Minor Prophets X
Micah ministers in the southern kingdom of Judah towards the end of the 8th Century B.C. He ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Mic. 1:1) when the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC (2 Kings 17).
The Text: Like Amos before him, Micah brings charges against nations. He addresses all peoples of the earth, but he says that God’s judgment is coming down on the high places of the earth because of the sins of Jacob (1:2-5). For this reason, Samaria will be turned into ruins (1:6-7). And the mourning will be great (nakedness and baldness) reaching all the way down to the cities of Judah (1:8-16). The evil that Micah is addressing is coveting fields and taking them by violence (2:1-2) – reminding us of Ahab’s theft of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kgs. 21). But apparently the people followed their leaders’ examples and committed similar atrocities. And for their disloyalty to their own people, God will be disloyal to them (2:3-5). Their audacity extends to their dismissal of faithful prophets who warn them, and their oppressions extend even to those who trust them, even women and children (2:6-11). Micah says that God will assemble all of Jacob like a flock of sheep and lead them away (2:12-13). It is the job of the leaders of Israel to know justice, but they hate good and love evil, they strip the skin from God’s people (3:1-3). And the evil of the people is so great that even when they cry to Yahweh, He will not listen and this will be evident in the fact that their prophets will be silent having no answer from God (3:4-7). But Micah claims that God’s Spirit has not left him, and he addresses Israel boldly, and he promises that not only will this destruction fall on Samaria, it will also fall on Zion, and Jerusalem will become heaps of ruins (3:8-12). It’s interesting that Jeremiah cites this particular prophesy some years later (Jer.
The center of Micah’s charge against the people of Israel is the charge of covetousness (Mic. 2:2). This begins as devising evil on their beds and very quickly turns into action (Mic. 2:1). This contrasts with their refusal to hear the prophets (Mic. 2:6). The only kind of prophet they want is one speaks “wind and lies,” who promises beer and wine (Mic. 2:11). The trouble with the leaders specifically is that they “hate good and love evil” (Mic. 3:2). It is their appetites, their desires that cause them to destroy and devour God’s people (Mic. 3:2-3). Even though they claim that they are seeking the Lord, the Lord will not answer them because they don’t really want to know what He thinks – they abhor justice in their hearts (Mic. 3:5-11).
It might be tempting to think that covetousness is not a very serious sin. Is it nearly as damaging as adultery or murder or theft or violence? Covetousness is desiring something that is not yours that belongs to someone else. It’s envy and jealousy and evil desires. It is definitely a sin of the heart. But Micah’s point is that evil desires quickly give birth to evil actions. As swiftly as morning follows evening, action follows thought. James says this: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown brings forth death” (Js. 1:13-15). This is why the New Testament routinely lists covetousness with what we might commonly think of as being worse sins (fornication, drunkenness, murder) (Rom. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:11, 6:10, Eph. 5:3, Js. 4:2). Paul says that a covetous man has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ since covetousness is a form of idolatry (Eph. 5:5). Do you react to covetousness with the same seriousness as you do sexual sin or violence? When Peter warns the Church against false teachers, he says that they will exploit people through covetousness (2 Pet. 2:3) – the description seems intentionally ambiguous, they are covetous but so are the people they exploit. Covetous people are more susceptible to deceptive words.
This is why the father warns his son: “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). This is why Jesus points to the heart as the source of all uncleanness. It’s not what goes into a man but what comes out that defiles him (Mk. 7:20-23). But Jesus also says that good things come out of good men and evil things come out of evil men (Mt. 12:35). So we have this problem: how can we being evil do good things or speak good things (Mt. 12:33-34)? Fruit trees can only produce the kind of fruit they are. Bramble bushes can only produce brambles.
This is why traditionally the Church has taught that men do have free will, that all men do have the power of choice. The problem though is that our wills are under the bondage to our own evil desires. We are in one sense capable of choosing what is right, but because we don’t want to we don’t and in that sense, we can’t. We are enslaved by our own passions, our own lusts and desires. Paul says, “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…” (Eph. 2:3). For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedience, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another (Tit. 3:3).
In other words, our will is like that claw game in the mall where you put your quarter in and it drops down and grabs hold of some toy or stuffed animal. But the claw is not free to choose anything else but what is there. In our sins, we only choose to fulfill our selfish desires because that’s really all that’s there. When God gives us a new heart, He gives us new desires: that we no longer should live the rest of our time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Pet. 4:2). Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.
When God gives a man a new heart, part of the sign of that is new desires. When you become a Christian, you are hungry for the Word of God. You want to read the Bible. You want to know what God things. Christians are hungry for Christian fellowship. They love being around other Christians. They love going to Church. And even though Christians still fall into sin, they have a growing hatred of sin and deepening desire to do what is right.
But the Bible also describes the life of the Christian as an ongoing war with the flesh, that even though we have been crucified with Christ, the Christian life is a daily taking up that cross, embracing that cross, putting to death the old man and putting on the new man in Christ. But where the old man only had evil desires, selfish lusts and covetousness, now in Christ the new man has true freedom to choose righteousness and holiness because the Holy Spirit of Jesus has begun to work in us: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
On the one hand this means that the Christian life is a life of constant surrender. This means that we must constantly surrender our own wills to God’s will: thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Being a Christian means that God’s will is better than our will. His plans are better than our plans. This means that when we feel the weight of our own weakness, our own failures, our own sin, we turn to God. We turn to Jesus and we cry out Him to have mercy on us. We stop pretending that we are in control or that we can save ourselves, that we can fix our own problems. This means realizing that our own fleshly wisdom won’t work, that trying to save our own lives only makes it get worse. But that losing our lives, laying them down, surrendering them to Jesus will result in saving our lives and receiving them back. This is both terrifying and enormously freeing.
On the other hand, this means cooperating with God’s plan. Of course in one sense, everyone cooperates whether they like it or not. But there is a way to seek God’s face, to seek God’s heart, to long for God such that you are being more and more aligned with His plan, His goodness, His love. And there is a way to drag behind somewhat defiantly. This is why the Bible speaks of the Christian life as a kind of training, like exercising muscles. Only God’s plan is not merely to make us strong on the outside. He intends to do a full renovation beginning on the inside, so that we begin to desire more and more what He desires, so that we are hungry for good things. But this of course implies that our appetites and taste buds can be trained. Is there some food that seems completely bad to you? But all your friends say that you are wrong, and it is the height of culinary glory? Or is there music that is difficult for you, art that seems strange, poetry that is just boring?
The Christian vision of virtue is one in which we begin with the realization that we have bad taste, that we have been hungry for all the wrong things, fundamentally missing the fact that our desires were meant to be fulfilled by something infinite. Part of the proof of the existence of God is our desire for joy and glory and pleasure. But sin and darkness deceive us into thinking that we can get what we’re looking for from false substitutes. And we have to realize that appetites and taste may be encouraged or discouraged. You will find that you can develop a taste for most anything, but that means we must be incredibly careful what tastes we are encouraging. Delight in good things can be cultivated, but immunity to good things can also be built up.
Micah preached to a people who had developed a taste for human flesh (Mic. 3:2-3). This absurd and extreme, but Paul warns against the same thing in Galatians that serving our own fleshly desires culminates in biting and devouring one another (Gal. 5:13-16).
About a hundred years after Micah prophesied, Jeremiah would stand up in the temple and proclaim a very similar message (Jer. 26). The leaders didn’t like hearing what he had to say and he was hauled into court and many were clamoring for his death. But at least some of the leaders had sense and they recalled Micah’s prophesy during the days of Hezekiah, how Micah had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem but because Hezekiah had repented and turned to the Lord, God had relented from the disaster (Jer. 26:17-19). Jeremiah was spared, but ultimately Jerusalem didn’t turn from her ways and Babylon swept through the city shortly thereafter. Jesus is the greater Micah, the greater Jeremiah, who proclaimed the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. And rather than listening, the leaders executed him because they envied Him, because they coveted His position of authority. But in cross of Christ, God put to death all evil desires. He revealed them for what they are: resentment of God and His power and glory. The world still tries to function on lust and power and envy. But now they are powerless. The cross has defeated covetousness. Because God took all the evil desires, all the lust and envy and hatred and exhausted it in His own Son, condemning it as evil and unjust but then overcoming it by the resurrection of Jesus and offering freedom and forgiveness to all. The city of Jerusalem fell yet again in 70 AD but all those who followed Jesus escaped the destruction.
Part of our struggle against evil desires is contentment. Jesus says to beware of covetousness, “for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things he possesses” (Lk. 12:15). Jesus warns against covetousness, “for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things he possesses” (Lk. 12:15). Or Hebrews: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For Jesus says, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Paul says: Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and snares and into many foolish and harmful lusts with drown men in destruction and ruin. There is a kind of gospel simplicity that is so freeing. In an age of fashion and designer clothing, and every kind of food and convenience, we must fight for contentment without resenting the gifts of God.
But the other side of our struggle against covetousness is cultivating a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Taste and see that the Lord is good. This must begin with the astounding mercy of God in Christ. Maybe this means asking God to renew a hunger in your for Him and for His good things. Maybe this means reconsidering how you spend your time and money. Think about what you are doing as a family to cultivate good desires. Think about the role of imagination. So must of what we desire is directed at what delights us, images of glory and pleasure. What is your vision? What kind of hunger for glory are you cultivating? Is it a fading glory or a lasting treasure? Is it a momentary thrill or joy of the Lord that can’t ever be taken from you?
We are training for eternity, practicing for forever. What are you training for? What are you practicing for? When you are old and grey, when you face your final moments, your final days, will the glory of eternity burn brighter for you? Will it approach like the finish line of your race? Like the goal of your journey?