The true believer will sometimes feel that he stands alone and I’m not thinking about the isolation that has been imposed upon us during the current lock down restrictions. It can be tedious and wearing not being able to see friends and family members as much as we might like and I’m conscious that that is a greater problem for those who live alone than for those of us who share our homes with others. The true believer can be isolated and feel terribly alone because of his faith and what he believes. How are we to handle such isolation and that sense of being totally alone?
Micah had been faithfully ministering in difficult and trying circumstances. The nation to which he brought God’s word was a nation that didn’t want to hear it, let alone pay attention to it. The nation had rejected God’s way, the way of covenant, which they had gladly embraced in the past. They had broken the covenant, offended the Lord, and were marching headlong into disaster.
Micah’s ministry had been to warn of this coming disaster and to call for repentance so that it might not prove necessary. But Micah’s preaching was not generally well received and he felt dreadfully alone.
"Woe is me" he called out.
We might wonder just what it was that prompted Micah to cry out in this way. And what did he mean by the words he immediately added? Let me remind you of what he said:
v.1 "Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires."
"Woe is me - there’s nothing left" The cry speaks of distress and of grief - Micah was affected by the prospect of the coming judgment and his sorrow was compounded by the fact that no-one else seemed to be concerned at all. When he spoke about finding no fruit he was not concerned about satisfying his hunger for food, he was concerned about people – godly, upright people – and the problem was he couldn’t find any at all!
The country was on the way to rack and ruin and the inhabitants were Nero-like: they amused themselves relentlessly pursuing what they thought would serve them best; they fiddled and it was not Rome but Jerusalem that would soon burn.
And how alone Micah felt – "woe is me!" He wasn’t the first to feel this way and nor would he be the last – you too might at times be tempted to think that there is hardly anyone left, that you are on your own, and that the lights were about to be turned off for good.
Years earlier Elijah had felt just like that. If Micah had just accused his hearers of following example of King Ahab in his selfish self-promotion and godless behaviour at the end of the previous chapter – Elijah had actually exercised his ministry while Ahab sat on the throne and it was tough. The time came when Elijah felt himself to be so terribly alone that he wanted to die – it was the best option he could envisage to get out of a dreadful situation. Do you remember how he complained to God that he was the only person of faith left. 1Kings 19:9-11 "and I, even I only, am left..." Of course we know that Elijah was mistaken but it didn’t stop him feeling totally isolated.
Micah felt alone, terribly alone. What could be done? What should he do? As far as he could tell (v.2) the best people had all been driven away and eliminated so he couldn’t turn to any of them for advice or encouragement and as for those who were left (vv.2b-3) they were only looking out for themselves. And as they did look only to their own interests they didn’t seem to mind how they went about it: violence and treachery were the order of the day as they went about setting traps for one another. The government was no help either for those in positions of responsibility and leadership, who might be expected to set a good example, instead used their position to feather their own nests by insisting on and accepting bribes. Those who could simply pursued their lusts and desires.
Micah was living in a society which was one woven fabric of wrongdoing and exploitation! What a mess it all was! What a condition this society had got itself into! (v.4a) The best citizen that was left was like a thorn bush and the most honest was a dangerous hedge of thorns. You wouldn’t really want to encounter and rub shoulders with such people!
And it was time for judgment to fall on this society:
v.4b "The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand."
Punishment was at hand and the people hadn’t a clue what to do about it or to whom they might turn.
Patterns in History
We see such patterns repeating themselves throughout history with the rise and fall of empires and dynasties. An empire might last a long time, it might look impregnable, but when corruption spreads too far it crumbles only to be replaced by another.
The British Empire in the 19th and early 20th century has been described, as you probably know, as being an empire on which the sun never sets. But you probably didn’t know that something very similar was said of the Persian empire under Xerxes way back in the 5th century BC. And then the description was applied to the Habsburg Empire under Charles V in the 16th century before being used of the Spanish empire later in that same century. But where are those empires now? They have all long since gone. Britain’s Empire has gone and its influence continues to diminish in the world.
(While I was thinking about this during the week I asked myself whether the way in which sin is not merely tolerated but actively promoted in Britain is playing a role in that decline. We have been hearing a lot about the death rate due to the covid virus and the number of people who have died with the virus has now topped 40,000. Day after day we are given the updated figures. And each death means pain for someone left behind. But in 2018, the latest year for which statistics have been published, the number of abortion deaths topped 200,000 and we heard very little about it. 200,000 innocent fragile lives lost, murdered. In the vast majority of these cases an abortion was carried out for convenience sake, to satisfy personal preference, and not for any genuine medical reasons.)
Let’s get back to Micah. The nation he addressed was facing a major catastrophe; it was about to suffer divine punishment for its sins and that punishment would be inflicted by the God of love, the Holy God of Holy love, and the people did not know what to do. So Micah, the mouthpiece of this holy, loving God, gave more instruction and more explanation before telling them what he was going to do, and in telling them that what an example he gave them to follow!
Mic.7:5-6 "Put no trust in a neighbour; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house."
In our sound-bite world Micah’s message seems a little long – the media might prefer a catchier mantra, something like:
Trust No One – Speak With Care – Relations Our Enemies
Firstly, Micah told them not to put any trust in their neighbours nor even in their friends – and these were just the kind of people you would naturally turn to expecting to be able to trust them.
Secondly, he told them to be careful about what they said to their wife, their nearest and dearest, for she could so easily betray them and tell others what had been said. This is perhaps an early version of the slogan "careless talk costs lives".
There is progression in what Micah had to say: he began with neighbours moved on to friends and then about a best friend. There really is no-one to whom you can turn with confidence and trust for they’ll all let you down.
Then, thirdly, he added that normal family relationships had so broken down that a man’s enemies were now to be found not among strangers but from within his very own family. This perhaps no longer shocks us as it ought, after all we have grown so used to hearing about family breakdown – it is another mark of just where our own society has got to today.
How awful the situation had become, how tragic!
If you thinking that these verses have something of a familiar ring to them, it could be because Jesus quoted it as he taught his disciples about the type of persecution they would experience as they followed him and his teaching. After all, the Master himself experienced just this sort of thing:
His siblings, the members of his own family, didn’t believe in him,
A close friend betrayed him
And a closer friend denied him
And all his friends abandoned him
If the Master was on the receiving end of such treatment his followers shouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happened to them. Following Jesus can be a costly business – those who once were nearest and dearest to you may turn right against you if you start to follow Jesus seriously.
But if you can’t trust your nearest and dearest to back you, to bail you out, who or what can you trust?
To answer that that question Micah moves from advice to example and in so doing he shows us the way to go.
v.7 "But as for me…"
The first thing for us to notice is that Micah is about to do something different, he’s not going to follow the crowd, he is not going to go with the flow.
When I was a student in Aberystwyth many years ago I had an old Christian friend who used to pass on to me sayings that were told to him when he was a young man. This is one of the things that he said to me:
"Any dead fish can go downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream."
Make no mistake Micah was confronted by a serious situation that had already caused him to cry out in pain with his "woe is me" but if he began with lament he doesn’t end there! Instead he moved on to confess his faith in God in the very midst of the crisis.
Micah was going to be able to do what he said he would because he was alive, spiritually alive. You will only ever be able to follow his example of going against the flow, if you have a life, spiritual life.
And it was because Micah was spiritually alive that he could confidently do the two things he was about to mention.
v.7 "But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me."
Micah was emphatic, whatever anyone else might think, say or do, he was going to look to the Lord and he was going to wait for the God of his salvation. This is the language of faith. The first thing to understand is that Micah’s looking to the Lord was not a casual looking; he was looking with eagerness and expectation. And the second is that his waiting was a patient expression of his own personal inability to bring about progress in this situation, while at the same time it was also an affirmation of God’s ability both to hear and to help.
To look and wait for the Lord means that one is both desperate and expectant; it means both to believe that only the Lord can help and that he will do so.
Let me ask you a question that I’ve had to ask myself as I prepared during the week: What do you know of being confidently desperate in God’s presence? How aware are you of your great needs? How sure are you that God is able and willing to help you?
Micah was a believer and he had a personal relationship with his God – did you notice his use of the personal pronoun? He spoke about "the God of my salvation" and "my" God. Micah knew that he could turn to the Lord, for the covenant Lord of his people was the God of Micah’s salvation. And because he was in relationship with this God Micah was not only confident of being heard he was also confident of receiving a favourable response. The Lord is no distant God but a personal God who will save. He is just the kind of God one needs for living in a hostile environment in a nation rushing headlong into judgment.
Following Micah’s example
What might that look like for us if we were to follow Micah’s example?
We’re not talking about casual glances here. Micah’s look was an eager, expectant look and for us to look eagerly may imply some changes are necessary, and it will almost certainly involve a change or intensification of our focus.
If we do look eagerly to the Lord this will stop us heading off in the wrong direction, and it will also stop us looking in the wrong direction at that the wrong person or thing. Perhaps we’re tempted to leave God out of the equation and how easy it is to gradually allow that to happen. It doesn’t need a definite decision on our part to turn away from him because we can all of us simply drift without taking any decision at all. We’re rather like the wood on the bowling green with its bias that makes it move off a straight line; we’re constantly deviating and regularly need to refocus.
There are blessings associated with looking to the Lord as the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 34:
Ps 34:5 "Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed."
But still you may be asking what does looking to the Lord mean for me practically, what will it look like for me to look to the Lord?
Let me try to give you some pointers.
We’ve already said that Micah was a believing man who came believingly to the God who had saved him and we must begin there. If we would learn what it means to pray in a Biblical manner we must first become Bible Christians – to look to the Lord is not the same as "saying our prayers". I was taught prayers to repeat when I was a kid but the mere repeating of words is not what Micah was setting himself to do and is not what you are to focus upon either.
You must first become a Christian and while the precise details of just how we come to faith might differ we all must enter the kingdom through the door which is Jesus Christ as we come in repentance believing that God is and that he is a rewarder of those that seek him.
Now that you are a Christian you must still come, still looking expectantly to the Lord. You must come without puffing yourself up with pride but humbly remembering that you are a sinner saved by grace and the only safe and sure approach to God is by coming trusting in the merits of another, even our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
As you look expectantly to him make sure that you are thinking about him as he has revealed himself to you by the truths contained in the pages of the Bible.
This will inevitably take some time but as Micah spoke about waiting for the God of his salvation we are already prepared to slow down a bit and to be patient. How often we are simply in too much of a hurry! We live in a world of instant coffee, instant soup and instant mashed potatoes and we expect to have an instant spirituality too but that is not God’s way. We must learn not to pray and look to the Lord as if we were playing that naughty childhood game of ginger knock or knock down ginger. I wonder if you ever did that – you rang the bell of a stranger’s house and then ran to hide leaving the stranger to open the door to an empty doorstep. Perhaps some of us have never grown up for we play the same game with God – we knock and run too soon away.
God is our Creator and our Sustainer. He knows all things, possesses all power and all authority and there is no place where we can go to get away from his presence. He is holy and true. He is a God who amazingly wants to save sinners and he has paid an enormous price in order to do so. He has sent his one and only Son to be the Saviour of undeserving sinners. This Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ left heaven to live a full human life amongst us and then he laid down his life as a perfect sacrifice sufficient to pay the debt of all those who will put their trust in him. He is compassionate and kind yet at the same time uncompromisingly opposed to sin. He has worked miracles and continues to do so as he transforms the lives of those who turn to him regardless of the blackness of their backgrounds.
Looking to the Lord will mean looking to this Lord – thinking of him in these ways and in so many others that are highlighted for us in Scripture.
We will look to him remembering and reminding ourselves that he it is who is the inspirer and hearer of prayer. He has answered the prayers of countless folk before we ever thought about praying and he would have us like them come to him believing that he is ready and willing to hear us too. I don’t mean by this that we are free to ask for ridiculous things – he will never answer our prayers if to do so would involve wrong doing on his part and he will not give us those things that would be bad for us. But we look to him expecting him to hear and to act and we are to do so even we don’t have the slightest idea just what ask for.
God’s people in the OT prayed. And God’s people in the NT prayed. Jesus prayed and he taught his followers to pray both by word and by example. And the church has been praying body ever since it came into existence; and the church has prayed in good times and in bad times.
Now it is our turn. The days in which we live may well be difficult – let us look patiently yet expectantly to the Lord our God to help us. There may well be times when we feel very much alone – let us look patiently and expectantly to the Lord then too. When all around us seems to come crashing down and no-one that we know seems able to come up with a solution let us go on looking patiently and expectantly to the Lord our God.
The greatest victory has already been won at the cross of Calvary and made public three days later with an empty tomb and a risen Saviour. Jesus is right now seated at the right hand of God gradually extending his reign and he will continue to do so until every last enemy is subdued:
1Cor.15:24 "Then comes the end, when he (that is, Christ) delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power."
The more we look to our Great Triune God reflecting upon his character, his deeds, his promises and his purposes, the more intelligently we will pray and the more confidently we will pray.
May the Lord be pleased to use his word to make us all people of prayer, those who have learnt how to look and how to wait expectantly for the God of their salvation.