Micah gives us the historical setting. In chapter 1 we are told that “the word of the Lord came to Micah in the days of Judah’s Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezakiah… That is, we are to understand the words recorded in the book of Micah as being said by the prophet sometime during the reigns of 3 kings of Judah, that is the Southern half of the kingdom of Israel, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah…
When he died, his son Ahaz became king, Ahaz was a wicked man… the book of Kings tells us he imitated Israel’s kings in their wicked ways, and even burned his son alive as a sacrifice. During his reign Judah was attacked by Israel and Aram a kingdom in Syria. After the initial attacks over 200,000 Judeans were taken as captives back to Israel’s capital in Samaria.
To survive Ahaz appealed to the Assyrians. He took money out of the Temple treasury and paid them to attack Israel on Judah’s behalf. They did just that, beginning a war with Israel that would end with Israel’s destruction and exile. Israel was taken into exile because Judah, their cousins, and brothers, and sisters paid a foreign army to attack them. Eventually the Assyrians captured Damascus, the capital of Israel.
After the fall of Damascus, Ahaz, the king of Judah visited the king of Assyria now in Damascus to pay him the money he was due. While there, he worshiped at the altar the Assyrians had built to their god. He was so impressed by the alter that he had one of his architects build an exact replica in Jerusalem and replaced the alter that had already been built in the Temple with it. In other words the king of Judah started to sacrifice to Idols in God’s temple…
Finally, the book of 2 Chronicles tells us that he boarded up and closed down the Temple and setup alters for idol worship all over Jerusalem. In doing this he effectively made it impossible for the people to not commit idolatry. The was literally no place they could go to worship God in the way God required.
Eventually Ahaz died and his son, Hezekiah took over the throne.
Some of you might have heard of Hezekiah. He is remembered as being a good king. He reopened the Temple and destroyed many of the alters the idols that had been placed around Judah. During his reign and tried his best to free Judah from paying the Assyrians for protection. In response to his refusal to pay them the Assyrians approached Jerusalem and instead of attacking it, the Assyrians lay it under siege. That is they surrounded it and kept anyone from going in or out, essentially hoping to starve the people of Jerusalem into surrender. God miraculously saved Judah from the Assyrians. Scripture tells us that during the middle of the night an angel of God came and killed the soldiers laying siege to Jerusalem. The next day Sennacherib went home defeated.
From this brief study of the lives of the three kings mentioned by Micah as well as what we are told in Micah about life at the time we can say a few things about the life of the average person in Judah during the time of Micah.
First, it’s clear from both Micah and the historical books that the average person lived under a corrupt government. It was a government that favored the wealthy and connected. The judicial system frequently ruled unjustly allowing the rich to take advantage of the poor. As I spoke about a few weeks ago the government was also complicit in the theft of the land by the rich. The average person in Judea would have echoed a familiar sentiment from our day…
“All Politicians are corrupt.” “They only help the rich.” “The System is rigged.” “The only way to get anything done around here is to pay someone off” Sounds familiar. What was an honest person to do in a time of corruption?
Second, we can say that the religion of the day was corrupted to such an extent that is was almost impossible to not worship idols. Seemingly everywhere you went in Jerusalem and around Judea alters had been set up to false Gods. Even the temple of God had been corrupted with a pagan alter… Eventually, as we just learned, Ahaz shut down the Temple ending the sacrificial system God had instituted. After that, a god-fearing Jewish person literally had no place to worship God that hadn’t been corrupted by the king. Religion was hopelessly corrupted. What was a god-fearing person to do?
Third, we can say that the average Judean was unbelievably poor. Its clear from Micah that the rich were taking advantage of the poor. They were stealing their land, which in the ancient world would have met their livelihood. The top 1 percent were getting richer and richer while the 99% were getting poorer and poorer. Those who lost their land would have been forced to sell themselves as essentially slave labor in order to provide for their families. The economic situation of the average Judean was perilous. They were living paycheck to paycheck, just scraping by.
Fourth we can say that the average Judean felt a constant fear for their lives. They were under constant attack from foreign invaders. During the time of Ahaz, Judea was attacked by Israel, the Philistines, and the kingdom of Aram. Many of those fortunate enough to survive the attack had the opportunity to be taken as slaves back to each of these places not matter if you were a man, a woman or a child. After the Assyrians came on the scene and defeated the Israelites the threat of exile or death became very real. The average Judean lived with the constant fear that they would be taken in exile, separated from their family, or killed.
Finally, as we have seen in the last few weeks, the people who had been listening to Micah would have come to feel that their God had turned against them, His patience had been exhausted, and now he was going to punish them for their disobedience. He was fed up.
To sum up then, the situation the Judeans’ were in was hopeless. The couldn’t rely on their government for justice, they couldn’t rely on their religion to appease their God, their economic situation was tenuous due in many cases to the loss of their land to rich landowners, and they were under constant fear of invasion from a foreign power. To top it all off, according to Micah the God of their fathers had turned against them.
I would use one word to describe their situation, Despair. Despair is the belief that there is nothing I can do to change my situation. Many of us feel the same way. We feel despair. We feel like there is nothing we can do to change our situation. Some of us feel it with regards to our government. The government is corrupt. It is only for the rich and powerful. All the parties are the same. They don’t represent me. They don’t care about me and it will never change. In fact many of us say that to our friends… you know politicians, they never change or “what’s gonna happen is gonna happen” this is a form of despair. Some of us feel despair in regards to our relationships… we say about our kids… “they are never going to change” or our relationship is never going to get better. There is a lot of water under the bridge now and there is nothing I can do. Or “its up to them now, I’ve done everything I can do” Many times despair dresses itself as acceptance.
About our marriage we might tell our friends… “it just is what it is” or “That’s just the way he is or that’s just the way she is and I have to deal with it” After a few years of that despair sets in… My marriage can’t be saved… There is nothing I can do… It is out of my hands…
We might also feel despair with regards to our health… saying, “Cancer is just going to return…” or “my leg is never going to be healed…” or “I am always going to feel depressed…” “I am never going to be right again and there is nothing I can do about it.”
When I was working at Children’s hospital, Security was called to help with a dad who was being a pain to the staff. Come to find out a few weeks his son had started to get sick from a virus. By the time his son had come to children’s hospital the virus had gotten into his son’s nerves and he had become paralyzed from the neck down… In a matter of weeks his son had gone from being a healthy 7th grade boy to a paralyzed one, with very little hope of every regaining his health again. That is despair… That is hopelessness
We might also feel despair and hopelessness with regards to addictions in our lives… “I can’t quite” or “I’ve tried and always failed.” Or if we are Christians we might say “I have prayed and prayed and God has never freed me from this. Every time I try to quit I fail.”
One women described drug addiction this way and I think it can be aptly applied to any other form of addiction…
You know what it's like to be hungry, right? You eat, feel normal/good, and everything is fine. When you don't eat, you get hungrier and hungrier, until it's all you can think about. You start to feel weak, tired, angry, irritable, unhappy. You can't think, can't work, can't really do anything after not eating for a few days, until you get some food.
Now, imagine you have another hunger. Except this one is even more powerful and compelling, and must be fed even more often than your biological need for food. You need your fix. It becomes a matter of survival vs an extremely painful death.
Everything you care about becomes secondary. Some people say "drug addicts are so selfish, they do terrible things to the people they're supposed to love." But this isn't accurate. Other things may matter to you, but these concerns are secondary to feeding yourself. Imagine if you were starving. Would you kill someone for food? Most people would. That's the best comparison I can think to make.
That is despair… And all of us feel it. All of us deep down wonder… can my circumstances change… Can my relationships ever be healed? Can I ever escape poverty? Can I survive this illness? Am I always going to be an addict. Am I just a slave to fate?
Fate is a very popular notion in our culture… Fate is basically the belief that there is an invisible and impersonal force that orchestrates our lives, completely out of our control. We are its slaves. Someone dies in a car accident, fate. Someone gets cancer, fate. Someone become president, fate. Someone gets hepatitis in the foothills, fate.
Sometimes in order make fate sound less random and uncontrollable and more just and fair we call it Kharma, meaning that what goes around comes around. If you are mean to someone, eventually someone will be mean to you… If you steal from someone, someone will steal from you. If you lie to someone, someone will lie to you. We all know this is not the case. Some crooks never get caught, some genuinely good people are always taken advantage of. Yet, even if Kharma was true it would still never help us escape from helplessness and despair. What if my daughter hates me because I was a jerk to someone earlier in my life. There is no way to fix that… I am still helpless… What if I am homeless because I didn’t help a panhandler. when I was living in Seattle. Whether through fate or through Kharma my situation is still hopeless, nothing I do matters.
The people of Judah felt this type of despair… They were desperate.
They needed hope… We need hope…
Look at Micah 4:6-8. Three short verses,
“In that day,” declares the LORD,
“I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. 7 I will make the lame my remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever.
As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will coe to Daughter Jerusalem."
The picture Micah is using here is that of a shepherd. God as the shepherd and his people as sheep, lame sheep. I don’t need to tell what the typical outcome was when a sheep became lame… the typical outcome is death for the sheep. A lame sheep is a dead sheep. Grazing animals can’t graze if they can’t walk. They can’t escape predators, they can’t find food or shelter. They are helpless. Israel was helpless and they were hopeless. Their political situation was hopeless, their economic situation was hopeless, their religious situation was a hopeless… They couldn’t defend themselves, they couldn’t feed themselves they were slaves to fate so they thought. And God speaks and tells them, have hope. A day is coming when I will intervene… Your destiny is not sealed.
And then he continues on and he says…
I will assemble or another translation, bring back, those who have been exiled and those who I have punished…
To continue the analogy, he is saying I will gather my sheep that have gotten lost… that is I will gather together the 200000 who had been taken to Israel and the other thousands who had been taken by the Assyrians and the Philistines… And he continues into verse 7,
I will take will take the lame, those as good as dead and the lost and will make them into a great nation again…
This was Judah’s hope… They were not bound to fate. Instead they worshipped a God who could and would act on their behalf. He was not bound by fate. He could act in any way he wanted and more than that he had a history of acting on their behalf. He freed them from Pharaoh, he drove out all the nations before them when they entered the promised Land, he was with David when he drove out the philistines, and he would be with them even after they went into exile. They were still his people. He was their shepherd and they were his sheep…
Read… John 10:11-18
Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s hope and all of our hopes. He is the good shepherd, who gathers his lost sheep, heals the lame, and gives his life up for them. And through his resurrection all of us are freed from fate.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that the one thing, death, which we know to be unconquerable, has been conquered and if it has been conquered by Jesus then we can be confident that he has the power to change any circumstance we face. No situation is hopeless.
No job loss, no broken relationship, no political situation, no medical situation, no addiction… no circumstance you find yourself in today is hopeless.
In the midst of despair there is hope and his name is Jesus. Run to Jesus…
Today then if you find yourself in circumstances beyond your control, if you find yourself in a relationship that seems hopeless, if your car broke down and you can’t pay the rent, if you run to Jesus. He loves you, he cares for you, he is looking for you. He wants to free you from despair and filled with hope.