Babylonian exile and return before Babylon had risen to world empire status! But ultimately all this was God’s work (6.9), for every blessing and trial we face comes from Him. Yet there are always clear glimmerings amid the gloom: beyond retribution lay restoration - Israel would be regathered like a flock (2.12), marvellously multiplied (4.6-8), and advanced to global significance (5.7-9). How? Because her coming Messiah, the breaker (2.13), would remove all obstacles to blessing, would redeem His people (4.10), would be the ideal governor of Israel (5.2). Past the line of fallible Davidic monarchs Micah saw a ruler who would combine in Himself deity and manhood. It takes such a future hope to give us heart to continue steadfastly in the present for our God.

Finally, consider a few of Micah’s Highlights. Certain verses stand out in their practical application to believers today. Like Isaiah (and it’s no wonder he is often called "Isaiah in shorthand") Micah glimpsed Jehovah in His majesty (1.2-4), striding like a giant over the molehill mountains of the earth. Our God is infinitely greater than we realise. More, he recognised that safety is found in practical submission to the word: "do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" (2.7). This necessitates a godly lifestyle: "we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" (4.5). To walk in Jehovah’s name is to live one’s daily life in the light of God’s revealed character, to "walk worthy" of our calling (Eph 4.1). And Micah even details God’s requirement of His redeemed people, which is "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (6.8). Uprightness, pity, and humility; this is not a gospel message but a ministry meeting. Micah’s words do not summarise the way of salvation (which is by grace through faith) but the walk of the saints. Trouble is, because saints are only saved sinners we so easily trip up on the pathway. What then? "I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me" (7.7-8). Bunyan’s pilgrim quotes verse eight when doing battle with Apollyon. Alas, we are so often knocked down, or fall down, but the mark of the real believer is that he doesn’t stay down – our pardoning God gives us grace to get up again and go on. Truly, there is no one like the Lord!

To be continued.


Back issues are provided here as a free resource. To support production and to receive current editions of Believer's Magazine, please subscribe...

Print Edition

Digital Edition

Copyright © 2017 John Ritchie Ltd. Home