Commitment: A Path to Effectiveness
Explore the Bible Series
May 31, 2009
Background Passage: Micah 7:1-20
Lesson Passage: Micah 7:1-7; 18-20
The last chapter of the Book of Micah provides fascinating insight into the spiritual and psychological life of the prophet. Two dynamic, powerful impulses characterize the man’s internal life, two impulses, I think, that illustrate the psychology of many of God’s servants. On the one hand Micah expressed a sense of despair as he observed the spiritual torpor of his society. He felt alone and poverty stricken, like a man who gleans in an utterly barren field (See vv. 1-6). Perhaps the prophet even bordered on a bit of self-pity; that is, he felt that he alone feared the Lord. Surely this was not the case because men like Isaiah also decried the dismal religious conditions of Judah and Israel, just as Micah did. Nevertheless, the prophet felt desolate and alone.
On the other hand, Micah took joyous consolation in the Lord’s grace. He anticipated a time when Jehovah would subdue and disgrace Judah’s enemies and would show great mercy to his people (See vv. 7-20, with special attention to vv. 18-20). Indeed, Micah 7:18-20 record one of the great “grace” passages in the Old Testament.
An Eighteenth-Century Presbyterian, Samuel Davies, worked tirelessly to bring the gospel of grace to the lost, Black and White alike, in pre-Revolutionary Virginia. In addition to his preaching labors, Davies wrote many hymns, and one of these wonderful songs captures the splendor of these final words of the Prophecy of Micah.
Great God of wonders, all thy ways are matchless, God-like and divine;
But the fair glories of thy grace, more God-like and unrivaled shine.
More God-like and unrivaled shine.
Who is pardoning God like thee? And who has grace so rich and free?
And who has grace so rich and free?
Not only do we conclude our survey of the Prophecy of Micah, but we continue our consideration of the final oracle of this wonderful book, Chapters Six and Seven. It is important to remember the organizational structure of this book, a structure that divides the work into three oracles. Micah began each section with an assurance to his hearers (readers) that his message came from the Lord. As we conclude our study, I hope this little outline reflects the wonder and comfort that arises from a thoughtful, prayerful reflection on the mercies of the Lord. Micah’s day was not unlike ours, and, like our ancient brother, we may feel alone and discouraged. Not only, of course, do we struggle with the general ungodliness of our culture, but, in addition, any sincere believer also wrestles with his own failure to follow the Lord. Where can we find hope in dismal times? Like Micah, we must cast ourselves, again and again, on the boundless mercies of Jehovah.
Personal note: I appreciate the efforts of the LifeWay writers to develop Sunday School materials that fit the needs of a broad range of church settings. These folks have a difficult task, and I value the work they do to help churches. For that reason, I very seldom express differences of opinion I have with the lesson materials. In this case, I have a little concern about the title of the lesson, “Commitment: A Path to Effectiveness”. This emphasis seems to miss the central message of the text.
I understand the writer’s educational impulse, the tendency to cast the lessons in actionable phrases. The materials aim to inspire practical obedience to the injunctions of the Bible, and I applaud these pragmatic emphases. However, sometimes this tendency cuts against the grain of the lesson passage, and I think it does so in our present study. The thrust of this chapter does not, in my judgment, center on Christian commitment; rather, it focuses the reader’s attention on the mercies of God. In the final analysis, Micah’s hope did not rest in his own commitment of the things of God. The foundation of the prophet’s confidence, rather, rested on the gracious character of God. This, it seems, is not an incidental, frivolous concern. Like Micah, our hope must abide in the grace of the Lord.
I. A Final Lament (vv. 1-6): This final dirge reflects the internal despair of the prophet. He rendered a fascinating insight into the workings of his own heart as he pondered the unfortunate spiritual conditions of Israel and Judah.
A. The analogy of a gleaner (v. 1): Readers will be familiar with the ancient practice of gleaning. The Mosaic Law provided for landowners to leave some of their crops in the fields, vineyards, and orchards (See Leviticus 19:9-10; 23; 22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Ruth 2:1-23). Micah envisioned himself as a poor man who found no recourse among the people of Judah. The rich landowners had stripped the fields bare and, in their wake, had left nothing for the poor. This desolation symbolized the spiritual poverty of God’s people.
B. The final account of the peoples’ sins
1. “the godly have perished from the earth” (v. 2a): Micah felt alone in his concern for the things of the Lord.
2. “they lie in wait for blood and each hunts the other with a net” (v. 2b): Reminiscent of the First Oracle, Micah recalled the oppressive culture in which he lived.
3. “their hands are on what is evil, to do it well” (v. 3a): The oppressive elites excelled at their violent schemes.
4. “the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together” (v. 3b): The evil plots of the elites arise from the recesses of the heart, and they plait their schemes like a weaver at her loom.
5. “the best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge” (v. 4): The brier conjures images of the Adamic curse (See Genesis 3:17-18).; thus, the elites brought the Lord’s curse on the land.
II. The Prophet’s Confidence in the Lord (vv. 7-20): This final hymn of praise has four stanzas.
A. The reconciliation of Jerusalem (vv. 7-10): After an introductory comment (v. 7), Micah compared Jerusalem to a disgraced woman. She has fallen into shame and darkness, but the Lord will plead her case. He will bring the disgraced woman into the light, and her enemies will be trampled in the muck of the streets (this disgrace will take place publically, for the entire world to see). This section recalls the story of Hosea, a prophet who married a disgraceful woman; yet, as a token of God’s mercy, the prophet reconciled with his rebellious wife.
B. The restoration of Jerusalem (vv. 11-13): God promised to rebuild the city after it had been decimated by the Babylonians. The renewed city would stand as a monument to the Lord’s justice and mercy. This section of the hymn recalls the work of Nehemiah, the faithful servant who labored diligently to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, many years after the life of Micah.
C. The preservation of Jerusalem (vv. 14-17): After the Babylonian Captivity, God promised to shepherd his people. The flock would graze in a land like a great garden, and God would disgrace the former enemies of Judah.
D. A crescendo of praise to God’s mercy (vv. 18-20): Micah asked a rhetorical question, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” Some liberal scholars detect a hint of polytheism in this question, implying that Micah believed that other gods existed, but they could not compare to Jehovah. This seems unlikely given the monotheistic emphasis of Micah and Isaiah (contemporaries). Micah drew several analogies to describe the mercies of the Lord.
1. The analogy of the Passover (v. 18): Exodus Eleven and Twelve record the frightful Tenth Plague on Egypt. The angel of death passed through Egypt, but the mortal plague bypassed the houses protected by lamb’s blood splattered on the doorposts. Because of his great mercy, God promised to spare Jerusalem from the final judgment that would fall upon the nations. The Lord’s grace arises from the content of his own character (he delights in steadfast love), not the inherent righteousness of the people.
2. The analogy of treading iniquities under foot (v. 19a): God promised, through the prophet, to discard the nation’s sins like a man would throw some kind of refuse into the street.
3. The analogy of the sea (v. 19b): The Lord will cast the nation’s iniquities into the sea. For the ancient Jews the ocean was a frightful, mysterious place (generally, the Jews were not a sea-faring people); thus, the burial of their sins in the sea denoted a final removal of Judah’s sin.
4. The analogy of the Abrahamic Covenant (v. 20): Finally, Micah centered his reader’s attention on the promises Jehovah made to the Patriarchs. This covenant love, which Micah described so eloquently, was not a new, innovative thought introduced to redemptive discourse; rather, God’s love for his people traced its origin to the very genesis of the Lord’s relationship with Israel.