Reading : Micah 2 :1-13
One Things Leads to Another
Micah had been speaking against the religious sins of idolatry, of false worship and of placing one’s trust in anyone other than the One True Living God.
I imagine that many of our contemporaries might like to think that these "sins" are really not that important. Isn’t it up to individuals to decide for themselves how they are to organise their own spiritual lives? That would be the way they think about things as they press on regardless with their own ungodly lifestyles.
Micah knew otherwise! He knew that religious sins had consequences and that these consequences were serious:
Firstly, these religious sins offend God and provoke him to wrath. The consequence of this is judgment. We thought about this a couple of weeks ago.
Secondly, religious sins serve all too frequently as the precursor to other sins. You’ll remember that it was Jesus who said:
Mt.22:37-39 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself."
When men and women cease to obey the first and great commandment it is not long before they are breaking the second which is like it.
Having dealt with first commandment sins, Micah now proceeds to deal will sins of the second.
Oppression and Exploitation
In the opening verses of chapter 2 Micah turns his attention to the sins of those who oppress others and what he has particularly in mind is not so much the opportunism of the moment but rather the planned and schemed, systematic exploitation of the weak and vulnerable by those who, quite simply, have the ability to do so.
How easily sin can come to dominate a person’s life when no steps are taken to restrain it! Micah shows us how sin can progress in a person’s life and describes the pattern it establishes there.
It begins in the mind and is fostered during times of inactivity – Micah describes how these oppressors lie awake on the beds plotting and scheming. They had alternatives and so do we:
They could have determined that they would seek the Lord as we considered together last Sunday – do we actively seek the Lord and his presence?
They could have focussed their thinking upon positive and praiseworthy matters. In the NT Paul instructs Christians to do just that:
Phil.4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Are you doing that?
Once these people had fuelled their minds with the wrong kind of thinking it wasn’t long before they took the wrong kind of action. In fact they initiated their plans at the earliest possible moment. When the time comes they do what is wrong because they can – they cast off moral restraint and away they go treading all over the rights and concerns of others.
Does this sound extreme?
But isn’t it what we regularly hear about when we turn on the radio and listen to news? Isn’t this what we see when we look at our TVs?
The days through which we are passing are difficult ones but does that excuse the mob rule in some of our supermarkets as customers have pushed and shoved with their shopping trolleys in order to get quickly to the shelves for the last packet of toilet rolls? And what about those new internet scams that are designed to exploit the fears of the credulous? They promise to provide answers to people’s desire for information on how to deal with coronavirus but in reality all they want to do is steal your bank details and empty your bank accounts.
We’ve seen the self-centredness of those who refuse to change their behaviour flocking to the parks of London, the beaches of Brighton and even to Snowdonia. And we’ve seen the owners of second homes leave their cities to the potential detriment of smaller, local communities. And even on Tuesday the police had to break up an open-air barbecue in Coventry where 20+ folk had gathered together in close proximity and who refused to leave until the police overturned the barbecue!
And would you credit it, a week ago someone even drilled holes in the tyres of six ambulances in Ramsgate!
Now it is easy for us to look on and to condemn the excesses of others and thankfully it is true that so many more people exhibit much more appropriate sentiments – yes, we are grateful for all those thousands of people volunteering to offer help to the NHS - and yet we must learn to see how so much sin begins. It starts in the mind and in the heart. Micah is talking about coveting that is the sin of desiring for yourself what rightfully belongs to someone else. That’s where it begins and when it progresses to action its effects are painfully evident for all to see.
Many of us won’t progress beyond the coveting stage to actively taking those further destructive steps. Perhaps the reason why we don’t is due to a genuine moral decision or perhaps we don’t because we lack the courage or the opportunity to do so. Society will generally approve such "restraint" but we must remember that God looks upon the heart!
What Does the Lord Make of All of This?
Having outlined the sinful behaviour of these powerful oppressors Micah continues with a description of how the Lord views it all and upon what the Lord intends to do about it:
Like religious sin this behaviour too calls for judgment – and it is the Lord who devises this disaster that is about to befall the people v.3
And his judgment will be an unavoidable disaster - one "from which you cannot remove your necks" v.3
It will be a humiliating disaster – there will be no place left for flaunting one’s pride v.3
And the judgment will be an appropriate one where the punishment fits the crime as the exploiters themselves will lose out – "to an apostate he allots our fields" v.4
Finally it will be a scary judgment and we are not meant to imagine otherwise – sin is serious. Using language drawn from the Book of Joshua, where the dividing up of the Promised Land is described, Micah warns his hearers that the sinful oppressors will have no part amongst God’s people – it’s as though in the dividing up of God’s heritage these people’s names won’t even be in the hat!
We mustn’t dismiss all this and say oh well that’s the OT for a similar warning is issued in the NT. The apostle Peter knew that Simon Magus, the Magician, hadn’t understood what God’s grace was all about and said to him:
Acts 8:21 "You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God."
Micah’s message was stark and clear for he was courageous enough to call a spade a spade, sin was sin and had to be called out. No-one could doubt what he was saying. May the preaching in the Christian church today be similar for sin is always a serious matter! And the reason why it matters so much is because of how the Lord assesses it and because of his commitment to dealing with it.
But we need more than just the clarity of understanding; repentance too must also be granted. It would seem that the majority of the religious establishment and large numbers of the Micah’s conteporaries simply did not like Micah’s message and did all they could to reject it.
The false prophets told Micah (and those who preached like him) that they had got their theology all wrong – they would never suffer the disgrace of the judgments about which Micah spoke. How could they? Didn’t Micah know that the Lord was a God of patience and steadfast love? They, the false prophets, would never ever preach such a message of judgment.
They were of course guilty of a selective reading and hearing of God’s word sifting out the bits they liked and rejecting those they didn’t – and this is a course of action that has proved tempting to many since Micah’s day and may be tempting you to a pick’n mix approach to God’s truth – I hope not.
Micah responded again with clarity:
v.7 "Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?"
Yes, God is good, yes, he is patient and full of steadfast love – these are the blessings of the covenant that God established with his people – but they are not to be abused. These promised blessings are linked to covenant responsibilities – don’t expect to enjoy covenant blessings if you refuse to take covenant stipulations seriously! And the behaviour Micah describes in vv.8ff is evidence that the people weren’t taking those covenant responsibilities seriously at all.
Is the Preaching you want the Preaching you need?
God, through Micah, declared that his words do in fact do good. Is it those words that you really want to hear, to understand and respond to?
In our own day we will often encounter people who rail against God because of what they see happening in the world. This is the type of question found on their lips: "How could a God of love do or allow such things?" But too often they won’t stop to listen to the answers that are to be found in the Bible.
Back of their question lurks a desire to be able to go on doing what they want to do, to go on living as they want to live; all they really want is to be approved of. They fail to see, and probably don’t want to see, that God’s love is frequently evidenced in a patience which offers the possibility of repentance. But repentance is not high on their list of priorities. I hope you’re not like that, simply longing for the freedom to keep on going as before without seeing any need of repentance. God’s patience and love are real but they are not to be met with indifference and certainly not as an excuse for justifying our self-serving sinfulness.
Micah doesn’t mince his words – the people did not want to hear what he had to say if it did not fit in with their notions of what was good for them. It wasn’t that the people were averse to all kinds of preaching, oh no, they would welcome the kind of preaching that made them feel good about themselves and which aimed to promote their selfish pleasures but Micah was not sent by God to do that kind of thing.
And in the 21 st century things haven’t changed very much. The liberal movers and shakers in our society are still calling upon the church and God’s messengers to jettison what they consider to be their old-fashioned, out-of-touch and basically unpopular message and catch up with where society is today. But how old fashioned this contemporary thinking is! It was already fully fledged in Micah’s day two and a half millennia ago. If we get surprised at the world’s reaction to the message of the gospel today we really shouldn’t be as men and women have always wanted to hear comforting words rather than be told the truth. Micah had the courage to tell the truth and so must we.
And Yet There Is Hope vv.12-13
After all this talk of judgment and the rebuking of the people who simply do not want to listen to what God has to say to them we might be tempted to give up and to throw in the towel – after all, what is the point of going on if the future is so bleak? But Micah does not want his hearers to draw such a conclusion and he does not end this section of his prophecy on a note of doom and gloom but on one of real hope.
The future as Micah saw it was not full of unremitting bleakness for his contemporaries and it need not be for us in the 21 st century either. And this is the reason: God does not give up on his people! It’s not that his people are somehow better than others and worthy of deliverance it is all down to the fact that their God is worthy and we must praise him for it!
The promises with which Micah ends the section ought to life our spirits while at the same time cause us to reflect in a sober manner on the way in which we live our own lives.
Let’s look at these two aspects.
First our spirits should be lifted when we realise that the Lord promises to assemble his people as a large flock of sheep (v.12). God promises not simply to gather his flock but also to go before it, leading and guiding his people to safety. This type of imagery is one with which the Bible reader will be very familiar – let me remind you of just a few Bible verses that speak in a similar way:
Ps.23:1 "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want."
You’ll remember that in the rest of this psalm David describes in some detail what life is like when the LORD shepherds a person.
Ps.95:7 "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."
Here the psalmist draws great encouragement from the fact of belonging to the Lord’s flock and it is an idea that is repeated in the Psalms:
Ps.100:3 "Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."
This is truth that we must take care not to forget but which we ought to think about and come to delight in.
Ezek.34:31 "And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD."
When we turn the pages and enter the NT we find Jesus using the same sort of language. Looking out on the people who surrounded him Jesus saw them as "sheep without a shepherd" (Mt.9:36), that is they were lost with no-one to protect them, to lead and guide them or to provide for them. Then, of course, we hear Jesus speaking and declaring, still using the same language, that he is himself the good shepherd, the one who can protect, provide and guide because as the good shepherd he lays down his life for his sheep.
Later in the NT further descriptions of Jesus are given in these terms:
The great shepherd
Heb.13:20 "the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,"
"The shepherd and overseer of your souls" 1Pet2:25
1Pet.5:4 "And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."
He will still be a shepherd in glory
Rev.7:17 "For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
And what a wonderful he is and ever will be!
Hope yes! But it comes with a warning
The promise has been made – the Lord will gather, protect and preserve his people. And there will be a good number of them too – a noisy multitude of them – but, and it is an important but, this noisy multitude will not include everyone but just a remnant. Thus the hope of salvation is real but it will only be enjoyed by a limited group of faithful believers within the wider nation.
In the NT Paul explains what this means. Writing to the church in Rome Paul put it like this:
Rom.9:6 -7 "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring,"
What Paul is saying is that it is possible to outwardly be a member to the nation, to outwardly associate with the church, while not belonging in any ultimately significant way at all. Outward adherence with no inner reality is no guarantee of safety, for God does not look on externals but on the heart.
So let me encourage you this morning:
hold fast to the truth, the whole truth of the Bible
don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the siren voices of society that call upon you and the church to change God’s message
don’t be anxious – others have experienced these pressures and temptations before us and God kept them, after all Jesus does not begin a good work in us only to abandon us later
don’t fool yourself that safety is assured to all irrespective of what they believe or do – a full and complete salvation is indeed provided for undeserving sinners but only in Jesus Christ so do make sure you have exercised faith in him and that you are continuing to do so.