Did you know? “When the Library of Congress in Washington DC was rebuilt in the late nineteenth century, prominent religious leaders, after considering notable quotes from all known religious literature, chose Micah 6:8 as the motto for the alcove of religion.” The inscription reads, “What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Chances are that most of us have heard verses from Micah, such as this promise of peace:
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. (NIV®)
Or maybe around Christmas time you’ve heard read aloud this prophecy about the birth of Christ:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.” (NIV®)
But although we may have heard verses from this book, chances are we don’t really know what it’s about or why it matters for us today. I hope by the end of this sermon series we will understand why Micah is worth a whole sermon series. And since some if not all of us are asking “Why Micah?” I thought I would make today’s sermon all about why I’ve chosen this book. So…
Why Micah? So that we might know the real God better. (Micah 1:1-2)
Now it’s easy to say, “All Scripture matters! That’s why we’re studying it!” Which would be true. But why do we read and study the Bible? So that we can know the real God better by what he has told us in his Word.
1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. (NIV®)
The name “Micah” is actually a rhetorical question in Hebrew, “Who is like Yahweh?” or “Who is like God?” I’ve broken Micah (מִיכָה֙) down the best I could here:
Miy (מִי) – Who is
ca (כָ) – like
h (ה֙) – Yahweh (abbreviated form of יהוה)
The point Micah’s name makes is that no-one is like Yahweh! No one is like our God. That means you can’t accidentally believe in this God. You need to be introduced to the true and living God. You need to know his character and compassion. By the end of the book Micah himself declares that he knows the real God.
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy. (NIV®)
Micah is a man who knew and experienced God. We really don’t know much about Micah. He’s from the town of Moresheth, which was located in a farming region about “22 miles southwest of Jerusalem.” He prophesied during the reigns of the Judean kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah somewhere between 750 and 686 BC. Hosea and Isaiah were two other prophets from around this same time. But we do know that Micah delivered a hard message about God’s holiness and justice to the people of Israel and Judah.
2 Hear, you peoples, all of you,
listen, earth and all who live in it,
that the Sovereign Lord may bear witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple. (NIV®)
Micah is acting as a type of covenant lawyer. Back in Exodus God made a promise (a covenant) with the people of Israel that if they would obey him he would bless them but if they disobeyed him they would experience curses. They disobeyed God by worshipping idols and forming political alliances with foreign nations and now he has taken them to court and is acting as a “witness” against them.
It’s tempting to imagine that God is like a kind and gentle grandpa who doesn’t really care what his children and grandchildren do as long as they listen to him tell stories. Maybe you’ve heard that “God is love.” Well that’s true, but love is not God. God is love and he is holy and just and cares so much about his people he is willing to hurt and wound those he loves to deliver them from their sins.
I read one commentary this week that gave the example of someone addicted to drugs. This is a serious thing but I want you to imagine that someone you care deeply about (a parent, a brother or sister, a child, a close friend) has become addicted to drugs and the drugs are rapidly tearing their life apart. You know that if they don’t stop they will alienate everyone they love and will soon overdose and die. If you knew this would you go to them and say, “Hey, I thought that maybe if you think it’s a good idea you could perhaps stop taking drugs and get clean, but it’s your choice. I support you no matter your decision.” They would say, “I’m not going to do that. I’m fine. The drugs are really not that dangerous and I’m safe when I take them.” Instead, you would do everything in your power to convince them to stop. Wouldn’t you get angry and mad and cut them off from your funds so they can’t buy drugs? You’d get angry because you care deeply. That anger, that judgment, that holiness, is truly loving. Judgment can be loving.
Do you want to know the real God who cares about reality and truth and justice? If you want to know more about him, Micah is for you. Why Micah? So that we might know the real God better.
Why Micah? So that we might recognize and repent of our idols and injustices. (Micah 1:3-16)
I’m not going to read all the verses but I will summarize a few. In verses 3-5 The Lord God comes down in judgment against the capital of Israel, Samaria, and the capital of Judah, Jerusalem. The nation we call Israel went through a civil war around 930 BC and they split into two kingdoms, Northern Israel and Southern Judah. Both sinned against God and in verses 6-7 Micah specifically calls out Israel’s idolatry.
“Idolatry is choosing one’s own will above God’s will. It is giving ultimate allegiance—which deserves to be given to God alone—to another object of worship, another object of affection.” – Micah For You by Stephen Um
So what kind of idolatry did Israel commit? When Israel split the king of the north, Jeroboam, worried that the people in his region would travel south to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the one true God and that would cause him to lose power. So what does he do? In 1 Kings 12:25-33 He makes two golden calves for his people to worship, which leads the Israelite people into idol worship and forsaking the one true God. Micah declares in verses 8-9 that Northern Israel’s unfaithfulness has spread to Southern Judah. That northern Samaria has infected southern Jerusalem with its disobedience and idolatry.
As Micah goes through the rest of the chapter he calls out not just the idolatry of Samaria and Jerusalem but other towns across Judea. He does it using wordplay that is hard to pick up in English. Each town (Gath, Beth Ophrah, Shaphir) is accompanied by a judgment that matches its name by sharing a similar sound. So instead of reading this in the NIV I’m going to read The Two Horizon Commentary’s translation:
10 In Tell Town don’t tell it (Gath)
in Dust House roll in the dust (Beth Ophrah)
11 Get yourselves out of there in nakedness and shame, residents of Beauty Town (Shaphir)
no exit for Exit Town (Zaanan)
the mourning of Neighbor Town means no more neighbor (Beth Ezel)
12 For the residents of Bitterville hoped for better (Maroth)
for war has come down from Yahweh to the gate of the City of Peace (Jerusalem)
13 Bind the chariot to the harness, residents of Harness Town (Lachish)
14 therefore you will give parting gifts to Inheritance of Gath (Moresheth Gath)
the house of deception will prove deceptive to the kings of Israel (Akzib)
15 I will bring a conqueror to Conquering Town (Mareshah)
unto the land of the caves will flee the glory of Israel (Adullum)
When I think of the town I grew up in, Estes Park, it’s right next to Rocky Mountain National Park. It has great access to the mountains and is a beautiful park–like town that attracts lots of tourists. But what if the town voted to rename Estes Park to Estes Dump? Do you think anyone want to go there? No! Micah has flipped the meaning of these towns according to their coming judgment! Another author writes:
“Micah uses deliberate puns to describe the ironic nature of the eventual destruction: the very thing that each place worships will be the source of its destruction and the place where its judgment is most clearly seen.”- Micah For You by Stephen Um
So what are some of the idols we see in our world and culture? I’d like you to take the slip of paper that came in your bulletin, and if you haven’t already done so write your answer to the question. “What’s an idol our culture worships?” Would you take a moment and do that?
After you’ve written the answer to the first question, would you look at the second question. “What’s an injustice our culture commits?” This question has less to do with today’s sermon and more to do with our series as a whole. Next week we’re going to get into some specific injustices the people of Israel and Judah commit. And as we apply this to today we need to think about what injustices we see around us. But before I identify what I think are injustices, I’d like to know what you think are injustices. I don’t think it’s just the role of the pastor to be prophetic in a church, but the role of the church to be prophetic in the culture. Write whatever you think is an example of injustice. I may share some of the results during our series. After our sermon I’ll collect your answers so you have a little extra time to write them down.
There is a connection between our idols and our injustices. It’s those things we worship, those things that define us, that lead us to mistreat others. So I’ve been thinking about what some of our community’s idols are. What might Westford worship? I got lunch with Bernie on Wednesday at a Chinese restaurant and my fortune cookie read, “You are going to have a very comfortable old age.” I thought, “I think that’s kind of like Westford’s idol.” It’s fair to say our community desires a comfortable, happy, life for themselves and for their kids. The people of our town want to get ahead academically and financially. Now success and comfort and a great education can be good things, but when they become ultimate things they become idols. And idolatry leads to injustice.
Back when we were planting Cornerstone we asked our team members to interview local organizations about community needs. One of the most interesting interviews was with the Westford housing authority. Our team wrote up summaries of each interview and I’m going to read you a small section from that writeup.
One thing she (the director of the housing authority) mentioned, almost as an afterthought, but obviously something that is dear to her heart was the lack of town support for affordable housing and that perhaps the churches could help. She said that the people in town, especially during town meetings, do not want affordable housing in their neighborhoods. They have biases against it and will speak out sharply against it in town meetings. She would love to have a member of the clergy, or perhaps a group of clergy members from town that would stand up in meetings in support of the needs of this population. Perhaps if this happened, people might be more hesitant to be so harshly critical of it and be swayed to support it more.
I feel like this was a missed opportunity because we got busy and haven’t done anything about this. I emailed the housing authority this week to see if the director is still working there and just to try and start the conversation again. Why get involved? Because there’s injustice and we worship a God of justice.
Idolatry leads to injustice. When we worship anything besides God, be it success or safety or comfort or family or wealth or education, it leads to mistreatment of those in need, like the poor who need a home. Why Micah? So that we might recognize and repent of our idols and injustices. The last verse calls us to repent.
16 Shave your head in mourning
for the children in whom you delight;
make yourself as bald as the vulture,
for they will go from you into exile. (NIV®)
Humble yourselves. Believe and repent. Now as I opened our sermon series I didn’t ask you to identify your idols or injustices. But as we go through this series I hope we will be brave enough to identify idols in our nation, in our culture, in our community, in our church, and in ourselves. If Micah was speaking primarily to the people of God back then, Israel, then the people his message first applies to today is also the people of God, the church, us. As we recognize our idols and injustices let’s repent and be renewed.
Why Micah? So that we might experience renewed hope. (Micah 1-7)
We’re going to close by watching the Bible Project’s video of Micah. I want us to watch it to get the big picture of the book of Micah. As we go along in Micah you’re going to notice that the prophet first identifies sin and injustice (Micah 1:2-7), then reveals God’s judgment against that sin (Micah 1:8-2:11), and finally offers hope and restoration (Micah 2:12-13). The pattern is sin, judgment, hope.
As the book goes along that message of hope and restoration grows and grows, ultimately pointing to Christ Jesus himself. Jesus is the one who bore the consequences for our idols, our curse, our nakedness, our tears, our dust, our shame, our mourning, our disaster, our pain, so that we no longer have to live in exile but can have eternal life. If you repent and trust in him, he will forgive you of your sins, take God’s judgment upon himself, and give you eternal hope.
We’re studying Micah so that we might know God better, recognize and repent of our idols and injustices, and experience renewed hope.
Pastor Jonathan Romig preached this message at Cornerstone Congregational Church. You can download a PDF copy of this sermon above, which includes further endnotes and references. Click to listen to sermons or to read our story.