Prophetic Punch: Intro to Prophets, the book of Micah, and exegesis on Micah 1

Prophetic Punch

Intro to Prophets, the book of Micah, and exegesis on Micah 1

Sunday, June 29th, 2014; First Presbyterian Church Vancouver, WA

By: Nick Silvey, Ruling Elder & Inquirer

Let us pray,

Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today.  Amen.

As many of you know, starting this fall, I will be going to Princeton Theological Seminary for four years.  I will be enrolled in the MDiv/MA in spiritual formation and mission program.  I will be flying out on Labor Day.   Also I have been a ruling elder serving for six years on session and my term just ended!  I am also an inquirer under the care of our session and the Presbytery Commission on the Preparation for Ministry (CPM). Our pastor Josh is on summer vacation in Mexico with his family, he will be back next Sunday.  Today starts our sermon series on the minor prophet Micah in the Hebrew Scriptures; the Old Testament.  Therefore, today I will introduce you to prophetic  literature, the minor prophets, and the book of Micah and do a little sermonizing on Micah chapter one.  Last time I preached was on December 29th, 2013 when I preached on the escape to Egypt, which was about Herod killing infants.  Today is God’s judgment and idolatry. Throughout this sermon I will be heavily using scholarly notes, bible study notes, articles, and so forth since I am not formally trained as a pastor yet.

According to The Confession of 1967 from the PCUSA Book of Confessions on prophets and the love of God, it states: “God expressed his love for all mankind through Israel, whom he chose to be his covenant people to serve him in love and faithfulness. When Israel was unfaithful, [God] disciplined the nation with his judgments and maintained his cause through prophets, priests, teachers, and true believers. These witnesses called all Israelites to a destiny in which they would serve God faithfully and become a light to the nations. The same witnesses proclaimed the coming of a new age, and a true servant of God in whom God’s purpose for Israel and for mankind would be realized.”[1]  On a side note, the Confession of 1967 was approved at the United Presbyterian Church in the USA General Assembly which was in Portland, OR in 1967.  The 222nd General Assembly is going to be in Portland in 2016!

The following information on the Minor Prophets comes from The Jewish Study Bible introduction to the Minor Prophets written by Dr. Ehud Ben Zvi, professor of history and classics at the University of Alberta:  “The twelve minor prophets as Christians call these books go from Hosea-Malachi.  A prophetic book is a book that claims association with a particular prophet right off the bat at the start of the book, like Micah does.  Further, it presents itself as the Lord’s word, prophecy, or communication through the prophet.  Hence, all of the twelve claim to communicate authoritative knowledge about the Lord.  Most of these books were set in a particular time in Israel’s past between the 8th – 5th centuries BCE (BC). Many scholars, today, think that all or most of the prophetic books in the Twelve or at least in their present form were either written after the fall of the monarchy (586 BCE) and probably during the Persian period (539-332).  Prophetic books were written texts meant to be read, or more properly, to be re-read and studied by those who were literate and those who were not able to read, listened and re-listened to the texts being read.  Texts written to be read many times tend to show more passing instances of ambiguity or multiple meanings.  Such multiple meanings are highly prevalent in the prophetic books and the twelve.  Traditional Jewish scholars, interpreters, and rabbis (teachers) have preserved that thinking that the prophetic books were given to Israel to call for its repentance and to provide guidance, that is, to affect, not merely to inform, their readers.  This was done in the time period when the twelve were written and read. Each one of those books has to do with one prophet, usually the author of the book.  In the twelve, each book displays distinctive language and themes that set it apart from the other books.  Thus the human speaker has their own voice.  Even, the divine speaker, God, is distinctive in each book, with a voice that is similar to that of the particular human prophet.[2]

Which now brings us to the introduction to the book of Micah.  The introduction to Micah that I am going to present comes from The Life with God Bible notes on Micah written by Dr. Bruce Demarest who is professor emeritus of theology and spiritual formation at Denver Seminary: Micah (whose name means “Who is like Yahweh?”) was a native of Moresheth, like 1:1 says, a village 20 miles away from Jerusalem.  Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea.  Micah prophesied to both the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern kingdom, Judah during the latter half of the 8th century (BCE), a period of self-serving rulers, corrupt judges, false prophets, and idolatrous people. Israel failed to heed Micah’s message and so was conquered by the Assyrians in 722/721 BCE. In contrast, Judah under King Hezekiah experienced a revival and was spared judgment for another 100 years. Micah’s prophecy exemplifies four leading themes for the spiritual formation of the erring people of God.  Those four themes are wages of sin, compassionate shepherd, fundamentals for a redeemed life, and compassionate social engagement.  [3]

The culture in which Micah prophesied to was riddled with false worship, fraud, cultic prostitution, bribery, occult practices, and other evils and sins. Consequently, God’s face was hidden from the people, their souls were barren, their prayers were unanswered, and God’s judgment lay at the door.  From those practices just mentioned, we learn that communion with God is clouded and social shalom (peace), or well-being, fortified sins we are so prone to.  Moreover, we humans are like lost sheep, prone to wander and exposed to manifold perils.  But God is the faithful shepherd who gathers up his people, guides their steps, protects them from harm, and nurtures new life.  Micah points to the coming messiah, the compassionate shepherd.  Micah offers us a vision of the compassionate shepherd, who shelters us from danger, directs our paths, and nurtures our souls.  Furthermore, against the environment of endemic evil in the culture around him, Micah outlines the essentials for a righteous life.  In relation to God, those essentials are: God of mercy, who has compassion, and who has faithfulness. Moreover, God also has these features: forgives sins, redeems, bestows righteousness, and blesses us with peace.  Those essentials, for humans are the following: exercise continual faith, remember God’s mighty deeds, devote yourself to prayer, and bless others as dew graces the grace. The best known and preached on verse in Micah is 6:8.  On a side note, in Vancouver, I just discovered there is a church named 6:8 in Hazel Dell near Jason Lee Middle School. This is the verse about do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.  That verse is also in the prayer of confession we did earlier in worship. For their part, God’s people must uphold the rights of the poor and downtrodden in society, embody good heartedness and mercy in relation to others, and live in close communion with God.  Furthermore, spiritual formation cannot be divorced from compassionate social engagement.[4]  Our church and denomination takes this to heart!

First off, Micah asserts that he is the author of the book, and then he goes right in to two judgment narratives. Micah’s opening verses are calling upon God as a witness to the evils the people are committing.  Further, the verses call on witnesses during a controversy to view the Lord’s activity.  In Jeremiah 6:19 it says: “Pay attention, earth: I’m bringing disaster upon my people, the fruit of their own devices, because they have ignored my words and they have rejected my teaching (CEB).” Or as translated in the NRSV: “Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.” Verses 3-7 describe the Lord’s activity.  The Lord comes from the Lord’s dwelling place and wreaks “havoc” on the earth.  The havoc being God’s wrath and judgment against the people of the Northern Kingdom (Israel).  Verse 8 contains the prophets response to the Lord’s destructive activity, “For this I will lament and wail; I will go barefoot and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals,  and mourning like the ostriches (NRSV).”  The Lord came down from the high places, possibly heavenly dwelling place, to judge the peoples of the Northern Kingdom (Jacob; Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) for their false worship of other gods and graven images and idols.  Micah condemns Samaria, the capital of Israel at the time, for the sins of Jacob and Israel.  Verse five identifies the shrines of Judah, the places where false worship occurs, with Jerusalem itself. Several passages in the Hebrew Scriptures speak of Jerusalem as the only locale where proper worship of the one true God, the I AM, can occur…meaning proper worship in the temple. This was before God could be experienced outside of the temple. Micah, being a prophet, turns this image of Jerusalem as the only place of true worship around and maintains that Jerusalem has become a locale of false worship, breaking the commandment against false worship.  …The wages of a prostitute in verse 7:  Throughout the book of the twelve the image of a prostitute or unfaithful wife describes Israel or Judah’s worship of other gods, other than the I AM.In the book of Hosea this image becomes even clearer. Samaria has engaged in false worship of images and idols.  In verse 8, the prophet Micah symbolically acts out what he has proclaimed will occur to the land.  The land will become bare because of the Lord’s wrath, so Micah will also make himself bare by stripping and removing his shoes. Jackals and ostriches often lived in barren places and produced strange howling cries. [5]

Micah calls upon the people for their false worship of idols, so too does God call upon us for our worship of our own false idols.  An idol is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as: (1) An image or representation of a god used as an object of worship; and (2) A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.[6] In Exodus 20:4-6, the 2nd commandment, it states: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[a] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” [7] According to Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle, who is idolized by some, states: “An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life. [It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security. When the Bible uses the word ‘idol’, that’s what it’s getting at.”[8]. Instead God should occupy those things.

What do you think about judgment? Does it trouble you when the Bible speaks of God’s wrath?  What do Americans tend to idolize today? Do you think God’s wrath still exists? How is judgment done now a days?

Before we close, I am going to preach at little about John Calvin and what he thought of idolatry and the second commandment.  According to Dr. Stacy Johnson, Arthur M. Adams Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and a former professor of Josh at Austin Seminary, he states in a book on John Calvin: “This commandment, [The Second Commandment], forbids us to reduce God, who is spiritual, to an earthly form as well as forbidding any such form. Calving also points out that commandment prohibits us from imagining God apart for Christ.”  Furthermore, Dr. Johnson states: “Calvin sums up the problem of idolatry in a single line. Idolatry occurs when we dare to imagine God according to our own capacity. This suggests that all of our concepts and ideologies-even our theology and [polity]-can slide in to idolatry. To try to take measure of God in any form is arrogant, as though it were in our purview to judge God rather than the other way around. Humanity is a “perpetual factory of idols,” Calvin observed (Inst. 1.11.18).”[9] Do you think humanity is a perpetual factory of idols?

In closing, according to Dr. Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School: “How is God’s love related to God’s judgment? God’s love has different effects on people, depending on the basic orientation of their being and the moral character of their deeds. When we do what is right (basically, when we love), we experience God’s love as delight and approval, as God’s face “shining on us.”…Whether God is angry with us or delights in us, whether God approves of us or condemns us, God loves us with the same unchanging divine love rooted in, and indeed identical with, the very being of God. That is why those who remain in love and thereby remain in God have confidence in the day of judgment and need not fear.”[10]

[1] From the PCUSA Book of Confessions; pages 255-256, section 9.18 of the Confession of 1967

[2] Whole paragraph comes from:  Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane. “The Twelve.” The Jewish study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 1139-1142. Print.

[3] From The Life With God Bible notes on Micah on pages 1325-1326

[4] See last footnote

[5] I am indebted to The Common English Study Bible notes on Micah 1 in this paragraph for the exegesis of the text written by James D. Nogalski and Anna E, Sieges (both professors).

[6] From: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/idol

[7] From: https://new.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=EXODUS+20%3A4-6&version=NRSV

[8] From: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/10Commandments/ten-commandments-pastor-preaches-worship-modern-day-idols/story?id=8712532

[9] Johnson, William Stacy. “Chapter 8, What Does God Require of Us? Law and Gospel.” John Calvin, reformer for the 21st century. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. 76-77. Print

[10] From: http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2010-10/god-love

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