The Remnant Restored and Purified

Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
    in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the Lord,
    like showers on the grass,
which delay not for a man
    nor wait for the children of man.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
    in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
    like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
    and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
    and all your enemies shall be cut off.

10 And in that day, declares the Lord,
    I will cut off your horses from among you
    and will destroy your chariots;
11 and I will cut off the cities of your land
    and throw down all your strongholds;
12 and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
    and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
13 and I will cut off your carved images
    and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
    to the work of your hands;
14 and I will root out your Asherah images from among you
    and destroy your cities.
15 And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
    on the nations that did not obey. – Micah 5:7-15 ESV

Micah continues his description of the “latter days” which he began in chapter 4. He notes that, in that day, “the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples” (Micah 5:7 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “remnant” is she’eriyth and it refers to “what is left” or “the survivors.” Micah used this word repeatedly when speaking of those Jews who will remain on earth when the end times takes place. According to Micah, God has great plans for this small group of Jews who will survive the persecution of the Antichrist and the plagues that will mark the Great Tribulation.

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
– Micah 2:12 ESV

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore. – Micah 4:6-7 ESV

And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
    in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
    like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
    and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver. – Micah 5:8 ESV

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. – Micah 7:18 ESV

While Micah has made it painfully clear that the nation of Judah will suffer defeat at the hands of the Babylonians as punishment for their sin, he has also revealed that God will one day redeem and restore them. But not all of them. This image of the remnant is critical to understanding what God has in store for the nation of Israel.

The apostle Paul, a Jew himself, wrote extensively concerning the future salvation of his people. In his letter to the believers in Rome, he described a day when the people of Israel would be saved.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 ESV

While these verses seem to indicate that Paul believed God would one day redeem “all Israel,” the rest of his letter to the Romans paints a different picture. He is referring to a future day when all those Jews who remain, the remnant, will be saved. Look at what he says in chapter 9.

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.” – Romans 9:27-29 ESV

Despite the events surrounding the Tribulation and the enemy’s attempts to irradicate each and every Jew living in those days, God will preserve a remnant of His people. In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John relates a vision he was given by God that describes the sealing or protection of 144,000 Jews from every tribe in Israel.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. – Revelation 7:1-8 ESV

During the Tribulation, the Antichrist, under orders from Satan himself, will launch a pogrom of intense persecution against any Jews living during those days. And yet, God will see to it that a remnant of them will come to a saving faith in His Son, becoming the firstfruits of all those who will experience the salvation during those dark days. And John was given another vision, revealing that those same 144,000 will experience redemption and resurrection, standing before the throne of God in heaven.

This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame. – Revelation 14:3-5 ESV

One of the tasks of this remnant will be to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who are living during the Great Tribulation. They will risk their lives in order that others might hear the message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. And while they go about their God-appointed ministry of evangelizing the lost, they will  enjoy divine protection.

And their efforts will not be in vain, because John describes the scene of a large mixed-race multitude standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

These will be Jews and Gentiles who will come to faith during the days of Tribulation because of the evangelistic efforts of the 144,000. The individuals who make up this great multitude will have been martyred by Antichrist for their having chosen to align themselves with Christ rather than bow down and worship him.

And Micah makes it clear that, during those latter days, the remnant of Israel will find themselves surrounded by enemies. The persecution will be intense and unrelenting. And yet, God will remove all the trappings of success and strength that Israel had traditionally relied upon.

And in that day, declares the Lord,
    I will cut off your horses from among you
    and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
    and throw down all your strongholds;
and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
    and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
and I will cut off your carved images
    and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
    to the work of your hands… – Micah 5:10-13 ESV

The Israelites would no longer have any weapons or walled cities to rely upon. They would have no fortune-tellers or false prophets to tempt them with pleasant-sounding lies promising good news. And Antichrist will see to it that every single idol, other than the one dedicated to himself in the temple of God, will be completely eradicated. But, in His grace and mercy, God will see to it that a remnant of His people is restored to a right relationship with Him by opening their eyes to the truth of the gospel.

And finally, Micah reveals that God will execute His judgment against all the nations who choose to align themselves with Antichrist and reject the message of the 144,000. God will redeem a remnant of His people and He will destroy all those who refuse to repent and receive His gracious offer of salvation.

…in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
    on the nations that did not obey. – Micah 5:15 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

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God Is Not Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds! – Micah 2:12 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

Trust Him

Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations
    are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
    and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
12 But they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
13 Arise and thresh,
    O daughter of Zion,
for I will make your horn iron,
    and I will make your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples;
    and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. – Micah 4:9-13 ESV

Micah has given the people of Judah a glimpse into the future, providing them with a hope-filled description of God’s redemptive plan concerning them. Now, he rather abruptly brings them back to earth with a reminder of their more pressing fate. They still had the looming reality of God’s pending judgment hanging over their heads. Their centuries-worth of sin and rebellion against God had to be punished.

So, Micah paints a foreboding picture of just how difficult and dark those days will be. He fast-forwards the timeline again, providing them with a prophetic glimpse into the not-so-distant future and describes the horrific scene of the Babylonians invading Jerusalem. He describes the people crying out in pain and anguish as they watch the destruction of their beloved city. They have no one to lead them. Their king has been taken captive. Their army has fallen. All the prophets and priests who had promised them that everything would be okay, have been exiled as slaves to Babylon. And the book of 2 Kings confirms the accuracy of Micah’s prediction.

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

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:3-7 NLT

The devastation and destruction will be horrific. Nothing will remain untouched or spared from the wrath of the Babylonian army as it pillages and plunders the city of all its treasures. Again, the book of 2 Kings provides detailed confirmation as to the accuracy of Micah’s words.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. – 2 Kings 25:9-10 NLT

Micah compares the pain of the people to that of a woman in the midst of childbirth. This imagery is meant to link the very real pain they will experience as a result of God’s judgment with the future joy they will feel when God redeems them from their captivity in Babylon.

This section of Micah’s book is filled with a rather strange admixture of present and future scenes. He is compressing the timeline in such a way that it is difficult to know what is going to happen when. But Micah is not trying to provide the people of Judah with a detailed calendar of dates or give them a hard-and-fast outline of coming attractions. He is trying to let them know that God is in complete control of every detail concerning their past, present, and future. God exists outside of time. He knows the future just as well as He knows the past. He was intimately familiar with every detail concerning the coming Babylonian invasion. And He was just as aware of every circumstance surrounding the return of a remnant of His people from Babylon to Judah 70 years later. And Micah combines all these events into one seamless whole, in an effort to assure the people of Judah that everything was in the sovereign hands of God.

…for now you must leave this city
    to live in the open country.
You will soon be sent in exile
    to distant Babylon.
But the Lord will rescue you there;
    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies. – Micah 4:10 NLT

In Micah’s day, Judah had no shortage of enemies who longed to see her demise. In spite of their disobedience and sin, the people of Judah had enjoyed a certain degree of success. As a nation, they had continued to play a prominent role in the oftentimes volatile affairs of the Middle East. Over the years, they had made a great many enemies who would love nothing better than to see them destroyed. And when the Babylonians finally invaded Judah, these nations not only rejoiced, they took advantage of the situation, claiming the former territories of Judah as their own.

But Micah assures his countrymen that these enemies of Judah were overlooking one very important fact.

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan.
These nations don’t know
    that he is gathering them together
to be beaten and trampled
    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. – Micah 4:12 NLT

When the time for Judah’s fall finally came, these nations would see an opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances. But they would be ignorant of God’s much larger and longer-term plans concerning Judah. And they would be completely oblivious to His plans for them. But, once again, Micah compresses the timeline, inserting events that will take place in the “latter days.” Here he is describing the judgment of God against the nations of the earth that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ. The prophet Zechariah provides a detailed account of what will happen to all those who stand opposed to God and His chosen people when Christ returns.

And the Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day they will be terrified, stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will fight their neighbors hand to hand. Judah, too, will be fighting at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the neighboring nations will be captured—great quantities of gold and silver and fine clothing. This same plague will strike the horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in the enemy camps.

In the end, the enemies of Jerusalem who survive the plague will go up to Jerusalem each year to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. Any nation in the world that refuses to come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will have no rain. If the people of Egypt refuse to attend the festival, the Lord will punish them with the same plague that he sends on the other nations who refuse to go. Egypt and the other nations will all be punished if they don’t go to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. – Zechariah 14:12-19 NLT

Once again, Micah brings in a scene from the distant future, allowing the people of Judah to see what God has planned for them as a nation.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:13 NLT

Micah wants them to understand that this event is just as certain as their coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. God had a plan in place that was all-inclusive and completely trustworthy. He had left nothing up to chance. Their unfaithfulness would do nothing to diminish the faithfulness of God. Yes, He would punish them for their sins, but the day was coming when He would restore them. He would bring judgment upon them for their refusal to repent, but He would also send His Son one day to rescue them from the days of Tribulation.

How easy it is to lose sight of God’s sovereign plan and focus on the more immediate circumstances surrounding us. The people of Judah were fixating on the threat of Babylonian invasion and the destruction of their nation. But Micah was attempting to remind them that their God was not only greater than their problem, but He was also in complete control of it. Everything they were facing and fearing was coming through the sovereign hands of God. And He had more in store for them than they could ever imagine. While the enemies of Judah were clueless concerning God’s future plans for Judah, He was not. And the prophet Jeremiah provided the following words of comfort directly from the lips of God.

“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

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

Shameless Shepherds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure to Bless

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
    from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
    for it will be a time of disaster.
In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
    and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
    he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
    To an apostate he allots our fields.”
Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
    in the assembly of the Lord.
Micah 2:1-5 ESV

The judgment of God was coming against Israel and Judah. But why? The answer to that question is found in chapter one: “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5 ESV). And both Israel and Judah stood as guilty and condemned by God. But just in case anyone was thinking about arguing their case, Micah provides a detailed list of crimes worthy of conviction.

While chapter one included God’s indictments against Israel and Judah, in chapter two the focus shifts to the southern kingdom of Judah. After all, as one of its residents, Micah had been appointed by God to deliver his message of judgment and call to repentance to his own people. And God wanted Micah to make it painfully clear that when the nation fell, it would not be the result of blind fate or because of the imperialistic ambitions of a foreign power. No, it would be because of their many sins against God. The grounds for their future fall would be their own wickedness. The source of their ultimate demise would be their sovereign, holy, and righteous God.

Micah proceeds to itemize the many sins of the people of Judah through a series of woes. The term “woe” was often used to express sorrow or lament but in this case, Micah is using it as a threat or announcement of pending judgment because of guilt.

Unrighteousness had become so prolific in Judah that there were those who spend their nights concocting plans to commit acts of wickedness the next day. They literally dreamed of sinning. And, because they had the financial resources and power to put those plans into action, “When the morning dawns, they perform it” (Micah 2:1 ESV).

This first woe seems to be directed at the rich and powerful in Judah, who were using their influence to take advantage of the less fortunate among them. They were growing richer by means of extortion and graft. They were motivated by greed and devoid of compassion, using their formidable resources and connections to satisfy their insatiable lust for more.

When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance. – Micah 2:2 NLT

The actions of these individuals were driven by a love of self. They exhibited the characteristics outlined by James centuries later.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

These people were guilty of violating the tenth commandment.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
 – Exodus 21:17 NLT

And because they were using their power and influence to turn their thoughts of covetousness into reality, they were also guilty of breaking the eighth commandment, which prohibited stealing. And to top it all off, they were guilty of violating what Jesus said was the second greatest commandment of God. “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT).

James accused these kinds of people of spiritual adultery. They were guilty of making a god out of money and material possessions.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

They were worshiping the gifts rather than the Giver. And they took great pride in their affluence and in their ability to increase their wealth through cunning and deceit. But Micah warns them that there will be serious consequences for their actions.

But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:3 NLT

Notice his emphasis on pride. That is exactly what James points out in his letter when addressing the spiritual adulterers of his day.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. – James 4:6-10 NLT

Pride and arrogance have no place in the life of a child of God. Everything we have comes from the gracious hand of God, as James makes clear in his letter.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

And what we have been given by God is intended for the good of all. His blessings are meant to be shared. There is no place for selfishness and self-centeredness among God’s people. Greed, lust, and covetousness are antithetical to the life of righteousness to which we have been called. And the same thing was true of the people of Judah in Micah’s day. Long before they had ever entered the land of Canaan, God had promised that He would bless them and that He expected them to use those blessings to care for one another. His gracious gifts were to be lovingly shared, not greedily hoarded.

“There should be no poor among you, for the LORD your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession. You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 NLT

But generations later, the people of God had proven their inability and unwillingness to follow God’s commands. So, Micah warns them that the very evil they had committed was about to come upon them. These greedy, covetous people would find themselves the victims of someone else’s dreams of conquest and acquisition. The Babylonians would show up one day and use their great power, wealth, and influence to relieve the proud people of Judah of their homes, lands, and dignity. Micah warns that the once-prideful people of God will sing a doleful dirge, lamenting their fall from grace.

“We are finished,
        completely ruined!
    God has confiscated our land,
        taking it from us.
    He has given our fields
        to those who betrayed us.” – Micah 2:4 NLT

God was going to take away the very land He had given to them as their inheritance. He would deprive them of the source of their abundance and fruitfulness. The fields and houses they had stolen from others would be taken from them. They would be left with nothing. No inheritance, no land, no homes, no flocks, no herds, no grains, no fruit, and no hope. And all because they had chosen to disobey the will of God.

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. – Deuteronomy 15:10-11 NLT

Because of their disobedience, the entire land of Judah would become inhabited by the poor. Those who had been graciously blessed by God, but had become dissatisfied with His gifts, would one day find themselves mourning their losses. Both Israel and Judah had been blessed by God so that they might be a blessing to others. But they had failed to use God’s gifts wisely and selflessly. They had become plagued by pride, arrogance, greed, and covetousness. And they were going to learn the invaluable lesson that Jesus would later share.

“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:48 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

Repentance or Regret

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

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

After describing the coming judgment of God against the kingdom of Israel and its capital city of Samaria, Micah’s reaction is one of deep sorrow. He doesn’t rejoice over the pending fall of Judah’s northern neighbor, even though they had sided with the Syrians and attacked the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5). Micah mourned over the fate of the northern kingdom because it was comprised of ten of the tribes of the sons of Jacob. Their fall would leave only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining in the land of promise. And Micah knew that the same fate awaited the southern kingdom because they had been just as unfaithful.

The book of 2 Kings recounts the rise of Ahaz to the throne of Judah, describing his reign in less-than-flattering terms.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. – 2 Kings 16:2-3 NLT

So, Micah declares his intent to mourn over the fall of Israel because he knows it is only a matter of time before Judah finds itself suffering under the righteous wrath of God Almighty. He compares Israel’s spiritual and moral condition to a deadly disease, totally incurable and highly infectious.

her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem. – Micah 1:9 ESV

Sin, like cancer, never remains localized but has a way of metastasizing and spreading, and Micah knew that Judah had already been negatively influenced by its neighbor to the north. But Micah also knew that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease. Judah’s sin was going to bring the judgment of God and His punishment was going to be severe, leaving the nation in a state of physical, emotional, and mental devastation. The prophet Isaiah could not imagine why the people of Judah would refuse to repent, choosing instead to suffer the ongoing and merciless anger of God.

Why do you continue to invite punishment?
    Must you rebel forever?
Your head is injured,
    and your heart is sick.
You are battered from head to foot—
    covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—
    without any soothing ointments or bandages. – Isaiah 1:5-6 NLT

In an attempt to personalize the coming judgment of God, Micah uses his hometown of Moresheth-gath as the epicenter of all that is going to happen. He mentions the names of various cities in Judah that encircle his hometown, including Gath, Beth-le-aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, Maroth, and Lachish. Each of these towns seem to have been chosen for their location as well as the meaning of their names. Micah is using a not-so-subtle play on words to drive home the extreme nature of God’s coming judgment.

Gath means “winepress” and the residents of this city were going to experience “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). Beth-le-aphrah means “house of Aphrah” but Aphrah can be translated as “dust.” So, Micah states that the citizens of “the house of dust” will soon find themselves rolling in the dust as a form of mourning. Shaphir means “fair” or “beautiful” but it would soon be marked by “nakedness and shame” (Micah 1:11). The name Zaanan is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “come out” and Micah informs these people that they will not be able to escape the coming judgment of God. Zanaan actually means “place of flocks” and sadly, Micah lets them know that they will be trapped like sheep in the fold when God pours out His wrath.

Beth-ezel means “house of firm root.” Yet Micah delivers the bad news that their “house has no support” (Micah 1:11 NLT) and God will level it in His anger. The name of the city of Maroth is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “bitterness.” Like a thirsty person seeking for refreshing water, they will “anxiously wait for relief, but only bitterness awaits them” (Micah 1:12 NLT). The name of the city of Lachish, which means “invincible,” sounds very similar to the Hebrew word rekesh, which means “steeds.” Micah warns this “invincible” town to “Harness your chariot horses and flee” (Micah 1:13 NLT). He accuses them of being “the first city in Judah to follow Israel in her rebellion” and of leading Jerusalem into sin (Micah 1:13 NLT).

Achzib, which means “deceit,” would end up deceiving the kings of Israel by failing to resist the coming invaders. Every single town would fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Even Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-gath, which means “possession of Gath” would become the possession of the Babylonians.

Marashesh (“crest of a hill”) will not be high enough to escape the coming judgment of God. Adullam (“justice of the people”) will experience the justice of God as He forces “the glory of Israel” (its kings and leaders) to run there in a vain attempt to escape His wrath.

Over and over again, Micah uses these plays or words to drive home the message of God’s pending judgment and the devastating impact it is going to have on the entire nation of Judah. It will be unavoidable and its consequences, inescapable. From the streets of the smallest village to the gates of Jerusalem, the story will be the same: The people of Judah will find themselves mourning just like Micah.

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

They had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it. But God still longed for His rebellious people to return to Him in repentance. He greatly desired to bless them and restore them to their place of honor as His chosen people. But the prophet Isaiah declared God’s requirements for judgment to be avoided.

“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT

God wasn’t interested in watching them through the motions, perfunctorily performing their religious rituals like mindless robots. He wanted true heart change and legitimate repentance.

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

The choice was up to them. They could obey and experience God’s blessings, or they could continue to rebel and endure His wrath. He was ready to forgive and cleanse them. But it was going to require obedience and submission to His will for them.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
    I will make them as white as wool.
If you will only obey me,
    you will have plenty to eat.
But if you turn away and refuse to listen,
    you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 1:18-20 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

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
    a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
    and uncover her foundations.
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
    all her wages shall be burned with fire,
    and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
    and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. Micah 1:2-7 ESV

Like a prosecutor in a court case, Micah is going to present damning evidence against the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. These two nations came into existence after God divided Israel as punishment for the idolatry of King Solomon.

Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did.”’ – 1 Kings 11:31-33 NLT

Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s officials and he would be used by God to lead a rebellion against the king, convincing 10 of the 12 tribes to align with him and form the northern kingdom of Israel. Solomon would maintain control over his own tribe, Judah, as well as the tribe of Benjamin. Both Solomon and Jeroboam would be followed by a succession of different kings who would rule over the two kingdoms. And the majority of these men would continue to lead the chosen people of God to serve the false gods of the Canaanite nations. This idolatry and apostasy is the basis of Micah’s message.

So, he calls all the nations of the earth to act as jurors in the trial of God’s people.

Let all the people of the world listen!
    Let the earth and everything in it hear. – Micah 1:2 NLT

And the star witness in this divine courtroom drama will be God Himself.

The Sovereign Lord is making accusations against you;
    the Lord speaks from his holy Temple. – Micah 1:2 NLT

Interestingly enough, God had predicted this moment in time. Even before the people of Israel had ever set foot in the land of promise, God had warned that they would be unfaithful to Him and worship other gods. So, He dictated the words of a song to Moses and instructed him to teach it to the people of Israel in order that they might never forget what would happen if they disobeyed and deserted Him.

“So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them. For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.” – Deuteronomy 31:19-21 NLT

Since Moses had been warned by God that his time on earth was drawing to a close, He took this lengthy “song” and gave it to Joshua, with instructions to keep it in a safe place.

“Take this Book of Instruction and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, so it may remain there as a witness against the people of Israel. – Deuteronomy 31:26 NLT

And the “Book of Instruction” had remained beside the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies of God’s temple all during the reigns of David and Solomon. Even as Micah penned the words of this book, the “song” God had given to Moses was safely ensconced in the inner sanctum of the temple, its words acting as a witness against both Israel and Judah.

Micah describes God leaving His heavenly throne room and making His way to earth, where He will provide personal testimony against His ungrateful and unfaithful people. Isaiah used similar imagery to describe God’s divine judgment of His people.

The Lord takes his place in court
    and presents his case against his people.
The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment
    on the elders and rulers of his people… – Isaiah 3:13-14 NLT

And Micah warns that God’s arrival will be anything but ordinary.

…the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place. – Micah 1:4 ESV

This imagery is intended to get the attention of the residents of Judah and Israel. Their all-powerful God, the one they had abandoned for false gods, was about to make Himself known in ways that would prove His power and guarantee their destruction. For generations, they had acted as if God did not exist or as if He was unconcerned with their behavior. They had flagrantly flaunted their idolatry in His face and gotten away with it. They had repeatedly committed spiritual adultery with no ill effects. But Micah wanted them to know that their God had run out of patience. He was leaving His throne room in heaven and descending to earth to pronounce judgment against them.

And just in case the people might wonder why God would bother to leave heaven and come all the way to earth, Micah provides them with the answer.

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

Micah’s reference to Israel as “Jacob” was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder of the rebellious background of the patriarch for whom they were named. The book of Genesis records the early years of Jacob, portraying him as a manipulative, scheming individual who spent years trying to do things his way, rather than trust in God’s will for his life. And it was only when Jacob came to an end of himself and decided to submit his life to God, that he received a new name and a divine promise of fruitfulness.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “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.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

By referring to the northern kingdom of Israel as “Jacob,” Micah is linking them to the rebellious years of their patriarch’s life. They had more in common with the earlier version of Jacob than they did with his post-name-change behavior.

And Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had become the epicenter of idolatry and unfaithfulness for the entire nation. The same thing was true for Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. In spite of the presence of the temple of God, the city of Jerusalem had become home to shrines and high places for a pantheon of false gods. Both of these cities had become icons for the wickedness of their respective nations.

For the people of Judah and Israel, these capital cities were representative of their wealth, power, and prestige. They were filled with gold, precious gems, beautiful buildings, and the trappings of their own success. But God was about to turn these man-made symbols of self-importance into piles of rubble and ashes.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” –
Micah 1:6-7 NLT

God wasn’t just coming down from heaven to offer testimony against Judah and Israel, He was showing up as their judge, jury, and executioner. Their fate was already sealed. God had already told them what would happen if they failed to worship Him alone. He had dictated the words of the song to Moses and they cried out from the Holy of Holies, condemning the people of God for their unfaithfulness. The Israelites may have forgotten the lyrics, but God had not.

All the symbols of Samaria’s success were about to be destroyed. The walls of the city would be toppled. Its streets would be plowed up and turned into fields. All the statues and idols erected to her many false gods would be smashed and burned. And the wealth amassed through their use of temple prostitutes cleverly disguised as “priestesses,” would become loot for the invading forces of the Assyrians.

Judgment was coming. And the Judge of the universe was leaving His judgment seat in heaven to ensure that their crimes receive the condemnation they deserve.

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

Yet, I Will Wait Quietly

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.
16  I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:8-16 ESV

Habakkuk continues his recitation of God’s mighty acts on behalf of Israel, and his objective seems quite apparent. By recounting the various stories from Israel’s past that illustrate God’s power and sovereignty, Habakkuk is reminding himself and his readers that they have nothing to fear. Their God has a long and illustrious record of dominating victories over the natural order and human opposition.

He starts by describing God’s anger against the rivers and the sea. This is likely a reference to the Nile, the Jordan River, and the Red Sea. In all three cases, God had displayed His sovereign power over these bodies of water by performing miraculous acts of transformation. In the first of the plagues God brought against the Egyptians, He had commanded Moses to turn the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood.

In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 ESV

Habakkuk rhetorically asks, “Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea…?” (Habakkuk 3:8 ESV). And the answer is, “No!” God was not displaying His wrath against the Nile, but He was using it as a way to display His unsurpassed power to the stubborn Egyptians and the reluctant Israelites. Moses had warned Pharaoh that, unless he released the people of Israel, their God would act on their behalf and the Egyptians would get a painful lesson concerning God’s power.

Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. – Exodus 7:17 ESV

But despite God’s display of power, Pharaoh proved resistant and continued to refuse the repeated requests of Moses to release the people of Israel. So, God brought another ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. And when the death of the firstborn finally forced Pharoah to reluctantly acquiesce and set the Israelites free, God had one more miracle in store that would finalize His redemptive plan for Israel. At the waters of the Red Sea, God provided another remarkable display of His sovereign power.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Exodus 14:21-22 ESV

After Pharaoh had finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, they had made it as far as the Red Sea, when Pharaoh had another change of heart and sent his army to recapture them. When the Israelites became aware of their hopeless circumstance, “they feared greatly…and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10 ESV). And then they complained to Moses, expressing their regret at having allowed him to convince them to leave Egypt. But Moses assured them that God was not done yet.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

And the salvation of God took the form of the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army with all its chariots. But not only that, God used those very same waters to destroy the Egyptians, bringing their 400 years of captivity and subjugation to a climactic end.

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. – Exodus 14:27-28 ESV

And Habakkuk, in recalling this fateful event in Israel’s history, points out that God had not been angry with the waters of the Red Sea, but He had simply used this natural barrier as a tool to accomplish His divine will for His chosen people. Habakkuk leaves not doubt as to God’s intent: “you were sending your chariots of salvation!” (Habakkuk 3:8 NLT).

And years later, God would repeat this miraculous event when the Israelites arrived at the Jordan River, the eastern border of the land of Canaan. They had arrived when the river was at flood stage, creating a natural barrier the prevented them from crossing over into the land that God had provided as their inheritance. But, as always, God had a plan in place.

So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT

Habakkuk pictures God as a mighty warrior, brandishing His bow and using the arrows from His quiver to split the earth with rivers” (Habakkuk 3:9 ESV). This imagery portrays God’s creation of the rivers and seas as an act of war, as He sovereignly ordained these natural resources to be part of His redemptive plan. He had placed each of them right where they were for a reason. He had divinely prepared them for the role they would play in the future salvation of Israel. And Habakkuk describes the rest of nature as spectators to God’s war-like creation of the rivers and seas.

The mountains watched and trembled.
    Onward swept the raging waters.
The mighty deep cried out,
    lifting its hands in submission.
The sun and moon stood still in the sky
    as your brilliant arrows flew
    and your glittering spear flashed. – Habakkuk 3:10-11 NLT

Habakkuk personifies the mountains, and even the planets, as silent witness to God’s actions, reacting with appropriate awe and fear at what they see. In Habakkuk’s creative representation of God’s redemptive work, He pictures the Almighty as a powerful warrior making His way across the landscape, leaving a wake of destruction in His path, as He rescues His anointed ones from their enemies.

You marched across the land in anger
    and trampled the nations in your fury.
You went out to rescue your chosen people,
    to save your anointed ones.
You crushed the heads of the wicked
    and stripped their bones from head to toe. – Habakkuk 3:12-13 NLT

This imagery had to have put a smile on Habakkuk’s face. Faced with the dismal circumstances taking place in Judah, and the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, Habakkuk relished the idea of God wreaking havoc on their enemies.

In recalling God’s defeat of the Egyptians at the waters of the Red Sea, Habakkuk found the comfort and encouragement he needed to face his current circumstances. Yes, all looked lost. The enemy was bearing down on them. It appeared that they had no way of escape. And yet, there was always hope when God was involved.

With his own weapons,
    you destroyed the chief of those
who rushed out like a whirlwind,
    thinking Israel would be easy prey.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    and the mighty waters piled high. – Habakkuk 3:14-15 NLT

All those years ago, the Egyptians had showed up with their chariots and horses, ready to defeat and recapture the helpless Israelites. But things did not turn out as expected.

The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” – Exodus 14:23-25 ESV

God used their weapons against them. The wheels of their heavy chariots became bogged down in the mud. Trapped by the muck and the mire, their horses unable to move, the Egyptians were little more than sitting ducks. They had trampled the sea with their horses, but God had piled high the mighty waters. And then, the “waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Exodus 14:28 ESV).

And when the waters had receded, the Israelites discovered that their great God had delivered a mighty victory.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. – Exodus 14:30 ESV

And Habakkuk describes himself as being visibly shaken by his recollection of God’s past deliverance of His people. If God could do it then, Habakkuk knew God could do it again.

I trembled inside when I heard this;
    my lips quivered with fear.
My legs gave way beneath me,
    and I shook in terror.
I will wait quietly for the coming day
    when disaster will strike the people who invade us. – Habakkuk 3:16 NLT

His confidence in God restored, Habakuk expresses his willingness to wait for the salvation of the Lord. Rather than being dismayed at the circumstances facing Judah, Habakkuk trembled at the thought of what God would one day do on their behalf.

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

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

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

A God You Can Count On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He goes on to ask God for vindication and protection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lunacy of Idolatry

18 “What profit is an idol
    when its maker has shaped it,
    a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
    when he makes speechless idols!
19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
    to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
    and there is no breath at all in it.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk 2:18-20 ESV

In this final “woe,” God deals with the ubiquitous problem of idolatry. Ever since the Fall, mankind had been on a virtual binge, seeking for comfort, guidance, provision, and protection from anything and everything other than their creator God. In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul portrays this wholesale abandonment of God by fallen humanity in stark terms.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:25 NLT

Man, made in the image of God, was wired for worship. Adam and Eve had been created by God to have unbroken fellowship with Him. Their lives were intended to bring Him glory through their faithful obedience to His creation mandate.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26-28 NLT

But because of their decision to disobey God by eating the fruit of the one tree He had forbidden, any further access into His presence was denied, and the focal point of their worship was lost. And it didn’t take long before sin had so marred the image of God in man, that the Almighty determined to wipe them from the face of the earth.

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

Yet, God had chosen to spare Noah and his family, allowing them to begin the process of repopulating the earth again.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”  – Genesis 9:7 ESV

And, obviously, Noah and his family were successful in fulfilling God’s creation mandate. They were fruitful and refilled the earth. But their fruitfulness was accompanied by ever-increasing faithlessness. According to the apostle Paul, the nations of the earth developed a perverse penchant for substitute gods, choosing to replace the one true God with deities of their own making. And it wasn’t long before their decision to displace God resulted in rampant godlessness.

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:29-32 NLT

And yet, God, in His grace and mercy, chose to begin again. He chose a single man, Abraham, and promised to make of him a great nation. This man’s descendants would become God’s treasured possession on whom He would pour out His blessings and with whom He would make an everlasting covenant.

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

But one of the primary criteria associated with God’s covenant commitment with the descendants of Abraham would be their refusal to worship any other gods.

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

And yet, generations after the death of Abraham, his progeny would have proven their inability to keep their end of the agreement. The nation which had been set apart by God as His own would have established an unprecedented track record of spiritual infidelity. And by the time Habakkuk penned the words of the book that bears his name, the apostasy of God’s people would have become untenable and unforgivable.

The whole reason God was sending the Babylonians against the people of Judah was due to their unfaithfulness. And God had chosen to use an idolatrous nation to bring His judgment upon His idolatrous children. The people of Judah, like their northern kin in Israel, had made a habit of worshiping false gods. So, God was going to fulfill His promise to discipline them for their disobedience. He would do to them exactly as Moses had warned generations earlier.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! – Deuteronomy 28:36 NLT

If they wanted to continue to worship false gods, Yahweh would make sure they had every opportunity – but not in the land that He had graciously provided for them. They would find themselves exiled in a foreign land, surrounded by pagan gods and powerful enemies.

And this final woe points directly at the primary problem going on in Judah. God’s chosen people were guilty of spiritual adultery. They had “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”

God reveals the sheer idiocy behind their decision to replace Him with man-made gods.

“Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
    to a silent stone, Arise!” – Habakkuk 2:19 ESV

Their decision to substitute the one true God with gods of their own creation was ludicrous. It made no sense. And God sarcastically portrays the stupidity of their decision.

“What good is an idol carved by man,
    or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
    a god that can’t even talk! – Habakkuk 1:18 NLT

“To speechless stone images you say,
    ‘Rise up and teach us!’
    Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
    but they are lifeless inside. – Habakkuk 1:19 NLT

This is not the first and only time God had exposed the ridiculous nature of Judah’s idolatry. He had also spoken through Isaiah, clearly denunciating and debunking the veracity and value of idols.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
    “Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
    and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
    Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” – Isaiah 44:19 NLT

Only a fool would fail to recognize the obvious absurdity of idolatry.

The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
    He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” – Isaiah 44:20 NLT

And yet, here was the nation of Judah facing the very real prospect of having another idolatrous nation invade their borders and destroy their cities and towns. They were poor, deluded fools who had put their hope and trust in pieces of wood and stone. These lifeless and utterly helpless icons of man’s arrogant pride would prove to be unreliable when the judgment of God fell.

Later on, in the book of Isaiah, God issues a tongue-in-cheek challenge to the people of Judah. They could put their trust in their false gods, but the outcome of their efforts would prove less-than-successful.

“Let’s see if your idols can save you
    when you cry to them for help.
Why, a puff of wind can knock them down!
    If you just breathe on them, they fall over!
But whoever trusts in me will inherit the land
    and possess my holy mountain.” – Isaiah 57:13 NLT

And God points out to Habakkuk that the man-made, lifeless gods the people of Judah had chosen to worship were no substitute for Him.

“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20 ESV

God was not some elf-on-a-shelf, made from human hands and carried from one place to another. He was “the Lord,” Jehovah, “the existing one.” And He was in His holy temple, looking down on His disobedient and unfaithful people, and preparing to unleash His righteous indignation upon them.

The God of the universe is a jealous God who will not share His glory with anyone or anything. He will not put up with the worship of false gods. Yes, He will tolerate this behavior for a time, patiently putting up with the fickleness and unfaithfulness of fallen humanity. But the day is coming when He will eliminate all the false gods manufactured by fallen men. And all the earth will stand before Him in reverent awe and stunned silence.

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