Micah: 1) The Lord Sees

Micah: Who is like the Lord!

1) The Lord Sees

Text: Micah 1:1-16

 

What is God like? It’s a question that has preoccupied people’s thoughts since the beginning of time. Is God one, or many? Is God holy, or is he flawed? Is God all-powerful, or is he limited? Is God loving, or is he hateful, or even indifferent? Is God in control of our circumstances? Does God listen to us when we pray to him? As Christians, we believe that God has answered these questions in the pages of the Bible. God has revealed to us what he is like.

And while all the prophets tell us stuff about God there is one prophet in particular who is concerned about what God is like, the Prophet Micah. Micah asks the question: Who is like the Lord? Over the next few months we’re going to look at 7 things that Micah tells us about God. According to Micah the Lord Sees, and the Lord Speaks, and we’re going to look at the Lord’s Spirit, the Lord’s Kingdom, and the Lord’s Ruler, and finally, we’re going to look at the Lord’s expectations of us, and the fact that the Lord can be our Light. This morning we’re going to start in Micah chapter 1 and we’re going to look at how the Lord Sees.

 

1) Who Is Micah

But before we get into that let’s take a look at Micah. Who is Micah? The book of Micah starts, ‘1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah... (Mic 1:1a)’

a) The Meaning – Who is like the Lord?

The first thing we discover about the Prophet Micah is that his name is Micah. While there are at least 10 men called Micah in the Old Testament, there are only two references to this Micah. The first is the verse we just read, and the second is found in the book of Jeremiah. A hundred years later, Jeremiah prophecies that Jerusalem will be destroyed. The King’s officials want to kill him, but some elders pipe up and say, when Micah prophesied the same thing they didn’t kill him, instead they repented and God relented (Jer 26:17-19). Micah’s prophecy hadn’t been forgotten.

But even though Micah was a common name, it was also a name of theological significance. It means: Who is like the Lord? In fact, Micah employs his own name at the end of his prophecy. He says, ‘18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? (Mic 7:18a)’ Despite the fact that most of Micah’s prophecies were oracles of judgment, at the heart of his faith was a sense of joy based on the fact that the Lord is a gracious God, who forgives the sins of his people. When Micah says, ‘Who is like the Lord,’ it’s not a question, but an exclamation of amazement and wonder at God’s goodness. The purpose of Micah, and of this series, is to help you understand who God is, what he is like. The goal is to see you exclaim, ‘Who is like the Lord!’

b) The Place – Moresheth

In addition to his name we are told Micah’s town of origin. He is Micah of Moresheth. Moresheth was a small agricultural town halfway between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea. Not only does the fact that Micah comes from Moresheth distinguish him from all the other Micah’s around, it also says something about the man himself. He wasn’t a big city guy, he didn’t identify with the rich and powerful, rather he identified with the average guy, the farmers and shepherds, the common people. Micah was the perfect guy to speak out against the unfaithfulness of God’s people, especially its leaders, the rulers, the priests and prophets up in Jerusalem and Samaria.

c) The Time – the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz & Hezekiah (Between 758 and 698BC)

The third thing we learn about Micah is when he lived, during the reigns of three kings, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. These three kings all ruled over the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Jotham began his reign in 758BC and Hezekiah finished his reign in 698BC, and somewhere in between Micah had his ministry. And it was a long ministry, somewhere between 18 and 60 years.

d) The Issues

The fourth thing that we need to know about Micah are the issues that faced God’s people during his ministry. Two great concerns dominated this period of Israel’s history.

i) External – Assyria

The first was an external concern, Assyria. A generation earlier the prophet Jonah had gone to the capital of Assyria, Ninevah and warned them of God’s judgment, and surprisingly they repented and God spared their nation. But it was short lived. Soon Assyria started an expansion policy, it hired huge mercenary armies, and conquered nation after nation, which they mercilessly taxed to pay for their campaigns. This period of history was marked by constant rebellions, which Assyria responded to with savage force.

ii) Internal – Sin

However, according to Micah the political and military problems were mere symptoms of a greater and deeper problem, the moral and spiritual condition of God’s people. The real problem was an internal one, sin. Just as our society has abandoned its Christian foundations, so Israel and Judah had abandoned its religious heritage. Despite the fact that God’s people looked faithful their hearts were far from God, and the fruit of their unfaithfulness was corruption and injustice. All throughout his book Micah condemns the sin of God’s people.

And despite the fact that all this took place thousands of years ago, what Micah has to say is still relevant to us today. We face the same external pressures and internal issues as back then. Our world is becoming a more dangerous place to stand up for our faith. And sin is just as much an issue in our lives as it was in Micah’s day. We may struggle with different things, but God feels about them in exactly the same way as he did back then.

 

2) Micah’s Message = God’s Message

So let’s turn from Micah the man, to Micah’s Message. Probably the most significant words of Micah’s prophesy are the very first ones, ‘1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah… (Mic 1:1a)’ What Micah had to say didn’t originate with himself, rather it originated with God. It was the Lord’s word, not Micah’s word. Micah’s message was God’s message. Micah was passive in the whole process, he was the recipient of God’s word. There are three implications of this.

a) It is Trustworthy

Firstly, because Micah’s message came from God it is trustworthy. Now Micah was a sinful person just like you and me, he made mistakes, he had faults and failings, but because God, who is perfect, is the ultimate author of everything that Micah wrote down in this book, we can be assured that everything contained in these 7 chapters – its history, its ethics, and its message of salvation – are true and without error, and therefore completely trustworthy. The Bible tells us that ‘4 …the word of the Lord is right and true… (Ps 33:4a)’ In fact it says, ‘160 All your words are true… (Ps 119:160a)’ Because Micah’s message is God’s message it is completely trustworthy.

b) It is Authoritative

Secondly, because Micah’s message came from God it carries God’s authority. We aren’t just to read Micah, we’re to believe it and obey it. John Calvin says, ‘We owe to Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has proceeded from Him alone.’ When Moses finally finishes writing God’s law and gives it to the Israelites, he says, ‘47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. (Dt 32:47a)’ In fact, earlier Moses says that our lives ought to be based ‘3 …on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Dt 8:3c)’ If God says it, we need to obey it.

c) It is Relevant

Thirdly, because Micah’s message came from God it is relevant for us today. Sometimes we get distracted by the cultural differences between us and Bible times, but we often forget that many of the Bible stories themselves are separated by centuries. In fact, the New Testament quotes the Old in the present tense. For example, in the letter to the Hebrews it says ‘as the Holy Spirit says… (Heb 3:7)’ and then it quotes Psalm 95 written maybe a thousand years before and applies it to the first century church. The truth is that God and his will never changes, and even seemingly obscure prophecies like Micah’s speak to us today. In fact, one of the most important aspects of Micah’s message is foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ. 

As we examine what Micah says to God’s people back in the 8th century BC, we need to listen to what God is saying to us today. That’s why we read the Bible, not because it’s entertaining, or it has some good morals, but because it is God’s word to us, it reveals what God is like. The purpose of reading the Bible is so that we can exclaim, ‘Who is like the Lord!’

 

3) Micah’s Message = God’s Judgment

So let’s take a look at what exactly is Micah’s message. And it’s not going to take very long for you to realize that it’s a message about God’s judgment. But as we unpack the rest of chapter 1 I want to focus on three things that this passage reveals about God. Let’s start with verse 2, ‘2 Hear, O peoples, all of you, listen, O earth and all who are in it, that the Sovereign Lord may witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. (Mic 1:2)’

a) God is Sovereign

It’s interesting that even though Micah’s prophecy is all about Samaria and Jerusalem, he addresses ‘all the peoples, the whole earth and all who are in it.’ The first thing we learn about God is that he is Sovereign. Micah calls him ‘the Sovereign Lord.’ Literally it is ‘adonai Yahweh,’ or ‘lord Lord.’ God is the Lord of all lords, he is the God over all gods. He rules the whole universe. So when he says something, everyone should sit up and listen. God’s sovereignty is a key theological idea in Scripture. God made the universe and God is in control of the universe. The Psalmist sings, ‘6 For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? 8 O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? 11 The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. (Ps 86:6,8a,11)’ Who is like the Lord? The answer is, no one. God stands above everything else in power and glory. God is Sovereign over all the earth, so the earth had better listen.

b) God Sees

Secondly, we learn that God sees. Micah says that the reason the whole earth needs to stand up and listen is so that ‘the Sovereign Lord may witness against you.’ Like a witness today is someone who is has seen a crime and testifies in court, so God sees everything that we think and say and do, and he testifies against us. Bill Hybels wrote a book years ago called ‘Who You Are When No One Is Looking,’ and the point is that how you live matters even if no one else knows, because God knows. God sees what is done in secret. God sees into the depths of our hearts. God sees what no one else does.

Later Micah tells us that God desires that we, ‘8 …act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. (Mic 6:8b)’ God is not only concerned with our actions, but also with our motivations, we are to love mercy, and our attitude, we are to walk humbly. God not only sees what no one else sees, he cares about what he sees. God cares about our attitude, our motivations and our behaviours.

If God was to look into your heart, what would he see? If God was to examine your motivations would you make the grade? If God was to test your attitude, would he find a good attitude or a bad one? If God was to scrutinize your behaviour would he find you doing the things that he desires? You can’t hide from God, because God sees.

c) God Judges Sin

And when God looked at his people in Micah’s day what he saw deeply upset him. Verse 3 and 4, ‘3 Look! The Lord is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads the high places of the earth. 4 The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope. (Mic 1:3-4)’ The third thing we learn about God is that God judges sin. God has seen the sin of his people, and now he’s coming, and he’s not happy. God treads on the high places of the earth. High places were places of military power, but they were also places of pagan worship. God’s people were looking to the hills for their hope, for both military protection as well as spiritual protection, but God says he will flatten both. More significantly, both Samaria and Jerusalem were built on mountaintops. God was coming to squash Samaria and jump on Jerusalem. Micah refers to that event in terms of a natural cataclysm to show us just how defenceless we are, how totally unable to resist God.

i) God Judges Our Sin

Up to this point in his sermon, Micah may have been praised by his listeners. God was coming to judge the wicked, which surely meant nations like Assyria. But then Micah drops his bombshell. Verse 5, ‘5 All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the house of Israel. (Mic 1:5a)’ God isn’t judging the sins of other peoples, he’s judging the sin of his own people. God’s people had transgressed his law, they had rejected the covenant, they had turned their backs on God. And the truth is that we do the same every day. We don’t live how God has called us to live. We aren’t faithful to God as he is faithful to us. This stuff isn’t written to unbelievers, it’s written to us. We need to face our own sinfulness, our own brokenness, our own rebellion and rejection of God. In Micah’s day God’s people were tolerating sexual immorality, and false worship and greed that lead to the oppression of the poor, and we do the same. We watch rubbish on TV, our worship is about our personal preferences instead of our glorious God, and we sit in opulent comfort while thousands starve to death. The Apostle Peter writes, ‘17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God… (1 Pet 4:17a)’ We tend to worry about how the world lives, but God is more concerned with how his church is living. God cares about our lack of interest in his word, our self-absorbed approach to worship, our lack of mercy for the needy, our low motivation for evangelism. We like to think we are so different from the world, but the truth is that the church has become all too much like the world. Paul writes, ‘1 …watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 7 …God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Gal 6:1b,7b)’ Micah’s message to us this morning is God sees the sin in our lives, so get rid of it – confess it, turn your back on it, or God will judge it.

ii) What does God’s Judgment look like? Part A

So what does God’s judgment against sin look like? God puts it as blunt as possible, ‘6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. 7 All her idols will be broken to pieces; all her temple gifts will be burned with fire; I will destroy all her images. (Mic 1:6-7a)’ All the things that you trusted in, your fortified city, your false gods, I will destroy. The things that you built with your own hands I will cast down. The proud city will be reduced to a pile of rocks. Later Micah writes, ‘14 You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. 15 You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. (Mic 6:14-15)’ The point is that unless we honour God with our lives, our lives will amount to exactly nothing. Everything that we worked for will come to nothing. Everything that we value will come to nothing. Everything that we care about will come to nothing.

So I want to ask you: What are you building in this life? Are you living your life for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom, or are you living it for yourself and the building of your kingdom? If you’re building your own kingdom you are only building a pile of rocks, but if you build your life on the Rock, on Jesus, your life will have eternal significance.

iii) How should we respond to God’s Judgment?

So how should we respond to God’s judgment against sin? Let’s take a look at how Micah responds. There was no love lost between Israel and Judah, so you would expect Micah to gloat over Samaria’s destruction, after all they’re only getting what they deserve! But instead Micah writes a lament. Verse 8, ‘8 Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl. (Mic 1:8)’ That’s pretty intense. That word ‘naked’ can also refer to someone who is only partly clothed, for example someone who has torn their clothes as a sign of grief. The point is that Micah hadn’t forgotten that the Israelites were God’s people as well. What was going to happen to them was a tragedy.

It’s interesting that we see this same grief in Jesus Christ. Luke writes, ‘41 As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it… 44  [He said, “Your enemies] will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Lk 19:41,44)’ Do we look on a world lost in sin, a world that doesn’t recognize God’s existence let alone his presence in Jesus Christ, do we see them like Jesus did? Do we weep over the state of our world? Are our hearts burdened over God’s judgment against the unbelief of our friends and families? Like Jesus, and like Micah, do we tell people the truth about what awaits those who reject God? Not to gloat over their fate, but because their fate breaks our hearts? Christians who denounce the sins of their culture but don’t point people to God’s grace in Jesus Christ have completely missed the heart of God. The Bible says, ‘11 …“As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek 33:11a)’ We should respond to God’s judgment against sin with tears, tears for our own sin, and tears for the sin of others. We should howl like a jackal and moan like an owl.

iv) What does God’s judgment look like? Part B

Let’s go back to what God’s judgment looks like again. Because not only does God’s judgment come against Samaria, it also comes against Jerusalem. According to Micah God’s judgment ‘9 …has come to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself. (Mic 1:9b)’ That’s exactly what happened. The army that destroyed Samarian in 722BC then marched against Jerusalem and surrounded it. In the process it destroyed all the towns that surrounded Micah’s home town of Moresheth, a region called the Shephelah. Micah picks 11 places in this region and for each one he makes a pun from their names. In each case he hopes people will see the tragedy that results from rejecting God.

1. Gath

The first town is Gath, which is actually a Philistine city not far from Judah’s borders. The word Gath sounds a lot like the word tell, it’s basically ‘Begath, al Nagath,’ or ‘in tell town don’t tell.’ Whatever you do don’t tell what’s happened to your enemies the Philistines, don’t let them know how much you are hurting, because they’ll just gloat over you.

2. Beth Ophrah

The second town is Beth Ophrah, which means house of dust. And so Micah says, ‘10 …In Beth Ophrah roll in the dust. (Mic 1:10b)’ People covered themselves in dust as a sign of the deepest grief.

3. Shapir

The next town is Shaphir, which means beautiful. But Micah writes, ‘11 Pass on in nakedness and shame, you who live in Shaphir. (Mic 1:11a)’ Because of their sin God has turned their beauty into shame.

4. Zanaan

The fourth town in Zanaan, which sounds like the Hebrew for ‘coming out.’ Micah writes, ‘11 …Those who live in Zaanan will not come out. (Mic 1:11b)’ The city where once people came and went is a place were people will never come and go again.

5. Beth Ezel

The next town is Beth Ezel, which means the house nearby. Micah writes, ‘11 …Beth Ezel is in mourning; its protection is taken from you. (Mic 1:11c)’ Beth Ezel used to be a real support to it’s neighbouring towns because it was so close, but that support is gone, because Beth Ezel is no more.

6. Maroth

Then there’s Maroth, which sounds like bitter. Micah writes, ‘12 Those who live in Maroth writhe in pain, waiting for relief… (Mic 1:12a)’ They look for relief but all they get is bitterness.

7. Lachish

The seventh city is Lachish, which sounds like horse. It was one of the cities where Solomon kept his chariots. And so Micah says, ‘13 You who live in Lachish, harness the [horses] to the chariot. (Mic 1:13a)’ It’s interesting that the word for horse, refers to race horses rather than warhorses. When the Assyrians came the chariots of Lachish would be used not for attack, but for flight. The city that trusted in it’s horses and chariots has misplaced its trust. It won’t do them a scrap of good. In comparison the Psalmist writes, ‘7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Ps 20:7)’

8. Moresheth Gath

The next city is Micah’s home town, Moresheth Gath. Moresheth sounds like the Hebrew word for bride. Micah writes, ‘14 Therefore you will give parting gifts to Moresheth Gath. (Mic 1:14a)’ Moresheth, Micah’s home town, would be given as a bridal gift to the king of Assyria.

9. Aczib

The ninth town is Aczib, which means deception. Micah says, ‘14 …The town of Aczib will prove deceptive to the kings of Israel. (Mic 1:14b)’ In Hebrew it’s literally ‘Aczib Le-aczib!’ Any trust that the kings of Israel have in this town will be betrayed.

10. Mareshah

The tenth city is Mareshah, which sounds like the word for heir. Micah writes, ‘15 I will bring a conqueror against you who live in Mareshah. (Mic 1:15a)’ The town that was meant to receive an inheritance, instead has everything they have taken away.

11. Adullam

And finally, there is the place called Adullam. Adullam is actually the cave where David hid from King Saul. Micah’s final play on words is ‘15 …He who is the glory of Israel will come to Adullam. (Mic 1:15b)’ The current king will end up in the same predicament as David, running for his life, hiding in caves from the king of Assyria.

The point of all these little plays on words is that there are severe consequences for rejecting God. What was once good becomes bad, what was once slightly amusing becomes deadly serious. The very thing that you were praised for becomes the thing you are criticised for. Micah’s point is that sin is a deadly trap. Sin will destroy everything that is good in your life.

 

So where’s the hope in this message? The hope is found in just a single word back in verse 2, the word ‘2 Hear… (Mic 1:2a)’ God wants you to hear this message. God wants you to listen to his warning. God wants you to understand what he is like. Firstly, God wants you to know that he is Sovereign. He is the Lord over all creation, and he is the Lord over your life. Secondly, he is the God who sees. He is the God who sees into your heart, he sees your attitudes, he sees your motivations, he sees your behaviour. He sees your sin in all its terribleness. And thirdly, he is the God who judges sin, and not just sin in general, he judges your sin. If you’re doing life without God, your life will come to nothing but a pile of rocks. If you think you’re safe and secure, it will one day all come crashing down. What was once beautiful will be filled with shame, what was once strong will become weak, what was once a gift will become a curse. God wants you to hear, because he wants you to repent and turn to him and be saved. God wants you to hear Jesus on the cross say, ‘It is finished!’ All the consequences of sin have been paid in full. Will you listen to God this morning? Will you turn away from your sin and towards God in faith? Amen.

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