v.1 The picture is of a vinedresser and orchard manager who, after long and patient labor on his vines and trees, comes to his vineyard to find some of the first ripe grapes or figs and finds instead that it has been stripped by vandals.
v.4 The idea of the brier and hedge is that they obstruct, justice in this case.
“The day of your watchman has come” — Sennacherib in 701 B.C.?
v.6 Even the most intimate human relations snap under the strain of the terror of enemies and each one looks out for himself. A fitting sentence for a nation that preyed upon its brothers (v. 2b)!
This was not the first and it would not be the last time a godly pastor and preacher of the Word of God found himself uttering the sentiments that Micah utters here, in circumstances very like those that Micah faced at that time.
I think, for example, of Augustine near the end of his life. It was not the Assyrians, in his case, it was the Vandal hordes who had made their way from Spain, across the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa, and were moving eastward, destroying, pillaging, murdering, and raping as they went. It was only a matter of time before they reached Hippo, Augustine’s city, where he had served as Bishop for some thirty years. Some 80,000 Vandals crossed into North Africa, along with adventurers from other tribes — “for this was the conquest of which all barbarians had dreamed and had never succeeded in achieving.” [Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 424] To make matters still more painful for Augustine, the Vandals were so-called Arian Christians.
Roman government in North Africa simply collapsed. In the summer of 429 and the Spring of 430, the Vandals overran the provinces to the west of Hippo. There is no record of resistance by the population, the bishops were divided and demoralized. They had lost their taste for martyrdom. And many of the bishops deserted their posts. Their argument was typical. One of them wrote:
“If we stay by our churches, I just cannot see how we can be of any use, to ourselves or our people: we would only stay to witness, before our very eyes, men struck down, women raped, churches going up in flame; and we would be tortured to death for wealth we do not possess.” [Brown, 424]
Augustine was too faithful a pastor for that and he remained at his post, though now an old man and able to do only a little. The danger was real enough. The Vandals had already tortured to death two bishops outside their captured towns.
Hippo was a fortified town and people driven from their homes and towns elsewhere in the provinces came streaming into it, much as the Israelites would have done in the face of the Assyrian devastation of Judea. One of those who fled to Hippo was Augustine’s friend and biographer, Possidius:
“So we were all thrown together, with the terrifying judgments of God before our very eyes: we could only think of them and say: ‘Thou art just, O God; and Thy judgment is righteous.'” [Brown, 425]
In the winter of 429-430 Hippo was surrounded and the siege begun. It would last fourteen months, though Augustine would not live to see the city fall and his churches burned. He died on August 28 of that same year, 430. But during those last months of his life, the situation was so like Micah’s.
He would appear in church, not often to preach, and see packed there the demoralized remnants of a once-splendid society. Rich men who had lived in opulence now rubbed shoulders with the poor who had envied them. The wealth that the rich had had and that the poor never had was now in the hands of the Vandals.
Augustine, like Micah before him, had been a man of justice. And, unlike the magistrates and priests of Micah’s day, he was particularly committed to the welfare of the poor. He had some of the church’s chalices and other gold objects melted down to provide the gold with which to redeem captives. He refused legacies to the church that he felt represented an injustice to the natural heirs. He once commended another bishop for having given back, unasked, property which a man had given to the church, when the man’s wife unexpectedly bore him children. He had precisely that spirit that Micah had so bitterly condemned the absence of in his own countrymen.
Micah in 701 B.C. was not likely as old as Augustine was in A.D. 430; nearly 76. But when Augustine fell ill in August of that year and realized that he was soon to die, he did what Micah did, as we read in v. 7: he watched in hope for the Lord, and waited for God his Savior.
He had the penitential psalms written on the wall above his bed. Ten days before he died he asked that no one be allowed to visit him except at the times the doctor was there or he was being brought his meals, so that he could devote himself to prayer. And so he left this world, a faithful prophet like Micah before him, surveying the catastrophe that had overcome the people of God in the age of Pelagius!
And there are many other illustrations that could be given of similar times and circumstances and the similar response of faithful men and women: “As for me, I watch in hope for the Lord.”
Two things, then, for our consideration this evening.
The first: the characteristically terminal or final result of man’s rebellion against God, and especially the rebellion of a society of professing believers in God: viz. the catastrophic disintegration of society.
That is the point that Micah sees having been reached in vv. 5-6. It was putting the most important and precious relationships under intense strain and they would snap. And when the Babylonians came against Jerusalem a century later it was complete disintegration: mothers and fathers actually eating their children, a gruesome condition that had been prepared for by the introduction of child sacrifice during the days of King Manasseh.
People were the same then as now. They would never have believed that they would do any such thing before child sacrifice became legal and accepted and they surely never thought they would eat their children to save their own lives. But the degenerative power of sin is such, the degenerative power of self-love is such, that what was once unthinkable, can seem, before very long, sensible.
Vice is a monster of so frightful a mien,
That to be trusted needs but to be seen.
Yet, seen to oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
Augustine saw the same moral disintegration in his day, among people who would have sworn not so long before that they would never have done what they did. And the same thing is now happening among us in the West at the end of the 20th century.
I came across this from Richard John Neuhaus in the most recent number of First Things (Jan. 1999), 83-84.
“When it was mentioned that Senator Daniel ‘Pat’ Moynihan said that partial-birth abortion is ‘too close to infanticide,’ the lady on the talk show was obviously impatient. Her brisk response was: ‘All that does is impose yet another moral judgment.’ I can only suppose she had in mind the Senator’s assumption that there is something wrong with infanticide.”
And then he quotes the following as a letter that might well be written before too long.
“Dear Mom, Gosh, can you believe it’s 2023 already? I’m still writing ’22’ on nearly everything. Seems like just yesterday I was sitting in first grade celebrating the century change. I know we haven’t really chatted since Christmas. Sorry. Anyway, I have some difficult news and I really didn’t want to call and talk face-to-face. Ted’s had a promotion and I should be up for a hefty raise this year if I keep putting in those crazy hours. You know how I work at it. Yes, we’re still struggling with the bills. Timmy’s been ‘okay’ at kindergarten although he complains about going. But then, he wasn’t happy about day care either, so what can I do? He’s been a real problem, Mom. He’s a good kid, but quite honestly, he’s an unfair burden at this time in our lives. Ted and I have talked this through and through and finally made a choice. Plenty of other families have made it and are much better off. Our pastor is supportive and says hard decisions are necessary. The family is a ‘system’ and the demands of one member shouldn’t be allowed to ruin the whole. He told us to be prayerful, consider all the factors, and do what is right to make the family work. He says that even though he probably wouldn’t do it himself, the decision is really ours. He was kind enough to refer us to a children’s clinic near here, so at least that part’s easy. I’m not an uncaring mother. I do feel sorry for the little guy. I think he overheard Ted and me talking about ‘it’ the other night. I turned around and saw him standing at the bottom step in his PJ’s with the little bear you gave him under his arm and his eyes sort of welling up. Mom, the way he looked at me just about broke my heart. But I honestly believe this is better for Timmy, too. It’s not fair to force him to live in a family that can’t give him the time and attention he deserves. And please don’t give me the kind of grief Grandma gave you over your abortions. It is the same thing, you know. We’ve told him he’s just going in for a vaccination. Anyway, they say it is painless. I guess it’s just as well you haven’t seen that much of him. Love to Dad…Jane.”
Now, I can guarantee you that there would be many in our society who would be livid at the suggestion that steps so far taken — such as abortion on demand — would ever lead to such a thing. But, frankly, they are not to be believed and their protests are not to be taken seriously. They are the same people who said that abortion would be rare when they argued for it in the first place; the same people who scorned the idea that abortion would lead to euthanasia. They are like the people who, had you asked them, in the 1920s or early 30s would have scoffed at the idea of the systematic murder of German Jews, or earlier who scoffed at the claim that the Communist revolution would lead to unparalleled violence against Russia and China’s own people. And they are just like the folk in Micah’s day who would have sneered in utter disbelief at the claim that their pursuit of self and pleasure in defiance of the law of God and the sanctity of the lives of other human beings would lead finally to what it inexorably did lead to: child sacrifice, social disintegration, and, finally, cannibalism itself.
But such is the degenerative power of personal and social evil and such has it always been. (One among many good reasons for rejecting out of hand the argument that personal behavior does not affect public behavior.)
No one, of course, can say when such evil in a society will crystallize and bring the society suddenly down. No one can tell how rapidly the moral termites are eating away the pillars upon which social order stands and how soon the house may suddenly collapse. But that such a process is underway and that it will have such consequences, no one who reads the Bible or human history should doubt!
Now, take care. Micah is not saying that in every unbelieving home, in every home that participated in this rebellion against God’s covenant, even in every wealthy home that had amassed riches at the expense of others, there would be this disintegration of love and commitment. Surely there were unbelievers who never did or would have eaten their children or sacrificed them in the fire. But, the moral disintegration was revealed by the extent of such unheard of things in the society, the culture as a whole. Every single individual does not have to be a drunk for the society to reel from drunkenness. Every individual does not have to seek his own welfare at the expense of the life of another, for a society to crumble under the weight of its mad dash for self-protection and self-fulfillment. Societies — Christian and otherwise — are organisms, and it only takes so much poison to kill the entire body.
The second thing for our consideration in this text is what is taught here to be the appropriate response to such a moral and spiritual catastrophe, viz. waiting for and upon the Lord.
This is not what many of us might have expected, given what we have been taught and what we have heard argued in our own day by Christian thinkers, preachers, and writers. We hear nothing about the importance of Christians reclaiming the culture, nothing about the power of Christian truth to transform the culture; we even hear nothing about the gospel being able to meet the needs of these people whose rebellion really is a demonstration of their desperate quest for fulfillment in the wrong places.
Now, hear me. I believe all of those things to be true and such things to be a valid summons in many circumstances and still, in certain ways, in our own circumstances. But it is important that we hear the Word of God that is speaking to us in this passage, and, to be honest, in a great many other such passages in the prophets.
After the destruction Micah promised had come, we read in Lamentations 3:26:
“It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
In a time of great distress, when come to the end of himself, David says (Psalm 38:15):
“I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God.”
And in another place (Psalm 37:7):
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”
And there are many texts like that. There are two Hebrew terms, both of which mean basically the same thing and they are scattered liberally through the Psalms and the Prophets. And from their use we may conclude several things:
1. There are times when the judgments of the Lord are irreversible. The Lord told Jeremiah not to pray for Judah’s deliverance because he had no intention of hearing that prayer. John says that he does not expect us to pray for the apostate. And Micah has already said that the judgment is coming, it is just a matter of time. It will not be held back. It is no part of the Christian’s duty in such circumstances to agitate against God’s decision, but humbly to submit and wait upon the Lord’s outcome. It is not ours to worry or fret, nor to take matters in our own hand by doing what the Lord forbids, as if that is more likely to accomplish his will, but simply to wait upon the moving of God.
2. It may be that we cannot know that the point of no return has been passed. But, even then, a proper spiritual posture for the believer is always looking to God to redress the wickedness, and, in the meantime serving him faithfully. That is what Micah did. His waiting is not inaction. Indeed, “waiting” of the Scriptural type is, as one commentator put it, “the most powerful form of action by the helpless.” (Waltke citing Mays TOTC ad loc). “Waiting on the Lord” didn’t keep Micah from preaching, or from seeking to influence individuals day by day. It is like the waiting of the old maternity waiting room, where the father paced back and forth, constantly looking at the door through which the doctor will eventually come to tell him that he has a son or daughter and that his wife is safe and sound. But, still, his primary response to the crisis of the hour was to wait upon the Lord, to await the decision and the action of his Heavenly Father.
3. The solution to all problems and, especially, to the problems created by systemic unbelief and disobedience, particularly in the church, for that is where Christians suffer most from it, is always and everywhere, no matter what the circumstances, what God will do and bring, not what we will achieve or accomplish. So, no matter what our hands find to do, no matter what faithfulness may require of us individually each day in a time of great evil, what we are really about is waiting for the Lord to show himself, to take action.
This is not much a part of faithful living as it is taught in the church today. We are people of action in the American church and constitutionally optimistic. But there is a great deal of biblical and church historical example to teach us that in any genuinely faithful life there will be a lot of waiting upon God for what we cannot effect ourselves, even, perhaps especially, waiting upon God to vindicate his Word in a corrupt culture and church.
I do not say that we should cease and desist from protesting the practice of abortion in our land or witnessing against it. We should definitely continue to raise that witness. But it seems clear that the political, cultural battle is lost and any substantial change awaits the action of God. He must judge between us and our enemies on this point and many others. Waiting means that we do not shoot abortionists, which God forbids, nor wring our hands as if the world has gone out of control. Rather we lift our hearts and voices to God and wait for him to render his judgments, in the confidence, Micah’s confidence, that the Lord will hear and answer in due time. He always has, always will! Remember Isaiah at the end of the immortal fortieth chapter: “they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.” Waiting upon God frees you to go on with life — the running parts and the walking parts — without the weight or the burden of a past or present that is deeply wrong and that you can do nothing about. God will take care of it in his time; wait for him.
It may be — it is surely likely, given the degenerative effect of evil — that for some long time to come great prosperity and unbroken success will attend the efforts of wicked men and women and we will see far worse things in this culture than we have yet witnessed.
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes…. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:7,9)
And there are more places and times than just these that we have been talking about and Micah was talking about where resignation and waiting are a primary part of the life of faith in Christ. There are those disappointments in life, those things in your past that you cannot change and cannot seem to get entirely past — your sins and the sins of others — great sorrows and losses, and there is nothing for it but to hold your peace before God and leave it to him. It is what a sinner, and a creature does who believes in a sovereign God who is also perfectly wise and just and gracious. He waits, she waits, in hope! What we have here in Micah is a principle, applied in one specific case, that can be applied always and everywhere in the believer’s life. There is that we must always be waiting for in our lives and thus, as Christians, waiting for the Lord for.
Like Micah and like Jeremiah you look out over your life, over the lives of others you know and love and grieve that things are as they are. But, with the practiced judgment of a biblically informed mind, you realize that the Lord has spoken, he has done this. There is no going back. What the future may bring you cannot say, when there may be some new thing, you do not know, when evil will be judged and righteousness vindicated, you have no idea. But what else should you do, what else can you do but wait upon the Lord your Savior?
At a particularly difficult time in his life — when times were hard and perplexing and nothing at all seemed to be happening to the good — Thomas Boston proposed seven rules for himself, seven ways by which to carry himself during such a time. I end with these. They are what Micah did after all!
1. Live near God so that my heart should not have wherewith to reproach me.
2. Beware of anxious thoughts about my circumstances. Lay them before the Lord and leave them on him, however blindly.
3. Believe the promise that all things should work together for my good.
4. Remember, man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
5. Use means with dependence upon the Lord for success.
6. Be diligent in the work of my station (“ply my studies more closely; and for this end, beware of sleeping too much”!).
7. Do not think that because God does not presently answer, therefore he will not answer at all, but wait upon him. [Memoir, 65]
SOUND AND SOLID AND HOLY AND WONDERFULLY PRACTICAL AND USEFUL ADVICE.</p