God weeps for the wicked.
There is something in us that rejoices when good triumphs over evil, when the wicked are put back in their place. This scenario plays itself out all the time in Hollywood movies, in courtrooms, and in the world. When something is wrong, we want to see it made right. If someone is guilty, we want to see them brought to justice.
Of course, we all have our own ideas of what is right and wrong and what constitutes guilt or innocence. I remember watching the celebrations on the streets of some Middle Eastern countries after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York City. They made me sad—just as sad as the celebrations on the streets of some American cities after a team of Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden.
For me, cheering about a person’s death just seems wrong, no matter how bad they are. Although, I will admit, the line is much more blurred for me when I’m watching a movie or reading a book. Often, when some fictional despicable villain gets his comeuppance, it makes me feel good.
In a sense, it’s understandable. After all, nobody wants to see evil triumph.
But that’ doesn’t mean we have to throw a party to celebrate the demise of the wicked. That’s what stood out to me in this chapter: “‘Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. All her idols will be broken to pieces; all her temple gifts will be burned with fire; I will destroy all her images. . .’ Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl.” (vs 6-8)
Micah prophesied that the end was in sight for the Israelites. He warned that a day of reckoning was coming for them. And you might think this would have been cause for celebration, because the Israelites had become extremely wicked. In so many places in the Old Testament, God lays out His charges against them: they are unjust, greedy, abusive, and violent.
You’d think the end of them would be a good thing. But Micah still says it will cause him great pain and sadness, and I think this is because he knows it will cause God great pain and sadness. And when we are close to God, we rejoice with Him and weep with Him.
God doesn’t rejoice over the demise of the wicked. God weeps for the wicked. He is devastated whenever our wounds are incurable and we can’t be healed. It doesn’t thrill His heart to see us come to destruction, it breaks His heart.
Oh, that our hearts would weep for the wicked as His does.
God's timing is perfect.
There seem to be a lot of chapters like this in the Old Testament: chapters that speak of the dangerous situation Israel is in and how things will get worse if they don’t surrender! Then, invariably, they end with an abrupt promise of deliverance and restoration. That could be puzzling. Is God changing His mind? Getting “soft” on crime? Or is it something else?
I recently read an account given by American evangelist Dwight L. Moody of his visit to a shepherd who lived in the Scottish Highlands. The shepherd explained how his sheep would often get into situations from which they couldn’t extricate themselves.
Sometimes, they would wander off and get stuck between rocks or in crevices. Other times, they would gleefully jump down ten or twelve feet onto a ledge on the side of the mountain to get at the sweet grass that grows there. Once on those lower ledges, they are unable to jump or climb back out.
The shepherd explained that he could hear them bleating in distress, but would not rescue them right away. Instead, he would wait until they were so weak that they couldn’t stand up anymore. Then, he would tie a rope around himself, climb down to where the sheep was, and retrieve it.
When Moody asked why the wait, the shepherd replied, “Ah! Sheep are so very foolish that they would dash right over the precipice and be killed when they saw the shepherd coming.” However, waiting until the sheep had no more strength would ensure its survival—even if it meant enduring hours of distress. I think that’s what God sometimes does with us. He is willing to rescue us at a moment’s notice, but He will only rescue us when we give up trying to save ourselves. Once we are willing (sometimes from exhaustion!) to let Him save us in His own way, then He is able to restore us. Maybe the salvation often comes after long periods of distress because that’s the only way it can come.
So, maybe we shouldn’t get so offended if God lets us simmer in distress. We may think He’s mistreating us, but the truth may be that He’s waiting patiently to save our hide. After all, His timing is perfect. He is never caught off guard by anything we do, and He knows just how to help us—if we will only let Him.
God leaves the verdict to us.
Did you ever hear of the man who refused a Presidential pardon? George Wilson was convicted of murder and grand theft, and he was sentenced to die by hanging. But he had influential friends in Washington who pleaded with President Andrew Jackson to pardon him. Jackson was persuaded to do just that.
But Wilson refused the pardon! This caused an interesting legal conundrum, and the case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court. There, the justices decided that a pardon was a piece of property and that it could not be forced on someone who didn’t want it. Thus, with his full pardon sitting on the sheriff’s desk, George Wilson was hanged.
Unbelievable, isn’t it? Why would someone throw away their salvation?
God must have wondered that a lot as He dealt with the Israelites. They seemed determined to run after evil no matter how much He warned them of the consequences: “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.” (vs 12)
Granted, the problem the Israelites had wasn’t one of imposed punishment (as George Wilson faced), but one of intrinsic punishment. Instead of being like prisoners who wouldn’t accept a pardon, they were more like cancer patients who refused a life-saving treatment. The cure for their spiritual sickness was within their grasp, but they refused to take it.
It’s hard to believe that anyone would refuse the help they need, but God has given us the power to do just that if we want. There is no doubt about where God stands in relation to us. Paul made it clear that God is for us, not against us (Rom 8). All He wants to do is help.
But we have the freedom to either accept or reject that help. Nobody else will make that verdict for us. God gives us that power.
God is a peacenik.
Doesn’t a little world peace sound good right about now? It must have sounded good to Micah, but it is quite disheartening to realize that thousands of years after he wrote these wonderful words, we are seemingly no closer to world peace than were the people in his day.
Of course, Micah did preface this section of his book by saying that this peace would come at some point in the future: “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (vs 1-3)
What I found interesting here was that this world peace wasn’t going to come about in the ways we usually imagine. For instance, one of the ways man tries to achieve peace is through pluralism, the tolerance of a variety of faiths and beliefs. But the peace Micah speaks of is apparently going to come about through judgment, through many people seeking the one, true God (vs 3).
Another way man tries to achieve peace is through force. (Ironic, huh?) But in this passage, Micah speaks of God’s temple being established as an authority that is respected by many people. There is no hint that this will be accomplished through force or military might. In fact, elsewhere in Scripture, God clearly says that His rule comes by the Spirit, not by force.
Yet another way man believes peace can come is through anarchy—the rejection of all law. Interestingly, Micah paints just the opposite picture. He says that the people will seek the Lord for guidance and that His “law will go out from Zion” (vs 2). It seems that lasting peace will be found in the presence of God’s law, not in the absence of it.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that our attempts at achieving world peace have failed and are still failing. After all, sin has seriously screwed us up—our priorities, our thinking, and our outlook.
The good news is, we aren’t the only ones who want peace! God is a peacenik, and everything He has done throughout the course of history has been moving us toward the time Micah speaks of—the time when we’ll no longer learn how to kill each other, the time when tools of war will become tools of agriculture.
How wonderful—and permanent!—that peace will be.
God has friends in low places.
One of the popular country songs from my high-school days featured the line, “I’ve got friends in low places.” The song is written from the perspective of a guy who’s quite happy to have been dumped by his girlfriend for a “classier” beau, declaring that he’ll stick with his friends who hang out down at the bar, thank you very much.
You may have heard the opposite turn of phrase: “I’ve got friends in high places.” That’s what we say when we want someone to know that we are well acquainted with people in positions of power and influence. The connotation is: Don’t mess with me, because I know people who can pull some strings. Often, that means getting unusual (or even illegal) favors.
It was clear from this chapter that if God had to choose one circle of friends or the other, He’d definitely say He’s got friends in low places: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” (vs 2)
Have you ever noticed that, more often than not, God uses the smallest, lowliest, humblest, and most obscure people, places, or things to accomplish His purposes? That’s often the opposite of what we would do. I know if I was God (perish the thought!), I’d gravitate toward big, bold, splashy, and grandiose ways of achieving my goals.
But God just doesn’t work that way. Instead of using the “biggest” and the “best,” He uses the “smallest” and the “least.” He takes ordinary things and makes them extraordinary. He takes natural things and makes them supernatural. He takes nothing and makes it something.
This is a recurring theme in the kingdom of God. There is no such thing as people in “high places” in His kingdom. The last are first. The least are great. The humble are exalted.
God has plenty of friends in low places. Nothing and no one is too “small” to escape His notice.
God gives ultimate satisfaction.
This chapter contains one of the most famous passages in the Bible: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (vs 6-8)
Did you notice that the questions raised here have to do with satisfaction—specifically, humans wondering how they may satisfy God. What does He want? Burnt offerings? Rivers of oil? Child sacrifice?
The sad reality is that the spiritual life of Israel had deteriorated into these extreme measures. God had never asked them to sacrifice thousands of animals to Him, but they had started doing so. God had never asked them to bring Him rivers of oil, but they had started doing so. God had certainly never asked them to sacrifice their own children, but sadly, they were doing so.
This is the result when we try to use “religion” as a way to appease God. Instead of letting Him actually change us through having a personal relationship with Him, we try to assuage our guilt by bringing more and more offerings. But if nothing in our heart ever changes, we will never find release from our guilt, and our offerings will become more and more outrageous.
In response, God says that His kind of sacrifice includes the sacrifice of ourselves. This is what He means when He says we are to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. All of these things require the sacrifice of self, because all of these things run totally contrary to our sinful human nature. If we never present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, we cannot be just, loving, or humble.
God goes on to explain that if we don’t sacrifice self to Him, we will never be satisfied: “You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.” (vs 14-15)
No matter what we do, if we are not surrendered to God, we will never find ultimate satisfaction. In our attempt to find peace from our guilt, we will multiply meaningless sacrifices upon sacrifices . . . to no avail. It is God who gives the ultimate satisfaction, but it is only to be found when we are completely surrendered to Him.
If our hearts are not on the altar, it doesn’t matter what else we put there. It will never be enough.
God is the light.
Doesn’t this chapter seem particularly apropos to the mood of America at the moment? Last Friday, a 20-year-old gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Before turning the gun on himself, he killed 27 people, mostly kids.
The first person he killed was his own mother.
Don’t you hear the words of Micah 7 reverberating around the country today?
- The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains. (vs 2)
- The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. (vs 4)
- Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. (vs 5)
- A man’s enemies are the members of his own household. (vs 6)
Okay, perhaps we wouldn’t say that all the faithful have been swept from the land. Perhaps we can still find some upright people among us—heroic stories of selfless sacrifice are already emerging from the Sandy Hook Elementary. But can’t you also sympathize with Micah? Don’t you sometimes feel like there is more darkness than light in this world?
If you do, first realize that you are not alone—and you certainly aren’t the first to feel that way! For as long as the sin problem has existed, evil has infected our world, and we will continue to be confronted by it as long as the sin problem remains.
But there is hope. Micah concluded, “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” (vs 8)
Even when we are totally surrounded by darkness, God is the light. In Him, we will find hope, peace, comfort, and strength. In fact, He is the only place we can turn for those sustaining gifts. Without Him, the darkness is all-pervasive.
The prophet Isaiah said that the people walking in darkness had seen a great light. God is the light, and even though we still travel in the darkness, we can be assured that it won’t always be that way. In times of tragedy and suffering, we can choose to remember that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1).