Saturday, January 14, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (19)

Last week we suggested that in his final chapter, Micah is speaking with the voice of Israel’s remnant in a manner that may be understood both historically and prophetically.

Both ways of looking at the chapter were predictive at the time these words were given to Micah to share with his nation, but they were fulfilled with respect to the first timeframe, and still await fulfillment in the second. One is a matter of history, and we can look back through the later prophets and historians of the Old Testament to see how the things Micah predicted occurred roughly a century afterward.

The second way of looking at the chapter connects it with the book of Revelation.

Micah 7:7-10 — Out to the Light

“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. 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. Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, ‘Where is the Lord your God?’ My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.”

The previous six verses have Micah bemoaning the condition of his nation and the absence of godliness in all its institutions. They begin with “Woe is me!” and end with “a man’s enemies are the men of his own house”. In stark contrast, verses 7-10 are a marvelous expression of the Israelite remnant’s hope in the God of their salvation. Micah starts with “But as for me, I will look to the Lord.” He refuses to give in to despair despite what he sees all around him. Now he begins to look forward with confidence: “I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

Light in the Exile

Micah had no doubt that the Lord would be a light to repentant Israel in the darkness of the coming Babylonian captivity. We find that “light” in numerous exilic accounts in the form of both spiritual illumination and public testimony: Daniel, given the answer to a perplexing message from God for Nebuchadnezzar that ended with the prophet in a unique position of influence among his captors; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, delivered from the fire by a fourth man “like a son of the gods”; Belshazzar saying to Daniel, “light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you”; Ezekiel prophesying of a people brought back from the dead, a millennial temple and new division of the land.

Even under his judgment, God would not leave his people without a witness to his relationship with them and without a testimony in the world. When the lampstand went out in Jerusalem, the light of God’s presence followed his people to Chaldea and remained with them the entire seventy years. There was always hope during the exile. Even in Esther when Haman the Agagite sought to annihilate God’s people, he provided a remarkable and totally unanticipated means of escape.

Light in the Great Tribulation

These verses are equally apt when assigned to the Israelite remnant of the great tribulation. Once again, the chosen people have sinned against their God and must bear his indignation until the day he hears their prayers, takes up their cause and executes judgment on their behalf. But there will be light for the remnant even in the tribulation period. God never leaves himself without testimony even in the darkest days of human history. That light will come in the form of 144,000 blameless witnesses from every tribe of Israel who have the name of the Lamb and of his Father written on their foreheads. No lie will be found in their mouths. They will be sealed by angels against unsurpassed spiritual pressure from the enemies of Christ. The implication, I believe, is that the testimony of these witnesses will result in innumerable converts from all nations during the tribulation period.

These too can say in confidence, “He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.”

The Enemy

When Micah says, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy”, it’s just a little unusual to find the enemy personified as a woman. Often in scripture, nations are personified as men. For example, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” refers respectively to the nations of Israel and Edom. Again, when Hosea writes, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son”, the nation is personified as a male. This is not exclusively the case, of course. Ezekiel uses female images for the nations of Israel and Judah for two rather memorable chapters, and Jeremiah does something very similar without the graphic imagery. But the sex in which a nation is depicted in prophetic metaphor always serves a specific purpose, calling to mind a particular set of features, good or bad. I believe it does so in this context.

This enemy taunts the exiles, asking, “Where is the Lord your God?” It seems to me Micah has a specific enemy in mind rather than “enemies” generally. In the sixth century B.C., the enemy is literal Babylon. During the great tribulation, one of the foremost enemies is spiritual Babylon, personified in Revelation as a great prostitute seated on many waters. Interestingly, when we see the 144,000 in Revelation, almost immediately that picture is followed by an angel crying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.” The fall of Babylon is then detailed in the climactic seventh bowl judgment described in Revelation 16:17 through 18:24.

This feminine enemy will be “trampled down like the mire of the streets”. Historically, that happened when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, an event briefly referred to in Daniel 5, but predicted in much greater detail by Isaiah and touched on briefly by Jeremiah. In a future day, spiritual Babylon will fall to the “ten horns” and the beast, who will “hate the prostitute”, “make her desolate and naked”, “devour her flesh” and “burn her up with fire”.

Literal Babylon has not been a force to be reckoned with for millennia. One day, spiritual Babylon will suffer the same fate, never to rise again.

Finding the Church Where It Isn’t

Supersessionist interpretations of these verses ring reliably hollow. Matthew Henry writes:

“Though our enemies may seem to prevail against us, and to rejoice over us, we should not despond. Though cast down, we are not destroyed; we may join hope in God’s mercy, with submission to his correction. No hinderances can prevent the favours the Lord intends for his church.”

This amounts to finding the church where it isn’t. We can certainly learn from Israel’s example, and we trust in a God whose character has not changed in the slightest over the intervening millennia since Micah’s prophecy, but our conclusions about what the Lord intends for his church are most well-grounded and confidence-inspiring when based on the plain teaching of the New Testament passages that apply directly to the subject, rather than those that deal with national Israel’s past and future. Moreover, stealing the spotlight from Israel, where the Spirit of God clearly intended us to be looking, robs such prophetic passages of their intended meaning. They become second-rate restatements of New Testament truth.

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