bigger than 6.8

I have lived in the book of Amos for years.

Sparked by having a grandson of the same name, it is the ripe time to encounter Amos' contemporary - Micah. I have been reading and rereading this little book. No commentaries. Just reading it for myself. What have I been discovering?

The verse everybody seems to know is a good place to begin.
He has shown you, O people, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (6.8).

But go back up into the context. As with Amos, Micah is full of harsh words about a coming judgement of God. We live at a time when people who so readily embrace the justice of God can be the very ones who are so readily embarrassed by the judgement of God. How is that even possible?! And it gets trickier because in the Bible, judgement tends to begin, as it does here, with the people of God.
For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel (6.2).
Zion will be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble (3.12).
At that time he will hide his face from them because of the evil they have done (5.4).
After this the eye settled quickly on the second most familiar verse in Micah. It appears each year at Christmas (5.2; seen again in Matthew 2.6). It is the prophecy about Bethlehem being the place where the coming Messiah will be born. But go further down into the context. [NB: Matthew must have been impressed by this as well, because he skips down to this thought with his quotation in 2.6!]. Of this Coming One, Micah writes:
He will stand and shepherd his flock
      in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach the ends of the earth.
And he will be their peace (5.4-5a).
I cannot speak for you, but that is just exquisite. It was on my second morning in Latin America when I discovered this verse. The father of my close colleague had died suddenly overnight. I was asked to speak at the funeral later that very day. How could I reach for anything else?!

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the God of Micah is the judge and the shepherd. He is about both justice and mercy. Both visions of God are equally true, equally necessary. The prophecy may begin with 'the mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart' (1.4) as an image of his sovereignty and justice, but look how it finishes.
Who is God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression...
You do not stay angry for ever but delight to show mercy.
You will have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot
     and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (7.18-19).
As I kept reading Micah, my memory roared back to life. During my theological training at TEDS (Deerfield, Illinois - 30 years ago), I had a teacher who confirmed my faltering call to be a pastor and a preacher (David Larsen). I had been so nervous about preaching that I had saved the three required preaching courses for the final three quarters in the academic programme. But he laid on the affirmation thickly at the time and then sent me the same verse every year, for years. It sticks with the shepherd theme (which appears 3x in the book - 2.13; 5.4; 7.14)
One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out (2.13).
I have forwarded that verse on to so many other people. A little gem on guidance.

But there are more memories - from that same time of training. In Hebrew Exegesis class (with Thomas McComiskey) I completed an assignment on 7.1-7. As I read again, it all came flooding back. Ohh, the softness and sensitivity of Micah. At the first sound of judgement, what is Micah's response?
Because of this I will weep and wail (2.8).
Micah feels things so deeply. He is so wired for emotion. In chapter 7 he is just miserable. He is longing for the friendship of a kindred spirit, as Anne of Green Gables would express it. Outside, the world is full of corruption. Inside, the family is empty of trust - yet his confidence in God is unshiftable.
What misery is mine!
I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard;
      there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs I crave.
The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains.
Everyone lies in wait to shed blood; they hunt each other with nets.
Both hands are skilled at doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes,
       the powerful dictate what they desire - they all conspire together...
Now is the time of their confusion.
Do not trust a neighbour; put no confidence in a friend.
Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words.
For a son dishonours his father, a daughter rises up against her mother,
      a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
      - your enemies are the members of your own household.
 
But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord.                                                                         I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me (7.1-7).
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light                                                             ... He will bring me out into the light (7.8-9). 
During my time in Latin America, the preaching of Jorge Atiencia impacted me - even as it came to me through a translator. From 2 Peter 2, he asked us, "what is it that shatters your soul?". For me, it is when the people of God do not show a commitment to the peoples of the world. It guts me, particularly when the Bible is so full of it. The vision of Micah encourages me.
Many nations will come and say... (4.2).
What will these peoples of the world 'come and say'?
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord;
(to worship)
He will teach us his ways, so that we walk in his paths. 
(to listen, to obey)
He will judge between many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no-one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken (4.2-4).
(to seek peace)
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Bring it on.

nice chatting

Paul


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