Where Do We Find Hope?

Today is our conclusion of our study of minor prophets. First Amos, then Jonah and Hosea, and now Micah. That is four by my count, but there are a total of 12 minor prophets. No doubt we will return to Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk and the others, but next week we open the New Testament book of John.
I’m going to like the book of John; it’s a message of hope and love. When we see our city, our state, our country in a state of decline, that hope renews us. It encourages us. We know eternity is better than this temporal mess we find ourselves living in.

But we are still studying Micah, who is prophesying to the people of Israel. The people of Israel needed a message of hope and love. When they see their cities, their states, their country in a state of decline, they needed to hear a message of hope to encourage them. They needed to know eternity is better than the temporal.

They didn’t have the book of John like we do. They had Micah who recognized their need for a Savior.

Do you grow impatient with waiting? Youtube has that “skip ad” button which I always press so I can get to the next video quicker. When we pick up food to take home, we often order in advance so we don’t have to wait when we arrive. If we take a flight, we want to be in boarding group 1 so we can get on the plane earlier. I read now that Disney has some priority service so that after you spend your hundreds and hundreds, you can spend more hundreds to skip to the front of the line.

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The people of Israel wanted their hope delivered now. They were impatient. But the people were not in God’s favor. Micah 6:1-16 is the image of a lawsuit brought by God against the people of Israel. God and Israel had a covenant; God upheld His end, but the people had not. They were in breach of contract with Yahweh.

Are the people as unrepentant as Micah says? Micah tells the people if they want to plead their case, then perhaps they ought to take it trial. Micah sets up the courtroom and calls for witnesses. Who does Micah call for his witnesses? Micah 6:1-2,

Now listen to what the Lord is saying:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Listen to the Lord’s lawsuit,
you mountains and enduring foundations of the earth,
because the Lord has a case against His people,
and He will argue it against Israel.

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These are appropriate witnesses. If we go all the way back to the life of Moses when he was an old man, Moses told the people that Moses would not be entering the Promised Land, but Moses also told the people to behave and be worthy of the land the Lord had given them, Deuteronomy 4:25-31,

“When you have children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, and if you act corruptly, make an idol in the form of anything, and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, provoking Him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will quickly perish from the land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not live long there, but you will certainly be destroyed.”

To me, the parallels to the New Testament Romans 1:18-22 are evident,

For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

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Nature is and always will be a testimony to God, and not a thing in and of itself to be worshipped.

II. What Does God Want?

So God calls His witnesses and makes His case against Israel. God has been faithful, God has kept His covenant, He delivered them from Egypt, He provided godly kings and judges, He protected them from their enemies, He paved the way to the Promised Land.

Israel and Judah “can’t handle the truth.” The response of the people shows their sin, how they have missed the mark of God’s calling. Micah 6:6-8,

What should I bring before the Lord
when I come to bow before God on high?
Should I come before Him with burnt offerings,
with year-old calves?
Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams
or with ten thousand streams of oil?
Should I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the child of my body for my own sin?

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The people are trying to buy God. We can burn some offerings, we can burn lots of offerings. We can sacrifice children.

The way the people respond is not in humility, but in arrogance. These verses can be interpreted as, “c’mon God, what do you want already? What will it take for you to get off our backs already? Just tell us and we’ll do it already.”

It’s a stupid, arrogant question. God doesn’t want their rams or their oil or the sacrifice of children. God doesn’t want our tithes or offerings. God doesn’t want perfect church attendance. Micah 6:8, Micah says God has already told us what He wants:

Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

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In other words, love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. God wants His people to be His people.

III. The People are Guilty

The trial is over. Witnesses were brought forth in the heavens and earth, the people tried to bribe the judge. Micah 6:13, the Lord says,

“As a result, I have begun to strike you severely,
bringing desolation because of your sins.
You will eat but not be satisfied,
for there will be hunger within you.
What you acquire, you cannot save,
and what you do save,
I will give to the sword.”

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Guilty as charged. Then as now, people have that God-shaped hole in their hearts, but rather than looking to God, people fill it with sin, material wealth, but everything is meaningless. It all belongs to the God we should worship as the Creator of all things, but instead, the people worship the things. And God will take it away.

Micah is depressed at the state of his country. Micah 7:1,

How sad for me!
For I am like one who—
when the summer fruit has been gathered
after the gleaning of the grape harvest—
finds no grape cluster to eat,
no early fig, which I crave.

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How sad for me. Woe is me. Micah is using agricultural references from Leviticus 19. When the farmer harvested his crops, he was only allowed to gather or glean once. Anything he missed the first time was left for the poor and foreigners who had no land of their own. Micah is like a hungry man who arrives at the fields after the poor and foreigners have already gleaned the harvest. There’s not even slim pickings left. Everything is bare.

This isn’t God’s plan. God promised bountiful harvests if only the people were faithful. Leviticus 26:3-5 says,

“If you follow My statutes and faithfully observe My commands, 4 I will give you rain at the right time, and the land will yield its produce, and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. 5 Your threshing will continue until grape harvest, and the grape harvest will continue until sowing time; you will have plenty of food to eat and live securely in your land.”

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In verse 2, Micah explains the fruit he’s looking for is people of faith, but there’s nobody left.

Godly people have vanished from the land;
there is no one upright among the people.
All of them wait in ambush to shed blood;
they hunt each other with a net.

Micah says the people are spiritually barren; there were no fruitful and faithful people left. And the only people left were willing to kill to get ahead. Micah goes on to describe how bad the country has become in verse 3 –

Both hands are good at accomplishing evil:
the official and the judge demand a bribe;
when the powerful man communicates his evil desire,
they plot it together.

It’s an interesting way to describe their evil. Most people are either right handed or left handed, but Micah says both hands are equally good at the evil they do. Those that were supposed to be impartial, like officials and judges, accepted bribes and colluded to expand their exploitation of others. Almost as if their FBI was working with their court systems and with their executive branch and with their public officials to work together to do evil.

Yeah I know. The parallels are too close to home. Something that occurred to me as I was studying Micah 6&7 is that, although I see our western civilization in decline, like Solomon says, there’s nothing new under the sun. Israel was blessed by God and abused those blessings, so too we abuse the blessings God so graciously gave us. Micah says everything in Israel had decayed, including friends and family. The evil desires had become so rampant even family members began to turn on each other. The issues in our country where influential people accept bribes and misuse their power to influence children against their parents is not new. It just has a new cover on the old evil. Micah 7:5-6,

Do not rely on a friend;
don’t trust in a close companion.
Seal your mouth
from the woman who lies in your arms.
Surely a son considers his father a fool,
a daughter opposes her mother,
and a daughter-in-law is against her mother-in-law;
a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.

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Friends turn on friends. Family turns on family. Micah says at the worst of time, you cannot trust anyone. Not your closest friends. Not your own family.

IV. Salvation is Available

Some of my favorite verses in the bible begin with the phrase, “but God.” Psalm 73:26,

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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Scripture is filled with seemingly impossible situations that are resolved simply with the words, “but God.” Micah knows where his hope lies. Despite the corrupt and materialist world he and we live in, “but God.” Micah 7:7,

But I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.

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God keeps His covenants despite our unfaithfulness. Even in the worst of time, we can look to the Lord, wait on the Lord, and have confidence He hears us. God is not only the only one who can deliver us, we also know He will deliver us. God hears the prayers of His children, always.

Micah continues with a prayer that praises the name of the Lord. Micah 7:18,

Who is a God like You,
removing iniquity and passing over rebellion
for the remnant of His inheritance?
He does not hold on to His anger forever,
because He delights in faithful love.

This sentence is actually a play on Micah’s name. Micah in Hebrew means, “Who is like God?” Micah answers it – nobody but God. We all have iniquities; we all have rebellion. Only God can remove those sins so that we are judged as though we are innocent. He does this for us because we cannot do it for ourselves. And again in verse 19,

He will again have compassion on us;
He will vanquish our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

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God does this for us because He loves us and delights in our love for Him. He casts our sins into a “sea of forgetfulness,” as though we have never sinned. He does this for those who love Him and have placed their trust in Him.

Some people believe they don’t need this forgiveness, that they are pretty good people, so they should go to heaven. These people, and much of society, are mistaken. We do need forgiveness.

V. Conclusion

I had dinner with an old friend who used to teach here, who told me a parable. There’s a knock at the door, and you answer it. Standing respectfully in front of you seems to be a nice young man, he takes his hat off and smiles. He says he’s been helping out people in the neighborhood all day. He’s picked up trash, helped people who needed help, given money to poor people. So you say to him, “that’s really nice of you.”

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So he says to you, “So can I come live with you?” And your answer is no, of course. You don’t know this person.

Jesus says in His house are many rooms. Those Jesus knows, He invites inside. That love and grace and mercy which none of deserve but all of us need, is free for the asking. If you accept this invitation, Jesus promises the barren life you glean from the twice-picked over fields will flow with abondance, and all of your sins and mistakes and rebellion and iniquities are drowned in the sea of forgetfulness.

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Like the people of Micah’s day, we can look elsewhere for this fulfillment, but we won’t find it anywhere else. The answer is found only in our Savior, Jesus Christ. That is the hope we have, and why we can be so thankful for our God who gave everything so we can come home to Him.

All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.