“Listen to the Lord’s case against Israel. Arise, O Lord, and present your case; let the mountains and the hills hear what you say.”Micah 6:1 (Good News Translation)
God wants his reasons for punishing the people of Judah to be crystal clear. Natural formations will be his witnesses.
“The Lord says, ‘My people, what have I done to you? How have I been a burden to you? Answer me. I brought you out of Egypt; I rescued you from slavery; I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you. My people, remember what King Balak of Moab planned to do to you and how Balaam son of Beor answered him. Remember the things that happened on the way from the camp at Acacia to Gilgal. Remember these things and you will realize what I did in order to save you.'”6:3-5 (GNT)
I had an excellent Old Testament Survey professor my freshman year of college. He said that much of the Old Testament (or the Hebrew Bible) could be summed up with two words: “DON’T FA-GET!”
He would yell this at us in his New York accent at least once a class. And I’m grateful–it’s hard to forget such a succinct and memorable theme. And it rings true; the prophets were constantly reminding the people of what God had done for them previously. Interestingly, the people here are being implored to remember what God had done for their ever-more distant ancestors.
They should remember the stories their grandparents told, the lives that their great-grandparents lived. These stories mattered to how the people would live in their own day!
The lead-up to the most famous verse in the book of Micah (6:8) is a couple of rhetorical questions, akin to what is proclaimed in a surprising number of biblical passages. In essence: God doesn’t love sacrifices as much as we think he does.
“What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.”6: 8 (GNT)
Simple enough. And not a bad guide to practical living for today: justice, love, and humility.
“It is wise to fear the Lord.”6:9a (GNT)
Because if he is the God, he can wipe you out. If he is God, then all other bets are off.
The last passage in Chapter 6 goes step-by-step with God’s accusations against the people–dishonest gain, using false measures, exploitation of the poor, lying, and idol worship.
Consequences, by way of analogy, are then laid out:
“You will eat, but not be satisfied…You will carry things off, but you will not be able to save them…You will sow grain, but not harvest the crop. You will press oil from olives, but never get to use it. You will make wine, but never drink it.”6:14-16 (GNT)
The result, in an honor-shame culture:
“…so I will bring you to ruin, and everyone will despise you. People everywhere will treat you with contempt.”6:16 (GNT)
And now, for the epic conclusion to Micah, the reason that I began writing this commentary in the first place. Chapter 7, up there with the most inspirational biblical passages because of its practical utility…
“It’s hopeless! I am like a hungry person who finds no fruit left on the trees and no grapes on the vines. All the grapes and all the tasty figs have been picked. There is not an honest person left in the land, no one loyal to God.”7:1-2a (GNT)
It can’t get much worse, right? God looks at the people, and sees little hope for them. “Hopeless,” actually.
“The day has come when God will punish the people, as he warned them through their watchmen, the prophets.”7:4 (GNT)
Watchmen is a helpful image for who the prophets of Israel were. Their job was to identify what was happening in their nation, what the people of God were up to. As mentioned in the previous commentary, a common characteristic of biblical prophecy is difficult material.
Faithful watchmen observe, and then tell the bitter truth of what they see.
And the days are evil:
“Don’t believe your neighbor or trust your friend. Be careful what you say even to your husband or wife. In these times sons treat their fathers like fools, daughters oppose their mothers, and young women quarrel with their mothers-in-law; your enemies are the members of your own family.”7:5-6 (GNT)
Family structure is failing.
The forest is becoming old and stagnant; the overgrowth is begging to be kindled, burned, and grown afresh. Such is the natural cycle.
Micah seems to step out of his prophetic role for a moment, into a more personal one, next:
“But I will watch for the Lord; I will wait confidently for God, who will save me. My God will hear me.”7:7 (GNT)
The sky may be falling, metaphorically or literally. But there is hope beyond the sky, so to speak.
Then, a unique perspective. What sets Micah apart from the other prophets, in terms of nuanced hope:
“Our enemies have no reason to gloat over us. We have fallen, but we will rise again. We are in darkness now, but the Lord will give us light. We have sinned against the Lord, so now we must endure his anger for a while. But in the end he will defend us and right the wrongs that have been done to us. He will bring us out to the light; we will live to see him save us. Then our enemies will see this and be disgraced–the same enemies who taunted us by asking, ‘Where is the Lord your God?’ We will see them defeated, trampled down like mud in the streets.”7:8-10 (GNT)
That last bit is admittedly very militaristic in nature. But such were the times.
Let’s focus on the idea of falling and rising again. This could be very helpful to someone struggling in a pit. We see the walls around us, and know that they are high, impossibly high. Perhaps we can identify why we came to the dark place we are in, and recognize it as our own doing.
But night lasts only for a time…
This image can apply to more than just Judah’s precarious situation.
While there is breath, there is yet hope.
The closing passage speaks of a time of rebuilding for Judah and Israel. God will again be with his people, and the surrounding nations will be dismayed. For what purpose?
“They will crawl in the dust like snakes; they will come from their fortresses, trembling and afraid. They will turn in fear to the Lord our God.”7:17 (GNT)
And then, a hearkening once again to the lessons of the past. To things promised, and to a future fulfillment of such promises:
“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.”7:18-20 (GNT)
Rise, you fallen. Look to the coming dawn, you in darkness. Tarry not on the horrors of the past, or even of the present. Strain toward a brighter future, even as you identify your own fickle mortality. Rise, O man, pointed at the dust of the Divine.