Read: Micah 1:1
It has been some time since we have been together in one of the minor prophets and I have wanted to take up Micah for some time. I want to begin with a few reasons why we ought to look forward to a study of one of the minor prophets, reasons above and beyond the fact that this too is the Word of God and so profitable for doctrine, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.
1. We are less often in the minor prophets and so it is a part of the Bible that we are generally less familiar with. This problem is becoming worse as we speak. Carl Robbins, a PCA pastor friend, the pastor of a church in Las Vegas, studied PCA preaching for his D.Min project at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. He surveyed 200 PCA ministers who were the pulpit ministers of their churches. In the previous three years only 16% had preached at all from one of the minor prophets. I’ll wager that if you took Jonah out of that list — the least typical of the minor prophets — that number would be considerably lower still.
Let me give you a little quiz. You can grade yourselves privately. Summarize in a sentence or two the message of Zephaniah or Nahum or Micah? Perhaps a number of you would do better with Hosea, Haggai or Malachi. Can you immediately think of a verse from each of those books? Two verses? How often do you think of the teaching of these books and make use of that teaching, those promises, those warnings, in your walking with God?
2. But, actually, the message of the minor prophets is just the same message as that of the major prophets. They are called “minor” simply because they are shorter. But that should make them easier to master, more accessible, not less. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and his message is, in many points, not only the same in general but in a similar form of words. But in Micah’s case, you have only 7 chapters, not 66.
3. And, then, with the minor prophets we have the great message of the Bible in a sermonic form, directly and powerfully addressed to the heart and the conscience. We need the prophets, often and over and over again. They are the Lord’s preachers to our hearts and to our consciences, in a way that even Paul’s letters are not. A letter is not the same thing as a man standing up in the temple or on a street corner or in the court before the king and proclaiming the word and the voice of the Lord.
The kings listed in 1:1 reigned from 742 B.C. to 686 B.C. In many ways, Micah’s situation is just what you think of when you think of the prophets. There were false prophets at work in the same time and place who made Micah’s message seem unrelentingly gloomy and unpopular. In order to make their message popular, these false prophets preached God’s grace and mercy at the expense of his righteousness and justice. Their preaching gave the people of God a false sense of security and led to eventual ruin, as Micah predicted it would. He, on the other hand, preached judgment against the infidelity and immorality of the people, drawing special attention to the ways in which the rich were oppressing the rest of the population.
Micah has sometimes been called the prophet of the poor. It might be more accurate, Dr. Waltke says, to call him the prophet of the middle class, who were being reduced to poverty by the oppression of the rich (2:1-5).
Micah also preached the mercy of God and the deliverance of the Lord to the repentant and, with Isaiah, saved Jerusalem at least for the time being.
Hezekiah, for example, initiated sweeping spiritual and moral reforms in Judah in response to Micah’s preaching and that of Isaiah. Micah and Isaiah together stiffened Hezekiah to face the Assyrian invasion of Judah and boldly predicted the city’s miraculous deliverance which, you remember, resulted from the Assyrian army’s being overrun with a plague, probably the bubonic plague.
But these reforms were short-lived and Micah predicted that Israel would fall to and be plundered by Assyria and that Judah would later fall to Babylon, and be exiled though also that she would be brought back to the promised land in due time.
In many ways we must see how timely Micah’s preaching is. The way in which he focuses on the moral character and behavior reminds us, in our antinomian day, that there can be no true faith in God that does not produce purity and love in individual lives and in the life of the church as a whole. We have to begin to expect the Lord’s judgment when those who claim to be the people of God live lives that are a direct offense to his holiness.
But, what is more, Micah will remind us how fragile the security of nations actually is. We have ourselves, in this century, witnessed the sudden disintegration of great national powers that seemed to everyone to be impervious to destruction — Germany, Japan, and now the Soviet Union. They fell because they were evil — that is Micah’s message and the entire Bible’s — the mistakes of their leaders, their foolish strategies, etc. were not the real, the ultimate reason. They fell because they were evil. As Assyria and Babylon too would fall. And so now what are we to think of the prospects of our nation, that also seems too solid and so impervious to political disintegration, but which is rife with vicious evils of all kinds.
And, finally, for the faithful, in the midst of a world that cares so little for the truth of God, Micah will wonderfully encourage us to hold fast to God’s covenant and to count on his mercy and compassion. “Who is God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of your inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy.” [7:18]
Now, a word about the organization of Micah and, by extension, of all the books of the prophets.
Luther once complained about the prophets:
“They have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at.” [Von Rad, OT Theology, ii, 33n; Werke, Weimar ed., XIX, 350]
We have to remember that the OT prophets, as books, are anthologies of prophecies, really collections of short precis of prophetic sermons in many cases. For that reason you cannot necessarily read them by chapters, as though they formed an integrated argument. It would be akin to reading three or four psalms in a row and trying to determine how the one is connected to the other. However, the closer one looks at the prophets the more clearly it appears that they did follow some principle in the arrangement of their material. In Micah’s case, there seems to be a three-fold division of the book, in each case the section beginning with prophecies of doom and concluding with prophecies of hope.
What is more, the singular “word of the Lord” rather than “words” as, for example, in Jeremiah 1:1 and Amos 1:1, suggests that Micah may well have been also the editor of the material in the book that bears his name and contains prophesies he first proclaimed to the nation.
So, let’s put this book into our collective understanding in the coming weeks. Plan on putting some explanatory notes in your margin that will help you remember what we learn and to preserve some of the lessons and applications of Micah’s preaching. So that then this great book will have its way with us and lead and guide us in our walk with God, our spiritual warfare, and our service to the world and the kingdom of God.