Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Method to the Madness (Micah 1-7)

The book of Micah begins with the classic prophetic judgment on Israel and Judah. God makes his case against them clear: they have not loved him with their whole heart; they have not loved their neighbors as their selves. But Micah has a distinctly different tone from the two other prophets I have read. While Amos and Hosea show us the Lord’s wrath and fury, Micah shows us his grief.

Of course there is plenty of prophetic anger in the book, but the picture is, more than anything, that of a stern parent in the hour of discipline. He is resolute to punish his people for their sins, and so he must deafen his ears to their cries. Yet, the goal is not destruction but purification. His eyes are always towards the goal – that of Israel’s vocation as the instrument of the salvation of the world.

Here, in one of the most memorable passages in all the prophets, we see a vision of what God intends for man:
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,
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.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore;
but 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.
They were meant to be the light for the world, and right now they stumble in darkness. God had shown them what is good – to act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him – but they continually chose the evil. This has been the story from the beginning.

Not entirely though. The prophet remembers the great king David, whose faithfulness brought Israel closer than ever to that central vision. Now he points forward to another David, who will complete this task:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.
At this moment his decision is to send them into exile. This suffering, however, is that of the birth pains of a woman; it is for a purpose. The Lord is not rejecting them utterly. Though their intentions of their hearts are evil from their youth, he will never again set out to destroy them.

In the concluding chapters, Micah offers up a model prayer which both acknowledges the sin of Israel and the fact that God intends to glorify them in the end:
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.

He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
The pattern of redemption continues to unfold. Through exile will come restoration. Through punishment will come purification. Through death will come resurrection.

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