Reading : Micah 4 :1-5
A Total Transformation
During the last few weeks as we’ve tuned in our radios or turned on our TVs the news that we’ve heard has been pretty bleak. When we first heard about a strange new virus in China to most of us it was simply another piece of foreign news, something that might perhaps be of interest but not really something to worry about.
Then as the days went by that virus spread and was quickly affecting the lives of us all. What had begun as something very remote, something that was unlikely to bother us, quickly came to overshadow our lives. News bulletins daily tells us about infection rates, and mortality rates. Experts warn of the health dangers and experts warn us of the dangers of economic collapse.
The government has issued instructions on how we should conduct ourselves in order to minimise these risks endlessly repeating their mantra:
"Stay at home – protect the NHS – save lives"
The vast majority of our fellow citizens have reacted well and heeded the advice recognising that the dangers are real.
And of course we have heard of some who imagine themselves to be invincible as they flaunt the rules.
I guess that all of us look forward to hearing some good news, an end to those restrictions that keep us isolated, the creation of a vaccine or the announcement a cure.
In Micah’s day the message of judgment that he preached seemed to most who heard him to be a remote message, one that wasn’t really relevant to them. In particular the leaders of the people considered the nation to be in a secure, untouchable position and they had no intention of taking Micah seriously at all.
There were serious consequences that flowed from their response to what Micah had to say, serious because Micah was not putting forward his own ideas and nor was he speaking as an expert commentator but he was speaking as God’s representative whose task it was to declare the Word of the LORD.
In rejecting Micah’s preaching these leaders ensured two things:
that the announced judgments would certainly be experienced
that they would not benefit from the hope that Micah also held out to them
Let’s look at this more closely.
Chapter 4 of the Book of Micah opens with an important phrase – "the latter days" – we’ll come to consider more precisely what is meant by this phrase a little later on but for the moment it will suffice to say that Micah was projecting far beyond the time of his own contemporaries into a more distant future.
Micah had been prophesying that judgment would fall upon the city of Jerusalem and that judgment would, in fact, take place. We saw last week that under the influence of Micah’s preaching King Hezekiah led the nation in an act of repentance. This repentance in turn led to the judgment announced by Micah being delayed. The respite was, however, only temporary. Peace and security might characterise the final years of Hezekiah’s reign but all that was to change when he died and was succeeded by his son Manasseh.
Manasseh was a poor king, not the kind you would want in high office. In the Book of 2Kings we read a sad description of his reign:
2Kings 21:2 "he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD,"
The kind of things that Manasseh did was to imitate the practices of the nations that had lived in the Promised Land before Israel took possession of it; he reinstated their idolatry and instituted false worship even going so far as to make a burnt offering of one of his own sons! On top of all that he also made use of fortune-tellers, mediums and wizards in short, in the words of:
2Kings 21:6 "He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger."
Nor was Manasseh’s sin purely personal, he was a leader who led his subjects into wrongdoing as well:
2Kings 21:16 "Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD."
So we can see that in the years that followed the death of Hezekiah the spiritual condition of the people steadily deteriorated. Yes, the people did enjoy a little more respite when Josiah, Hezekiah’s grandson, carried out some important reforms but even these reforms would not succeed in averting forever the threatened judgment:
2Kings 23:26-27 "Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the LORD said, "I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there."
100 years or so after Micah ministered the judgment finally fell. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, captured the city and destroyed it:
2Kings 25:9 "he burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down."
Micah’s warnings concerning judgment proved to be true, what he prophesied came to pass. Now as we turn into ch.4 we find Micah proclaiming a very different message. In ch.4 judgment is replaced with a message of tremendous hope. Indeed the contrast between the end of ch.3 and the beginning of ch.4 is so stark that some have found it impossible to believe that the messages were preached by the same man! Since what Micah said about judgment proved to be true we have excellent reasons for trusting his hopeful message concerning the future.
But let me repeat what I’ve already said earlier. Those who rejected his message of judgment refusing to take it seriously would not be beneficiaries of Micah’s proclamation of future hope. It is important to realise this and to apply the principle to ourselves. We cannot expect to benefit from the sure blessings of the gospel if we persist in rejecting God’s analysis of our own sinful condition. Our sin, just as much as the sin of those leaders in Micah’s day, calls for judgment however much we might like to pretend otherwise.
The Great Turn-Around
As Micah moves on into ch.4 of his prophecy he lifts his gaze beyond the near future with the yet-to-be-experienced destruction of Jerusalem and the other judgments he has been speaking about to look far further forward in time. He uses a phrase which is translated in the following ways in our Bibles:
"in the latter days" ESV, NKJV
"in the last days" AV, NIV
"in days to come" GNB
"when all is said and done" MSG
A more literal rendering of the Hebrew might give us "at the end of the days".
Our first question then is to ask: What period is Micah referring to? As Christians, with a far greater familiarity with the NT than with the OT, when we come to this text we may well be tempted to assume that Micah is speaking exclusively about the events that are bound up with the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of history as we know it. But is that really the case? To understand the words "the last days" we must understand "which days" are in the thoughts of the speaker.
While politically or economically there are many beginnings and many endings as nations and empires rise and fall to be replaced by others. Religiously (or biblically), there are but two. Since man fell into sin the whole of history can be divided into just two halves:
the period looking forward to Christ’s coming in humility – his advent or first coming
the period looking forward to His coming in glory – his return or second coming
These are the two events on which man’s history turns.
To people of the OT era the whole period of Christ’s kingdom lay in the future – it was a future in which would be manifested the fullness of all their own shadows, types, sacrifices, services, prophecies, longing, being. For these OT people the "end of their days" was the beginning of the new Day of Christ. When that day came the dispensation which prepared for it was necessarily brought to a close. So when the prophets use the words, "the end of the days," they always mean the times of the Gospel - the last days began with the fulfilment of Christ’s earthly mission and continue throughout the gospel era – we are living in these last days right now as has every person since the time of Jesus. (This "gospel dispensation" itself has its own last days, which shall close God’s kingdom of grace and shall issue in the Second Coming of Christ.)
In the opening verses of ch.4 Micah turns his attention from judgment to describe the lasting conditions that will characterise the Lord’s future reign. These conditions begin, grow and then attain their final consummation in the gospel era and what a transformation is ushered in with the coming of the gospel!
v.1 "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it,"
As Micah outlines the blessings to be enjoyed in the future he does so in such a way as to highlight the contrast with what has gone before.
The ruined temple mount of 3:12 will be re-visited and given a lasting stability
The despised hill will be established as the most important of all the mountains there are
That old abandoned place will be made supremely attractive and given such a spiritual magnetism that people will flow to it – but flow to it like a stream flowing up a hill!!
As Micah continues he tells us yet more and his content is extraordinary.
v.2a "and many nations shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."
He tells us who these people are who come flooding in and he explains just why they are coming.
These are the nations – Micah is speaking about Gentiles here not Jews – these Gentiles who are described in the NT as having been outsiders or strangers when it came to God’s promises, they were people who lived without hope and without God in the world (Eph.2:12). Through much of the OT "the nations" were seen to be the enemies of God’s people but now Micah sees them as flowing in to benefit from God’s work of salvation.
And the nations come with a determined commitment to learn from the LORD. They come not to share their views or to add their religious practices but recognising the God to whom they are coming and longing to be taught how to live they way he wants them to.
What is Micah talking about when he writes like this?
He is talking about conversion, the conversion of the nations! But what is the cause of such a conversion? That Micah goes on to explain too in the second half of v.2
v.2b "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem."
The nations are converted because God’s word has gone out into the world and it has gone out from Jerusalem! Micah insists that there is only one way of salvation and it is the way that is revealed by the Lord. Salvation is not something that men and women negotiate with God or something which they work themselves up to rather it is something that is received from God as the truth is widely proclaimed.
The fulfilment of this promise has already begun to take place. During the ministry of our Lord Jesus there are already pointers to this as Greeks come sought him out (Jn.12:20). At the end of his stay on earth Jesus issued instructions to his followers and thus gave them what we know as the Great Commission, you’ll remember his words that are recorded in Matthew’s Gospel:
Mt.28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."
But it was not until a little later that mission to the Gentiles really took off as we read about it in the Acts of the Apostles (esp.chs.11+12) and following. This work of mission to the nations has continued down through the centuries and is continuing still today as the word of the Lord continues to go out to the nations. And we see something of the extent of this work in the number of different ethnic groups that now have access to the Bible translated into their own mother tongue. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators:
The full Bible is now available in 698 different languages, giving 5.6 billion people access to Scripture in the language they understand best. The New Testament is available in another 1,548 languages, reaching another 786 million people. Selections and stories are available in a further 1,138 other languages, spoken by 470 million people.
There is still work to be done but the nations are hearing the Gospel message!
What wonderfully good news this is! Micah’s message is full of hope and promise. Conversion that is real and deep and profound in its effects will take place, Micah proclaimed, and it is still being accomplished today!!
But Micah had yet more to say:
v.3 "He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore;"
Not only is God’s word going to go out into the entire world God himself will be active. And the activity he will be involved in will that that of putting things right, that is what is meant when it is said he will judge the world with righteousness.
Micah is asserting the complete overarching sovereignty of God because, in case you missed it, he determines things even for the strong nations of the world, the superpowers. And this divine activity has positive repercussions: world peace will be brought about on the earth not by the efforts of anti-war crusaders, of international agencies or of national governments. No, such peace is the direct fruit of divine intervention as the Lord imposes his rule on the nations. And we can look forward to life on a renewed earth where such peace will be universal – this will mark the consummation of the glorious work of Jesus Christ in securing a redemption that, while it includes our individual salvation, goes way beyond that to be cosmic in its scope!
Micah goes on to describe in v.4 the peace that the Lord intends to secure and who will be the beneficiaries of it:
v.4 "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken."
In context the people Micah refers to here are none other than those converted Gentile nations that have come flooding into God’s kingdom. This does not mean that believing Jews will be somehow be excluded it simply means that Micah is focusing his sights on the formerly despised Gentiles. The picture is of comfort, security, rest and rewarding – it is the picture of the blessings that depend upon the Lord himself for he has spoken!
This is certainly something that you don’t want to miss out on! But take note this is not going to be the experience of everyone without exception, Micah is speaking about the converted; he is speaking about the believer, the one who has recognised his sin, turned from it and gone to the Lord for forgiveness and for a new life with its new lifestyle and orientation.
I must press the question on you: are you a converted person? Are there signs similar to those of these Gentile nations that are evident in your life? Do you look seriously to the Lord alone for your salvation and are you keen to be taught by him so that you might live your life in a way that pleases him?
What will happen while we wait?
While Micah was confident about the truths he had to proclaim he was not naive enough to expect everyone to agree with him:
v.5 "For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever."
Micah knew that his preaching would produce an effect – the word of God always does! Do you know what Isaiah said about this? This is what God said through him in Isaiah 55:11
Isa 55:11 "my word... that goes out from my mouth... shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
But by no means everyone believes that and plenty carry on regardless persisting in their own chosen paths. Some in our society follow other religious faiths, many more follow nothing in particular. We live at a time when many of those living round and about no longer even pay lip-service and gone on the days when Christians and their values were held in high esteem even by those who expressed no personal faith commitment at all.
But, you know, this rejection of our message shouldn’t surprise us, Micah told us it would happen and we’re not the first generation to live in a day when "everyone does what is right in his own eyes". Not only should stubborn unbelief not surprise us, even if do fail to understand why others don’t find the gospel as wonderful as we do, we should rather rise to the challenge with a determined resolution to live faithful lives or, as Micah put it, to "walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever."
What this means is an active ongoing, persevering commitment to live the life of a disciple. Is that what you are seeking to do today? The question Micah leaves us with this morning is not whether we believe our Bibles and the gospel truths it contains, he doesn’t ask us either whether we took a decision and made a stand at some time in the past, no, what he does ask us is whether we are walking as disciples right now.
I hope we are. But it is possible that you’re not. But you must.
You can only walk in the name of the Lord if you are first converted. Listen to these words of our Lord Jesus:
"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Mt.18:3
Maybe you are a genuine Christian but you have allowed yourself to be sidetracked and you have slipped away from your first love. If you are still a believer then you are believer who is limping along rather than walking. You are perhaps a backslider pure and simple. Well you don’t need to go on like that, indeed you mustn’t go on like that.
Acts 3:19-20 "Repent therefore, and turn again (be converted), that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,"
Will you settle it with God that whatever others may do that you will walk in the name of the Lord? And will you settle it with him that you will with his help go on and on walking with him forever? The gospel message preached by Micah contains warnings and promises of wonderful hope and the NT adds that it is those who persevere to the end who shall be saved.
And to God alone be the glory.
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