The Future of the Remnant, Micah 4:6-13


Micah 4:6-13

Text Comment

v.6       In that day, i.e., the same time as the events of 4:1-5.

He anticipates the exile that has already been prophesied. This comes later.

v.8       God directly addresses Jerusalem as he will later address Bethlehem (5:2). The Lord has already promised that Jerusalem will be left a pile of rubble overgrown with brush for Israel’s sins, but he will restore her in due time.

You will notice that the Bible regularly refers to Jerusalem in the feminine, as here — “daughter of Zion or Jerusalem.” (So, often in the Psalms.) This distinction of genders has roots that go down deep in human life and culture (why men called their ships “she” and “her”, or countries were personified as women [mothers; need protection; etc.]. The protest against it in our day — now we give both masculine and feminine names to hurricanes, etc. — is both unbiblical and futile. The church will always be a bride, the Lord always the groom! And there will always be artifacts in the language of human beings that preserves a witness to the wonderful and important difference between men and women.

In Acts 15 we learn that the Gentile mission, the ingathering of the elect from the Gentiles is in fulfillment of this prophecy of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (specifically there in Amos 9:15 and the “rebuilding of David’s fallen tent”, but the same idea, the same expectation, clearly), but that does not answer the question whether there will be a consummation of this process in human history still to come. [E.g. Waltke’s “take” on v. 5 as fulfilled in the church today (his reference to the conference at Luzon twelve years ago or so where Christians from so many nations were brought together in peace and love). But that view does not, in my judgment, do justice to the contrast of situations before and after in these “golden age” prophesies (such as Jeremiah’s “no longer will a man have to say to his neighbor…” in 31:29). We are certainly not there yet. Even Dr. Waltke admits the words require a greater fulfillment than we see so far, but he puts that fulfillment in heaven. But, then, as I said last Sunday evening, if we see the true and entire fulfillment of this in heaven, it is not any longer a fulfillment in “the last days.” We’ve then taken the prophecy out of the historical context which is given to it here and elsewhere in the prophets.

v.9       Now, you will find that 9-13 contain two parallel sections. Each begins with a “now” (vv. 9, 11), each moves from the present distress of God’s people to a future deliverance; each has a command (vv. 10, 13); each a promise that is the rationale for obedience (11 and 13). And, what is more, each takes a similar view of present circumstances as being the outworking of a plan that no one understands.

The “now” has a certain breadth of sense, however, for Micah is writing a hundred years before the Babylonian captivity and clearly has Babylon in view (v. 10). But v. 11, as we will see, has immediate reference to the Assyrian invasion. So the “now” covers the entire history, with all its developing calamity, from the time the southern kingdom was threatened (and badly damaged) by Assyria until the time it fell to Babylon.

The NIV takes “king” and “counselor” in v. 9 as a reference to human figures and makes the question sarcastic. It would seem then that the sense is that they should have confidence in their king, that is, the human descendant of David, which scarcely seems to be what Micah would tell them, having already said that their human king cannot save them (2:12 and its image of a crowded city, besieged by the enemy, with no order and no one to impose order). Or the thought would be simply that they have no king and no counselor — at least none to speak of — and Micah is rubbing it in their noses. But the parallel form between the two parts of this oracle suggests rather that we should take “king” and “counselor” as a reference to God, to Yahweh. “Has your King perished — capital “K”? Has your Counselor perished? Of course not. It is a rhetorical question. For v. 12 indicates the sense of these questions in v. 9. You may not see or understand the plan and purpose of God, but he has a plan and a purpose and he is working out his counsel in the events that are overtaking and will overtake Israel. In v. 9 God’s people cry out because they think that things have got out of hand; the nations that come against Israel gloat because they have no idea that they are serving the purposes of Israel’s God in making war against her or that the eventual result will be Israel’s deliverance and ultimate triumph. God’s plan and purpose is to bring eventual salvation out of the present distress and judgment.

v.10     A second exodus. Remember, the sojourn in Egypt was predicted ahead of time so that the faithful might be encouraged to know the final outcome. (Genesis 15)

v.11     “Many nations” a reference to the Assyrian army that, as we said some weeks ago, was the first real standing army of the ANE world and contained soldiers from many different nations that had fallen under Assyria’s control. The various units of the army fought under their separate national ensigns, so the international character of the army would have struck the people against whom that army moved.

Here we have another case of “you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” They sought to destroy Israel and capture her gods. God was using them rather to punish and purify his people and would punish these nations most severely in due time for doing his will with all the wrong intentions.

v.13     “Rise and thresh” like “Writhe in agony” in v. 9 are equivalent to “move out in faith in the midst of your distress”, live in the confidence of the eventual triumph of God’s people. Israel must pass through judgment, but she will have the last word, and these nations which, in their hubris, seek to destroy God’s people and God himself (v. 11b), will be destroyed themselves, and God’s people will do it.

“devote” is the technical term (herem) which means “set apart to God for destruction.” It is the terminology of the holy war. The spoils of this war belong to the Lord because he won the battle! There can be no thought of spoils, plunder for ourselves.

Now, the burden of this prophecy is clear enough. The remnant (mentioned in v. 6), the people of God who remain after God’s judgment has been visited upon Israel, now becomes “the goal of history” [Waltke, TOTC, 176]. Philistia, Assyria, Babylon did not survive because God did not make them a remnant. But the depleted people of God will become the nucleus of something far greater and stronger and more permanent in the future. Judgment will come first, deliverance, salvation, and triumph later. Indeed, much later, far beyond the horizon of the people to whom Micah is preaching this message about present and future.

It is message of encouragement and hope for those who find themselves, meantime, the remnant. (As an aside, I say once more that, if we are thinking that we have already and do now see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the world around us — the amillennial view — it is a very different kind of hope we are given with what must be a different kind of effect on the Christian soul.) And, if the hope is only that of heaven, then it is, in the terms of Micah’s prophecy, it seems to me, an attenuated and weakened hope so far as it serves to shape the view of our place in history, and our place among the nations of the world.)

It is the remnant that will carry history with them! The remnant, the faithful followers of the Lord, they will remain standing at the end of the day, and they alone — with those who have joined them by embracing the Lord they trusted and served when no one else would.

And the commands of vv. 10 and 13 are a summons that, in the meantime, those who belong to that faithful remnant are to step out in faith, even endure the judgments of the Lord in faith, knowing that our vindication is coming and that the kingdom of God will overcome the enemies of the Lord in due time.

Think for example of certain historical examples of this phenomenon.

1. The Jews coming back to the promised land after the exile in Babylon. A tiny community in the ANE world, a country that was little more than the city of Jerusalem — now not very impressive, in fact, mostly a ruins — and its suburbs. And who would have thought then, observing this benighted people, that the world would continue to revolve around them, and that they would still be a major force in world affairs 2,500 years later, when Greece and Rome had long since come and gone.

2. Or, think of the remnant as it existed in the days that our Lord was born. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna. Without influence among the people, representing no power block or political movement. Yet 300 years later their descendants would control the Roman empire, not those of the Jewish leadership or of the Roman leadership. They carried history with them and all who would have never noticed them in their day are long since gone from the stage of world history.

3. Or the few in late medieval Christendom who genuinely loved Christ and trusted his name only for salvation. And yet it was their community, enlarged and empowered by the Reformation, that took control of most of Europe and changed the face of the world.

We are being told again today that we must bend to the prevailing winds. We must surrender this teaching of the Bible, this commandment; we must accommodate our faith to the standards and tastes of the modern world. The church has done this time and time again throughout history and that part of the church that did so, always fell away into the void of that judgment of the nations that the Lord predicts here. But the remnant, those who hold fast to the Word of God, believe it and live according to it, however much they may be in the minority in doing so, are always, invariably the ones left standing. Theirs is the only unbroken tradition in the world. They believe what the faithful in Micah’s day believed. All the others have passed away — religions, nations, philosophies, proud boasts. As we read in v. 11, time and again, the enemies of the faith have boasted of its demise, and time after time the faithful church is left standing in the field when her enemies have broken themselves in battle against her.

As Chesterton most memorably put it: “Five times the church has gone to the dogs and every time it was the dog that died.” The Lord has a plan the world does not know and part of that plan is always the preservation of the remnant among the nations that will receive his judgment, until finally that remnant will be vindicated before the sight of the entire world.

I came across an arresting comment that ties this promise of the Lord’s preservation of the remnant to the Bible’s characteristic of speaking of the church, of Jerusalem and Zion, in the feminine. It is all the more apropos of the holidays. Listen and see what you think.

“When, over the river and through the woods, we seasonally return to our cultural roots and endeavor, yet again, to find a deeper connection with the life-giving tradition that identifies our souls and ties them to eternal truth, it is normally ‘to grandmother’s house we go.’ First of all, it is grandmother’s house, usually, rather than grandfather’s. The woman, far more than the man, is the bearer of tradition. A woman’s body is our first home in this world, and a family residence is normally an extension of a specific woman. The old Romans were right — the center and fireplace is feminine (Vesta), while the door is masculine (Janus). Tradition and identity are transmitted within the home primarily by teaching children to speak, and this is chiefly the woman’s task; hence we speak of our ‘mother-tongue.’ Second, it is grandmother’s house, usually, rather than mother’s — that is to say, grandmother’s thoughts run deeper; her memories go further back; she has a closer, more intimate familiarity with tradition. Being older, she is likewise more experienced. Grandmothers normally span five generations in their vision; they knew their own grandmothers, and they know their own grandchildren. The can see an equal distance into the past and into the future. Their kinship to the heritage is still living and breathing in the present. Third, grandmothers are the most powerful social force in the world, a truth to which our own generation can bear particular and dramatic witness. Stalin, Khrushchev and the others were willing to dismiss the Russian Orthodox Church with the remark that it was chiefly the domain of the babushkas and that eventually all the babushkas would die off and that the Russian Orthodox Church would die off with them. Well, Stalin, Khrushchev and the others are all dead now, while the babushkas are going from strength to strength. So, too, is the Russian Orthodox Church, now full of young people once again, who have come, over the river and through the woods, back to grandmother’s house.” [Patrick Henry Reardon, Touchstone 10.1 (Winter 19997) 6]

Perhaps Reardon is thinking a bit wishfully about the Russian Orthodox Church, but, nevertheless, the point is well-taken. What would Stalin think of the fact that communism has fallen and the church is reclaiming the buildings and the properties his government had turned into museums? The babushkas are still with us, but Stalin is no more!

Now, I want to finish with this thought. The great importance of the prophets, in my mind, is not that we should be able to derive from their teaching an eschatological scenario and predict accurately ahead of time how the end of human history will fall out.

What we get from the prophets, from reading them often, from hearing them preached — which surveys indicate the typical American evangelical is, in fact, doing less and less — is a mindset, a worldview, an outlook on life. And, particularly, a view of ourselves as Christians in a largely unbelieving world.

What the prophets teach us is to hold fast to our confession, to remain faithful to every jot and tittle of the Word of God, no matter that the rest of the world holds us or our viewpoint in contempt, whether thinly veiled or open scorn. It has long been so, it may well long be so still. But the march of history is, finally, the progress of this remnant of faithful followers of the Lord toward the day when they shall stand with their foot on the neck of the unbelieving world.

It is a philosophy of history that the prophets teach us: a philosophy that should make us confident in the face of opposition, peaceful, calm, and cheerful people — we do not need to behave as though our situation were desperate, as though our enemies might actually prevail over us in any ultimate sense — (this is important, in my judgment. Too many Christians do not have the sedate confidence, the self-assuredness that the prophets intend to create in the hearts of the faithful, and so they rail against their enemies, they fret over their situation as though somehow they cannot be sure they are safe. They become embittered by the unbelief of the world around them and by their own minority status. The result of this often is — and I can’t help but think this will be an increasing problem — that they come to have more and more a defensive mind-set, a fear of the culture that drives them to withdraw into a Christian enclave — a separatist, attitude of world-flight that will, in time, render them completely mute and without influence in the culture. The mind-set of the Montana and Idaho folks is, in a certain fashion, already being mainstreamed into some parts of the evangelical world. There is nothing like that in Micah or the rest of the Bible!). The prophetic consciousness is one of solid assurance regarding the outcome and so confident engagement on the Lord’s behalf with the unbelieving culture round about. There is work to be done in the world, the nations to be discipled, the truth to be vindicated before the world by word and deed. And, even if we do not see the triumph of that truth with our own eyes, we will and can enjoy many anticipations of it, many of its first fruits.

But, at the same time, the prophetic viewpoint should make us people who are quite ready, indeed expect to be a part of a remnant, not to prevail in the counsels of the nations until God should vindicate us by his might. That being so, we should be people who never bend to the prevailing winds of unbelieving thought. We see through them to the true hostility toward God and his kingdom that lies behind them (as in v. 11). We know our safety lies in complete fidelity to the Word of God, for that is what distinguishes the remnant, and it is the remnant — the faithful — who will carry the future with them.

In other words, the prophets will put both iron and a sweet gentleness in our souls and both at the same time; both courage and cheerful acceptance of our lot; both a determination to hold fast in the face of whatever opposition and a kind and amiable spirit of love and hope for our enemies — after all, they can do us no real harm, and their future, apart from the grace of God, is far, far worse than they can make ours! Poor folks.

This prophetic consciousness is what is too much lacking in what ought to be the remnant church today. It is this that makes the questions now being debated in evangelical circles so critical — whether the ethics of sex (homosexuality, abortion, etc.), of gender, or the nature of the divine wrath (annihilationism, universalism), so critical and fraught with danger. These changes evangelicals are scurrying to make are all homage paid to the conventional orthodoxies of modern unbelieving culture. They are exactly like the accommodations that Micah’s contemporaries made to the culture of their day and they must lead, as they always have in Christian history and world history to the same end for those who embrace them. They are the places where the modern world and modern thought says of the true kingdom of God: “Let her be defiled, let our eyes gloat over Zion!” What is at work here is an unwillingness to be just a remnant. And some are leaving the remnant to be a part of the majority — as has happened countless times in the past and, no doubt, will again.

“But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan…”