God's Country Preacher
20 Sep 2008, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
GOD'S COUNTRY PREACHER
Our story begins about twenty miles southwest of the city of Jerusalem in the town of Moresheth near the Philistine border, not far from the city of Gath. It was here in this place, somewhere between 750 and 680 BC that a young country preacher was railing against the sins of his countrymen and warning them of their national downfall if they didn't repent.
This young man was seen to be a prophet of the common people and of country life while a number of his contemporaries were to be found concentrating their preaching in the major cities of Judah and Israel. God's prophet by the name of Isaiah was preaching to the court in the city of Jerusalem and another prophet by the name of Hosea was hard at work in Israel.
As a country preacher Micah knew his fellow countrymen very well and this enabled him to preach with passion and conviction. However, he attributes the real power of his preaching to something outside of himself. He makes it very clear what his real equipment was. He suggests in Micah 3: 8 that he was '…full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgement, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.'
We can only guess at the careful training and prayer that would have been involved in the upbringing of this young man who, as already noted, was later to become Isaiah's contemporary. Coming from a humble farming background, his parents had presumed to give their baby a challenging name, which was to mean 'Who is like Jehovah'. This was to show the spiritual aspirations both parents had for the future of this little boy.
Over and over again we hear Micah sounding out the theme of God's judgement against his homeland Judah, as well as her sister nation of Israel because of their moral decline. However, while his prophecies covered both nations, the burden on his heart was for his own country of Judah.
Micah tells us in Micah 1: 1 that he prophesied '…in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezikiah…' who were all kings of Judah.
We know that while 2 Kings 15: 34, 35 tells us that Jotham '…did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord', his people were still sacrificing and burning incense in the high places that were found throughout the land. However, his son and successor, King Ahaz was to go the full length of idolatry by even burning his [own] children in the fire after the abominations of the heathen' (2 Chron 28: 3). He even rearranged and changed the laver and the brazen altar of burnt offering in the temple to make way for other idolatrous altars that he had previously seen in the city of Damascus (2 Kings 16: 10-12; 14-17) (Nichol, 1955 vol 4: 1011, 1012). All these acts and many others against the true worship of God were to make him known as the most idolatrous king to ever reign over the kingdom of Judah.
However, it is interesting to note that it is possible that a bad king can be followed by a good son. King Hezekiah was as devoted to the God of Heaven as his father had been devoted to his pagan idols. 2 Kings 18: 5 says that 'He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.' The prophet Micah was there to support him in undoing his father's handiwork.
The book of Micah is only seven chapters long, but it stands as a classic example of the work to which the Old Testament prophets were called. Micah in chapter 1: 1- 4 addresses the people of Israel and Judah in words that are reminiscent of the description given elsewhere in Scripture of the Second Coming of Jesus.
God, through this young man was summoning the nations to hear how he intended to bring retribution upon the unfaithful. There is no question that Micah's words have an end time application for us all.
Well, what do we know about this turbulent period of history?
At the time Micah's prophecies were being pronounced and the moral decline of his people had reached an all time low, we see the Assyrian nation growing in strength. It was marching its armies throughout the length and breadth of the ancient world in order to achieve absolute supremacy over their conquered nations (Lockyer, 1986: 704). Israel in the north and Judah in the south were to live under the lengthening shadow of this powerful adversary (Bowker, 1998: 234).
It became clear to Micah that this pagan nation, known for its terrible atrocities, would serve as an instrument of God's judgement unless the people turned back to Him. The Assyrians were a cruel, savage and merciless people with its army burning cities, burning children, impaling victims on stakes, beheading and chopping off hands. You could understand the deep-seated hostility towards this nation by the Hebrew people. You can see this bitter response in the book of Jonah where God instructs his reluctant prophet to preach in Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. Jonah wants nothing to do with them. In fact, he runs the other way (Ibid: 114).
It is quite possible that Micah even saw his prophecy fulfilled during his own lifetime when the Assyrians defeated Israel in 722 BC. You could imagine how the citizens of Judah would have felt as they saw this take place with their northern neighbour.
Would they be the next to fall before the conquering armies of this pagan nation?
While it seemed that everything was against them the religious leaders believed, and this would have been a false confidence, that no evil would befall them because the Temple was situated in their capital city of Jerusalem (Ibid: 704). Their words are recorded in Micah 3: 11. 'No harm will befall us', they cry, 'The Lord is with us'.
However, Micah continued to warn them that there was no magical power in their Temple or their rituals (Micah 3: 12) and their only hope was to turn back to God as the source of their power and strength. We know that they eventually heeded his warnings and were spared for another 150 years (Mears, 1983: 300; Bowker, 1998: 234)).
It is also significant to recognise that all the time Micah was prophesying these judgements; he was also providing opportunities of mercy. By so doing he was giving a real insight into the character of God.
Judgement with love is the ironic, but essential work of the Lord.
In the darkest days of impending judgement on Israel and Judah, there was always the possibility that a remnant would be spared.
To further provide for that opportunity Micah was to speak out against the oppression from within the nation itself. This young prophet was to become known as the champion of the oppressed.
It would seem that the people could rise no higher than their leaders who were caught up in the tidal wave of greed and dishonesty that was sweeping the country. Heathenism had been countenanced by the priests in order to retain their popularity with the people and instead of defending the poor against the rich they themselves had become possessed of a covetous spirit (Nichol, 1955: 1012). It would seem that this spirit had infected all classes of people at every level of society (Micah 2: 2, 8-9, 11: 3: 1, 5, 11).
Micah condemns the wealthy landowners for taking land from the poor (Micah 2: 2) He attacks dishonest merchants for using false weights, bribing judges, and charging excessive interest rates (Micah 6: 10-12).
Micah wanted the people to know that every cruel act to one's fellow man was an insult to God.
The sad fact was that, in spite of all this depravity, the people tried to carry on with all their religious observances. To a people more concerned about observing rituals than living a life of righteousness Micah, in one of the greatest passages in the Old Testament, thunders out his reply. Let's read his words in Micah 6: 8 (NIV).
'He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.'
This well known passage expresses the timeless truth that authentic worship consists of following God's will and dealing justly with other people.
It would seem that man is always trying to get back into the good graces of God by following some outward religious service or providing material goods. We need to be reminded of the words of the Psalmist in Ps. 51: 17 that says 'the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God thou wilt not despise.' God will not reject a humble and repentant heart.
God wants righteous conduct and a real personal experience with Him in each life. We need to remember that it was because of their unrighteous conduct that the people of Israel and Judah had to suffer unbelievable consequences (Mears, 1983: 303).
Judah's sin of oppression, violence and injustice is described as an incurable wound that could only be cured by its destruction. This situation had come to a head under the wicked rule of King Ahaz where only suffering and shame were to be the result of his unscrupulous use of power (Ibid: 302).
However, God has always been determined to maintain His holiness. As such, judgement has always been associated with the breaking of His covenant. Along with this determination, God also has been purposeful in fulfilling His promises that were made centuries earlier to the man called Abraham (Lockyer, 1986: 704). This promise was to compel Him to further direct their thoughts and minds to the fulfilment of the covenant to come.
It is here in this little book of Micah that we see one of the clearest predictions ever made in reference to the coming Saviour. While we find indirect references to the birth of Jesus in other prophetic books of the Old Testament, there is nothing else that matches the words we find here.
Micah was a prophet of hope. He looks beyond the doom and punishment of his day to the day when Jesus himself would reign and peace would cover the earth (Mears, 1983: 303). God gives the promise. The Messiah will come and He will be born in Bethlehem.
Let's read Micah 5: 2-5. (NIV)
'But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over all Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
Therefore, Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour gives birth and the rest of his brother's return to join the Israelites.
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 to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.'
This is one of the most remarkable prophecies of the messiah's birth when you realize the circumstances that were necessary to bring about its fulfilment. Although Mary and Joseph were residents of Nazareth, it so happens they were in Bethlehem at the right time when the Messiah was to be born. This is a valuable lesson on the workings of God's providence where he is able to work his will through a combination of forces and events.
Little Bethlehem, smallest among the towns of Judah, was to be signally honoured by the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. His victories would not be won by might and power, but by his spirit. He comes as a little babe to bring salvation to a world that was in desperate need of a Redeemer.
Did you know that it was to be the words of this 700 year old prophecy from Micah 5: 2 that was eventually, along with the star, to lead the three wise philosophers from the east to seek this new born king?
We need to be reminded again that God's wrath is nearly always balanced with the promise of His blessing and this prophecy in Micah 5: 2 was to be the greatest promise of them all.
If you could imagine this morning, the local town crier in medieval England walking up and down the streets ringing his handbell and crying out 'Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye'.
Why did he do this?
His job was to arrest the attention of his hearers, to stop what they were doing so he could share important information with them.
This method was similar to the way Micah approached the important messages that he needed to share with the people. Each of the three messages found in his book begin by drawing the people's attention to what he had to say.
The first message in Micah 1-2 was a message to the people concerning Israel's sin and begins with the cry 'Hear, all ye people; harken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord God be a witness against you.'
Hear all ye people. This was a call to the whole world to be a witness to the divine judgements against Samaria and Jerusalem. In the fate of Judah and Israel, the whole world was to read what happens to those who fail to follow the divine blueprint (Nichol, 1955: 1014). They were to be pronounced guilty before the whole universe as a result of their unfaithfulness, their dishonesty, their social injustice and their idolatry. Captivity and exile were then to be their fate. However, they are not left without a promise of deliverance.
Listen to what Micah 2: 12, 13 (GNB) says:
'But I will gather you together, all you people of Israel that are left. I will bring you together like sheep returning to the fold. Like a pasture full of sheep, your land will once again be filled with many people.
God will open the way for them and lead them out of exile. They will break out of the city gates and go free. Their king, the Lord himself, will lead them out.'
The second message given in Micah 3-5 was to be a message to the Rulers concerning the coming Christ where he commences with the words: 'Hear…O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel.
The nation was on the verge of collapse and the princes and priests were responsible for it. Their covetousness and their selfishness, even at the price of blood, were likened by God, to cannibalism. Symbolically, they were devouring both the poor and the defenceless among the people through bribery and corruption (Micah 3: 2,3).
Even though the message was upsetting to Micah, he makes it clear that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed and the people of Judah would eventually be taken captive to Babylon (Micah 3: 12; 7: 13). However, he hastens quickly over these words of judgement and provides the promise that would take them to a time when Christ himself would reign and peace would cover the earth.
The third message given in Micah 6-7 is a message to God's chosen people concerning God's argument where he begins by saying in Micah 6: 2:
'Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people.'
God is pictured here as bringing a lawsuit against his people. He sets out his case and tells them to remember how good He had been to them and how He had kept His covenant with them. The case is clear-cut and specific. He makes it plain that there can be no substitute for love and loyalty and fair dealing. He also makes clear that they can't please him or buy him off with burnt offerings and expensive gifts while their lives are full of dishonesty and deceit. We are further reminded that the best way to get back in God's graces is to accept God's grace.
Once again Micah concludes with a wonderful assurance that the promises to Abraham would eventually be fulfilled. Let's read his words in Micah 7: 18-20 (GNB)
'There is no other God like you, O Lord; you forgive the sins of your people who have survived. You do not stay angry forever, but you take pleasure in showing us your constant love. You will be merciful to us once again. You will trample our sins underfoot and send them to the bottom of the sea. You will show your faithfulness and constant love to your people, the descendants of Abraham and of Jacob, as you promised our ancestors long ago.'
While these promises were originally meant to be fulfilled in the literal seed of Israel we are told in Gal 3: 7 that they will now be fulfilled in the Christian Church which is seen as the spiritual seed of Abraham (Nichol, 1955: 1031).
History has a tendency to repeat itself because the human heart has not changed and remains the same in every age. The spiritual decline of Israel in Micah's day is reflected in our world today, and is accentuated even further the closer we come to the time of Jesus' return to this earth.
However, the words of this young country preacher that were given so long ago still ring in our ears that God will not fail his church in the hour of her greatest peril. While everything looks dark and gloomy, hope will always remain because Micah knew his God. With God there is yet light. God may still be relied upon. His promises will not fail. He will build again. In his compassionate love he will forgive again (Alexander, 1999: 499).
Just as God promised deliverance to his people of old through the words of this faithful country preacher, his promises remain firm today for those living in the last hours of this earth's history. My prayer for us all today is to remain faithful to our wonderful God, who, in his grace and mercy, will bring his promises to their ultimate fulfilment.
Alexander, P & D (eds) (1999) The New Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford, England: Lion Publishing plc.
Bowker, J. (1998) The Complete Bible Handbook. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.
Lockyer, Sr. H. (1986) Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Mears, H. C. (1983) What the Bible is all About. Ventura, CA, USA: Regal Books.
Nichol, F. D (ed) (1955) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 4. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association
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