The Character of the Golden Age, Micah 4:1-5


Micah 4:1-5

We come now to the first of the oracles of salvation in Micah 4-5. As we pointed out last time, these are oracles of “Israel’s Golden Age,” not of some specific, near-term deliverance of Micah’s contemporaries, such as we had in 2:12-13. There are these two types of salvation oracles in the prophets and here we have the oracles of a great deliverance, a new epoch, that lies beyond the judgment that Micah is prophesying for Israel and Judah in the near future.

We spoke last week of the problems of identifying this golden age, of fitting it into the scheme of biblical prophesy and will say a few things more about that tonight. But, enough about that. What are we to make of Micah’s prophesy in 4:1-5?

Read Micah 4:1-5.

v.1       First Micah sees something: a vision. Micah 4:1-5 is paralleled in Isaiah 2:2-4 — almost exactly the same. Dr. Waltke argues that Micah is the original form of the prophecy and that Isaiah took it over from him. (Or both got the same vision, or…)

v.2       Now he hears something, or overhears, the nations.

            2b        Now Micah reflects on what he has seen and heard; what this will mean and what will eventuate from it. The law of God (= God’s Word) will be embraced by the nations and the result will be peace and harmony because they will be living according to the law of God.

v.4b     The guarantee: the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

v.5b     A liturgical response to the prophesy on the part of the righteous people of God: meantime, until this vision is fulfilled and while the nations still walk in the ways of their idolatries, by faith God’s people will participate in the reality of the vision.

Now, let’s break this down.

I.  The prophecy begins with a time reference: “the last days.”

In the Bible, the term “last days” is a reference to “the prophetic future.” It refers to a time, hidden from sight, when things will be fulfilled. It is used only a few times in the OT prophets (besides here and the parallel in Isaiah 2:2, you find it in Hosea 3:5).

In the NT we have some similar usages, such as Jesus referring to the day of resurrection as “the last day” (John 6:39 passim) or John speaking of his readers living in “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

But the phrase “last days” itself is used five times in the New Testament (to which may be added three uses of the phrase “last times” — 3 times [1 Peter 1:5,20; Jude 18]). And its use is highly interesting and very important. The first of these uses is Peter’s reference to the prophesy of Joel in his Pentecost Sunday sermon. We read in Acts 2:16, “[We are not drunk, it is only nine in the morning]. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…'”

Now, what makes this reference particularly interesting is that Joel does not say “In the last days…” Peter adds that himself as his interpretative introduction to the citation from Joel. Without a doubt, Peter is saying that the last days foretold by the prophets have arrived.

You have the same idea in Hebrews 1:2: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

This is clearly a NT idea and it is expressed in other ways as well.  For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul speaks of the history of Israel in the wilderness and writes, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

Other uses of the phrase “last days” in the NT appear to describe the entire epoch between Christ’s ascension and his coming again as “the last days.” 2 Timothy 3:1: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves…” He says nothing that is not already true. So 2 Peter 3:3: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come…. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?'” (So “latter days” in 1 Timothy 4:1.) Many have thought that the suggestion of “last days” in these contexts is that there will be an intensification of such things as, obviously already existed in the NT age, as the end of this age draws near. But, it is not clear that any suggestion is actually being made in the text or that we should think that “last days” by itself carries such an idea.

However, you do have a very similar phrases, “last hour” in John 6 and 1 John 2 and “last time” in 1 Peter 1:5 that clearly refer to events yet to take place: “who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” These clearly refer to the end of this age, a time that has not yet come.

Now Dr. Waltke takes all of this as evidence for amillennialism. The prophets prophesied the golden age in the last days. The NT says we are in the last days. This age is, therefore, the golden age, such as it is. And, therefore, he is right to take, say, v. 3, with its reference to “beating swords into plowshares” as a reference to the effect of the gospel on reconciliation between human beings in this present age, to be ultimately fulfilled in heaven. This is, in my judgment, as I said last week, a weakness for the amillennial scheme. It renders the prophetic expectation considerably less than the words and images used would suggest. If verse 3, with its powerful images of peace among the nations, is being fulfilled today in any meaningful respect, then those words, at last, seem to mean very little. For the nations are not at peace and are no more at peace than the nations were in Micah’s day. And, on the other hand, if a-mils seek to escape this problem by putting the fulfillment of v. 3 in heaven, they take the prophecy’s fulfillment out of “the last days”, which, according to their own viewpoint, is this epoch in which we are living today.

Frankly, in my judgment, the evidence of the phrase “last days” is a greater help to postmillennialism than to amillennialism, for it seems to suggest that the last days are an epoch, a period. In that period it may well be possible to see a great fulfillment and time of gospel triumph that would culminate and consummate the period of the last days — a millennium if you will — that would make Micah’s prophecy of a golden age a real expectation of a real triumph of gospel principles in the world, as it seems to be. Paul’s argument in Romans 11 certainly helps to make this case seem reasonable.

Though I still have a certain fondness for premillennialism and see certain important arguments to be offered for it, I accept that this phrase “last days” does not help the pre-mil cause. So far as that terminology is used in the Bible, Dr. Waltke is right, it seems to me, that (at least in regard to the terminology of “last days”) “the New Testament knows of no ‘last days’ beyond the parousia [the second coming].”

Well, we’ll leave all of that for those who are energized by the eschatology debate to chew on.

II.  The Mountain and the Temple (vv. 1-2)

Every ANE religion and deity had a mountain (and a temple on it), even if that mountain were, by any realistic measure, merely a hillock. The mountain symbolized several things to the ANE mind.

1.  It symbolized the god’s bringing of order over chaos, the land rising up triumphantly out of the floods of chaos. You have this same imagery in the OT (Psalm 29:10: “the Lord sits enthroned over the flood.”). After his victory over the sea-god Yam, Baal received a temple on Mt. Zaphon, the mountain of the gods located in Ugarit. [Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World, 113-114]

2.  It symbolized access to heaven. Some of the temples were built in the form of mountains, often in a stair-step approach, like the pyramids in Egypt. The steps lead obviously to heaven. In Egypt, when the temple gates were opened, the priests would call out, “the gates of heaven are opened.”

3.  Third, the mountain with its sanctuary symbolized God’s presence on earth. We are familiar with this, of course, from the OT. “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord and who may stand in his holy place?” (24:3) Cf. Psalm 48:1-3: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.”

All of this is the context for Micah’s prophecy, in terms most familiar to the spiritual and conceptual world of his day, that the mountain of the Lord’s temple would rise above all the other mountains and that the nations of the world would stream to it.

He means that all the other “gods”, all the other “religions” will be subdued and Yahweh will reign supreme as the nations come to recognize and honor him as the true God. It is potent and interesting image in part because Zion, the “mountain” of Jerusalem, the mount on which the city stood, is not that high, indeed not as high as the nearby hill. Its summit is 66 meters lower than that of the Mount of Olives to the east.

But, it is especially powerful because Micah has just finished prophesying that Jerusalem would be destroyed, leveled, her mountain reduced to a mound (3:12) on account of her sins against God. In the ANE, when a god lost his mountain (the nation that worshipped him fell in battle), he became an inferior deity in the conquering nation’s pantheon of deities, just one more among the crowd of little gods that couldn’t protect their peoples. But that would not happen to Yahweh. He could not be syncretized, made a part of some nation’s pantheon, because he was the living God! He would be back!

The temple of Amon at Karnak in Egypt was huge. It covered three hundred acres. You could put the great cathedrals of Europe together inside of it. It takes eleven men holding hands to stretch around one of its columns. It was called “heaven on earth.” But it is a ruin today. No one worships Amon (or Marduk, or Baal). But billions of people still worship Yahweh!

It may be, it seems to be, that Micah is looking forward to a still far greater triumph of God’s mountain than we have seen so far in human history, but the anticipations of that greater triumph and of all nations paying their tribute to the living God are with us even today.

II.  The law of the Lord in the world.

Dr. Waltke takes v. 2 as fulfilled in all the people all over the world who go up to houses of Christian worship every Lord’s Day to hear the Word of God. We are the fulfillment of that vision right now, because we are in this house listening to the Word of God. Well, I am willing to say that it is the beginning of what Micah is looking forward to, but hardly all that he means. For, by and large, it is still the case today, that most of the nations do not go up to the hear the Word of the Lord. And, still more significant, with regard to the “golden age” prophesies, such as this one, even most of the church does not listen with an honest heart to the Word of God, even in God’s house. Nor do most Christian ministers teach that Word faithfully. But in the golden age prophesies, the church is wholly renewed just as the world is drawn with unprecedented power to the hill of the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:31-34 is precisely a golden age prophecy and makes exactly that point, that the day is coming when we will no longer have in the church a mixture of believers and unbelievers, with unbelievers in the majority. In Jeremiah 31 you have “they shall all know me” and “no one shall have to say to his neighbor, ‘Know the Lord’,” just as you have “nor will they train for war anymore” and “every man will sit under his own vine…and no one will make them afraid.” We have no come yet to this day.)

However, that vision of the future has its present lesson. The law of God is, in fact, the way of peace, it is, in fact, what the nations must embrace if they would have peace and prosperity. The problems of the world, the anguish of war, of famine, of violence, of crime, of rapacity in business — all of this comes from a failure to live by the law of God.

From national relations, to marriage and the home; from business practices to personal acquaintance, everything in life is spoiled by a failure to keep God’s law. Instead of pursuing our own interest, which leads to perpetual strife, we ought to pursue the interests of others, which is what God’s law requires.

This is the burden of verses 3-4. The law of God will resolve the tensions, the disputes, the antagonisms between people. That is, people’s obedience to that law will have that effect!

Just consider how the law of God does that. The golden rule, which is the summary of that law — do to others, treat others as you would like to be treated yourself — another form of loving your neighbor as yourself, if widely obeyed, brings an end to strife because it makes everyone care about the happiness of others, other nations, the other spouse, other workers in the company, etc.

[The golden rule, by the way, is the Bible’s way to teach us how to live our lives among others day by day and how to face the thousand and one different circumstances of daily life and know what to do. The Bible does not teach us Charles Sheldon’s rule (In his Steps) which has recently made a new appearance with the “WWJD” bracelets. In many cases, in very many cases, we do not know what Jesus would do. He was sinless when he was in the world; he was the Messiah. He often did things and said things that completely surprised those who were present and still surprise us today. What is more, I cannot and you cannot always do what Jesus did. We haven’t the wisdom or the goodness or the spiritual authority. I don’t object to the general concept, we are to follow the Lord’s example in a general way, of course. But even in its best form, “what would Jesus do” is simply not a very helpful way to decide I ought to do. Though the general thought is a way to inspire me to live righteously! But, unfortunately, in many forms, the “what would Jesus do” approach is simply the old subjectivism in another guise. For Jesus doesn’t tell you what he would do and so it is left to you to decide what Jesus would do. And that very easily becomes, simply, what I would do. Especially when this approach is coupled with the strong individualism of American Christianity. It is, as Dr. Packer put it, “a surefire recipe for weirdness without end” [McCrath, pp. 253-254]. The Lord has told us how to determine what is right and wrong, what to do. He has given us his law. Do that! Live by the golden rule.

For, you see, I can almost always figure out what I would like to have done if I were in that other man’s shoes. The golden rule, as Dr. Waltke puts it, is “highly portable.” You can apply it anywhere and everywhere. And it works as much for nations as for individuals.]

Think of how different the entire situation would be if people in the tobacco industry, as soon as they learned that their products were harmful, decided that they would either discover a way to make them safe or abandon the manufacture of cigarettes. What of nations which refused to enact policies in trade or manufacture that would disadvantage other peoples. I wonder what Africa would be like today — that weeping continent — if European countries in the colonial period, considered it their great privilege and chief obligation to bless the people in the countries they had relationships to do nothing that would enrich themselves at the expense of these more primitive and unsophisticated people. And what of labor situations such as that in the NBA today, if the owners were always struggling to be sure that their workers got a fair share of profits and that their fans were not charged too much, and the players, at the same time, were concerned first and foremost that they did not seek their own interests at the expense of the owners or other players. [That is, if anyone is going to earn his living playing a sport in the golden age!] And so on. It seems outrageously irreal to talk in such terms. But it is perfectly obvious what a difference it would make.

You say, but you can’t live like that today. Management would eat you alive, or the union would, or the other nation, or the other company, or whatever. Well, exactly so; exactly Micah’s point.

We await the day when the nations will embrace the law of God for themselves. Then there will be no fear that by loving your neighbor you will be harming yourself. The Good Samaritan helped the man in need. But we have this nagging fear. What if the man had asked for more. Then we have to turn the other cheek and give our extra shirt and walk the extra mile. Yes, we have to, and we should want to in this world. It is our way of serving Christ who gave himself up for us.

But, in the day Micah is speaking of, there will be no such sacrifice required. For the man to whom you show kindness, or the company, or the nation, following the law of God himself, or itself, will not want anything more from you. He will not covet what is yours; he will be glad for what God has given you.

Micah’s point is that this is not natural — to live by God’s law this way — wonderful as the result may be. Men will not do it naturally, because they are sinners, rebels against God and his law. They would rather live miserably all their days and make everyone else around them miserable than submit to the law of God. That is the sad fact of human life and it is proved true a thousand times a day. For in many ways man knows the law of God, knows how much happiness would result if people obeyed that law, but he does not obey it. Mankind talks about love and justice and peace ad nauseam, but he does not practice these things.

No, for this to be done, God must work in us. His grace must change our hearts. Look at the Lord’s familiar words in Matthew 7:7-12. The paragraph begins: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And we ordinarily think of asking, seeking, knocking, for things that we want, our own desires. But Christ is speaking rather about holiness and a life of love. Because the argument runs on through — “Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?… If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask him! — directly to its conclusion in v. 12: “So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Here is the Christian vision of the day of fulfillment in the future: the moral vision of God’s holy law of love combined with the spiritual power from God to bring this vision to pass in human history. What a world, what a time, that will be! And how magnificently Christianity will be proved true then!

But, as v. 5 reminds us, in the meantime, while all the nations continue to walk in their own ways, we are to bear witness to this vision, participate in it in advance, by living according to this same law, this same golden rule, in our lives today. Our task is to whet the world’s appetite for what is to come by giving them a taste of the future already now in the present! The life of selfless love. The prophecy of the golden age is not only an encouragement for us, it is a summons. To live now as we will live then. To anticipate the day! To prove it real ahead of time!