Seeing Is Believing

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:8-14 ESV

Jesus seems to be trying to make a not-so-subtle point with His disciples.

believe also in me.” – vs 1

Believe me… – vs 11

whoever believes in me.” – vs 12

In attempting to prepare them for His death and departure, Jesus stresses the need for their continued belief or trust in Him. During the last three years, He has given them ample evidence regarding His identity as the Son of God. By virtue of His many miracles and messages, Jesus has revealed His power and authority, given to Him by God. These men have witnessed never-before-seen signs and wonders, from the turning of water into wine to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. From the safety of their boat, they had watched Jesus walking on water. They could recall the many occasions when Jesus had debated with the Pharisees and had been amazed at the boldness and authority with which He spoke. He had repeatedly left His learned adversaries speechless and seemingly powerless to refute His words.

But as the day of death drew closer, Jesus knew that these men were going to have their faith in Him tested like never before. Even though He had repeatedly told them exactly what was going to take place in Jerusalem, His death was going to catch them completely off guard. And the last 24 hours had been an emotional roller coaster for these men, as they had gone from the ecstatic high associated with His triumphal entry to the despair in hearing Him announce His betrayal by one of their own.

The days ahead were going to be dark. The spiritual battle that had been taking simmering under the surface for the last three years was going to explode on the scene in dramatic fashion. The steadily increasing anger of the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would finally reach its boiling point, manifesting itself in a virtually maniacal call for the death of Jesus.

But knowing all this, Jesus had told them, “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 NET). He wanted them to keep believing – in spite of the circumstances. Things were going to get worse before they got better, but they could still trust Him. Yes, their world was about to be rocked and they would be tempted to believe the worst, but Jesus wanted them to keep their minds focused on who He was and all that He had done. He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel, the bread of life, the source of living water, the Good Shepherd, and the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. None of that had changed. And nothing that was about to happen would alter the reality of Jesus’ identity or keep Him from accomplishing His God-ordained mission. In fact, all that was about to take place would be according to the Father’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign will.

And Jesus assured His disciples that His relationship with the Father would be unaltered by anything that was about to happen. The subsequent events surrounding Jesus’ death were going to provide a pathway to the Father. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). But the reality was that Jesus had already revealed the Father to them by virtue of His presence among them. As Paul states, Jesus was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). And John had opened his gospel with the assurance that Jesus was the very manifestation of God.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. – John 1:18 BSB

But when Jesus told His disciples “From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7 ESV), Phillip blurted out, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (John 14:8 ESV). He didn’t get it. After three years of intimate contact with Jesus, he still failed to grasp the full reality of His identity as the Son of God. Phillip, like the rest of the disciples, believed in Jesus, but he did not understand that to see Jesus was to see God. When Jesus had said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30 NLT), the full import of His words had escaped them.

So, Phillip did what any good Jew would have done if given the opportunity, he asked that he might get a glimpse of God. He expressed the same desire that Moses had communicated to God in the wilderness: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18 ESV).

But Jesus gently rebuked Phillip and, in doing so, revealed a vital truth regarding the relationship between the Father and His Son.

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? – John 14:9 NLT

Notice Jesus’ emphasis on His identity. “You still don’t know who I am.” After three years of walking with Jesus, Phillip and his companions were still unconvinced of Jesus’ deity. Yes, they believed He was from God but were having difficulty in believing Him to actually be God.

Jesus’ claim to be one with God was the fuel that had inflamed the hatred of the religious leaders against Him. In an earlier confrontation with them, immediately after He had healed a man on the Sabbath, He had stated, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17 ESV). And John records the response of the Jewish leaders:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:18 ESV

The Jewish religious leaders had clearly understood what Jesus was saying, and they rejected it as nothing less than blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. But the disciples never uttered a word. They had heard the same statements from the lips of Jesus, but John never provides any insights into what they thought about His claims.

But Phillip’s request speaks volumes. It clearly shows that the disciples were still wrestling with the concept of Jesus’ deity. So, Jesus confronted their unbelief.

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.” – John 14:10 NLT

The relationship between Jesus and His Father was essential. It was the key to all that was about to take place. Jesus wanted them to know that the events they were about to witness would be the sovereign will and work of God. Jesus was doing exactly what His Father had told Him to do. And every word He had ever spoken had come directly from the throne of God.

As Jews, Phillip and his fellow disciples had been steeped in the concept of monotheism – the belief that there was only one God. They had been raised on passages like those found in the book of Isaiah:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

“I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” – Isaiah 44:6 ESV

“I alone am God. There is no other God— there never has been, and there never will be. – Isaiah 43:10 NLT

The concept of the Trinity was nowhere on their radar screen. They had no way of understanding what Jesus was saying. Jesus was revealing to them a truth that had escaped their biblical scholars and seemed to contradict a basic tenet of their faith system. But the deity of Jesus was vital to all that was about to happen. It was His identity as the Son of God that would make His pending death effectual, as the sinless Son sacrificed His life on behalf of sinful mankind.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And Jesus pleaded with His disciples to believe that He and the Father are one. No matter how difficult it was for them to grasp this concept, it was essential that they recognize it as true. And yet, knowing that they would continue to struggle right up until the bitter end, Jesus encouraged them to believe what they would see. If they still couldn’t believe with their ears, they were going to have ample opportunity to believe with their eyes.

“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves.” – John 14:11 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

All You Need to Know

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 ESV

Jesus has just told Peter that he will deny Him, not once, but three times. Then He followed this painful pronouncement with a rather incongruous statement that seems a bit out of place.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

Everyone in the room that night was troubled, including Jesus (John 13:21). Jesus’ mind was filled with knowledge about all that was about to take place. He had been aware of Judas’ betrayal. He knew that Peter, one of the members of His inner circle, would end up denying any knowledge Him. Jesus knew His disciples would all desert Him in His hour of greatest need. The crowds that had eagerly flocked to watch Him perform signs and wonders would be long gone. And He was fully aware that the hours ahead would be filled with humiliation, insufferable pain, and the agony of the cross.

But what about the disciples? They were unaware of most of these details but they were still reeling from all that Jesus had just told them. They were disturbed by the news that one of them would betray Him. But even when Judas left the upper room, they remained unsure as to what he was about to do. Yet their hearts were troubled. Because they knew something ominous was about to happen. They just couldn’t put their finger on what it was.

And when Jesus had announced His imminent departure, He added the disconcerting news that they would not be joining Him. After three years of constant companionship with Jesus, He was going to abandon them. And then He tells them, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

And poor Peter must have taken this statement particularly hard. He had just been outed as the one who would deny Jesus. How was he supposed to be untroubled by this news? And was Jesus’ statement about belief aimed at him? Was Jesus insinuating that Peter lacked faith?

Jesus, in His compassionate and caring way, is attempting to encourage His dismayed and discouraged disciples. He knows they are struggling. And as the Good Shepherd, He cares deeply about their physical and spiritual well-being. His love for them is a primary factor behind His pending death for them.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. – John 10:11 NLT

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 NLT

But in their greatest moment of confusion and consternation, Jesus encourages them to believe. The darkness is closing in but He remains the light of the world. While everything around them is looking bleak and foreboding, He remains the same. He is still “the Christ, the Son of the living God” just as Peter had confessed Him to be (Matthew 16:16). He was still “the Messiah,” just as Andrew had announced to Peter three years earlier (John 1:43). And He was still “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” as Nathanael had proclaimed (John 1:49).

But now, they were beginning to get a glimpse into His true mission. He had not come to set them free from slavery to Rome. His advent as the Son of God was not so He could set up His Kingdom on earth. He had come to offer His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And the time had come for Him to fulfill His God-ordained mission.

There was so much they didn’t know or understand. But it is not as if Jesus had kept them in the dark about His future. In fact, Matthew records that immediately after Peter had made His public confession that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus “began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT).

And yet, the very same man who had boldly confessed Jesus to be the Messiah pulled Him aside and rebuked Him.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Jesus’ plains words concerning His death left Peter stunned and appalled. It was not what he expected or wanted. It didn’t fit into his concept of the Messiah. So, he simply rejected it.

And this had not been the last time Jesus shared news of what was going to happen. Even as they had made their way to Jerusalem and before His triumphal entry into the city, Jesus had reiterated to His disciples all that was about to happen.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

He couldn’t have made it much clearer. But they had refused to accept what He had to say because His words were not what they wanted to hear. And it is interesting to note that, immediately after Jesus made this announcement to His disciples, John’s own mother had approached Jesus with a rather presumptuous request on behalf of John and his brother, James.

“In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Matthew 20:21 NLT

She obviously expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom and was hoping to convince Him to award her two sons with places of prominence in His administration. But Jesus informed her and her two sons who were standing right beside her, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT). 

They had the timeline all wrong. They had been expecting a Messiah who would come as a conquering King. But Jesus had come to play the part of the suffering servant. And, once again, Jesus had made this aspect of His earthly ministry quite clear.

When the other 10 disciples had gotten wind of what the mother of James and John had done, they had been furious. They all shared an expectation that they would play major roles in Jesus’ coming kingdom. But Jesus had new for them.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

Jesus had come to earth so that He could hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. He had taken on human flesh so that He might bear a crown of thorns, not one made of gold and precious stones. His incarnation had been so that He might suffer the humiliation of crucifixion, not the joy of His own inauguration as king. That time would come, but it would not be now.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that they could still trust Him. Despite all that was happening around them, they could take Him at His word as the Son of God. And while much of what they had heard Him say had been less-than-encouraging, He wanted them to know there was good news. This dark cloud had a silver lining.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus would be leaving them, but for a very good reason. He would be returning to His Father’s side where He would begin preparations for the day when they would each join Him. And when the time was right, Jesus assured them, He would return for His own.

Like so many of Jesus’ other statements, this one flew right over the heads of His disciples. It would only be after Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to heaven, that the disciples would put all the pieces together and understand the significance of His words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John and the other 10 disciples received a divine capacity to comprehend all that Jesus had said and done in their three years with Him. For the first time, it all began to make sense.

But on that night in the upper room, when Jesus insinuated that they knew where He was going, Thomas had confessed, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5 ESV). He was confused and concerned. How would they find Jesus if they didn’t know where He was going?

Then Jesus dropped the bombshell that destroyed all their preconceived notions concerning righteousness, salvation, forgiveness, and justification before God.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He boldly and unequivocally proclaimed Himself to be the one and only source of access to God. And the pathway to the Father would pass through the shadow of the cross. Jesus assures His disciples that it is their relationship with Him that assures them of having a permanent relationship with God. Verse seven might better be translated, “If you have known me, you will know my Father too” (John 14:7 NET). And the inference seems to be that they since they have known Jesus, they most certainly have known and seen God. It was their belief in Jesus as the Son of God that made possible their access to and relationship with God. So, when Thomas had said they didn’t know the way, Jesus assured them He was wrong. They knew Him and that was all they needed to know.  

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

How Can You Believe?

37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” – John 5:37-47 ESV

As the Son of God, Jesus had every right to stand in judgment of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their rejection of Him was baseless because they had been given more than enough evidence to prove His identity. And, one of the primary pieces of evidence was to be found in the Hebrew scriptures, where the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah clearly pointed to Jesus as their fulfillment.

The men whom Jesus addressed were avid students of the Old Testament Scriptures and their familiarity with the many Messianic passages found there should have given them special insight into all that was happening right in front of them. Of all people, they should have recognized that Jesus was the one for whom they had long been waiting. But these men, like every Jew before them, had misread and misinterpreted these prophecies and had created a narrative concerning the Messiah that focused solely on His role as a conquering king and their political savior. They tended to ignore all the passages that pointed to the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant.

In his gospel, Luke records the moment when the recently resurrected Jesus appeared to His grieving disciples as they huddled together in a room somewhere in Jerusalem. Upon seeing Jesus, the disciples “stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder” (Luke 24:41 NLT). But then Jesus spoke to them and what He had to say reveals a great deal about the blind ignorance and stubborn resistance of the Jewish religious leaders.

“When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

The Pharisees and Sadducees had missed all of this. They were not expecting a Messiah who would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. And they had no desire for such a Messiah. And, as far as repentance for the forgiveness of sins, they had no need for that either. They considered themselves to be fully righteous because of their faithful adherence to the Mosaic law so, they had no need to repent and required no one to save them from their sins.

But these men, while familiar with the written word of God, were oblivious to the testimony of God found there. God had spoken through the men who had penned the Old Testament books. He had revealed the truth regarding His Son’s coming and yet, these religious leaders had failed to recognize the voice of God. And Jesus issues a stinging condemnation concerning them: “you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you” (John 5:38 NLT).

The Pharisees and Sadducees had a love affair with the Scriptures. They revered them and dedicated their lives to studying them. Jesus even admitted as much. 

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

They spent countless hours pouring over the Scriptures, seeking to know the key to eternal life. They were desperate to know what God required of them so that they might keep God’s law and earn their way into His eternal kingdom. Their incessant need to “search” the Scriptures was based on their fear that they might overlook a commandment and fail in their quest for righteousness. It’s interesting to note that their obsession with the law caused them to seek the opinion of Jesus. On one occasion, they came to Him, asking, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” (Matthew 22:36 NLT). They had prioritized the commands of God, giving some higher priority than others. This way, they could concentrate their efforts on keeping the more important laws.

And Jesus had responded to their question by saying, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT).

In a sense, Jesus was accusing these men of loving the Scriptures more than they loved God. They were more concerned about discovering the laws they needed to keep in order to be deemed righteous by God than they were in loving and listening to God.

As Jesus continued His indictment of these pious religious leaders, He told them that He had no need of their approval or official sanctioning of His ministry.

Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you.” – John 5:41-42 NLT

What a slap in the face this must have been to these prideful men. They considered themselves to be the spiritual elite of Israel, yet Jesus was accusing them of having no love for God. Even worse, He was inferring that God’s love was not within them. In his first epistle, John would later pen the following words of warning:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

John had learned a great deal from observing Jesus’ many encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees. At one time, he would have revered these men as icons of virtue and examples of spiritual sophistication. But he had discovered the truth that they were nothing more than hypocrites who loved the praise of men more than they loved God. They put more value in their own achievements than they did in the words and works of God.

So, when Jesus appeared claiming to be the Son of God sent to do the will of God, they refused to hear what He had to say.

“For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me.” – John 5:43 NLT

Because they had no real understanding of who God was, they were incapable of recognizing His Son. Their concept of God was skewed. Their understanding of righteousness was flawed. Their thinking concerning salvation was totally works-based and, therefore, inaccurate. That is why John the Baptist came preaching a message of repentance. He had repeatedly proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And the Greek word that is translated “repent” literally means “to change one’s mind for better.” It carries the idea of a radical change of mindset. John the Baptist was calling the people to rethink everything they believed concerning God, the kingdom, salvation, and righteousness. These were not what they seemed to be. Their understanding of God’s redemptive plan was inaccurate and insufficient.

With the arrival of Jesus, the truth of God concerning the salvation of mankind had become visible and knowable. But to believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world, the Jews were going to have to repent or radically change their way of thinking. They were going to have to listen to what Jesus had to say because He was the living Word of God. And even Moses had predicted that this day would come. He had foretold of a future prophet would come in the name of the Lord. And He would have a message for the people of God that came directly from the mouth of God.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The Pharisees and Sadducees would have been very familiar with the words of Moses. And Jesus infers that they would have placed their hopes in the promises expressed by Moses. But they refused to recognize Jesus as the very fulfillment of those promises.

“But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” – John 5:47 NLT

It all boiled down to belief. They refused to believe the words of the prophets. Which means they failed to believe the testimony of God. And that resulted in their refusal to accept the words and the works of Jesus, the Son of God. They found it impossible to repent of their preconceived notions regarding God, sin, righteousness, and salvation. Their minds were set. Their belief system was firmly in place and nothing was going to change their way of thinking. Not even the Son of God.

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

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

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

An Unscheduled and Ill-Advised Rest Stop

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.  – John 4:1-6 ESV

Chapter 3 featured Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, who was a well-respected member of the Pharisees, an extremely orthodox sect of Judaism. This learned man, who also happened to be a member of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, with special knowledge of the Mosaic Law. Yet, with all his knowledge and wisdom, he had been unable to comprehend the words of Jesus. In fact, Jesus exposed Nicodemus’ surprising lack of understanding when He somewhat sarcastically asked, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10 ESV).

Nicodemus prided himself in his knowledge of both the written and oral traditions of Israel. But he had been unable to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ESV). Nicodemus’ wisdom had proved insufficient because his mind was stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of comprehending the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words.

Now, John shifts the scene of the story as he describes Jesus’ departure from Judea to the northern region of Galilee. Jesus is vacating the confines of Jerusalem because the Pharisees have gotten wind of His growing popularity.

…when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. – John 4:1-3 ESV

Jesus had come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover, but He had found the temple of His Father being desecrated and profaned by those who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation. Rather than encouraging the people to “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 ESV), they had turned the house of God into “a house of trade” (John 2:16 ESV). They were using the God-ordained sacrificial system as a means for making money, rather than making atonement for the sins of the people.

So, John describes Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, as turning His back on the city of Jerusalem and heading for Galilee. But to get there, Jesus was going to have to journey through the region of Samaria. And this seemingly insignificant geographic detail is far more important that one might realize.

The seismic nature of the shift in location is easily overlooked by modern readers. But John’s original audience would have recognized the fascinating juxtaposition between chapters 3 and 4 that John was creating. To understand what is going on, you have to know the historic significance of Samaria and its inhabitants. The land of Samaria had originally belonged to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. It had been part of the land of Canaan that God had promised as an inheritance to the nation of Israel. After God had divided the nation in two, due to the sins of Solomon, Samaria had become part of the northern kingdom of Israel. But when the people of Israel had continued to rebel against God and had refused His repeated calls to repent, He had brought the Assyrians against them as punishment for their sin. The book of 2 Kings describes what happened as a result.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.

So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord.

But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Samaria had built. – 2 Kings 17:24-29 NLT

These foreigners ended up intermarrying with the Jews who had been left in the land. And 2 Kings describes how these “Samaritans” practiced a syncretistic brand of religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with the worship of false gods.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

To the Pharisees and other orthodox religious groups in Israel, the Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” who had refused to maintain the purity of the nation’s bloodline. Not only that, but they were also guilty of idolatry and, therefore, in violation of the Mosaic Law. And to make matters worse, they had established their own place of worship on Mount Gerazim, refusing to recognize the temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. And much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, the Samaritans rejected all the writings of the prophets and the Jewish oral traditions, which the Pharisees held near and dear.

So, when John describes Jesus as having “to pass through Samaria,” there is an intentional tension in his words. It was impossible for Jesus to travel from Judea to Galilee without having to make his way through this land occupied by “half-breeds” and heretics. And any self-respecting, God-honoring Jew would pass through this region as quickly as possible, making certain to avoid any interaction with the inhabitants. To the Jews, the Samaritans were considered unclean and of no more value than a dog. They were to be avoided at all costs.

All of these details are essential if one is to understand the significance of all that John is about to describe. Jesus’ transition from Jerusalem to Galilee takes on a special significance because He must pass through the region of Samaria. And the intense animosity between the Jews and Samaritans would have been well-documents and fully understood in John’s day. A contemporary reader of John’s gospel would have expected Jesus and His entourage to expedite their passage through Samaria, spending as little time in the region as was physically possible.

But John describes Jesus as arriving at the town of Sychar, located in the heart of Samaria, at about Noon. The inference is that Jesus has only a few hours left before darkness falls, so He should have been in a hurry to complete His journey to Galilee. But instead, He decides to take an unscheduled and highly unrecommended rest stop at the base of Mount Gerazim, where the Samaritans practiced their syncretistic brand of religion.

Again, the details are critical to understanding what follows. Sychar, also known as Shechem, was located in the valley between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal, and this spot held a special significance for the Jewish people. It was there, during the initial conquest of the land of Canann, that Joshua had instructed the people to build an altar to the Lord, to recommit themselves to the covenant, and to give thanks for their recent victories over Jericho and Ai.

Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal. He followed the commands that Moses the Lord’s servant had written in the Book of Instruction: “Make me an altar from stones that are uncut and have not been shaped with iron tools.” Then on the altar they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. And as the Israelites watched, Joshua copied onto the stones of the altar the instructions Moses had given them.

Then all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—along with the elders, officers, and judges, were divided into two groups. One group stood in front of Mount Gerizim, the other in front of Mount Ebal. Each group faced the other, and between them stood the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. This was all done according to the commands that Moses, the servant of the Lord, had previously given for blessing the people of Israel.

Joshua then read to them all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of Instruction. – Joshua 8:30-34 NLT

Notice the reference to “all the Israelites – foreigners and native-born alike.” Here, centuries later, the Messiah of Israel was making His way to this very same spot, accompanied by native-born Jews, and He would encounter a woman who was considered a foreigner and a violator of the covenant of Israel. But the message Jesus had to share with her would be similar to that which He had shared with Nicodemus, a native-born Jew, a Pharisee, and a so-called keeper of the law.

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

Believe It, Or Not

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.– John 3:9-18 ESV

This section contains one of the most well-known verses in the entire Bible: John 3:16. But we rarely view this beloved verse within the context of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Yet, it is a continuation of a theme that begins in chapter two.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. – John 2:23 ESV

The entire conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus was based on the topic of belief. Nicodemus had come to Jesus, believing Him to be “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2 ESV). And based on the fact that Jesus immediately directed the conversation toward a discussion of the kingdom of God, it seems clear that He knew Nicodemus believed Him to be the Messiah. At least, this learned Pharisee had hopes that Jesus might be the Anointed One of Israel.

But Jesus surprised Nicodemus by announcing that entrance into God’s kingdom was going to require a “new birth” – a birth from above made possible by the Spirit of God. Only those who are born of the Spirit will receive the cleansing necessary to enter into God’s kingdom. And this unexpected news left Nicodemus exclaiming, ““How can these things be?” (John 3:9 ESV).

He was nonplused and totally perplexed by the words of Jesus. None of it made any sense. Nicodemus was having a difficult time believing what he was hearing. And this led Jesus to explain the kind of belief necessary to experience the new birth. It was not going to be enough to simply believe in His miracles. Even a strong belief that He might be the long-awaited Messiah would prove insufficient. The presence of belief was not the issue. Even the object of one’s belief was not what really mattered.

Nicodemus believed himself to be a righteous man. But he was wrong. The Jews believed themselves to be the children of God, and deserving of a permanent place in His kingdom. But they too were sorely mistaken. Their faith was misplaced. Their belief was mistaken. The apostle James provides a sobering statement regarding insufficient or unbelieving faith.

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. – James 2:19 NLT

The people had seen Jesus perform miracles and believed in His name. But they had no idea who He really was. Nicodemus had witnessed the same supernatural signs and believed Jesus to be someone special, a teacher sent from God. But he was totally unaware of Jesus’ true identity or the purpose behind His earthly ministry.

Of all people, Nicodemus, as a teacher of the law and an expert in the Hebrew scriptures, should have understood that no one comes to God without cleansing. The whole sacrificial system was based on this idea. The high priest could not enter into the presence of God ad offer atonement for the sins of the people until he had been thoroughly cleansed himself. The rite of purification was a central theme within the Mosaic law. Yet, Nicodemus was having a difficult time accepting Jesus’ words concerning the necessity of the new birth.

This led Jesus to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony” (John 3:11 ESV). He accused Nicodemus of refusing to believe. And Jesus, in using the plural pronoun “we” is speaking on behalf of the Godhead. Jesus had been anointed by the Spirit and verbally endorsed by His Father at His baptism. And Jesus had performed signs that clearly evidenced His divine mandate. He was the Son of God.

Nicodemus was having a difficult time believing what Jesus had to say about the new birth. And Jesus stated, “if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven” (John 3:12-13 NLT). Jesus refers to the new birth as an “earthly thing” because it is designed to take place on this earth. It is a supernatural event that takes place within this temporal plain and yet has eternal ramifications. It is the key to our entrance into God’s eternal kingdom.

But this is where Jesus dropped a major truth bomb on the unsuspecting Nicodemus. He states, “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven” (John 3:13 NLT). With this rather cryptic statement, Jesus was associating Himself with the prophecy found in Daniel 7:13-14.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

Jesus was proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah. But He was also going to explain that there was a vital aspect to the Messiah’s mission that was missing in Nicodemus’ understanding. This is where Jesus begins to explain to Nicodemus what was missing in His messianic doctrine. And He uses a story from Scripture with which any Jew would have been familiar.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15 ESV

This verse contains the key to understanding the new birth. Jesus was announcing the necessity of His substitutionary death on behalf of sinful men, and their obligation to look to Him for salvation. The story to which Jesus refers to an actual event in Israelite history when the people were traveling from Egypt to the promised land. They found themselves weary and worn out from the journey and, in their impatience, they “spoke against God and against Moses” (Numbers 21:5 ESV). As a result of their rebellion against Him, God sent poisonous snakes among them “and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6 ESV). When Moses interceded on behalf of the people, God instructed him to “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:9 ESV).

The people, when bitten, had to believe the word of God and look at the serpent in order to receive healing for their sin. The bronze serpent on the pole was a representation of their rebellion against God. They had to look and believe that this substitute for their sin could bring them forgiveness and healing. And Jesus uses this story to reveal that He too will be “lifted up” and “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15 ESV). Jesus was speaking of His crucifixion. The day was coming when He would be nailed to a cross so that He might take on the sins of the world. He would bear the sins of mankind, becoming the substitutionary atonement that would provide forgiveness and healing to all those who looked on Him and believed.

And this is where John 3:16 takes on a whole new depth of meaning. When kept in the context of chapter 3 and Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, this verse becomes so much more meaningful. In it, Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus the key to the new birth and eternal life in the kingdom of God.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

Jesus makes it clear that all humanity stands condemned before God. They have all been bitten by the serpent of sin and are doomed to experience the pain of death – eternal separation from God. But Jesus had good news for Nicodemus.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18 ESV

Nicodemus, though a Pharisee, stood before God as condemned and worthy of death. His status as a descendant of Abraham was not going to save him from the wrath to come. Every one of those people who had been bitten by a poisonous snake in the wilderness had been one of the chosen people of God. Yet when they refused to look on and believe in God’s plan for their salvation, they had died. They had believed that their status as the descendants of Abraham made them invincible and untouchable. But they were wrong. Deadly wrong.

And Jesus is trying to let Nicodemus know that everything he believed about the righteousness of man, the role of the Messiah, and the kingdom of God, was wrong. Jesus was the Messiah, just as Nicodemus suspected Him to be, but He had not come to rule and reign, but to suffer and die. And as Jesus would later say of Himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

The day was coming when Nicodemus and all those who had believed in Jesus’ name were going to have to decide whether they believed in His sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf. They would have to look upon the One who was lifted up in their place and believe that His death had paid for their sins. If they did, they would experience the new birth, a Spirit-empowered purification from their sinful state and a transformation into a new creation, covered by the righteousness of Christ.

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

In the Beginning…

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

As suggested by the book’s title, the author of the fourth Gospel is believed to be the apostle John. This belief is based on the writings of the early church fathers and evidence from within the text itself. One of the key internal proofs for John’s authorship is found in chapter 21. The scene depicted in this passage is that of the resurrected Christ appearing to His disciples. Believing their Messiah and friend to be dead, seven of them have returned to their fishing boats. Jesus appears on the shore and calls out to them, but they fail to recognize him. This stranger suggests that they cast their nets on the other side of the boat and, when they do, they find their nets full of fish. And, in verse 7, the author states that the first to recognize the stranger as Jesus was “That disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:7 ESV).

This is a direct reference to an earlier event in the life of Jesus when He had gathered His disciples in the upper room to take the Passover meal. At one point in the evening, Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him. And the author describes an exchange between Simon Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” – John 13:23-25 ESV

John was part of the inner circle, the group of three disciples whom Jesus invited to join Him on the mountaintop to witness His transfiguration. The other two members of this group were Peter and James. Throughout this Gospel account, the author refers to John six times, not by name, but by the third-party designation, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Even when describing the crucifixion, the author records that Jesus personally addressed the “disciple whom he loved,” assigning him the task of caring for His mother, Mary.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. – John 19:26-27 ESV

And the author later identifies himself as the one whom Jesus loved.

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. – John 21:24 ESV

This should not be construed as a prideful statement on John’s part, but an expression of his amazement at being the recipient of Jesus’ underserved love. Nowhere in the book does he use his own name. It is almost as if he is deliberately trying to minimize his own importance in order to make much of Christ. After all, his entire purpose for writing this book was to showcase the life and ministry of Jesus, his friend, teacher, and Messiah. But what sets John’s account apart from the other gospels is its emphasis on the deity of Christ. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John does not open up with a description of Jesus’ birth. Instead, he begins with a description of “the Word” – his unique reference to Jesus that is designed to accentuate His deity.

In the Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, the word used to describe God was memra. In the Greek, that word becomes logos. John specifically chose this word in order to stress the divinity of Jesus. Rather than beginning His gospel with the birth of Christ, John promotes the eternality of the one who came in the form of a baby. John stresses that “the Word” was “in the beginning” and “the Word was with God” (John 1:1 ESV). He stresses the preexistence of Christ and describes Him as being “fully God” (John 1:1 NET). For John, the most important thing about Jesus was His divinity. He had been more than just a man. He was the God-man. To John, the deity and humanity of Jesus were inseparable and vital to understanding His entire ministry, message, and mission.

Jesus had been a co-creator of the universe and all it contains. He was the second person of the Trinity, who had preexisted His own incarnation. According to Paul, Jesus had existed in the form of God but had left His place in heaven in order to take on human flesh.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

John will refer to the concept of “life” 36 times in his gospel. And he describes Jesus as the author and source of all life.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:4 ESV

Long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He had existed in eternity past, and He had played a vital role in the creation of the universe, giving life and vitality to every living thing. What God declared to be, Jesus brought into existence. Out of the darkness that enveloped the pre-creation scene, Jesus brought life and light into existence.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. – Genesis 1:1-3 ESV

Jesus was the source of that light. And John is emphasizing that the light had penetrated the darkness once again. This time, in the form of the incarnate Christ, who entered into the world as light in the darkness, bringing life to those who were spiritually dead because of their sinful state.

John’s view of Jesus is that of God entering the world. He is the same light that penetrated the darkness of the pre-creation void and filled it with life, meaning, beauty, and fruitfulness. And this same light had appeared a second time, entering the sin-darkened world in which John lived, shining the light of God’s life-giving glory into the hidden recesses of men’s hearts. John himself had been dramatically transformed by his own encounter with the Light of the world.

You can see the parallels between these opening verses of John’s gospel and those found in the first of the three letters he penned.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. – 1 John 1:1-5 ESV

Jesus was “from the beginning.” He was “the life…made manifest” or visible. He was “the light of men” who “shines in the darkness.” And because of His divinity, “in him is no darkness at all.”

John has set the stage for the rest of his account. He is now prepared to introduce Jesus, the God-man, and to describe how divinity took on humanity, or as he puts it, how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 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

Confidence In God’s Commitment

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old. – Micah 7:18-20 ESV

God’s response to Micah’s prayer had a profound impact on him. Hearing Yahweh state that He would once again show His chosen people “marvelous things” (Micah 7:15 ESV), and restore the nation to its former glory, caused Micah to express his gratitude in worship. He acknowledges that God is totally unique and without equal, asking rhetorically, “Who is a God like you?” For Micah, the answer is clear: No one is like God. The false gods, byproducts of man’s fertile and sinful imagination, were all vengeful, unforgiving deities who ruled over mere mortals in anger and judgment, and for their own vainglory. But not Yahweh. He “pardons the guilt of the remnant,  overlooking the sins of his special people” (Micah 7:18 NLT).

This thought blew Micah away because he was well aware of the guilt of his people. He had witnessed it firsthand and had personal experience with their stubborn refusal to admit and confess that guilt. The people of Judah deserved all that was coming to them. They had repeatedly rejected the pleas of men like Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, calling them to repent and return to the Lord. And yet, God had graciously expressed His intent to redeem and restore a remnant of them.

And Micah knows that this gracious response from God is totally undeserved and unmerited. Any future forgiveness and restoration the people of God experience will be due to His mercy and love.

You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. – Micah 7:18 NLT

Micah’s words reflect his familiarity with the writings of Moses, found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded his encounter with God on top of Mount Sinai. This was his second trip to the top of the mountain. His first had resulted in God giving him the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone. But when Moses had returned to the Israelite base camp with God’s law in hand, he had discovered the people of God celebrating and worshiping in front of a golden calf, constructed for them by Aaron, his own brother.

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. – Exodus 32:15-16 ESV

And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. – Exodus 32:19-20 ESV

God had just given Moses the law, His code of conduct for His chosen people. But when Moses had returned to camp, he found the people of God worshiping a false god, displaying the true condition of their hearts. When Moses had not returned in a timely fashion, they had feared the worst and decided to replace Moses with Aaron and the God of Moses with one of their own making.

And God punished all those who took part in the rebellion against Him by subjecting them to a devastating and deadly plague. The rest of the nation, those who had refused to take part in the idolatry and insubordination, He forgave. And when Moses had returned to the top of the mountain to receive the second set of tablets inscribed with God’s commands, He had received the following message from Yahweh.

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT

This message from God was in direct response to a request from Moses that he might see God’s glory. Moses had heard from God. He had seen manifestations of God’s glory in the form of the burning bush and the pillars of fire and cloud. But with this request, he was asking to see God face to face. And God had told him, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19 ESV). But God made it clear that His glory was too great for Moses to handle.

“…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:20 ESV

When Moses had returned to the top of Mount Sinai, God kept His promise and allowed Moses to get a fleeting glimpse of His glory. And it was then that He described Himself as the God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. God’s character is the true essence of His glory. And Micah seemed to understand the reality of that sentiment.

He was completely blown away by God’s mercy and love. This great God who had made the universe and all it contained, was going to graciously forgive the sins of His rebellious people. And the thought of it left Micah struggling to put into words just how amazing this grace of God really was.

Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean! – Micah 7:19 NLT

Micah knew his people deserved nothing but the wrath of God. He was not blindly optimistic, somehow hoping that they would one day get their proverbial act together and return to God on their own accord. No, he knew that their pattern of stubbornness and spiritual infidelity would continue. And yet, he also knew that God would forgive. He knew what Zechariah, his fellow prophet, knew. God was going to show compassion on His wayward and sin-prone people.

“I will strengthen the house of Judah,
    and I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back because I have compassion on them,
    and they shall be as though I had not rejected them,
    for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. – Zechariah 10:6 ESV

Micah was confident in the compassion of God because he believed in the trustworthiness of God. He was intimately familiar with the promises that God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 ESV

“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 ESV

Over and over again, God had recommitted Himself to Abraham and his descendants, guaranteeing His intentions to keep His promises. In spite of all their sinful ways, God had never reneged on His covenant promises. While they had proven themselves to be unfaithful, He had remained completely faithful and unwavering in His commitment to do all that He had said He would do. And Micah had taken God at His word. Which led him to boldly and confidently exclaim:

You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:20 NLT

For Micah, it wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. He knew that God was going to keep His word. He was completely confident that every single promise God had made would come to fulfillment – at just the right time and in just the right way. Because he knew this about his God:

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 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

The Tables Will Turn

14 Shepherd your people with your staff,
    the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
    in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
    as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
    I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
    their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
    like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
    they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
    and they shall be in fear of you. – Micah 7:14-17 ESV

In verse 14, Micah petitions God on behalf of the nation of Judah. Even with knowledge of all the future blessings God has in store for HIs chosen people, Micah asks that God would continue to shepherd them in the present. He refers to the shepherd’s rod or staff. The Hebrew word is shebet, and it can also mean “scepter,” a symbol of kingly rule. It is the same word used by Jacob in the blessing he gave to his son, Judah.

“The scepter [shebet] will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

The Old Testament promise concerning the coming Messiah will be fully realized with the second coming of Christ. But at the time Micah penned the words of his prayer, he and the people of Judah were still waiting for their long-awaited Messiah. They were longing to see the coming of the promised one who would reign as David had.

He chose his servant David,
    calling him from the sheep pens.
He took David from tending the ewes and lambs
    and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants—
    God’s own people, Israel.
He cared for them with a true heart
    and led them with skillful hands. – Psalm 78:70-72 NLT

Micah is far from subtle when he reminds God that Judah is the “flock of your inheritance” (Micah 7:14 ESV). They were His chosen possession, His prized and precious sheep.

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. – Psalm 95:7 ESV

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3 ESV

Micah longed for the day when Judah would have a king who would guide and protect them as David had. He knew that the key to their well-being was a godly leader who feared and was faithful to God. Due to a long line of godless kings who had ruled over them, the people of Judah were like sheep that lived in garden-like land but had wandered and gotten lost in the forest. The prophet Jeremiah provides God’s bleak assessment of His flock.

“My people have been lost sheep.
    Their shepherds have led them astray
    and turned them loose in the mountains.
They have lost their way
    and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold. – Jeremiah 50:6 NLT

So, Micah begs God to restore His lost and wandering flock, allowing them to “graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old” (Micah 7:14 ESV). The two regions that Micah mentions were well-known for their rich and fertile grazing land. He is essentially asking God to restore things to the way they used to be. He is longing for the ethereal and non-existent “good old days.” But those days never really existed. Even during the reigns of David and Solomon, the people of Israel had been marked by immorality, idolatry, and spiritual adultery. There was no time in Israel’s past when they had grazed contentedly in God’s pastures, fully satisfied with Him as their shepherd.

But God graciously answers Micah’s prayer, telling him “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things” (Micah 7:15 ESV). God had rescued His lost and wandering sheep once before and He would do it again. Their 400-year stint in the land of Egypt had been marked by persecution, enslavement, and misery. They had been like sheep lost in the forest. But God had performed a series of unprecedented miracles that resulted in their freedom and had restored them to His care. He had rescued them and then led them – all the way to the promised land – a land flowing with milk and honey.

And God wants Micah to know that the day will come when He repeats His miraculous rescue of His chosen people. The shepherd of king Micah longs for will appear and he will redeem the lost and wandering flock of God, scattered among the nations,and return them to the land of Israel once again. And this time, their occupation of the land will be permanent.

the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. – Deuteronomy 30:3 ESV

“Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43:5-7 ESV

“Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land.” – Ezekiel 34:11-13 ESV

Ezekiel goes on to record God’s promise to restore His sheep to the rich and fertile land of promise, fulfilling the request that Micah has expressed.

“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV

But the day of Israel’s restoration lies in the distant future. What Ezekiel is describing will not take place until the Millennial Kingdom, the thousand-year reign of Christ which will take place upon His return at the end of the Great Tribulation. At that time, God will restore the fortunes of Israel, regathering His scattered flock from among the nations and reestablishing them in the land He had given them as an inheritance. And all the nations that had persecuted them over the centuries and during the seven years of the Tribulation will receive the just and righteous sentence of God for their efforts.

God gives Micah a little preview of what that day will look like for all the enemies of Israel.

“All the nations of the world will stand amazed
    at what the Lord will do for you.
They will be embarrassed
    at their feeble power.
They will cover their mouths in silent awe,
    deaf to everything around them.” – Micah 7:16 NLT

God describes the nations as snakes crawling on their bellies, licking the dust with their tongues. This is an image of abject subjugation and humiliation. It is the same imagery used by God in His message to the prophet Isaiah.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
    “See, I will give a signal to the godless nations.
They will carry your little sons back to you in their arms;
    they will bring your daughters on their shoulders.
Kings and queens will serve you
    and care for all your needs.
They will bow to the earth before you
    and lick the dust from your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.
    Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” – Isaiah 49:22-23 NLT

God will bring about a seismic shift in fortunes. The once-humiliated and persecuted people of Israel will be restored to glory, while the nations of the earth grovel before them. And, once and for all, everyone on earth will know that God alone is Lord. And God promises that, on that day, the people of Israel and Judah will once again be His chosen ones, sharing in His glory and basking in the greatness of His power. All the nations of the earth will bow down before the God of Israel.

they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
    they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
    and they shall be in fear of you.
 
– Micah 7:17 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

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

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