Don’t Count God Out

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
    when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
    because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
    and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication.
10 Then my enemy will see,
    and shame will cover her who said to me,
    “Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
    now she will be trampled down
    like the mire of the streets.

11 A day for the building of your walls!
    In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
12 In that day they will come to you,
    from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
    from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
13 But the earth will be desolate
    because of its inhabitants,
    for the fruit of their deeds. – Micah 7:8-13 ESV

In verse 7, Micah expressed a personal word of faith and hope in God. In spite of all the sin and wickedness taking place around him, he was going to continue to trust in the Lord.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

But Micah’s words were also meant as a call to the remnant of the faithful within Judah to follow his example. As a prophet and ruler in Judah, he was setting a precedent. And this entire scene is reminiscent of the one in which Joshua, nearing death, spoke a word of encouragement to the people of Israel.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15 ESV

Joshua had led the people of Israel in their initial conquest and occupation of the land of Canaan. But his life was coming to an end and the Israelites had not yet completed their God-ordained job. There were still enemies living in the land and their false gods were going to be a constant temptation for the people of Israel until they were completely eradicated. So, Joshua prefaced his words of personal commitment to God with a challenge to the Israelites.

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” – Joshua 24:14-15 ESV

Joshua, like Micah, was calling the people of God to make up their minds. And both men were setting themselves up as examples to follow.

In verses 8-10, Micah speaks in the first person, because what he describes had been his personal experience. But his words are also meant to represent those of the entire nation. He is acting as a spokesperson for his people. Micah’s enemies had mocked him. But the day was coming when the enemies of Judah would do the same to them. And while Micah had learned to trust God, no matter how bleak the circumstances may have been, he wanted the people of Judah to do the same.

when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me. – Micah 7:8 ESV

God would be with them. Even though the judgment they were about to experience would be coming from the hand of God, He would not abandon or desert them.

In verse 9, we see more clearly Micah’s attempt to speak on behalf of his people. He includes himself in their guilt as if he had personally committed the sins for which God is about to punish them.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord
    because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
    and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication. – Micah 7:9 ESV

In a sense, Micah is challenging his fellow Judahites to acknowledge their sin and accept their punishment. He also wants them to turn to the only one who can vindicate and rescue them: God.

Like all the other prophets, Micah was going to end up suffering alongside the very people he had been trying to save. He would not escape the effects of the Babylonian siege or receive divine immunity from suffering. In a way, Micah would receive vindication when the Babylonians finally destroyed Jerusalem. All of his messages warning of pending judgment would be fulfilled and the people of Judah would know he had been telling the truth.

Then my enemy will see,
    and shame will cover her who said to me,
    “Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
    now she will be trampled down
    like the mire of the streets. – Micah 7:10 ESV

But this statement will also apply to the nation of Judah when God redeems them from captivity in Babylon and restores them to their land. In the midst of their captivity, the people of Judah will have to listen to their enemies as they mock them and their God. But Micah assures them that the day will come when the tables are turned and the victors will become the vanquished.

Micah describes a future day when the city of Jerusalem will be restored to its once glorious splendor and the nation of Israel will enjoy a time of unparalleled growth.

A day for the building of your walls!
    In that day the boundary shall be far extended. – Micah 7:11 ESV

And in that future day, the nations of the earth will make their way to Jerusalem, seeking to worship the God of the Israelites: Yahweh.

In that day they will come to you,
    from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
    from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. – Micah 7:12 ESV

Micah is speaking of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation, when Christ returns to earth, conquers all the enemies of God, and sets up His Kingdom in Jerusalem where He will reign for 1,000 years. The prophet, Amos, records the words of God Himself, describing the glory of this future day.

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 ESV

But Micah points out that, while the land of Israel will enjoy a time of fruitfulness and abundance, the rest of the world will exhibit the damage incurred from all the judgments of God that will take place during the Great Tribulation.

But the earth will be desolate
    because of its inhabitants,
    for the fruit of their deeds. – Micah 7:13 ESV

Micah, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, is revealing aspects of God’s plans for Israel that stretch into the distant future. Micah and his fellow Judahites will not live to see these events take place, but he fully believes they will happen. Like the psalmist, Micah had faith in his God, and that faith gave him the confidence he needed to keep trusting and waiting on His salvation.

But I will keep on hoping for your help;
    I will praise you more and more.
I will tell everyone about your righteousness.
    All day long I will proclaim your saving power… – Psalm 71:14-15 NLT

And it was the prophet, Jeremiah, who wrote:

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 3:22-24 NLT

It is always dangerous to judge the faithfulness of God based on a single moment in time. Things do not always turn out the way we think they should. The circumstances surrounding us can leave the impression that God is nowhere to be found. Dark days can convince us that there is no light on the horizon. But our God is faithful. And His plans for us are reliable. In time, we will see the vindication of the Lord. If we wait, He will come through. He always does. Because He has given us His word.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

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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But As For Me

1 Woe is me! For I have become
    as when the summer fruit has been gathered,
    as when the grapes have been gleaned:
there is no cluster to eat,
    no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.
The godly has perished from the earth,
    and there is no one upright among mankind;
they all lie in wait for blood,
    and each hunts the other with a net.
Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well;
    the prince and the judge ask for a bribe,
and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul;
    thus they weave it together.
The best of them is like a brier,
    the most upright of them a thorn hedge.
The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come;
    now their confusion is at hand.
Put no trust in a neighbor;
    have no confidence in a friend;
guard the doors of your mouth
    from her who lies in your arms;
for the son treats the father with contempt,
    the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
    a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me.
– Micah 7:1-7 ESV

Serving as one of God’s prophets could be a difficult and thankless task. You were required to faithfully deliver God’s message, condemning His people for their sin and calling them to repentance. And few of the prophets were welcomed with open arms or receptive ears. In most cases, they were despised for their efforts and often, physically abused for attempting to save the people from the coming judgment of God.

These men were not automatons, heartless robots who mindlessly mouthed the words of God. They were not devoid of feeling and they received no joy in having to call out their brothers and sisters for their apostasy and spiritual adultery.

And as Micah begins to wrap up the book that bears his name, he shares his own sense of heartache and despair as he assesses the situation in Judah. He describes the current spiritual condition among his people as fruitless. It’s a scene of barrenness, with not a single cluster of grapes or a solitary fig to be found. Rather than enjoying the blessings of God and the spiritual abundance He had promised, they are living in a time of spiritual famine. They are reaping the God-ordained consequences for their disobedience. He had warned them what would happen if they failed to keep His commands.

“You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops. You will plant vineyards and care for them, but you will not drink the wine or eat the grapes, for worms will destroy the vines. You will grow olive trees throughout your land, but you will never use the olive oil, for the fruit will drop before it ripens.” – Deuteronomy 28:38-40 NLT

The psalmist paints a very different picture, describing how God had uprooted the people of Israel from Egypt and replanted them in the land of Canaan. He had greatly blessed and prospered them, facilitating and cultivating their growth into a mighty nation.

You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
    you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
You cleared the ground for us,
    and we took root and filled the land.
Our shade covered the mountains;
    our branches covered the mighty cedars.
We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;
    our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River. – Psalm 80:8-11 NLT

Yet the psalmist goes on to reveal the sad outcome of Israel’s disobedience.

But now, why have you broken down our walls
    so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
The wild boar from the forest devours it,
    and the wild animals feed on it. – Psalm 80:12-13 NLT

Micah is writing before the actual fall of Judah and Jerusalem. What he describes in these verses is the scene taking place around him as he completes his prophetic message and awaits the coming judgment of God. And you can sense his deep despair through the hyperbolic, overly-exaggerated he employs.

The godly people have all disappeared;
    not one honest person is left on the earth. – Micah 7:2 NLT

From Micah’s vantage point, the land of Judah appears to have been completely overrun by the godless and the unrighteous. Everywhere he looks he sees the indisputable evidence of their wickedness. And he is unrelenting in his assessment of his countrymen, describing them as murderers who have developed an uncanny capacity to commit evil with both hands. They can sin equally well with either their right or their left hand. In other words, they have no limits or restrictions on their sinfulness.

The officials and judges use their positions to demand bribes. Those with influence and power distort justice for their own advantage. The standard for righteousness has fallen so low that Micah describes the best among them as nothing more than briars and thorn bushes. In other words, they’re worthless.

And Micah warns that “The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come” (Micah 7:4 ESV). God’s punishment was eminent and the watchmen stationed on the walls of Jerusalem would soon be declaring the arrival of the Babylonian army. And with their arrival, the wicked within the walls of the city would be thrown into confusion and dismay, wondering how this terrible tragedy could be happening to them. Those who had rejected Micah’s call to repentance would soon be calling out in despair, begging God to rescue them from the very judgment He had warned was coming.

The people of Judah had refused to trust Micah and his message from God. So, he warns them that now the time has come when they will no longer be able to trust anyone.

Don’t trust anyone—
    not your best friend or even your wife!
For the son despises his father.
    The daughter defies her mother.
The daughter-in-law defies her mother-in-law.
    Your enemies are right in your own household! – Micah 7:5-6 NLT

It will be every man and woman for themselves. In fear and desperation, people will turn on one another. The abuse described in verses 2-4 will become widespread and impossible to escape. The Babylonians will lay siege to the city, slowly starving the residents within its walls and producing an atmosphere of civil unrest and rampant self-preservation. And we have ample descriptions of just how badly things eventually got inside Jerusalem.

So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. – 2 Kings 25:2-3 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah provides a vivid portrait of the suffering that took place within the city of Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege.

The parched tongues of their little ones
    stick to the roofs of their mouths in thirst.
The children cry for bread,
    but no one has any to give them.

The people who once ate the richest foods
    now beg in the streets for anything they can get.
Those who once wore the finest clothes
    now search the garbage dumps for food. – Lamentations 4:4-5 NLT

Their skin sticks to their bones;
    it is as dry and hard as wood.

Those killed by the sword are better off
    than those who die of hunger.
Starving, they waste away
    for lack of food from the fields. – Lamentations 4:8-9 NLT

Things were bad in Judah, and they were only going to get worse. The stubbornness of the people was going to result in the judgment of God, and it would be unrelenting and, ultimately, unbearable. Their refusal to hear and obey Micah’s call to repentance would cost them dearly. The years of fruitfulness they had enjoyed as a result of God’s grace would be replaced with decades of barrenness and spiritual famine.

And yet, in the midst of all the apostasy and spiritual adultery, Micah is able to remain committed to his God. He maintains his hope in the saving power of God Almighty.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

Micah may have felt like he was surrounded by wickedness and devoid of spiritual companionship, but he knew he was not alone. God was with him. And while no one else seemed willing to wait upon the Lord, Micah was going to place his hope in God, waiting confidently for His salvation. When Micah looked around him, all he saw was evidence of faithlessness. But when he looked up, he saw a faithful, covenant-keeping God who was committed to finishing what He started, doing what He promised, and answering the cries of His repentant people.

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 Does God Require?

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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 6:6-8 ESV

In verse 3, Micah records God confronting the people of Israel 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

God is demanding to know the reason for their disobedience and disrespectful treatment of Him. Was it something He did or said? Was He to blame? But before the Israelites would answer, God reminded them of His faithfulness by recalling His actions on their behalf. He had delivered them out slavery in Egypt. He had provided them with qualified leaders. He had protected them from their enemies. And He had miraculously aided their crossing of the Jordan River so they could enter the land of promise.

And then God explains why He had done all these things for them:

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

They had experienced the righteous acts of God, firsthand. He had displayed His righteousness in tangible ways that they could see and appreciate. But it is important that we understand what God means by “righteous acts.” His deeds, done on behalf of the people of Israel, were righteous and just. All that He had done for them had been accomplished in a just manner, without pretense and unstained by sin. Moses was able to say of God:

“his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV

Every single action of God, done on behalf of His chosen people, was fully just and right. He had made no mistakes. He had done nothing with impure motives or in violation of His own righteous standards. So, the people of Israel could not point their fingers at him and accuse Him of wrong-doing. They could excuse their behavior by blaming God.

God describes His actions as “righteous.” The Hebrew word is tsedaqah, and it means “justice, righteousness, things done justly.” As Moses stated, all of God’s ways are perfect, right, and just. He sets the standard for righteousness and justice. And that seems to be the point of this passage. God had given the people of Israel tangible evidence of what justice and righteousness look like. They had seen them lived out in their own lives through His acts of deliverance, protection, mercy, grace, and undeserved kindness.

But God had not stopped there. He had also provided them with His law as a concrete example of what acts of righteousness were to look like in their own lives.

“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness [tsedaqah] for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” – Deuteronomy 6:24-25 ESV

God was just and right in all His ways, and He expected His chosen people to emulate His behavior. That is why He had told them, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV). God had expected them to live distinctively different lives than the pagan nations which occupied the land of Canaan. So, He had given them a standard for their conduct that clearly differentiated between right and wrong. And God had warned them against following the ways of the world.

“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.” – Leviticus 20:22-23 ESV

They were not to emulate the ways of the world. They were not to use human reasoning or secular solutions to guide their lives or to determine their conduct.

“I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples.You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” – Leviticus 20:24, 26 ESV

This idea of separation is essential to understanding what Micah is trying to communicate in these verses. The people of Israel had been “set apart” by God. But their separateness was to manifest itself in tangible ways, not so much in physical segregation from the rest of the world, as through their daily behavior. And Micah clarifies that God was not interested in external displays of piety or religious zeal. He was not swayed by outward acts of obedience that were only righteous in appearance.

The people of Israel had a reputation for going through the motions, performing their God-appointed rituals and observing the feasts and festivals with a certain degree of religious zeal, but God accused them of hypocrisy.

“…this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 ESV

And Micah picks up on that theme by asking a series of probing questions designed to illustrate how the people of Israel had missed the point of what it means to do acts of justice or righteousness.

What can we bring to the Lord?
    Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
    with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
    and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
    to pay for our sins? – Micah 6:6-7 NLT

God was not interested in outward displays of obedience that were nothing more than unrighteous people going through the motions. The people of Israel had been doing all the “right” things, but their hearts had been in the wrong place. And it was King David who had pointed out what God really desired from His people.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

The peoples’ hearts were far from God. Their hearts were anything but contrite. Their spirits remained unbroken. And their actions, no matter how righteous in appearance, were anything but pleasing to God.

Jesus pointed out the danger of turning our acts of righteousness into nothing more than performance art, done for the praise and admiration of others.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 ESV

In today’s nomenclature, we might call this “virtue signaling.”

virtue signaling: the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.  – dictionary.com

We post and repost. We display images on our Facebook pages that convey our convictions and confirm our stand on particular issues and social concerns. We affirm our positions on various hot-button topics with the click of a button. And, in doing so, we practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.

But Micah provides us with some sobering food for thought. Yet, these verses are often lifted out of their context and used to justify the very behavior condemned by Jesus and described in the dictionary.com definition above.

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

Micah makes it quite clear that God has already communicated what He deems to be “good” or acceptable behavior. And he sums it up in three simple statements:

…to do justice

…to love kindness

…to walk humbly with your God

But what do these phrases mean? And who gets to determine their definitions? Here is where this verse gets abused and misused, even by well-meaning Christians. We take those three imperatives and define them according to our cultural context. We allow the world to dictate what justice means. We let others determine what true kindness looks like in everyday life. But the context of Micah 6:8 is the rest of chapter 6 and the entirety of the book of Micah. God is speaking to the people of Israel. He is addressing the sins of those whom He has chosen as His own. And the justice He has in mind is not some form of outward behavior mandated by the prevailing culture. He is speaking of acts of righteousness that emulate His own. He is demanding that His people do what he has deemed to be right. They are to live according to His standards, not those of the world. They are to use His definitions, not those of a secular society that are nothing more than commandments taught by men (Isaiah 29:13).

The people of God are to do what God would have them do. They are to do what is right and just, but according to His definitions, not their own. The world will always be quick to tell us what is the right thing to do. The prevailing society will always attempt to influence our actions by dictating the rules for acceptable behavior. And our desire to fit into this world will constantly tempt us to mimic the world’s ways.

To do justice is to do what God would have us do. It is to live according to His will and not our own. And it will require a separateness and set-apartness that puts pleasing Him ahead of any desire to please the world.

These three attributes found in Micah 6:8 are focused on God, not man. They are not meant to be an outline for enacting social justice in the world. They are a reminder to the people of God that the standards for right living are determined by our righteous God. They are a call to love the mercy and kindness of God more than we love this world. When we fail to do so, we find ourselves seeking to be loved and accepted by the world. We do what the world would have us do. We live up to its standards of righteousness and justice. We virtue signal. We post. We blog. We posture. We give in to the world’s demands. And when we do, we fail to walk humbly with our God.

Self-righteousness is the greatest danger we face. Pride in our achievements and the desire for the praise of men are constant threats to our effectiveness as God’s people. Micah wanted the Israelites to know that good deeds done with good intentions were not what God was looking for. He was looking for people who lived according to His standards of holiness, fully appreciated His acts of kindness, and were willing to walk humbly before Him.

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 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

God Is Not Done

1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.
– Micah 5:1-5a ESV

Verse 1 of chapter five provides a connecting link back to the theme of chapter four. In the Hebrew Bible, it is actually included as the last verse of chapter four. But regardless of its placement, its message is the same. Jerusalem is being called to muster its troops because the enemy will soon arrive and lay siege to the city.  Jerusalem had a long history associated with warfare. For centuries, nations had battled over this prominent sight located on the top of Mount Zion. According to 2 Samuel 5, David took the city from the Jebusites.

David then led his men to Jerusalem to fight against the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the land who were living there. The Jebusites taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and lame could keep you out!” For the Jebusites thought they were safe. But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David. – 2 Samuel 5:6-7 NLT

Micah refers to Jerusalem as “the daughter of troops,” indicating its long association with warfare. Even after David made Jerusalem his capital city, this prime piece of real estate in the Middle East would remain a battle ground, attracting the attention of countless enemies who longed to displace the Jews and make it their own. And Micah reveals that an enemy is coming who will do just that. This time, the walls will be breached and the “judge of Israel” will be struck on the cheek.

This is most likely a reference to King Zedekiah, the man who had the unenviable experience of sitting on the throne when the Babylonians showed up to sack the city of Jerusalem. The imagery of him being struck on the cheek is meant to convey the idea of abject humiliation. Micah is warning that this judge or ruler over Israel is going to be publicly shamed and humiliated by those who conquer the city of Jerusalem. And the book of 2 Kings provides us with the grizzly details of what happened.

So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:1-7 NLT

Verse 1 is dealing with a future event, but one that will take place in a relatively short period of time. As Micah penned these words, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was still unfulfilled, but it was inevitable and unavoidable.

But suddenly, Micah turns his attention to the fate of another city in Judah and to the exploits of another ruler. Verses 2-5 are intended to provide a stark contrast to the events described in chapter four.

But why are you now screaming in terror?
    Have you no king to lead you?
Have your wise people all died?
    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth.
Writhe and groan like a woman in labor,
    you people of Jerusalem,
for now you must leave this city
    to live in the open country.
You will soon be sent in exile
    to distant Babylon. – Micah 4:9-10 NLT

Unlike the city of Jerusalem, the small village of Bethlehem Ephrathah could look forward to a brighter future. Micah utilizes the two names most commonly associated with this town. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Ephrathah means “place of fruitfulness.” While Jerusalem had been King David’s capital city, Bethlehem was his birthplace.

Micah refers to Bethlehem as “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2 ESV). He purposefully accentuates the insignificance of this obscure village, located just five and a half miles due south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem paled in comparison to the capital city with its high walls, luxurious palace, and its temple inlaid with gold and precious stones. A nondescript village like Bethlehem would be overlooked by the Babylonians troops as they made their way to Jerusalem. It had nothing to offer. It contained no palaces to pillage and no fine homes laden with treasures. And yet, Micah signifies that this inconsequential town will have an important role to play in Israel’s future. God had revealed to Micah that Bethlehem was going to be the birthplace of yet another individual who, like David, would rule over the nation of Israel.

…from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Here, Micah uses a different Hebrew word than the one he used in verse one. When Micah referred to the “judge” who would be humiliated at the hands of the Babylonians, he used the word shaphat. This was most likely intended as a form of wordplay because the Hebrew word for “rod” is shebet. These two similar-sounding words were meant to drive home his main point: The proud and arrogant king of Israel would be humiliated. 

But in verse two, Micah uses the Hebrew word mashal, which means “to rule” or “to have dominion.” Unlike Zedekiah, who would see his reign brought to an abrupt and ignominious end, this future ruler over Israel “shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God” (Micah 5:4 ESV).

This ruler will do what Zedekiah and his predecessors failed to do: Shepherd the flock of God. And he will do so in the strength of the Lord and for the majesty of His name. He will be faithful. He will be successful. He will be righteous. And he will be eternal. Notice what Micah has to say about this future king of Israel. He describes him in rather cryptic terms, saying his “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2 ESV). This is meant to set apart this individual as something more than just another human king.

The prophet Ezekiel links this future King of Israel with the former king whom God had designated as a man after His own heart.

“And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23-24 NLT

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. – Ezekiel 37:24-25 NLT

But this is not describing a resurrected and resuscitated King David who will regain his throne in Jerusalem. Ezekiel is prophesying the coming of one who will also be a man after God’s own heart and rule the nation of Israel as David did.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

The apostle Paul describes this future King of Israel as coming from the very throne room of God and taking on human flesh.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

And, in his gospel account, Matthew records just how this King was born as a human being.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:1-6 NLT

And Micah reveals that the people of Judah would find themselves “given up” by God until the time of Jesus’ birth was ordained to take place.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth. – Micah 5:3 ESV

Jesus Christ was born in the city of Bethlehem. He was a Jew, a descendant of David, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. But His own people rejected Him as their Messiah. They refused to accept Him as their King, choosing instead to betray Him to the Romans, falsely accusing Him of fomenting insurrection against Caesar. So, He was crucified as a punishment for His “crimes.” And the description of His crime was carved into a wooden plaque and placed on the cross upon which He was nailed.

So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” – John 19:16-19 NLT

The Jews of Jesus’ day rejected Him. And, while He continues to be ignored by the vast majority of His fellow citizens of Israel, Micah prophesies concerning a future day when the chosen people of God will have their eyes opened and their relationship with God fully restored.

…the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel. – Micah 5:3 ESV

Micah referred to this event back in chapter two, when he quoted the promise of God.

“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! – Micah 2:12 NLT

Jesus Christ will be the fulfillment of this promise. But it did not take place at His first coming. So, it remains as yet unfulfilled. But God is not done. He has a plan in place and He will bring it about in His perfect timing. As the apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, God has great things in store for Israel.

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:26-27 NLT

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

Dark Days Ahead

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. Micah 1:1 ESV

This book opens up with an introduction to its author, Micah, whose name means “Who is like Yahweh.” Micah, as will be revealed from the content of his book, was a prophet of God. As is true with many of the other prophets of God, there are few details provided concerning his identity or background. We are simply told that he is from Moresheth, a town also known as Moresheth-Gath, located roughly 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah.

Like all the other prophets whose books were included in the canon of Scripture, Micah was a divinely-appointed spokesman for the God of Israel. He had been hand-picked by God for his role and given a message from the Almighty to deliver to the southern kingdom of Judah during the reigns of three successive kings: Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This would have made Micah a contemporary of Isaiah, a much more familiar and famous prophet, who also served as God’s spokesman to Judah. In the north, the people of Israel were assigned Amos and Hosea as their divine messengers.

Micah’s commission from God lasted through the reigns of three consecutive kings, and during that time great changes took place in Judah. Jotham succeeded his father, Uzziah, to the throne. According to the book of 2 Kings, Jotham began to rule the people of Judah while his father was still king.

He [Uzziah] did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. The Lord struck the king with leprosy, which lasted until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house. The king’s son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Kings 15:3-5 NLT

The explanation for Uzziah’s leprosy is given in the book of 2 Chronicles.

But when he [Uzziah] had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!”

Uzziah, who was holding an incense burner, became furious. But as he was standing there raging at the priests before the incense altar in the Lord’s Temple, leprosy suddenly broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the high priest and all the other priests saw the leprosy, they rushed him out. And the king himself was eager to get out because the Lord had struck him. So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 NLT

Uzziah’s actions reveal what is going to become a growing problem in Judah. The kings will continue to lead the people away from God, compromising their convictions and replacing the will of God with their own. Upon his father’s death, Jotham was crowned king and he followed in his father’s footsteps.

Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. – 2 Kings 15:34-35 NLT

While Jotham is recognized for a few noteworthy accomplishments, his reign was marked by unfaithfulness to God, resulting in divine punishment for his actions.

In those days the Lord began to send King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel to attack Judah. – 2 Kings 15:37 NLT

Upon his death, Jotham was succeeded by his son, Ahaz, who proved to be one of the most wicked kings in Judah’s long history.

Ahaz son of Jotham began to rule over Judah in the seventeenth year of King Pekah’s reign in Israel. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:1-4 NLT

Ahaz was able to pack a lot of apostasy into his short, four-year reign, even shuttering the doors of the temple to prevent any sacrifices to or worship of God.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

And, as a result of the growing apostasy in Judah, God brought judgment upon them in the form of the Israelites, Amareans, Edomites, and Philistines. And all of this was in keeping with the warning God had communicated to the people of Israel through Moses, generations earlier.

“The Lord will cause you to be defeated by your enemies. You will attack your enemies from one direction, but you will scatter from them in seven! You will be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:25 NLT

“You will be oppressed and robbed continually, and no one will come to save you.” – Deuteronomy 28:29 NLT

“If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

During Micah’s tenure as a prophet, he had to stand back and watch as all of these curses from God began to fall upon the people of Judah. And yet, he continued to faithfully proclaim God’s words of warning and His call to repentance. From his vantage point in Judah, he could witness the devastation taking place to the north, in the kingdom of Israel. He would live to see the fall of Israel and the destruction of their capital of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. He would also be around two decades later when the Assyrians invaded Judah under the reign of King Sennacherib.

As a prophet, Micah had a God-given responsibility to point out the sins of his people. He was charged by God with delivering a message that contained warnings of destruction for continued disobedience and the promise of restoration if they would only turn back and obey. Micah is going to expose the dangerous and deadly nature of idolatry while pleading with the people of Judah to recognize the awesome attributes of their God covenant-keeping God.

While this book is filled with grim images and depressingly dire descriptions of God’s pending judgment, there are also surprisingly bright glimpses into God’s future restoration of His people. In spite of their wickedness and unfaithfulness, God would remain committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham and David.

The days ahead would be dark, but God had a bright future planned for His people.

Now many nations have gathered against you.
    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.
    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem.”
But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan. – Micah 4:11-12 NLT

Even during Micah’s lifetime, he would live to enjoy a brief period of revival under the reign of King Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. – 2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT

This young man would prove to be a good and godly king, instituting a series of important reforms designed to restore the nation’s commitment to Yahweh. He would reopen and repair the temple. He called the Levites to renew their God-given responsibility to lead the people spiritually, requiring them to purify the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. And his efforts bought the nation of Judah time.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful. – 2 Chronicles 31:21 NLT

Hezekiah was living proof that, if the nation would only return to God, He would bless them. The wars, invasions, and military defeats that marked the reign of Ahaz would be replaced by deliverance at the hand of God. Hezekiah’s godly leadership would bring about a much-needed respite, providing the nation with the spiritual guidance they so desperately needed.

But, as we will see, Micah’s book is going to reveal what will prove to be an underlying spirit of rebellion among God’s people. One man will not be able to restore them to faithfulness. Hezekiah could make sweeping regulatory changes and require acts of outward obedience from his people, but he could not change the condition of their hearts.

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 Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 2 Timothy 4:9-15 ESV

When reading the letters of Paul, it can be easy to assume that he was a spiritual loner who, by virtue of his job, traveled from place to place, and never put down any roots. He can come across as a kind of spiritual soldier of fortune, making his way from one city to the next, staying just as long as it takes to make enough converts to start a local church. His work done, Paul would pack his parchments and scant belongings and head to yet another town where he would start the whole process over again.

This image of Paul as a type-A personality with an over-zealous constitution and a somewhat legalistic, doctrinally-driven mindset is inaccurate and unfair. Even a cursory reading of his many letters will reveal a man who had a deep love and concern for others. Yes, he was driven. He was a man on a mission. And he would not allow himself to be distracted by the cares of this world. But that does not mean he was callous, cold, or uncaring. As a leader, Paul had an unwavering commitment to preach the gospel with boldness, in the face of intense opposition from some and the stubborn obstinance of others. Yet, he had a pastor’s heart that beat fast for each and every person who came to faith in Christ through his ministry.

You can sense Paul’s love and concern in the way he addressed those under his care.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you. – Galatians 4:19-20 NLT

I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. – 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 NLT

…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NLT

Like any loving parent, Paul could be demanding and doting. He could admonish and encourage. He was deeply concerned for the well-being of each and every individual who had come to Christ under his ministry. They did not view them as notches on his belt or numbers on a spreadsheet. They were his spiritual children and he cared deeply for them. Just as much as he cared for Timothy.

So, as Paul begins to draw his letter to Timothy to a close, he mentions seven different individuals with whom he had developed relationships: Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus, and Alexander. Some of these names are more familiar than others, appearing elsewhere in the New Testament. But there are a few whose exact identities and roles in Paul’s life remain a mystery. But this list of names reveals the diverse nature of Paul’s relational pool. The sheer scope of his ministry necessitated interaction with a wide range of individuals, some of whom he developed deep and lasting relationships. Others remained relatively unknown to Paul, but their anonymity did not diminish his care for them.

Seemingly convinced that his conviction and death at the hands of the Romans was drawing near, Paul appealed to Timothy to come to visit him in Rome. You can almost feel Paul’s sense of loneliness as he pleads with his young friend to make the arduous trip from Ephesus to Rome. Paul has just finished urging Timothy to be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill his ministry (2 Timothy 4:5). And yet, now he expresses his desire for Timothy to drop everything and come to Rome so that he can see him one last time. 

And Paul’s explanation for this impromptu visit was that Demas had deserted him. It seems clear that Demas was a ministry associate of Paul’s and had been working alongside him during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul accuses Demas of jumping ship, having fallen “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10 ESV). As a minister of the gospel, Paul had the extreme joy of leading many people to Christ and of training others for ministry. But he also had the unenviable task of watching some stray from the path of faith. Earlier in this same letter, he mentioned Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18 ESV). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had called out Hymenaeus and Alexander, accusing them of having “suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19 ESV).

Paul knew what it was like to feel betrayed and abandoned by the very ones in whom he had poured his life. He had experienced the pain of watching leaders wander from the truth into false doctrine. He had witnessed countless individuals walk away from the faith because the path was more difficult than they expected. And now, he had been forced to watch Demas abandon his calling because his love for Christ had been replaced by a love for the things of this world. Demas had lived out exactly what Paul had warned Timothy about. He had become a lover of pleasure rather than a love of God (2 Timothy 3:4). Demas had failed to fulfill his ministry and this had to have caused Paul much pain and disappointment.

But not all of Paul’s ministry companions had walked away from the faith or deserted his side. Some, like Crescens and Titus, had left Paul in Rome so that they might carry the gospel to places like Galatia and Dalmatia. These men must have brought Paul great encouragement as he watched them do the work of the ministry he was no longer able to perform. But it was probably difficult for him to send these men into the world, knowing that they were going to face difficulties and trials, just as he had.

The departures of Crescens and Titus had left Paul with one remaining companion, the physician, Luke. It seems that, even while imprisoned in Rome, Paul had enjoyed regular visits from many of his friends and ministry associates. But, as the reality of his pending death grew clearer, Paul desired to reconnect with those whom he had not seen in some time. This included John Mark, another one of his former disciples and companions. Acts 13 reveals that, at one point on one of their missionary journeys, John Mark had left Paul and Barnabas and had returned to Jerusalem. No explanation is given for his departure, but Paul instructs Timothy to pick up John Mark and bring him to Rome. And Paul seems to provide Timothy with the assurance that all will be go well in Ephesus in his absence because he had sent Tychicus to serve in his place.

Paul also instructed Timothy to bring some specific items that he needed. One was a cloak Paul had evidently loaned to someone named Carpus. He also requested some books and parchments that he had likely lent to Timothy to assist in his studies. These could have included scrolls from Paul’s personal library that contained copies of the Old Testament scriptures. Even in old age and facing imminent death, Paul was still reading, learning, and studying. And as his letter to Timothy illustrates, even in prison, Paul was still teaching, training, encouraging, and pouring his life into others.

Finally, Paul warns Timothy to avoid someone he describes as Alexander the coppersmith. Paul accuses Alexander of having done him “great harm” opposing his message. No further explanation is given, but it seems clear that Timothy was familiar with Alexander and Paul wanted him to avoid this man like the plague. Once again, this warning fits in with Paul’s earlier admonition to Timothy regarding godless people.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

The gospel ministry will be accompanied by all kinds of people. There will be true converts and there will be those who only appear to have saving faith but who eventually walk away when the going gets tough. There will be self-proclaimed teachers who replace the truth of God with pleasant-sounding platitudes that tickle peoples’ ears and attract fairweather followers.

For every Demas and Alexander, there would be a Crescens and Titus. But Paul was convinced that the preaching of the good news was going to attract bad apples. The crowds attracted by the gospel message would end up attracting people who saw an opportunity to personally prosper by replacing the truth with ear-tickling claims that promoted wickedness rather than godliness. So, even as he prepares to conclude his letter to Timothy, he keeps warning his young friend to stay alert and to remain faithful to his calling. Because “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 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

Diligence, Not Desire, Determines Your Destiny

1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:1-13 ESV

Paul, an older and more experienced minister of the gospel, is pouring out his heart to his young protégé, Timothy, in an attempt to prepare him for what lies ahead. Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting a hearing before the emperor. He was well aware that his fate, while in God’s hands, could end poorly. He had no delusions that he would receive a fair and just trial at the hands of the Romans. And the Jews had been relentless in their efforts to hold Paul accountable for what they considered to be his disruptive and divisive ministry.

As Paul sat in jail awaiting his hearing, he had written to the believers in Philippi, telling them, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21 ESV). He knew that his days were numbered and that death was inevitable. His greatest concern was that his life would continue to honor Christ, whether through ministry or martyrdom.

As Paul penned this letter to Timothy, he must have thought about the message he had received from Christ after praying on three different occasions that his “thorn in the flesh” be removed. Jesus had told him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this promise from the Savior had prompted Paul to respond, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

The power of Christ, made available through the means of His grace, was all that Paul needed and it provided him with an overwhelming sense of confidence and peace, regardless of the circumstances he faced.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Now, Paul is passing on the promise of Christ’s grace to Timothy. He tells him to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1 ESV). Timothy was in a difficult spot, trying to minister to the fledgling congregation in Ephesus while his mentor was behind bars in Rome. He was on his own and surrounded by hostile forces who opposed his ministry and message. He also faced dissension in the ranks as some of his own parishioners began to question their decision to follow Christ. Persecution and difficulty had begun to set in, causing some to lose faith, like Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had abandoned Paul in Asia.

Paul wanted Timothy to understand that he was no longer the disciple, but had moved into the role of disciple-maker. His days of serving as Paul’s assistant were behind him. It was now time for him to step up and embrace his responsibilities as a minister of the gospel. And that would require Timothy to raise up others to assist him in his work. There had been a day when Paul had chosen Timothy and determined to teach him and train him for the gospel ministry. Now it was time for Timothy to take the baton and run the next leg of the race on his own. But he was not to run alone. Paul encouraged Timothy to “teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2 NLT).

This was all about propagating and multiplying the ministry by constantly preparing others to share the burden. Jesus had told His disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matthew 9:37-38 NLT). But along with asking God to supply the workers, comes a responsibility to train these individuals in the disciplines required to harvest well. And that would require discipline on Timothy’s part. A landowner would not send inexperienced or untrained workers into his fields to harvest his crops. He would make sure they were trained to do the job well so every ounce of grain was gleaned. No loss. No waste.

Paul drives home the seriousness of Timothy’s role as a disciple-maker by using three different analogies. First, he compares Timothy to a soldier, who faithfully fulfills his duties, undistracted by the cares of this world.

Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. – 2 Timothy 2:3-4 NLT

A distracted soldier will prove to be a disloyal soldier. If Timothy allows himself to become preoccupied with the things of this world, he will lose sight of his God-ordained mission. This is exactly what Jesus was warning His disciples about when He said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39 NLT).

Discipleship, like military service, requires a commitment that carries a high cost. Part-time soldiers make lousy warriors. And believers who allow their love for the things of this world to distract them will prove to be less-than-successful disciple-makers.

The next analogy Paul uses is that of an athlete. This particular imagery was a favorite of Paul’s and he used it repeatedly to illustrate the level of commitment required to live the Christian life.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! – 1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 NLT

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. – 2 Timothy 4:7 NLT

Living the Christian life requires perseverance and determination. There are no easy paths to the finish line. There are no shortcuts. And, as Paul warns Timothy, victory cannot be expected if the runner fails to follow the rules. Timothy was not free to fudge on the God-ordained regulations established for the Christian life. He could take the path of least resistance and still expect to win the prize at the end of the race. Avoiding difficulty, taking shortcuts in the pursuit of spiritual growth, and running the race just to finish rather than to win, are unacceptable. God demands more.

The final analogy Paul uses is an agrarian one, highlighting the obvious life lesson that hard work has its rewards.

…hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. – 2 Timothy 2:6 NLT

In an agrarian culture, laziness could be a death sentence. The farmer who failed to plow and plant had no business expecting to reap a harvest. But the diligent farmer, who put in the required labor to prepare his fields and plant his crops at the proper time, could expect to enjoy the fruits of his labors. It was only natural, logical, and fair. Paul wanted Timothy to know that the Christian life also required commitment, diligence, perseverance, and hard work. And just in case Timothy missed the very obvious point behind Paul’s three analogies, he assures him that “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7 ESV).

Then, as if out of nowhere, Paul changes the topic altogether, shifting his focus to Christ and His resurrection from the dead. But his point remains the same. He is simply using Jesus, “the offspring of David” (2 Timothy 2:8 ESV), as an example of someone who lived a life fully committed to God’s plan for His life. He was a descendant of King David and the rightful heir to the throne, and yet He willingly suffered on behalf of sinful mankind so that He might become the sinless substitute and the selfless source of salvation for all those who would believe in Him. Jesus never shirked His God-given responsibility to be the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

And Paul uses himself as another example of someone who refused to compromise his convictions or cut corners when it came to his spiritual life. After all, he was writing this letter from prison, bound by chains and facing a trial on trumped-up charges intended to result in a death sentence. But Paul boldly proclaimed, “I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen” (2 Timothy 2:10 NLT).

The bottom line for Paul was that there was no place for faithlessness in the life of the believer. Jesus Christ had sacrificed Himself so that we might live in newness of life. He provided us with the Holy Spirit as a permanent source of power and direction. His death assures us of eternal life. Our endurance in this life comes with the guarantee of an inheritance in the next life. But even if we fail to remain faithful, Jesus Christ will never fail to keep His promise to keep and preserve us.

…if we are faithless, he remains faithful. – 2 Timothy 2:13 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 Lord Is Faithful

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

Paul was a powerful proponent of prayer and was not shy in requesting others to pray on his behalf. He knew he was engaged in a spiritual battle that required spiritual weapons. He told the Corinthians believers:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

And as he told Timothy, one of the primary weapons in our warfare with evil is prayer.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NLT

His belief in the power and efficacy of prayer was supported by James, who wrote, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). And, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had challenged them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV). And, as Paul told Timothy, this was his desire for every congregation to which he had ministered.

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy. – 1 Timothy 2:8 NLT

Paul didn’t view prayer as an optional. It was not some kind of spiritual accessory you put on when it was convenient or when you determined it was necessary. It was to be a permanent and vital part of the believer’s life, a sentiment Paul expressed to the church in Ephesus.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 6:18 NLT

And this call to persistent and perpetual prayer was because of the very real nature of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Just a few verses earlier, Paul had warned the Ephesian believers of the epic spiritual war taking place around them and their role in it.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

Paul was a man of prayer and he coveted the prayers of others. But notice that Paul’s prayer request, while personal in nature, was not focused on himself. He was asking them to pray that his ministry would continue to be successful – “that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 NLT). He didn’t provide the Thessalonians with a long list of personal prayer requests that focused on his health, finances, or relational concerns. It wasn’t that Paul didn’t have problems or personal issues, but that his focus was always on the bigger cause of spreading the gospel.

Paul didn’t need better clothes, a bigger house, improved health, or a trouble-free life. And while he appreciated any concern that others had for his well-being, he wanted them to know that he really had no needs, except the strength and determination to continue doing what he had been called to do.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:10-12 NLT

And Paul made it clear that all he really needed was provided for him by Christ.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13 NLT

As Paul’s letter has made clear, there were those who opposed his teaching and were always trying to add to or alter the gospel message. Not only that, but he also faced physical threats to his life because of his work on behalf of Christ. Paul provides a detailed list of his physical sufferings in his second letter to the church in Corinth. He describes how he had “been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gave them specific instances of his abuse. “Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25 NLT).

So, Paul asked the Thessalonians for prayer in light of the very real nature of his opposition and their relentless desire to put him out of commission.

…pray for us…that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2 NLT

As the Thessalonians knew from their own firsthand experience, not everyone accepted the message of the gospel. Many of their own friends and family members had denied God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Not all have faith, Paul states. Not everyone is part of the body of Christ. And wherever believers exist, they will find themselves surrounded by those who despise their message and their very existence. Jesus had warned His disciples: “You will be hated by everyone because of My name” (Matthew 10:22 BSB). And He broadened the scope of this hatred by declaring that the whole world would stand opposed to His followers.

If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. – John 15:19 BSB

But Paul assures his fellow believers in Thessalonica that, while the world was filled with hostile people who did not share their faith, “the Lord is faithful” and “He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). No matter how bleak things appeared to be or how intense the persecution may become, the Lord stood ready to strengthen and protect them. With true pastoral conviction and a loving shepherd’s heart, Paul encouraged his flock to remain faithful to the Lord. He had not and would not abandon them. And Paul complimented the Thessalonians for their past faithfulness and assured them of his confidence that they would remain committed to Christ, no matter what happened.

we are confident about you in the Lord that you are both doing—and will do—what we are commanding. – 2 Thessalonians 3:4 NLT

Finally, Paul offers up a prayer on their behalf, asking that God give them a greater understanding of His love for them and a deeper appreciation for the endurance Christ modeled with His own life. They need to keep the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ on their minds constantly. As Paul told the believers in Ephesus, an understanding of God’s love as expressed through Christ’s sacrifice is the key to experiencing fulness of life and power.

…may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, a constant focus on the faithfulness of Christ will go a long way in providing world-weary Christians with the strength they need to not only survive but thrive in this life.

…let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

Because of the unwavering love of God and the faithfulness of Christ, they had everything they needed to say as Paul did, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

 

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

Well Worth the Effort

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 ESV

While there had been those who accused Paul and Silas of being in the ministry for what they could get out of it, Paul strongly denied their charges. He insisted that “we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery” (1 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT). Their purpose had been “to please God, not people” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT). And with God as his witness, Paul asserted “we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!” (1 Thessalonians 2:5 NLT).

Now, Paul uses the Thessalonians themselves as witnesses to his defense. He recalls how they had gladly heard and received the message of the gospel.

…when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

They knew from their own experience that the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone was real and life-changing. Upon believing, they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit, which was proof that the words of Paul and Silas were from God and not from men. And Paul could not stop thanking God for the life-transforming power of the Gospel. He even reminds the Thessalonians that this power to change lives was still at work in them.

…this word continues to work in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

The word they had shared had worked. It had produced in them true and lasting life change. For Paul, that was the bottom line. It was all the proof needed to substantiate his ministry and message. The Thessalonians had gotten far more out of Paul and Silas’ ministry than they had. And before they considered listening to the false claims leveled against Paul and Silas, they needed to look at the fruit in their own lives. They were living proof of the validity of the ministry and the message of these two men.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provided them with a much-needed reminder of the transformation the Gospel had made in their lives. He wanted them to see and appreciate the stark before-and-after contrast of their encounter with Christ. The Gospel had been far more than just another message from the lips of men. It had been radically transformational and eternally significant.

Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

This was true for the Thessalonian believers as well. They had each experienced a remarkable alteration to their habits and behaviors. Faith in Christ had resulted in the fruit of the Spirit. If they were ever tempted to question Paul’s motives, all they had to do was look at the impact of his message on their own lives. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God.

And Paul adds another aspect of their experience that gave proof of the Gospel’s veracity and power.

…you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NLT

Their own persecution at the hands of their countrymen was proof of the Gospel’s power. Their lives had changed and their friends and neighbors had not been happy with the results. They had become lights in the darkness, exposing the sinful condition of their fellow citizens. And the result had been persecution. And Paul assures them that this was normal and to be expected. It was further proof of the Gospel’s power. Their suffering on behalf of their faith in Christ was exactly what the believers in Judea had experienced. It came with the territory.

Jesus Himself had warned, “everyone will hate you because you are my followers” (Mark 13:13 NLT). He had told His disciples that they could expect to be hated by the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:19-20 NLT

And this hatred by the world was nothing new. The message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind has always met with resistance. Paul recounts how the prophets of God, who had carried His message of repentance to His disobedient children, were met with rejection and even faced death at the hands of those they were trying to save. And the apostles of Jesus were having similar experiences as they took the message of God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to a lost and dying world.

To the world, the message of the Gospel was non-sensical. The claim that the God of the universe had sent His Son to take on human flesh and die on a cross to pay for the sins of mankind sounded ridiculous. And the very fact that the salvation offered by God required an admission of sin and the need for a Savior, made the Jews uncomfortable. Paul pointed out the incomprehensible nature of the Gospel in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

The Gospel has and will always face opposition. But Paul insists that those who stand opposed to God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible through His Son’s sacrificial death will fail. Paul flatly states that in their attempt to reject the Gospel message or its messengers they “fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 NLT). Sadly, their efforts do little more than anger God and add to their debt of sin. And, as Paul told the believers in Rome, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

For Paul, the physical separation from his spiritual children in Thessalonica was difficult. He longed to see them and to continue his ministry among them. It had been more than a year since he and Silas had first visited their city, and a lot had taken place during that time frame. He was proud of them, but his pastoral heart longed to be with them. But, Paul insists, he had faced some serious opposition that kept his desire from becoming reality.

we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ESV

Paul believed in spiritual warfare. He was fully convinced that his ministry was opposed by the enemy of God because his ministry had been ordained by God. His commission placed him on the front lines of a battle that was taking place in the spiritual realms but that had real-life implications.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was well aware that he faced human opposition, but he also knew that the primary force behind it all was Satan himself. And yet, he remained “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and he “put on all of God’s armor” so he would “be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11 NLT).

And, fully prepared for the battle in which he found himself engaged, Paul found the motivation to fight the good fight by focusing on the fruit of his efforts.

After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NLT

Doing battle with the enemy was well worth it because it meant the difference between souls being saved or remaining lost. Resisting the opposition was essential if the message of man’s reconciliation to God was to continue being spread. The joy of watching lives be transformed by the power of the Gospel is what kept Paul going. And while he may face opposition in this life, he knew the day was coming when all his efforts would be repaid with eternal life.

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

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