Recently, my daily Bible readings have dragged me, somewhat unwillingly, through the Prophets. This week, Micah gets my attention. The book is located between the books of Jonah and Nahum. (Does that help? Yeah, me neither. Use those little tabs on the edges of the pages.)
Micah, a contemporary of the more familiar Isaiah, prophesied between 737 and 696 BC. Scholars have “dated” Micah based on his references to the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. (Brief history lesson: the kingdom of Israel was divided in 930 BC, after the death of King Solomon. The “northern kingdom” was still referred to as Israel, and the “southern kingdom” was called Judah, named after the tribe of Judah that dominated the kingdom. Jerusalem was in Judah.)
Micah’s prophecies were directed at both kingdoms, unlike most prophets who spoke only to one nation. He was the first prophet to predict the destruction of Jerusalem. (More history: The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, about a century and a half after Micah’s prophecy.)
What was going on at the time? Micah’s prophecies spoke against several groups, including both civic and religious leaders as well as other prophets who used their gifts of prophecy to their own advantage: “This city’s leaders give judgment for a bribe; its priests interpret the law for pay; its prophets give their revelations for money” (Micah 3:11 NIV). Judges were accepting bribes and perverting justice, oppressing the poor. Priests were easily bought. And for the right price, prophets were telling the leaders what they wanted to hear. All three groups had convinced themselves that their sacrifices would make up for their behavior. That’s akin to the drunk driver who killed your child paying you several million dollars to make it up to you. It just doesn’t work that way.
Micah told his audience how to get right with God: “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). And like most Old Testament prophets, Micah warned God’s chosen people that if they didn’t shape up, the Lord would ship them out. God expected the Israelites to be a model society and He gave them a gazillion and a half laws to show them how to live up to His standards. Not surprisingly, they blew it—over and over and over. Also, not surprisingly, God shipped them out. The first significant diaspora (scattering) was a result of the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 BC, when part of the Hebrew population was deported into slavery.
But we’ve learned our lesson, because history never repeats itself, right? Civic leaders accepting bribes? Surely not! (“Former Tennessee Speaker Casada Arrested in Corruption Probe“). Religious leaders taking advantage of their congregations? Heavens, no! (“Well-Known Miami Gardens Pastor Arrested on Fraud Charges Against Elderly”).
The bottom line is that we’re not so very different from the ancient Hebrews, but here’s the kicker: God still loves us, and He wants us to live up to His standards. Fortunately, He gave us an easier way to do it, rather than by observing a book of laws thicker than the Congressional Record. Spoiler alert: He sent Jesus. Remember the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells us, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus fulfilled the law, and for us to “get right” with God, we have to accept Jesus as our Savior.
No amount of good deeds or clean living or going to church or not cursing or being kind to animals will get you to Heaven, although if you’re a Jesus-follower, you’ll try to do those things anyway. We are saved, not by our deeds, but by our faith: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”(Ephesians 2:8-9). Read that last part again. God has already given us THE GIFT that saves us. A few lines from an old favorite hymn sum it up nicely: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me!… ‘’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.