The Righteous Acts of God

1 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
    and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
    and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” – Micah 6:1-5 ESV

There is a certain disequilibrium to the content of Micah’s book. One minute he is describing the glorious future God has in store for the people of Israel. Then, he suddenly shifts his focus back to the more pressing and much less pleasant topic of their pending judgment. This constant fluctuation in the mood of his message seems intended to create an imbalance in the minds of his audience. Their future would be bleak and yet, blessed. It would contain their much-deserved judgment but also their undeserved redemption and restoration. Micah seems determined to remind them of just how much their God longed to bless them. And one day, in the distant future, He would. But first, their repeated and unrepentant acts of wickedness would force God to curse them. They had been warned, but they failed to listen.

Now, after describing God’s future restoration of a remnant of His people, Micah returns to the more pressing problem of their guilt and pending judgment. He wants them to know that God is angry with them. This same God who plans to preserve, protect, and redeem a remnant of them has some strong words of condemnation to level against them.

Micah portrays a courtroom scene where Israel is the defendant, the mountains and hills serve as the jury, and God acts as the prosecuting attorney. The ancient mountains and hills are not unbiased members of the jury. Having stood for centuries, they had been silent observers of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unrelenting spiritual apostasy. If anything, the “enduring foundations of the earth” (Micah 6:2 ESV), would be able to validate and vindicate God’s indictment of His rebellious people.

God begins His opening arguments with a series of questions:

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me! – Micah 6:3 ESV

He demands an explanation for their actions. He wants to know what their excuse is for treating Him with contempt and dishonor. What had He done to deserve such disdain and disrespect? But God doesn’t wait for their answer because they don’t have one. In fact, He immediately provides a list of His accomplishments on their behalf.

“…I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam…” – Micah 6:4 ESV

God rewinds the clock and returns them to their days as slaves in Egypt, reminding them of the role He had played in their deliverance. He had been the one to redeem them. He had set them free from their 400 years of slavery and servitude. God had raised up leaders to guide them out of Egypt and all the way to the land of promise. The people of Israel owed their very existence to God. Everything that had happened in their past had been His doing. That included His protection of them during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. Along the way, they encountered enemies who would have destroyed them, but God had intervened. He had proven His faithfulness by guaranteeing their safety and security.

God recounts the time when He had protected them from the efforts of Balaam to curse them. In this particular instance, King Balak of Moab had secured the services of Balaam, a seer, and commanded him to pronounce a curse on the people of Israel.

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:5-6 ESV

The people of Israel had made it all the way to the plains located on the eastern side of the Jordan River, just outside the land of promise. And they were completely oblivious to King Balak’s plans to curse and defeat them. But God had been watching out for them. And while they camped in the plains of Moab, oblivious to the sinister plot against them, God had stepped in and thwarted the plans of King Balak and Balaam.

Three separate times Balak had demanded that Balaam curse the people of Israel. And in all three cases, God forced Balaam to bless them instead. What Balak meant for evil, God had used for good. And the king of Moab was not happy with the outcome. Yet, when he confronted Balaam about his failure to curse the people of Israel, the seer could only say:

“Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the Lord speaks, that will I speak’?” – Numbers 24:12-13 ESV

All of this had taken place without the people of Israel even knowing their lives were in danger. They had been ignorant of Balak’s plans and Balaam’s repeated attempts to curse them. And they had not known that God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that His chosen people were blessed and not cursed.

Eventually, the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan River, on their way to conquer the land of Canaan and secure their inheritance. And God recalls that momentous occasion when the people of Israel left their camp in Shittim, on the east side of the Jordan, crossed the river on dry ground, and set up their new camp in Gilgal on the west side of the river. The book of Joshua records the miraculous nature of that crossing and its spiritual significance for the Israelites.

“For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:23-24 ESV

Effectively, God answers His own questions. What had He done to them? He had delivered, protected, and guided them. How had He wearied them? By asking them to fulfill their end of the covenant agreement. They had to walk across the Jordan River on dry ground. They had to obey His commands to enter the land and defeat its occupants so that they might enjoy the inheritance He had promised them. But everything He had asked them to do had been so that He might bless them. And God makes it clear that all of His actions on their behalf had been for one reason:

“…that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” – Micah 6:5 ESV

God had repeatedly and consistently proven Himself to be righteous. But they had proven themselves to be unrighteous, ungrateful, unholy, and undeserving of His grace and goodness. And, as a result, He was going to “contend” with them. The Hebrew word Micah used is yakach, and it means “to judge or decide.” God was not going to sit back and idly watch as His people continued to respond to His faithfulness with acts of unfaithfulness. He had repeatedly shown them His righteous acts. He had demonstrated for them just how righteous He was and He had always expected His chosen people to respond with acts of righteousness.

But as we will see in the following verses, God was expecting more from His people than some form of religious performance art. He was not interested in watching them continue to go through the motions, perfunctorily performing their religious duties but with no passion or conviction. When God had said, “You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy” (Leviticus 20:26 NLT), He had meant it. He had set them apart from all the other nations of the earth so that they might reflect His character through their daily lives. God had made it perfectly clear that their status as His chosen people was intended to reflect His glory as their God.

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

They enjoyed the unique privilege of being His special treasure, but this undeserved position came with indisputable responsibilities. And, as the following verses will make clear, God’s people had failed to live up to God’s requirements.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Shameless Shepherds

1 And I said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—
    you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people
    and their flesh from off their bones,
who eat the flesh of my people,
    and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces
    and chop them up like meat in a pot,
    like flesh in a cauldron.

Then they will cry to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
    because they have made their deeds evil. Micah 3:1-4 ESV

The last two verses of the preceding chapter provided a glimmer of hope concerning the future for the people of Judah.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But now, the prophet returns to the more immediate and pressing problem facing Judah: Their condemnation and guilt and the judgment God is bringing upon them because of it. In this instance, Micah turns his attention to the leaders of Israel, those whom God was holding particularly accountable for their failure to protect and guide His flock.

This is not the only time when God expressed His unhappiness with the religious and civic leaders of Israel and Judah. The prophet Ezekiel was given a message from God to deliver to “the shepherds, the leaders of Israel.”

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” – Ezekiel 34:2-5 NLT

He went on to accuse these men of abandonment and abuse, fueled by selfishness and self-preservation. And then He condemned their actions by guaranteeing His judgment of them.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

God asks the leaders of Judah a rhetorical question designed to accentuate the egregious nature of their sin: “Is it not for you to know justice?” (Micah 3:1 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “justice” is mishpat, and it carries the idea of “judgment” or “the act of judging.” As the leaders of God’s people, these individuals should have known what He expected in terms of proper conduct. God had given His law to Moses, and it contained an extremely detailed list of rules and regulations designed to govern virtually every area of Hebrew life. God had left nothing to chance or up to their imaginations.

And yet, the leaders of Israel seemed to behave as if they were ignorant of God’s commands. In fact, God flatly states, “you who hate the good and love the evil” (Micah 3:2 ESV). They were completely out of touch with God’s expectations concerning “justice.” And, once again, this was not a new problem. God had pointed it out before. The prophet Isaiah also called the people of Judah to repentance, demanding that they begin obeying God’s holy law once again.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

Isaiah even compared Judah to the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God had destroyed for their wickedness.

Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
    Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.” – Isaiah 1:10 NLT

Notice Isaiah’s mention of the law of God. The people of Judah were ignoring God’s decrees and living according to their own brand of justice and righteousness, with the end result being that they celebrated evil as good and good as evil. Just a few chapters later, Isaiah pronounces a woe upon all those who choose to replace God’s justice with their own perverted version of reality.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

God compares these men to hunters who mercilessly kill their prey, stripping off the skin and tearing the meat from the bone. And the imagery is meant to be graphic and alarming. Notice that God doesn’t refer to the people of Judah as sheep, but as “my people.” The description of the slaughter and subsequent “devouring” of God’s people was meant to conjure up images of cannibalism, something that would have shocked even the most insensitive and sin-saturated among them.

The prophet Zephaniah records another stinging condemnation from God against the leaders of Jerusalem.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men;
her priests profane what is holy;
    they do violence to the law. – Zephaniah 3:3-4 ESV

Rather than providing compassionate care, they consume. Their judgment, rather than being guided by justice and righteousness, is driven by their uncontrolled animal desires. They profane God’s holy law by replacing it with their own set of man-made standards designed to feed their sinful appetites.

But Micah warns that these very same individuals will one day find themselves on the receiving end of all the pain and suffering. The predators will become prey. The hunters will become the hunted. And when the tables are turned and these leaders cry out to God for help, He will ignore them.

Then they will cry to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
    because they have made their deeds evil. – Micah 3:4 ESV

These men had been given the honor of leading God’s people. But that role came with heavy responsibilities. God considered them to be shepherds of His sheep. Their primary role was that of caregivers, tasked with protecting and providing for those over whom God had made them stewards. Their first and foremost responsibility was to ensure that God’s people knew God’s laws and lived according to them. But these men had failed at their task. They had used their positions of power and influence to feed their own egos and line their own pockets. And God was going to hold them accountable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Aversion to the Truth

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
    Has the Lord grown impatient?
    Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
    to him who walks uprightly?
But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
    with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
    from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
    my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
    for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
    with a grievous destruction.
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
    saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
    he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:6-11 ESV

Micah was especially adept at using wordplay to drive home a point. In this section, he turns his attention to those who were begging him to give up his message of doom and gloom. Micah compares their words to a constant “dripping” of water.  He uses the Hebrew word, nataph, which means “to drop” or “drip.” It is not the normal word used for prophetic speech.

To the people of Judah, Micah’s prophecies concerning God’s pending judgment were like a steady and tireless trickle of water. He never stopped pointing out their sins and warning them of God’s anger. So, they responded in kind, persistently “dripping” their demand: “Don’t prophesy like that. Such disasters will never come our way!” (Micah 2:6 NLT).

These people wrongly assumed that if they could silence the messenger, the problem would go away. They failed to recognize the seriousness of their problem or to acknowledge their guilt and desperate need for confession and repentance. The idea that God would punish them was unfathomable to them. After all, they were His chosen people, the offspring of Abraham. He had promised to provide for and protect them. He had made a binding covenant with them, agreeing to bless and prosper them. But they had failed to remember that their covenant agreement with God had been bilateral in nature. It had come with conditions that God had communicated in the form of several if-then statements that outlined the behavioral requirements on Israel.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, [then] the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, [then] all these curses will come and overwhelm you.” – Deuteronomy 28:5 NLT

God had done His part. He had blessed them abundantly. They were living in the land of Canaan, which God had provided as their inheritance. Under the reigns of David and Solomon, they had experienced significant expansion of their borders, followed by a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden. – 1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

Even after God split the kingdom in two because of the sins of Solomon, He had continued to provide kings for both Israel and Judah. And He had faithfully continued to send His prophets to call his rebellious people to repentance. But His “chosen” people had chosen to reject His messengers and His message. They preferred blessings over curses and good news over bad news. So, they ignored the warnings of Micah, choosing instead to believe that their unique relationship with God was going to protect them from harm. But Micah had news for them.

Should you talk that way, O family of Israel?
    Will the Lord’s Spirit have patience with such behavior?
If you would do what is right,
    you would find my words comforting. – Micah 2:7 NLT

Simply refusing to accept the reality of God’s judgment against them was not going to make it go away. Wishful thinking was not an antidote for what ailed them. God was demanding repentance and a return to faithful obedience to His commands. That is why Micah insists that if they would simply do “what is right” they could once again experience the blessings of God.

“…if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.” – Deuteronomy 28:2-6 NLT

But their tendency had always been toward disobedience rather than obedience.  And Micah supports this assertion by providing evidence of their most-recent sinful behavior.

Yet to this very hour
    my people rise against me like an enemy!
You steal the shirts right off the backs
    of those who trusted you,
making them as ragged as men
    returning from battle. – Micah 2:8 NLT

Micah provides damning proof of their ongoing violation of God’s law. He accuses the people of Judah of taking advantage of their fellow citizens in order to line their own pockets. Yet, God had warned against such practice.

“If you take your neighbor’s cloak as security for a loan, you must return it before sunset. This coat may be the only blanket your neighbor has. How can a person sleep without it? If you do not return it and your neighbor cries out to me for help, then I will hear, for I am merciful.” – Exodus 22:26-27 NLT

And Micah was far from finished. He had more evidence of their ungodly and unlawful treatment of one another.

You have evicted women from their pleasant homes
    and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them. – Micah 2:9 NLT

Greed, avarice, and an insatiable appetite for more drove their actions. And, once again, their behavior was in direct violation of God’s laws.

“You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.” – Exodus 22:22-24 NLT

Interestingly enough, this is the exact charge Jesus leveled against the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders of His day.

“…they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.” – Mark 40 NLT

Jesus went on to condemn the hypocritical conduct of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel and He warned them of them that their actions would have consequences.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 NLT

And Micah had bad news for the people of his day.

Up! Begone!
    This is no longer your land and home,
for you have filled it with sin
    and ruined it completely. – Micah 2:10 NLT

They took great pride in their status as God’s chosen people, but they had failed to live up to their calling. They too were like whitewashed tombs, pristine in their outward appearance, but filled with the death and decay of sin. They still offered their sacrifices at the temple. They kept up with all the prescribed religious rituals and observances. But they failed to do what God had deemed as good, just, and right.

They would rather look good than do good. They would rather appear righteous than actually be righteous. And Micah saw through all their pretense and religious posturing. In fact, he knew that their tireless pursuit of pleasure and personal comfort made them suckers for any message that validated their lifestyle of sin.

Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you,
    “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”
That’s just the kind of prophet you would like! – Micah 2:11 NLT

And this tendency to seek out prophets, pastors, and teachers who will accommodate and even encourage godless behavior is always a danger for the people of God. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of this very problem.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

Micah was preaching the truth but the people of Judah did not want to hear it. They wanted someone to tell them what they wanted to hear. They were looking for validation, not condemnation. They wanted approval and a promise of God’s blessing, not a call to repentance and a warning of God’s judgment.

And Micah will close out this section with a reminder that God will one day restore His people. He will bless them once again. But in the meantime, the plan of God called for judgment. Their sins must be punished. Their rebellion again Him must be dealt with and their disobedience of His law must bear the appropriate consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A God You Can Count On

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:1-2 ESV

Habakkuk has heard from God. The Almighty has provided the prophet with an assurance that Babylon will receive a just sentence for its role in the judgment of Judah. Yes, they will be used by God to bring about the divine discipline of God’s chosen people, but the Babylonians will also fall under His divine wrath for every act of aggression and subjugation they enact against Judah.

And with this assurance from God, Habakkuk begins to sing another tune – literally. This closing chapter is written in the form of a psalm or song. It is a prayer of praise in the form of a poem that was most likely put to music so that it could be sung by the people of God. The phrase, “according to Shigionoth” may be a reference to the melody that was to accompany Habakkuk’s words. The singular form of the Hebrew word is found in the introduction to Psalm 7, a psalm of David.

A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.

But the Hebrew root word, shagah, provides some insight into what Habakkuk may have in mind with his prayer of praise to God. It means “to err, wander, go astray (morally), to sin through ignorance.” In David’s psalm, faced with apparent accusations of guilt from the lips of someone named Cush, he declares his innocence and asks God to either acquit or convict him.

O Lord my God, if I have done wrong
    or am guilty of injustice,
if I have betrayed a friend
    or plundered my enemy without cause,
then let my enemies capture me. – Psalm 7:3-5 NLT

He goes on to ask God for vindication and protection.

Declare me righteous, O Lord,
    for I am innocent, O Most High! – Psalm 7:8 NLT

He appeals to God as the one who “judges the nations” (Psalm 7:8 NLT).

God is my shield,
    saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
    He is angry with the wicked every day. – Psalm 7:10-11 NLT

And David is convinced that God will judge him fairly and eventually, fully vindicate him.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. – Psalm 7:17 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk’s song carries the same idea. Nowhere does he claim the nation of Judah to be innocent, but he does seem to appeal to God as a righteous judge who will one day vindicate His people. Having heard from God regarding the future judgment of Babylon, Habakkuk shares his intense longing to see that day come. He is expressing his belief that God will prove Himself faithful by fulfilling every promise He has made regarding Judah’s eventual vindication through Babylon’s destruction.

Habakkuk begins his song with a statement of wonder and praise for God’s remarkable reputation. As a prophet of God, he had been exposed to the very words of God, hearing firsthand what Yahweh had planned for Judah’s future. And it left him in a state of awe and amazement.

I have heard all about you, Lord.
    I am filled with awe by your amazing works. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

But, as a Hebrew, Habakkuk had also been raised on a steady diet of the stories of God’s intervention in the lives of His people. He had heard the creation story, the account of the flood and the preservation of Noah and his family. He had been told the story of God’s call of Abraham’s and the promise to make of him a great nation. As a child, he would have been exposed to all the stories about Joseph and the sons of Jacob in Egypt. The account of God’s amazing redemption of His people and their exodus out of Egypt would have been very familiar to him. The conquering of the land of promise, the rise of King David, the greatness of Solomon, the division of the kingdom, and the historical record of all the kings of Judah and Israel would have been well known to him. And through all those accounts, Habakkuk would have recognized the “amazing works” of God and been blown away by His power and persevering patience with His less-than-faithful people.

Unlike David, Habakkuk could not appeal to God based on a claim of Judah’s innocence. There was no way he could ask God to vindicate them because they were undeserving of His judgment. He knew full well that the people of Judah were guilty. In fact, he had begun his book with the admission that things had gotten so bad in Judah, that the wicked outnumbered the righteous.

So, Habakkuk looked to God’s well-established track record of showing up and delivering His people in times of trouble.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

Sadly, this was not the first time Judah had been faced with difficult circumstances. There had been countless other occasions when the people of God had found themselves faced with insurmountable odds and the potential for a devastating outcome. But Habakkuk knew that God had intervened on behalf of His people. He had repeatedly rescued them from their predicaments, graciously restoring them and providing them with yet another undeserved opportunity to prove their faithfulness to Him. And Habakkuk longed to see God do the same thing in his day.

But Habakkuk recognizes that the people of Judah were fully deserving of all that God was about to do to them. They stood guilty and condemned before a holy God. So, he appeals to God’s covenant faithfulness and track-record of extending undeserved mercy.

…in your anger, remember your mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk would have been familiar with the content of the prayer prayed by Solomon at the dedication of the newly constructed temple. King Solomon had begun his prayer with a statement concerning God’s faithfulness: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on the earth below. You keep your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before you in wholehearted devotion” (1 Kings 8:23 NLT).

But Solomon knew that he and his people were prone to unfaithfulness. He was concerned that their behavior would fail to live up to the terms of God’s covenantal agreement with them. So, he began describing potential scenarios in which the nation might violate their covenant commitment and stand guilty before God. And he petitioned God: “May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29-30 NLT). 

Solomon was appealing to God’s faithfulness because he knew there was little likelihood that the people of Israel would keep their end of the bargain. And when they failed to do so, He wanted to know that God would still intervene on their behalf. Solomon even included a worst-case scenario in which the people of Israel found themselves defeated and living in exile as a result of their disobedience to God.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors. – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

Solomon knew that the only hope that Israel had for their present protection and future restoration was to be found in God alone. And Habakkuk echoed that same sentiment. He was appealing to his awe-inspiring, grace-bestowing, miracle-working God. And he greatly desired that God would continue to season His righteous anger with mercy. It was all the hope that the people of God had left. They had forsaken God. They had proven themselves incapable of living in faithful obedience to their covenant with God. And unless God showed them mercy, their future would be dark, and any hope of restoration, dim.

The words of the prophet, Jeremiah, written in the book of Lamentations, seem to indicate the heart behind Habakkuk’s prayer.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT

God’s mercies are new every morning. Like the sun that shows up like clockwork at the start of each new day, God’s mercies never fail to arrive when needed. His faithfulness is unfailing. His love is unwavering. And, therefore, our hope in Him should be constant and abiding.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Sorrow Awaits

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
    for how long?—
    and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
    and those awake who will make you tremble?
    Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
    all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
    to set his nest on high,
    to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
     and the beam from the woodwork respond.” – Habakkuk 2:6-11 ESV

God continues His response to Habakkuk’s critique of the divine plan to bring judgment upon Judah through the means of the wicked Babylonians. God has not denied the fact that the Babylonians are puffed up with pride, greedy, arrogant, and unrighteous. But neither has He apologized for planning to use this wicked nation as His preferred method for bringing judgment upon His disobedient children. God had shown no remorse in having used King Sennacherib and the Assyrians to punish the northern kingdom of Israel. And He was not about to alter His plans for Judah just because Habakkuk had a problem with them.

What Habakkuk failed to see was the bigger picture of God’s plan. The prophet, while a spokesman for God, did not have all the facts to make an informed decision. He was not privy to the full scope of what God had in store for Judah or the Babylonians. And in His response to Habakkuk, God graciously begins to reveal the hidden aspects of His divine plan. He was going to use the Babylonians to accomplish His sovereign will, but that did not mean the Babylonians would escape His justice and judgment. In fact, in this section, God pronounces five “woes” or expressions of lament against the Babylonians. In the New Living Translation, these five statements of woe begin with the phrase: “What sorrow awaits….”

While God’s answer is directed at Habakkuk, He has a much larger audience in mind. He has already told His prophet to “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others” (Habakkuk 2:2 NLT). God wanted the entire nation of Judah to know what He had in store, not only for them but for the nation of Babylon. That is why He had emphasized their need for faith. They were going to have to trust that God would do the right thing. He would keep His covenant commitment to the nation of Judah. But part of that commitment had included His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. He would keep His word. But He would also keep His promise to never fully abandon them. They would suffer punishment for their apostasy, but they would also enjoy future restoration because of His unfailing love and faithfulness.

But as for Babylon, God had plans for them as well. He warns that the day will come when He turns the pride of the Babylonians into humiliation and their global domination into defeat and despair. All the nations conquered by the Babylonians will rise up and taunt them. They will relish watching the meteoric fall of the once-powerful Babylonian empire and mock as their former conquerors become the conquered and the captives.

The first woe deals with the Babylonian’s penchant for enriching themselves by plundering then taxing their conquered foes into financial destitution. Their greed and avarice were insatiable. The book of 2 Kings describes in great detail the fall of Jerusalem and the pillaging that took place by the Babylonians.

Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. He stripped away all the gold objects that King Solomon of Israel had placed in the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

After leaving its conquered enemies defeated and demoralized, the Babylonians would demand exorbitant tribute payments, essentially taxing them into further submission. But the first woe explains that this practice would not go on forever.

“What sorrow awaits you thieves!
    Now you will get what you deserve!
You’ve become rich by extortion,
    but how much longer can this go on?” – Habakkuk 2:6 NLT

God would turn the tables on the Babylonians, bringing an abrupt end to their period of world domination. Just as quickly as they rose to power, they will suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath and having to deal with the rebellion and retribution of all their enemies.

“Suddenly, your debtors will take action.
    They will turn on you and take all you have,
    while you stand trembling and helpless.” – Habakkuk 2:7 NLT

Just as the Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians as the 800-pound gorilla on the world stage, the Babylonians would eventually fall to the Medes and the Persians in 539 B.C. And all of this was under the sovereign control of God Almighty. As the prophet, Daniel wrote, “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:21 NLT).

The Babylonians would reap what they had sowed. They would experience what it was like to have their cities plundered and pillaged, and their people indiscriminately murdered.

“Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence.” – Habakkuk 2:8 NLT

Now, while these woes are directed at the nation of Babylon, it should not be overlooked that much of what is being said applied to Judah as well. And it is likely that Habakkuk did not miss the somewhat subtle indictment that God was bringing against His own people. If you recall, Habakkuk had begun his book with a dark description of the state of affairs in Judah.

Wherever I look,
    I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
    who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralyzed,
    and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
    so that justice has become perverted. – Habakkuk 1:3-4 NLT

The people of Judah were just as guilty of violence, injustice, greed, and unrighteousness. And the next woe is even more reflective of the attitude shared by many of those in Judah who lived in open rebellion against God while enjoying the many blessings He had poured out on them.

“What sorrow awaits you who build big houses
    with money gained dishonestly!
You believe your wealth will buy security,
    putting your family’s nest beyond the reach of danger. – Habakkuk 2:9 NLT

The Babylonians used all their plunder and ill-gained booty to enrich their lives and to secure their futures. They enjoyed unparalleled success and all the benefits that came with it. But God’s people were just as guilty. In fact, the prophet, Amos, provides a stinging indictment from God against the nation of Israel.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent.
Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses,
    you will never live in them.
Though you plant lush vineyards,
    you will never drink wine from them.
For I know the vast number of your sins
    and the depth of your rebellions.
You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:11-12 NLT

This kind of behavior was to be expected from the pagan Babylonians, but it should have been unheard of among the people of God. Yet sadly, it had become the norm. Injustice, greed, selfishness, and an unbridled passion for pleasure and possessions made become commonplace among the people of God. And in pronouncing woes upon the guilty Babylonians, God was condemning the sins of His own chosen people.

“But by the murders you committed,
    you have shamed your name and forfeited your lives.
The very stones in the walls cry out against you,
    and the beams in the ceilings echo the complaint.” – Habakkuk 2:10-11 NLT

What was true for the Babylonians was true of the nation of Judah as well. And God would deal with both nations, according to His justice, holiness, and righteousness. They would not get away with their wicked behavior or escape His divine wrath. As the apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). Your country of origin does not matter. Your status on the pecking order of world powers makes no difference. Whether you are the conqueror or the conquered, God will hold you accountable to His just and righteous requirements.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Be Sure Your Sins…

The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
    and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:
“Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!
10 Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
    and the scant measure that is accursed?
11 Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights?
12 Your rich men are full of violence;
    your inhabitants speak lies,
    and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
13 Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
    making you desolate because of your sins.
14 You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
    and there shall be hunger within you;
you shall put away, but not preserve,
    and what you preserve I will give to the sword.
15 You shall sow, but not reap;
    you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
    you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
16 For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels,
that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing;
    so you shall bear the scorn of my people.” Micah 6:9-16 ESV

Verse 8 records Micah’s sober reminder of God’s expectations for His people.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The criteria for doing what was good was not subjective or left up to the peoples’ imaginations. God had made Himself perfectly clear and the essence of His behavioral goals for His people had been outlined in the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue, as handed down to Moses by God, contained a summary of the entire Mosaic Law, and was intended to provide divine principles for life, ethics, and worship. By keeping the Ten Commandments (doing what the Lord required), the people of Israel would end up doing what is good. Their lives would be marked by justice, kindness, and a humble attitude of obedience to and love for God.

But in the courtroom scene that opened up chapter 6, God, acting as the prosecuting attorney, levels His charges against the people of Israel. And He warns them that their “bad” behavior, marked by injustice, greed, violence, and deceit, was going to bring about their conviction and their well-deserved condemnation.

And Micah demands that the inhabitants of the royal city of Jerusalem pay special heed to what God is about to say.

The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
    and it is sound wisdom to fear your name.
– Micah 6:9 ESV

God was about to deliver His stinging indictment against His disobedient and rebellious people, and Micah warns them that if they are wise, they will listen to what God has to say. His words echo those found in the book of Proverbs.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! – Proverbs 110:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

For Micah, it was clear that the people of Israel were marked by a lack of wisdom and it was all a result of their failure to fear the Lord. Their lives had displayed no reverence for His name. As His children, they had been given the privilege of bearing His name and were to have been His representatives on earth. But instead, they had ended up defaming and profaning His holy name through their actions.

And the prophet Ezekiel had warned the people of Israel that God would not tolerate their disrespectful treatment of His name forever.

“As for you, O people of Israel, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Go right ahead and worship your idols, but sooner or later you will obey me and will stop bringing shame on my holy name by worshiping idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 NLT

Just a few chapters later, God adds His assessment of Israel’s behavior.

“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by the evil way they lived. To me their conduct was as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth. They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them. – Ezekiel 36:17-18 NLT

Rather than displaying a fear of God that translated into wisdom that resulted in good behavior,  the people of Israel had displayed conduct that reflected their ignoring of God’s laws and their ignorance of God Himself.

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
– Proverbs 30:2-3 ESV

It is interesting to note that the primary evidence God brings against His people has to do with their behavior toward one another. He doesn’t begin with a diatribe against their idolatry and spiritual adultery. He exposes the extent of their dishonest and deceitful treatment of their fellow Israelites. They had failed to do justice and to love kindness.

Their homes were filled with “treasures of wickedness” gained through deceptive and unethical business transactions. God accuses them of “the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures” (Micah 6:10 NLT). Jerusalem’s merchants had used “dishonest scales and weights” (Micah 6:11 NLT). The prosperous in the city had “become wealthy through extortion and violence” (Micah 6:12 NLT). And, in general, the population of Jerusalem had grown “so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth” (Micah 6:12 NLT).

Not exactly a flattering portrait of God’s chosen people. But it was accurate. One of the commandments found in the Decalogue was a prohibition against stealing. And it is quite evident by God’s description of their behavior, that this law had been disregarded by the people of Israel – for generations. And they had also broken God’s command against coveting. Their lives were marked by an insatiable desire for that which was not theirs. They used deceit and dishonest practices to turn their covetous desires into tangible results.

And in all of this, they displayed a lack of trust in God. Their actions gave evidence that they doubted in His ability to provide for all their needs. They were dissatisfied with God’s blessings and so they used unjust and ungodly means to steal from one another. But God warns that their behavior was going to bring His judgment.

“Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
    making you desolate because of your sins. – Micah 6:13 ESV

Their suffering would not be the result of random chance. Their destruction would not be because they were in the wrong place and the wrong time. It was going to be the sovereign act of God Almighty and in direct response to their sins. And God’s pending punishment would have direct ties to their behavior.

Those who had greedily filled their houses with “treasures of wickedness” were going to find themselves struggling with unsatisfied hunger and unrelenting poverty.

“You will eat but never have enough.
    Your hunger pangs and emptiness will remain.
And though you try to save your money,
    it will come to nothing in the end.
You will save a little,
    but I will give it to those who conquer you.” – Micah 6:14 NLT

They had made a habit out of mistreating and deceiving one another, now God was going to show them what injustice and a lack of kindness felt like when they found themselves on the receiving end.

You will plant crops
    but not harvest them.
You will press your olives
    but not get enough oil to anoint yourselves.
You will trample the grapes
    but get no juice to make your wine. – Micah 6:15 NLT

None of this should have been a surprise to them. Because long before they entered the land of promised, God had warned them that this would happen. If they failed to obey His commands, they would eventually suffer the consequences. And God had been very specific as to the nature of those consequences.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 NLT

Now, the inevitable and seemingly unavoidable was about to happen. God tells them, “I will make an example of you, bringing you to complete ruin. You will be treated with contempt, mocked by all who see you” (Micah 6:16 NLT). But He also tells them why.

For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels… – Micah 6:16 ESV

Omri and Ahab were two kings who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel. And they both hold the unflattering distinction of having been more wicked than all the other kings who had come before them.

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:25 ESV

But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. – 1 Kings 16:30 ESV

They were the poster boys for spiritual adultery and godless conduct. And their unrighteous reigns had a deleterious influence over the nation of Israel, causing the people to follow their example by walking in their counsels. These two men became the icons for idolatry and immoral behavior. And sadly, their decision to do evil in the sight of the Lord had led an entire nation to follow their lead and walk according to their ungodly counsel. Now, the time had come to pay for Israel to pay for their sins.

“Therefore, I will make an example of you,
    bringing you to complete ruin.
You will be treated with contempt,
    mocked by all who see you.” – Micah 6:16 NLT

Omri and Ahab had set a bad example for the people under their care, and the Israelites had eagerly and willingly followed their lead. So, now God would make the Israelites an example before the nations of the earth. Those who bore His name but had profaned it by their behavior would learn the painful but invaluable lesson that disobedience brings the discipline of God. Dishonoring the integrity and holiness of His name will always result in the display of judgment.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Because of You…

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
    and make crooked all that is straight,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
    its priests teach for a price;
    its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:9-12 ES

Micah continues his merciless indictment of the religious and civil leaders of Israel. He holds them personally responsible for the judgment of God that is about to fall upon the nation. Their actions, which he outlines in detail, have played a significant role in the spiritual demise of the people under their care.

What they had failed to understand was the high view God held of their positions. He had placed upon them the mantle of leadership and it came with a divine expectation that they provide His flock with loving care and compassion. But they had dropped the ball. They had abused their authority and abandoned those over whom God had made them shepherds.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:8-10 NLT

And Micah pulls no punches when leveling his charges against these men.  He accuses them of hating justice and twisting all that is right. And it’s likely that they wholeheartedly denied Micah’s charges. But their actions betrayed them. They were hypocrites who claimed to be serving on behalf of God, but were busy serving their own interests. The prophet Isaiah was equally harsh in his assessment of these self-ascribed leaders of Israel.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them
    with ropes made of lies,
    who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!
They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.”

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:18-21 NLT

Evil is good and good is evil. Not exactly the kind of conclusions one would expect from the leaders of God’s people. But as Micah said, their actions betrayed that they hated God’s brand of justice and twisted the truth of God into a lie. And as a result, they had built “Jerusalem on a foundation of murder and corruption” (Micah 3:10 NLT). They had led the way in modeling deceit, disobedience, and immoral behavior. As the leadership went, so did the people.

There’s an old adage that says, “What parents do in moderation, children do to excess.” That timeless truism applies to civic and spiritual leadership as well. What leaders do in moderation, citizens do to excess. And Micah makes it clear that Israel’s leaders had been far less than moderate in their sinful behavior.

You rulers make decisions based on bribes;
    you priests teach God’s laws only for a price;
you prophets won’t prophesy unless you are paid. – Micah 3:11 NLT

They were all in it for what they could get out of it. Leadership had become nothing more than a means to an end and the end was personal gain. Even the prophets were profiteering from their positions. And, once again, Micah was not alone in his less-than-flattering assessment of these men. Isaiah was equally as harsh and unsparing in his indictment of these men.

Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent. – Isaiah 5:23 NLT

For the leaders of my people—
    the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
    are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
    that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
   Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
    all following their own path
    and intent on personal gain. – Isaiah 56:10-11 NLT

Not a pretty picture. But sadly, it was an accurate one. Both Micah and Isaiah provide an irrefutable assessment of the state of affairs in Israel. And it all started at the top. The nation of Israel had a long track record of lousy leadership. And it had taken its toll on the population.

And the worst part was that these men feigned allegiance to God. They claimed to be dependent upon God. And they were quick to claim that they held their positions of leadership because of God. Yet Micah exposed them for the hypocrites they were.

yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.” – Micah 3:11 ESV

The word translated as “lean” is the Hebrew word sha`an, and it can mean “to trust in” or “to lean upon.” But these men were not really trusting in or relying upon God. They were simply giving Him lip service. Their words were little more than spiritual rhetoric, pious-sounding platitudes intended to give the appearance of godliness. But God was not fooled. He knew their hearts. And in the book of Isaiah, we have God’s no-holds-barred assessment of their true spiritual condition.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

They were quick to claim God’s presence and provision. They were depending upon the Almighty to place His force-field of divine protection over them. Which had led them to falsely claim, “No harm can come to us for the Lord is here among us” (Micah 3:11 NLT). But they had failed to consider God’s commands concerning faithfulness, obedience, justice, mercy, and compassion.

Back in Isaiah 1, we find God’s clear communication of His divine will concerning His disobedient people.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

But from the top down, the people of Israel had been guilty of doing just the opposite. And, as a result, God was going to bring His judgment against the nation.

Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
    Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
    where the Temple now stands. – Micah 3:12 NLT

They had no excuse for their behavior. They couldn’t claim ignorance or blame their actions on a lack of information. God had faithfully, persistently, and lovingly called them to change their ways. He had sent prophet after prophet, each declaring His message of pending judgment. These men had begged the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord. But their messages had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, time was running out. God would not tolerate their stubborn rejection of His gracious offer of redemption forever. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God was not done with Israel. Despite the actions of their lousy leaders and the lemming-like behavior of the people, God was going to act on their behalf. He had a plan in place that included their judgment as well as their future redemption.

And chapter four opens up with words of hope that shine like a bright light in the midst of the darkness of Israel’s despair.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it… – Micah 4:1 ESV

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Infectiousness of Unfaithfulness

For this I will lament and wail;
    I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
    and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem.

10 Tell it not in Gath;
    weep not at all;
in Beth-le-aphrah
    roll yourselves in the dust.
11 Pass on your way,
    inhabitants of Shaphir,
    in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaanan
    do not come out;
the lamentation of Beth-ezel
    shall take away from you its standing place.
12 For the inhabitants of Maroth
    wait anxiously for good,
because disaster has come down from the Lord
    to the gate of Jerusalem.
13 Harness the steeds to the chariots,
    inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
    to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found
    the transgressions of Israel.
14 Therefore you shall give parting gifts
    to Moresheth-gath;
the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing
    to the kings of Israel.
15 I will again bring a conqueror to you,
    inhabitants of Mareshah;
the glory of Israel
    shall come to Adullam.
16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
    for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
    for they shall go from you into exile. Micah 1:8-16 ESV

Micah has a message from God Almighty that contains information regarding His chosen people, the descendants of Abraham. But Micah calls on all the people of the earth to hear what God has to say about the fate of the nation of Israel. Like a judge in a courtroom, God is going to deliver His indictment against the accused, and He wants everyone to hear the vindication of His actions.

He is judging His people for their sins. These are not the actions of some capricious deity who is arbitrarily meting out judgment upon innocent people. They stand before Him as guilty.

All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem? – Micah 1:5 ESV

Here, Micah uses two different designations for the people of God because he is writing during the period of the divided kingdom. Originally, Israel had been one nation with a single capital, Jerusalem, where the king of Israel reigned over a unified kingdom. But during the reign of Solomon, the son of David, things had taken a decidedly dark turn. This young man, who had ascended to his father’s throne, had begun his reign by building a house for the Lord. He had spent seven years and a vast sum of money constructing this elaborate and ornate structure designed to serve as God’s temple.

The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar. And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. And he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold. – 1 Kings 6:19-22 ESV

Upon completion of the temple, Solomon went on to build himself a palace, spending 15 years and an exorbitant amount of money in the process. And sadly, 1 Kings 7:8 reveals that he also built a temple for one of his many wives.

His own house where he was to dwell, in the other court back of the hall, was of like workmanship. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had taken in marriage.

We know that Solomon went on to have 700 wives and 300 concubines. This was in direct violation of God’s law.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. – Deuteronomy 17:7 NLT

And it is clear that Solomon ignored God’s prohibition against excessive wealth.

So King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth. People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year everyone who visited brought him gifts of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, horses, and mules.

Solomon built up a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He stationed some of them in the chariot cities and some near him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stone. And valuable cedar timber was as common as the sycamore-fig trees that grow in the foothills of Judah. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Cilicia… – 1 Kings 10:23-28 NLT

Solomon was obsessed with all the trappings of success that come with royal sovereignty. He enjoyed being the king and he used his great wealth and power to satisfy his every whim. According to his own testimony, Solomon spared no expense in meeting his every perceived need.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 NLT

But Solomon’s greatest sin was his unfaithfulness to God. He allowed his uncontrolled desires to lead him away from the worship of the one true God. His physical passions ended up having spiritual ramifications.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

And, as a result of Solomon’s idolatry, God chose to split his kingdom in half. He raised up Jeroboam and made him king over the ten tribes located in the northern half of the kingdom. And God left no doubts as to the cause of the split.

For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did. – 1 Kings 11:33 NLT

Upon Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel found itself divided in two. Ten tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel with their capital located in Samaria. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin formed the southern kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem. And over the years, these two kingdoms would find themselves ruled by a litany of different kings who, over time, led the people of God further and further away from Him. What Solomon had begun, they accelerated and exacerbated. And by the time Micah records the contents of his book, the overall spiritual outlook for the two kingdoms had grown decidedly dark.

And Micah describes his emotional state when considering the sad reality of the circumstances surrounding him.

Therefore, I will mourn and lament.
    I will walk around barefoot and naked.
I will howl like a jackal
    and moan like an owl.
For my people’s wound
    is too deep to heal.
It has reached into Judah,
    even to the gates of Jerusalem. – Micah 1:8-9 NLT

In these verses, Micah mentions a number of different cities, including Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. The sins of the ten northern tribes had infected the southern kingdom of Judah. The cancer of spiritual infidelity had spread all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. And in Micah’s lifetime, he would see the northern kingdom attacked and destroyed by the Assyrians. God would bring judgment against His people for their unrepentant rebellion against Him. And those same Assyrians would threaten the southern kingdom of Judah.

Micah weaves in the names of cities located in Judah, not far from his hometown of Moresheth. He warns the citizens of Beth-leaphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, and Maroth to consider their fate. They will soon suffer the same fate as the cities in the northern kingdom. They are not immune from God’s judgment. They stand just as guilty before God and are doomed to endure the same tragic outcome.

They “anxiously wait for relief, but only bitterness awaits them as the Lord’s judgment reaches even to the gates of Jerusalem” (Micah 1:123 NLT). City after city will fall under the righteous wrath of God. These two kingdoms, which had once formed the dynastic legacy of King David, were now relegated to positions of powerlessness and helplessness in the face of their enemies. They could run, but they could not hide. They could try to wish it all away, but their sins had caught up with them. And Micah gives them a piece of advice that comes across as too little, too late.

Oh, people of Judah, shave your heads in sorrow,
    for the children you love will be snatched away.
Make yourselves as bald as a vulture,
    for your little ones will be exiled to distant lands. – Micah 1:16 NLT

They should have mourned over their sins generations ago. This problem was not a new one. Their sins were not an aberration or a recent development. The sins of the northern kingdom had grown progressively worse until God was ready to bring judgment against them in the form of the Assyrians. And the infectious nature of their sin had spread to the southern kingdom, leaving the tribes of Judah and Benjamin equally culpable and fully responsible for God’s judgment against them.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unfinished Story

1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
    a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
    and uncover her foundations.
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
    all her wages shall be burned with fire,
    and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
    and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. Micah 1:1-7 ESV

One of the amazing things about Scripture is its ability to transport the reader back through history, providing candid “snapshots” that capture moments in time just as they happened. And since the Bible covers the history of the nation of Israel, much of its pages are filled with glimpses into its colorful, but not always flattering past. The historic record of the Israelites is a volatile one, that includes its humble beginnings at the birth of Isaac and its eventual transformation into a formidable nation without a homeland. And all of this is chronicled within the pages of Scripture.

God had called Abram out of Ur, promising to relocate him to a new land to make of him a great nations.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Abram’s obedience to God’s call required that he follow God’s directions which eventually led him to the land of Canaan.

When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” – Genesis 12:5-7 ESV

At this point in the story, Abram and his wife, Sarai, were childless. And the circumstances were complicated by the fact that they were both advanced in years and Sarai was barren. And yet, God had predicated His call of Abram on His ability to bless this childless man through an abundance of descendants.

Yet, while God had told Abram what He was going to do, He had not yet shared the how. This elderly couple remained childless and everything about their circumstances made any likelihood of God’s promises coming to fruition not only improbable but impossible. And almost as if to make matters worse, God predicted that Abram’s nonexistent offspring would end up in captivity for 400 years.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Then, on his 90th-birthday, Abram received a visit from God who reiterated His covenant commitment to him.

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:5-8 ESV

What is so important to understand is that at this point in the story, Abraham is still without an heir. As far as Abraham could tell, all of these wonderful promises from God had no basis in reality. There was no son. There had been no seed given and, therefore, there was no means by which God could fulfill a single one of His promises. And Abraham had shared his reservations with God.

“O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 NLT

But Abraham was operating with a limited perspective. He was bound by time and space, and incapable of grasping the future plans God had in store for him. He looked at his wife and saw a barren woman. He probably caught his own reflection in a pool of water and saw an old man, well past his prime and in no condition to father a son. It all looked so bleak and unpromising. But God was involved. And that is what sets the story of Israel apart from all others. This nation had been handpicked by God. Even before Abraham’s first descendant was even born, God had promised, “to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7 ESV). And He had promised to give them a land as their inheritance.

“I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:8 ESV

And the rest of the Old Testament provides a detailed account of how God kept His word and fulfilled His promises to Abraham. Which brings us to the book of Micah. In this small, but powerful book, we have a record of God’s communication to the descendants of Abraham, the men and women who eventually became the mighty nation God had promised to make. They had become the recipients of all the blessings God had outlined to Abraham generations earlier. God had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. He had blessed then with kings and had provided them with victories over their enemies. They had enjoyed tremendous success. But they had also experienced their fair share of failures. Because they had chosen to be unfaithful to God. As a result, He had brought judgment upon them.

As we make our way through this book, we will unpack the circumstances that had led to the current conditions in Judah. To do so, we will revisit the timeline that had preceded their current predicament. How did they get to this point? What had precipitated their fall? How had they gone from being the offspring of Abraham, blessed by God, to those who found themselves under the full wrath of God?  It is a fascinating story and one that demands our attention. Because it provides a glimpse into the nature of our God and opens our eyes to the pervasive presence of sin – even among those deemed the children of God.

The story picks up during “the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Micah 1:1 ESV). And the author is someone called Micah, who provides us with that “which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1 ESV). And the message Micah has to deliver is directly from the throne of God.

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple. – Micah 1:2 ESV

What follows is a message of coming destruction. God is leaving His throne in heaven and making a personal trip to the land of Canaan in order to deliver His judgment personally and powerfully.

For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. – Micah 1:3 ESV

And just so there is no doubt as to why God has chosen to leave heaven and come to earth, Micah provides the answer.

All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel. – Micah 1:5 ESV

God is angry with His people and, as we will see, His anger is justifiable. They deserve what they are about to receive. But how did it get this way? How did the nation which God had formed from an elderly man and his barren wife end up under His wrath? What was it they had done to make God so angry that He was threatening to leave His royal residence in heaven and make a personal trip to earth to mete out His divine judgment? The answers to these questions will be found in the pages of the book of Micah and the rest of the pages of God’s Word. And they will provide us with a much-needed grasp of God’s glory and greatness when faced with man’s ingratitude and unfaithfulness.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord is in the Right

12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
    which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
    on the day of his fierce anger.

13 “From on high he sent fire;
    into my bones he made it descend;
he spread a net for my feet;
    he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
    faint all the day long.

14 “My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
    by his hand they were fastened together;
they were set upon my neck;
    he caused my strength to fail;
the Lord gave me into the hands
    of those whom I cannot withstand.

15 “The Lord rejected
    all my mighty men in my midst;
he summoned an assembly against me
    to crush my young men;
the Lord has trodden as in a winepress
    the virgin daughter of Judah.

16 “For these things I weep;
    my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
    one to revive my spirit;
my children are desolate,
    for the enemy has prevailed.”

17 Zion stretches out her hands,
    but there is none to comfort her;
the Lord has commanded against Jacob
    that his neighbors should be his foes;
Jerusalem has become
    a filthy thing among them.

18 “The Lord is in the right,
    for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
    and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
    have gone into captivity. – Lamentations 1:12-18 ESV

Jerusalem’s plight was self-inflicted but God-ordained. They had freely chosen to break the covenant they had made with Him through repeated violations of His commands. Idolatry, immorality, and injustice had become the new norm throughout the nation of Judah. The spiritual state of the people just prior to their fall to the Babylonians harkens back to the period of the judges. This was the time before the first king ruled over Israel, when the people were still trying to conquer and occupy the land of Canaan. Seven times in the book of Judges, Samuel uses the phrase: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). The people had essentially rejected God as their sovereign and had chosen instead to live their lives according to their own standards and rules.

And nothing had changed when the kings began to rule. As we saw in yesterday’s post, there had been times when the people were led by godly kings and lived in relative obedience to their covenant commitments. But for the most part, their track record was marred by repeated unfaithfulness and rampant idolatry.

Now, they were suffering the consequences of their actions. God had finally done what He had warned He would do: He had brought His judgment to bear against an ungrateful and unrepentant people who had taken their status as His chosen people for granted. And God’s judgment was fully righteous and their fate was well-deserved.

In verse 18 personifies the city of Jerusalem acknowledging God’s just and righteous actions against her.

“The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word…” – Lamentations 1:18 ESV

This statement regarding God’s unwavering righteousness even while meting out His judgment upon His disobedient people is found throughout the Scriptures. The psalmist was saddened by the nation’s rejection of God’s laws because they reflected His righteous and holy standards.

My eyes shed streams of tears,
    because people do not keep your law.

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    and right are your rules.
You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
    and in all faithfulness. – Psalm 119:136-138 ESV

Ezra and Nehemiah, two men who would eventually lead a remnant of the people our of Babylon and back to the land of Judah. After 70 years of captivity, a small contingent of God’s people would be restored to the land He had promised as their inheritance. And while they would return to find the city of Jerusalem empty and in a state of desolation, they would recognize and confess that God had been fully just in all He had done.

“O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” – Ezra 9:15 ESV

Every time you punished us you were being just. We have sinned greatly, and you gave us only what we deserved. – Nehemiah 9:33 NLT

And Nehemiah, speaking on behalf of the returned remnant, would acknowledge that the ingratitude and disobedience of their forefathers had been the cause of their plight.

Our kings, leaders, priests, and ancestors did not obey your Law or listen to the warnings in your commands and laws. Even while they had their own kingdom, they did not serve you, though you showered your goodness on them. You gave them a large, fertile land, but they refused to turn from their wickedness. – Nehemiah 9:34-35 NLT

And it’s important to remember that the words found in Lamentations are from the pen of Jeremiah and not from the lips of the people of Judah. He uses the city of Jerusalem to act as a kind of proxy for the people, allowing it to voice what they should have said but had failed to do so.

Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
    which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
    on the day of his fierce anger. – Lamentations 1:12 ESV

There is a clear acknowledgment that their suffering was God-inflicted. But Jeremiah seems to stress that the people are more focused on their sorrow and suffering. Notice how many times Jeremiah uses the personal pronoun “he” to refer to God.

“From on high he sent fire;
    into my bones he made it descend;
he spread a net for my feet;
    he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
    faint all the day long.” – Lamentations 1:13 ESV

Fives time in one verse Jeremiah makes mention of God’s divine actions against Jerusalem. But in the following four verses, he will utilize the personal pronouns “me, my, and I” 12 separate times. The emphasis seems to be on the peoples’ plight. It is written from their perspective. Yes, God was just and right in all that He had done, but they were unhappy with the outcome.

he caused my strength to fail – vs. 14

“the Lord gave me into the hands
    of those whom I cannot withstand” – vs. 14

“The Lord rejected
    all my mighty men in my midst” – vs. 15

“he summoned an assembly against me
    to crush my young men” – vs. 15

It was all about them. They couldn’t dismiss the idea that God had brought His judgment against them, but that didn’t mean they had to accept it or like it. And Jeremiah, who was living among the people who had been left behind after the fall of the capital, knew them well. He had heard their cries and laments. He had witnessed the devastation and listened to the pitiable pleas of the people as they navigated the dark days after the Babylonians had left. They had no king, no army, no capital, no temple, and no idea what the future held in store.

But they did have the recognition that their God and His judgments were real. It should have been a time when they came to grips with the seriousness of God’s call to covenant commitment. He had not been bluffing when He warned that disobedience would result in curses. They had just watched it happen with their own eyes.

But Jeremiah portrays them as fixating on all they had lost, rather than focusing their attention on the lessons God was trying to teach them. It reminds me of the opening lines of Charles Dicken’s classic work, A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period…” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It is often in our moments of greatest despair that we experience the objectivity and clarity we need to view our circumstances accurately. Times of difficulty tend to get our attention and, if we allow them, they can be used to refocus our priorities.

But Jeremiah portrays the people of Judah as blaming God for their lot in life. They know He is the cause of their current circumstances, but what is missing is any confession on their part. There is no acknowledgment of guilt or expression of repentance. It is all about their pain and their suffering, their loss and their feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.

Jerusalem reaches out for help,
    but no one comforts her. – Lamentations 1:17 NLT

But despite the difficult conditions under which they suffered, their God had not abandoned them. Yes, He was punishing them and justifiably so. But He was a faithful, covenant-keeping God who would not fail to fulfill every promise He had made. All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, written before the people entered the land of promise under the direction of Joshua, God had warned them that their disobedience would have dire consequences.

“…the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. And there you will serve man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.” – Deuteronomy 4:27-28 BSB

But God had also promised to restore them.

“But if from there you will seek the LORD your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers, which He swore to them by oath.”  – Deuteronomy 4:29-31 BSB

The people of Judah fully deserved what they had suffered. What they didn’t deserve was the gracious and merciful love of God. They could claim to have no comforter, but they would be wrong. God was still with them and for them. He still cared deeply about them. And God intended to keep every promise He had ever made to them.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson