Saturday, January 07, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (18)

Chapter 6 concluded with God speaking, rendering judgment on Judah for its sins. The final chapter of Micah represents yet another change of voice, as Micah now begins to speak on behalf of the Israelite remnant.

The chapter lends itself to interpretation on at least two levels. On the first, it is an expression of faith and repentance from the 6th century BC Judean remnant before and during Babylonian exile. That captivity was still more than a century away when Micah prophesied. On the second, it reads as an expression of faith and repentance from the Israelite remnant thousands of years later, during the great tribulation, looking forward into the millennial reign of Christ.

Micah 7:1-4 — The Faithful Have Vanished

“Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand.”

Pre-Exile and Post-Rapture

The final days of Judah’s nationhood were a grim period. With very few exceptions (Jeremiah, Baruch), it could be accurately said that “the godly has perished from the land”. (The word translated “perished” may mean either “destroyed” or “disappeared”, and 'ereṣ may be translated either “earth” or “land”, as in the land of Israel.) Daniel and Ezekiel had to write about the final days of Judah’s nationhood from captivity in Chaldea. Those godly men had already “disappeared” from the Israel.

However, the various sentiments expressed here are even more apt when we put them in the mouths of the tribulation remnant. Once the rapture has taken place, once the Church has departed this earth, and the massive tribulation martyrdoms begin in earnest, the godly will truly have “have perished from the earth”. Psalm 12, written by David, was a few hundred years old at this point, but it’s evident Micah knew that psalm well. It too is obviously an appeal to God on behalf of the suffering tribulation remnant:

“Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak … On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.”

You can see the language of David’s psalm and Micah’s seventh chapter are too similar to be a coincidence.

The remnant cries, “Woe is me!”, alone in a world where there is no fellowship to be had and no public expression of godliness to be enjoyed. The summer fruit has been gathered, the grapes have been gleaned, and there is nothing on the vine to eat. Everyone around them has given himself over to evil. Wickedness has been institutionalized. The prince, the judge and the great man are all corrupt. For the righteous man, there is no help to be had anywhere but heaven.

The Day of Your Watchmen

Micah says, “The day of your watchmen … has come.” The word ṣāpâ literally signifies someone who is waiting and observing. That is its normal usage in OT Hebrew. Cities would post men with good eyesight in a high place or tower to look out for enemy attack and warn the people when it was impending. So Micah may simply mean that the day has come for Judah’s watchmen to sound the alarm. Judgment is coming in the form of Nebuchadnezzar’s troops, in the one instance, or in the form of the nations gathering to destroy Israel during the final battle of the great tribulation period.

However, the word may also mean a little more than simply to observe and sound the alarm if necessary. When Jacob parted from Laban there was a fair bit of understandable edginess in their relationship. When Laban says to him, “The Lord watch [ṣāpâ] between you and me”, he really means, “May the Lord judge between us.” I think this is more the sense here, because Micah continues, “The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come.”

Either way, the discipline of God would be meted out on his people until they called out for his help. This too will be true of Israel during the great tribulation.

Micah 7:5-6 — Familiar Words

“Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.”

Multiple Levels of Application

These words were certainly true during the last days of Judah as a nation, in both besieged and post-exilic Jerusalem. Men and women were only looking out for themselves. Jeremiah’s description of those days is dark indeed. Ezekiel would later write, “Fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers.” No one could be trusted, and every attempt to gather the people together resulted in treachery and murder. These words will also be true again in Israel in a coming day. The Lord Jesus told his disciples, “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” This takes place during a future timeframe when “you” (the remnant) “will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake”. And Paul confirms to Timothy that in the “last days”, people will be completely selfish and untrustworthy, even with respect to their own family members.

This unnatural division between friends, neighbors and family members is also characteristic of the present age of grace, though often in a slightly less hazardous sense. In Matthew’s gospel, the Lord repurposes Micah’s prophecy to describe the gospel’s divisive effect on family relationships: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Some of us have experienced the hostility that following Christ will tend to produce.

Once again, we are reading statements that apply repeatedly throughout Israel’s history, as well as beyond it. Wherever a nation has gotten away from God, you can be sure that they have gotten away from each other as well. The two failures of relationship go hand in hand. A man who will cheat on his God will often cheat on his wife, and vice versa. In this case, every normal relationship has broken down: wives, friends, neighbors, children, extended family.

Relationships Under Pressure

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. We look around us and see examples of love even in unsaved families. Not a lot of them, to be sure, but some. However, that love has yet to be truly tested. We are also living in one of the most affluent periods in world history, in one of the best possible places to live in the entire world. Put sudden, intense pressure on these relationships and those that do not have their roots firmly embedded in God’s love will not be able to hold up. Some of us experienced that sort of pressure in the last couple of years, finding our choices estranged us from people we thought were friends and even family members … and these were not even choices of major spiritual significance. Imagine when loyalty to Christ becomes the dividing line between family members, and life or death is at stake. That is what is coming.

In the end, as John put it, “Love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” He is the perfect expression of love, the perfect model of love, and the only one who can maintain love in others.

Take God out of the picture, and even the most natural loves reliably fail.

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