v. 1-5 - Micah is announcing the case the Lord has against Israel, like a prosecutor bringing charges against someone. And he starts by accusing them of taking God for granted. Israel is cold toward him, like a teenager gets irritated and distant from his parents whose authority they are trying to differentiate themselves from. But God reminds them of a sample of his saving acts on their behalf and in their history. He recounts for them how he has delivered them and protected them and prospered them.
v. 6-8 - This portion of the prophecy is anticipating the questions that might arise in Israel's mind, as if they would say, "do you want more sacrifices? do you want more offerings? do you want more religious ritual? Is there enough animals in the world to appease you, Lord? What do you want from us? We're tired of this routine..."
And Micah 6:8 powerfully states the Lord's charge against Israel, by affirming what he actually requires. The Lord wants them to "do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." God's demands are less oppressive than they are prone to believe... But God is not after their religious practices... he's after their hearts and their sincere worship and their character. Specifically he wants them to humbly before them.
So, the implication is that God's been provoked by their persistent injustice, their lack of mercy and kindness (particularly to the vulnerable) and by their arrogance which allows them to treat God's people with contempt and feel justified or innocent. Their conscience has been seared by long term exploitation and predatory behavior and abuses of power, and God has seen enough. He's coming to the defense of the weak and those who have suffered at the hands of the corrupt leaders.
v. 9-16 - This section announces the punishment God has determined for them... God says that though they tip the scales of justice in their corruption, He judges justly and faithfully. Thought they're decietful in their practices he is transparent about his judgements. And he basically says that what you've taken pleasure in won't be satisfying; what you have trusted in and saved up and tried to secure for yourselves will be taken; instead of working for yourselves and building your lives, you will work to build another people; essentially, all your hard work will come to nothing and be of no value to you... because you have trusted in other gods, and worldly riches, and earthly wisdom and you have rejected me and my ways. Whatever properity you have enjoyed because of my grace and favor, will now turn to reproach.
v. 1-7 - Micah is lamenting the spiritual state of Israel at this point. He compares it to a vineyard from which all the grapes have been gathered. Whatever upright and God-fearing people there have been, you can't find them anymore. The best of people are like the thorns among the pilfered vineyard. You can't trust anyone because everyone is out for themselves and even your own family will turn on you in an instant for their own gain. So, Micah is evaluating the desolate spiritual landscape and declaring that his trust in the Lord alone because there is nothing earthly in which to place any confidence.
v. 8-10 - Micah confesses his own guilt and unworthiness of God's favor alongside Israel, and yet expresses his hope and confidence in the Lord to defend him and justify him before his enemies. Those who appear strong and try to make him feel small will come to ruin.
v. 11-17 - Micha is pleading for the Lord's protection of his people and the preservation of his promise. Though Israel's judgment is coming from these enemy armies, and though it's deserved and necessary, may this too be forward movement in God's redemptive plan. May he shepherd his people even through this. Micah is anticipating, that those God will use to judge Israel for centuries of idolatry and injustice, he will use to display his power and might down the road. This discipline and consequence will be for a time, but GOd's promise stands, and faithfulness to his people and his promise will leave these powerful nations trembling before the Lord rather than strutting over Israel.
v. 18-20 - And now Micah explicitly highlights the promise of God and the character of God which are the source of his confidence in God. Yahweh is by nature gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. The wrath and judgment he pours out has been brazenly provoked for a very long time, yet he will remember and not abandon his covenant with Abraham and with Jacob. This problem of idolatry and sin will fully dealt with but in a way that display God's grace and pardons his people. God will separate his own from their sin... he cover their guilt and show them love and compassion because that's WHO HE IS.
Micah of course is expressing the hope of Israel, that God would deliver them not just from their geo-political enemies around them, but from the even greater, more problematic enemy of sin within them. The root of their idolatry is the sinful compulsion and condition that drives them to diminish the glory of God and dismiss the authority of God and degrade the holiness of God. And Micah is saying immediate circumstances, the coming hardship, are consistent with God's character and will not undermine his purposes, but advance them. Through this phase of discipline and judgement, Israel is closer to their redemption and nearer to their salvation... he's pointing them toward the hope of Christ as the source of what will sustain them through the crushing defeat that's coming.
We have an even greater hope... that whatever circusmtances we face, we can look back to the cross of Christ, and if our life is hidden in Him by faith, than our confidence is that whatever judgement we deserve because of guilt, it bared down on Jesus 2,000 years ago at Calvary. However painful things may seem, and however desperately we may want relief, God is not judging us. Even our darkest moments and seasons are forward movement toward our ultiamte redemption and it's looking forward to that ultimate reality that will sustain us in the midst of the bleak days of right now. We don't have to fear the suffering we endure now or even the consequences of sin and folly now... we can keep looking to Jesus, who absorbed God's anger toward sin on our behalf, so that we can have full confidence that God "delights in steadfast love" (v. 18). Jesus is proof of that. Jesus is the clearest evidence and confirmation that God indeed delights in steadfast love... how could it be otherwise? God is love. The reality which Jesus makes obvious was underneath it all even for Micah... The hope of Christ is what steadied Micah's heart then, and He is the only One who can steady our trembling hearts too.
Intro to Nahum:
Israel's story is progressing forward... Micah was foreshadowing the judgment coming to Israel through the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. Nahum is coming at a time during the Assyrian occupation of Israel, prior to the Babylonian takeover, and the exile that would follow. Just to connect some dots in the unfolding of redemptive history, Ninevah is the capital city of Assyria. That's the same Ninevah to which God sent Jonah a few generations before. He preached begrudgingly to the Ninevites somehwere in the middle of the 8th century B.C. and was angry when the people repented and turned to God.
Micah came within the next couple of decades of that, prophecying to Israel about their coming destruction for which God used Assyria in 722 B.C. Nahum, then comes on the scene about 60-80 years later, preaching and prophecying, like Jonah before him, to an immoral, idolatrous, brutal and wicked people in Ninevah. Only this time, they will not repent. God used them as an instrument of his judgement of Israel, but now he will judge them too by using another emerging power, Babylon. So, this is in the middle to late 7th century B.C.
v. 1-5 - Nahum is focusing on the sovereignty of God over the earth and his justice toward those who are guilty and set themselves against him.
v. 6-11 - He then joins the great power of God over nations, and God's wrath toward his enemies, to the goodness of God toward those whose trust and hope are in Him. Nahum is not only telling us of the saving and sovereign power of God, but of their connectedness. While so many believe a God who is good cannot also be a God who judges and punishes sin, Nahum is telling us that a God who is good MUST punish sin. Necessary to the goodness of God is the ferocious commitment of God to protect those who love him and trust him from anything that would threaten them. You cannot have a good and loving God if this God let's anything go... And Yahweh is a God who gracious and merciful and patient, but who will not allow the violent and oppressive go unpunished. He gives them the oportunity to repent for their sin and turn to him, but he will not wink at their wickedness.
v. 12-14 - This is the pronouncement that God, while slow to anger (v. 3), has been provoked for long enough and he will bring an end to the tyrannical rule of Assyria.
v. 15 - This is Nahum pointing the oppressed people of God to lift their heads and their eyes to Lord, because their redeemer is coming. We see in this "good news" the anticipation of the gospel of peace... a day at which a Savior and Deliverer will come to their rescue. He tells Judah to keep their feasts at the forefront of their life. This is a loaded verse even for us today...
Nahum is calling Judah to deliberately remember the faithfulness of God in previous generations, as a way to keep their eyes focused on the faithfulness of God to their own and future generations. He's calling them to stay rooted in Israel's story, and God's promises, and attached to his covenant with His people so as to not be overwhelmed or undone by the present circumstances and difficulties surrounding them. God is still watching... God is still involved with them... God is not done with Israel or his covenant. He will fulfill his Word to them as He always has. He's telling Judah that while they persevere and endure these dark days, to keep the rhythms of remembrance and celebration as a way to remind themselves of the larger story they belong to and what God has obligated himself to on their behalf. His word and his proven faithfulness are things to which they must desperately cling in order to make it through these times. And they have every reason to remain hopeful and faithful because their God is ultimately behind all these events and will bend them toward their redemption.
This is true for us today too... just as they look toward the redemption which Christ would bring, we look back and hold fast the redemption which he did bring. In either case it is our assurance of both God's sovereignty and goodness which sustains us in whatever we face right now. And our remembrance is nurtured by the rhythms of gathering as God's people each and every Sunday to reconnect to God's story and to reembed our lives in the gospel, as a way of replenishing our souls for the journey we are on. We feast at the Lord's Supper by paritcipating again in his life, death and resurrection so that our hearts and minds and lives are conciously finding their place in his new life and new kingdom. We are sustained right now and again tomorrow and next week and every day forward by the same hope that Nahum was giving his Hebrew brothers and sisters in Ninevah 850 years ago.
v.1-9 - Nahum is using this poetic imagery of an intimidating army coming in superior strength and power, ready to overwhelm and destroy Ninevah.
v. 10-13 - He compares the destruction and ruin coming to Assyria to that of a lion mauling it's prey. He's not foreshadowing and warning about a potential threat. He's telling those perched in the seats of unparalleled power, of a definitive rout that's coming for them. They can't even imagine another competitive military force, yet God is telling them through Nahum that they are going to be humiliated and embarrassed by the force coming to overtake them. God's judgement is always like this... it is swift and definitive.
It's important that we hold this picture of a wrathful and vengeful God destroying human life, not in tension with the loving God revealed throughout Scripture, but actually as evidence of the trustworthiness of his love. It is not loving to stand idly by while those you love are ravaged and ruined. It is not goodness to passively sit back while the violent and wicked abuse and torture and oppress those you love. Love requires of us to defend that which we love, and to protect that which we love and to step in deal decisively with those who try to harm that which we love. Love for my wife and children would require me to even violently oppose someone who try to inflict suffering and violence on them. It would be weak and unloving to stand fearfully or indifferently back while they get abused in some way.
Nahum chapter 2 reminds us that evil is real and must be taken seriously and dealt with decisively. Wanting God to be accepting of everyhting and everyone is wanting a cruel God who loves chaos and opppression. The God of the Bible is fierce toward evil and oppression and toward that which opposes all that is good and beautiful without conscience... he loves his own glory and he loves those who love him and whose hope and trust are in him. And his love compels Him to enact serious judgement against those who want to destroy that which he loves.
You can have a sentimental, warm and fuzzy fairy tale God only in a world without any real evil. But in a world with real evil, a God of love must also be a God of wrath. And if this God of love is a God of wrath it is in our best interest to understand the good that he loves and the evil which provokes his wrath and to take them seriously. We need these categories desperately today, as we try to hold firm in a culture that's increasingly ambiguous about such things. And even where we do get the right categories, will we define them according to our personal feelings, our modern sensibiltiies, our social constructs, our political leanings, or according to a transcendant authority such as God's Word and God's wisdom?
We, the Church... we Christians have incredible pressure to abandon sound doctrine and biblical faith, in favor of cultural acceptance and social capital... It's a critical moment for us and more than ever it is crucial that we're tethered to the truth of the Scriptures.
v. 1-7 - This is a graphic depiction of God's determination to destroy Ninevah. It's difficult to stomach when you consider the bloody scene, the body count and even the reaction of the world. How when Ninevah crumbles, there will be nobody outside of her watching who will grieve for her or feel any measure of compassion. That last part is key... understand the level of violence, oppression and inhumaneness perpetrated by this nation. Assyria has tormented the whole world at this point and treated weaker nations with such contempt and hostility that God is going to make a spectacle of their defeat. He is essentially going to flaunt their ruin and nobody is going to feel empathy for her. Nahum is making it pretty clear that Assyria has been a tyrant for a long time and they're judgement is well earned and well deserved.
v. 8-13 - Nahum is reaching back to other points and places in history when God has similarly executed judgement on nations for their wickedness and violence and oppression. God will never allow an earthly power to misuse or abuse their power forever. He has always opposed and dealth with such evil, even when it was perpetrated by his own people, as we saw in Micah.
v. 14-17 - He's telling them that though they have throngs of people, thousands upon thousands of soldiers; though they are seemingly innumerable, and their earthly power seems insurmountable, in proportion to God's strength, they like bugs, ready to be squashed. Nahum is putting not just us individually in perspective, but he's putting us as entire nations and geoplitical forces in persepctive. In other words, as the world power of our own day, the United States is not unlike Assyria... grasshoppers and locusts at the mercy of God's sovereign rule.
Notice the trend of God's judgement too... it is exercised through opposing nations. God is not just laying out a people supernaturally. He is laying waste to a people sovereignly through the natural means of emerging earthly powers. And it makes one wonder how God has used this nation in this regard, as well as what we may be subject to if we keep going as we are.
v. 18-19 - This is the most damning statement in the whole book. "Upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?" Nahum paints a picture of the world celebrating the violent overthrowing and suffering of Assyria. And this isn't realy a call to repent. It's a declaration that that time has passed and what's coming is coming. The peoples of Ninevah are scattered and without hope or help because those they'd look to for intervention are responsible for their destruction. There is nowhere to turn. They have abused their power, and they have indulged their appetites and they have exploited the weak and preyed upon the vulnerable and they have enjoyed taken pleasure in the suffering of others... and now it's their turn.
God was moving in history to preserve his promises, protect his people and advance his purposes. But having fulfilled that through Jesus, we are among those who do have a chance to repent and turn to God. It is not too late for any one of us. And even if we belong to a nation whose culture provokes God's judgement, it does not mean that we have nowhere to turn. There is a Leader and a Savior beyond our political or military leaders. There is a Hope beyond the hope of our wealth and infrastructure. Look to Christ... he is a deliverer and he will save many from among a nation who on a larger scale has rejected God. While the values and laws and norms of a society may mock God and despise God and bring judgement on themselves, even among them, our God is a refuge and fortress to those who place their hope in Him.
Pray for our nation. Pray for the nations. And pray for God's people to hold fast, stand firm, and live by faith as we persist in the midst of whatever larger forces are at work around us, which we cannot identify clearly nor control at all.