Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nahum 2

War against Nineveh (vs. 1-7)—The prophet presents some very vivid imagery in this chapter of war against the city of Nineveh. The Babylonians have come as “he who scatters” (v. 1). Thus, Nineveh is exhorted to make defensive preparations: “Watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily” (v. 1). Judah will certainly be beneficiaries of the destruction of Assyria (v. 2). The shields, valiant men, and chariots are made ready (v. 3), and then the battle rages (v. 4). The nobles fight, walls are shored up, but the enemy breaks through the gates and “the palace is dissolved”—no more Assyrian emperor (v. 6). Captivity has been decreed (by God) for the Assyrians, and the innocents will mourn (v. 7). Such is the fate of every wicked empire.

Nineveh flees and is plundered (vs. 8-10)—With defeat comes flight, and no one can stop the mad rush from the city (v. 8—the “pool of water” reference is obscure). The city will be plundered of gold and silver: “there is no end of treasure” (v. 9). And, for Nineveh: “She is empty, desolate, and waste! The heart melts, and the knees shake; Much pain is in every side, And all their faces are drained of color” (v. 10). The great city built by Nimrod, the “mighty hunter before the Lord,” (see Genesis 10:9-11) will be annihilated.

“I am against you” (vs. 11-13)—In verses 11 and 12, Nahum pictures the viciousness and strength of Nineveh before her destruction. A dwelling place of lions (i.e., strong warriors) and “no one made them afraid” (v. 11). Nineveh “tore in pieces” other peoples, “filled his caves with prey and his dens with flesh” (v. 12). This rapacious barbarism was one reason the Lord was going to wipe them off the face of the earth. Verse 13 is pretty clear: “’Behold, I am against you,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.’" Even the greatest of cities and empires have no hope when doom is pronounced upon them by Jehovah.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nahum—Introduction and Chapter One

Introduction—We know nothing of this prophet except his name and that he was from the city of Elkosh. And we don’t even know where that was. His prophecy was directed against the city of Nineveh, and was written at some point before 625 B.C., the year the city was sacked by the Medes and the Babylonians. Nahum probably wrote about the middle of that century, maybe 150 years after Jonah. There is an interesting comparison here. Jonah preached to Nineveh, and the city repented. 150 later, there’s no hope. Each generation must be taught or the truth of God will be lost. The Ninevites failed to pass on the message about Jehovah and it cost them dearly. Nineveh no longer exists, except for the extensive ruins that speak almost as loudly as the prophetic pronouncement of doom by Nahum.

“Who can stand before His indignation?” (vs. 1-8)—In vivid, powerful language, Nahum announces the coming ruin of the Assyrian capital. God is jealous (He brooks no opposition gods), avenges, is furious, will take vengeance on His adversaries and “reserves wrath for His enemies” (v. 2). He is “slow to anger and great in power,” but the guilty will not be acquitted. “The Lord has His way” (v. 3). Nahum draws allusions from nature to indicate the power and control of Jehovah—whirlwinds, clouds, the sea, rivers, “Bashan and Carmel (two very lush, productive areas of Israel) wither,” the lovely flowers of Lebanon wilt before Him, “the mountains quake…the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence” (vs. 4-5). Man, of course, has no control over nature; we are at the mercy of its capricious whims. Well, if the Lord has such omnipotence as to dominate even mountains, hills, rivers, seas, whirlwinds, etc., then “who can stand before His indignation and who can endure the fierceness of His anger?” (v. 6). The answer is obvious—no one, not even a great, powerful city like Nineveh, which, as Nahum writes, stood at the pinnacle of Near Eastern supremacy. Now, the prophet does not want us to forget that “the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” (v. 7). But, regarding Nineveh, the people of which did not match that description of trusting in Jehovah, “He will make an utter end of its place” (v. 8). And again, as noted, Nineveh today is nothing but a heap of ruins—an “utter end” has indeed been made of that once mighty city.

“I will dig your grave” (vs. 9-15)—There is no value in conspiring against Jehovah. Again, Nahum announces an “utter end” to Nineveh, in fact, so complete that “affliction will not rise up a second time”—the Lord won’t need to come back for a second touch (v. 9). Nineveh is so blind to its fate (“tangled like thorns” and “drunken like drunkards”) that “they shall be devoured like stubble fully dried” (v. 10); i.e., just as it doesn’t take much effort to start a fire in very dry straw, it won’t take much to destroy Nineveh. They had plotted their evil “against the Lord” (v.11--and His people), and Jehovah had even used Assyria to punish Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel (read the interesting discussion of that in Isaiah 10). But, regardless of how strong Nineveh might seem in Nahum’s day (v. 12), the Lord would cut them down, and again, there would be no need of a second judgment (v. 12). He would free Israel from Assyrian domination (v. 13), and the name of Assyria “shall be perpetuated no longer” (v. 14). Their gods would be destroyed, and “I will dig your grave, for you are vile” (v. 14). This is, of course, “good tidings” for His people, and the Lord hopes it will be an inspiration for Judah to “keep your appointed feasts, [and] perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; He is utterly cut off” (v. 15). Imagine how joyous the countries of eastern Europe felt when the Soviet Union’s armies were withdrawn and left them free from communist tyranny. Such is what Nahum is saying to Judah.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Micah 7

“The faithful man has perished from the earth” (vs. 1-7)—“Woe is me,” says the prophet. For just as there are no grapes on the vine (v. 1), “the faithful man has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among men” (v. 2). They were bloodthirsty, and even turned on their own kin (v. 2). These people were dedicated sinners: “That they may do evil with both hands earnestly” (v. 3). I love these prophetic descriptions. They not only did evil, but they did evil “with both hands,” and not only that, but “earnestly.” No wonder they were persecuted and killed (Matt. 23:29-35). Once again, the leaders—princes, judges, and “great” men—come in for censure, especially for accepting bribes (v. 3). This would, of course, lead to a perversion of justice, and recall, one of the things the Lord required of them was to “do justly” (Micah 6:8). “The best of them is like a brier” (v. 4), i.e., useless in and of themselves, but hurting anyone that touches them. Punishment was coming (v. 4). The situation had gotten so bad that Micah’s advice to them was “do not trust in a friend; do not put your confidence in a companion” (v. 5). Indeed, it would get so bad that even households would fight amongst themselves (v. 6). But as always, the Lord can be trusted (v. 7). Indeed, given the atmosphere Micah speaks of, He is the only one who could be trusted.

The penitent captives (vs. 8-12)—It appears here that the prophet speaks in behalf of the future captives of Israel. Their enemies should not rejoice because the Lord will raise Israel up again (v. 8). They would have to bear with His punishment, however, “until He pleads my case and executes justice for me” (v. 9). He would deliver them (v. 9), and bring shame upon those who mocked Jehovah (v. 10). And those enemies “will be trampled down like mud in the streets” (v. 10). The walls of Jerusalem will be rebuilt (v. 11), and their enemies will be humbled before them (v. 12). Verse 13 could be translated “the land HAD been desolate,” referring to the time that Israel and Judah had sinned. Or it could refer to the Messianic age and the results of the Jewish rejection of Christ. The first idea is probably better.

A promise of redemption (vs. 14-20)—Micah, as the prophets often do, closes his book with a stirring vision of hope. The Lord will “shepherd” His people on the richest of land (Carmel, Bashan, and Gilead) as He had once done (v. 14). He would perform wondrous works in their behalf, as He had when He brought them out of Egypt (v. 15). The nations around about them would be stunned by His greatness in behalf of His people (v. 16), and “they shall lick the dust like a serpent; they shall crawl from their holes like snakes of the earth. they shall be afraid of the LORD our God, and shall fear because of You” (v. 17). Verses 18 and 19 may be my two favorite verses in the entire Bible: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” The name “Micah” means “Who is like Jehovah?” Indeed, there is no God like Him. He forgives our sins and His anger recedes, because of His love of mercy. A compassionate God Who will “tread our iniquities under foot” (ASV) and “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (NKJV has “our” instead of “their”). He crushes our sins and tosses them into the Mariana Trench (the deepest spot in the ocean, over 35,000 feet below the water). Micah may not have the Mariana Trench in mind, but that’s his point. Truth and mercy (or “steadfast love,” KJV) come only from Him, something He had “sworn to our fathers from days of old” (v. 20).

And God always keeps His promises.

What a beautiful conclusion to a marvelous book.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Micah 6

The Lord’s complaint (vs. 1-5)—This chapter starts out with a dialogue (of sorts) between God and the people. Jehovah, in effect, calls for all of nature to listen as witnesses: “Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice” (v. 1). “The Lord has a complaint against His people and He will contend with Israel” (v. 2). The complaint was, what grievance did they have against Him? What had He done to them that would cause them to turn against Him? “How have I wearied you?” (v. 3). He brought them out of Egypt, giving them great leaders (v. 4). He protected them when Balak the king of Moab tried to get Balaam to curse them (v. 5; read this story in Numbers chapters 22 through 24). The Lord gives only two examples here, but they are sufficient to remind the people of His goodness towards them. Why had they been so rebellious against Him when He had been so noble and righteous in His dealings with them?

The people’s response (vs. 6-7)—The answer (as written by Micah) sounds a bit exasperated. “What do you want, God? Do you want more burnt offerings? (v. 6). “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,, ten thousand rivers of oil?” (v. 7). In other words, are we not offering enough? The questions of verse 6 seems almost sarcastic—“Do You want thousands more? Good grief, what does it take to please You?” And then the shocking query of verse 7: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Does Jehovah want human sacrifices? Many of the pagan gods did require such sacrifice, and to imply this of Jehovah was insulting, to say the least. But Micah no doubt catches the mood of the people. They think they’ve been faithful by offering the sacrifices God wants, but He seems to be impossible to please. The people hadn’t been paying attention to Him, of course, and His answer in verse 8 indicates such.

The Lord’s answer (v. 8)—This is probably the most well-known verse in the book of Micah and it is certainly beautiful. And it indicates just how far the children of Israel had degenerated from true righteousness. Jehovah’s answer, to begin with, is a bit sharp: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good.” He had told them, plenty of times, the kind of life He wanted them to live. In other words, “don’t give me this nonsense that you don’t know what I want.” “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” The sacrifices were indeed important; He had gone into great detail about them in the Law of Moses. But unless accompanied with a just, merciful, humble life, all of their—and our—ritualism and ceremonies are vain and useless. Justice, mercy, and humility don’t tell us all of what God requires of us. But it’s a pretty good start.

“Treasures of wickedness” (vs. 9-12)—The conversation is over and Micah returns to exposing Israel’s sin, but yet, with verse 8 as the basis. The Lord cries, but only the wise hear. Thus, the “rod” is appointed by the God—punishment. These people weren’t just wicked; there were “treasures of wickedness” (v. 10)--they were good at it, and plenteous in their committing of it. For example, “the short measure that is an abomination…the bag of deceitful weights” (vs. 10). They weren’t doing justly. “Her rich men are full of violence”—there was no mercy—and “her inhabitants have spoken lies” (v. 12). There is certainly no indication that they were walking humbly with their God.

“For the statutes of Omri are kept” (vs. 13-16)—For this failure of character, the Lord would make them sick and desolate (v. 13). They would not be physically satisfied: “hunger shall be in your midst” (v. 14). Some might try to escape, but they won’t. Indeed, “I will give [them] over to the sword” (v. 14). Their fields would not produce (v. 15). This is serious, of course, in an agricultural society that lived largely year to year. Famine could easily result from a bad harvest. Idolatry was a key to their abomination: keeping the “statutes of Omri” and doing “the works of Ahab’s house,” probably the most wicked idolater (with his wife Jezebel) in Israel’s history. Omri and Ahab had both lived around 200 years before Micah wrote these words. Two points: one, God gave the people plenty of time to repent. He wants men to repent and be saved (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:4). But if they don’t, point two, He won’t forget their sin. As a result, there would be desolation, and the people of Israel would be mocked by the nations around them and a reproach to all (v. 16).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Micah 5

Victory through the Messiah (vs. 1-9)—The enemies of God and His people are relentless, and often win some battles—“they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek” (v. 1); smiting on the cheek was a great insult to an Oriental. Some have seen in this verse a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem, but if so, it would only be a type of the spiritual attack against the church. And the verse may actually be better places at the end of chapter 4.  Regardless, the King will come from Bethlehem (v. 2). This is certainly one of the most amazing prophecies in the Old Testament. Micah predicts the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting,” in other words, He is eternal in nature, not a created being as some false religions teach today. Micah is writing about 700 years prior to the birth of Christ, one of the greatest proofs of Biblical inspiration to be found. Verse 3 is obscure; who will He “give up,” and who is “she who is in labor has given birth”? There is no consensus of opinion, and I’m not going to speculate. There is a “remnant,” however, and that always refers to God’s people. Perhaps the reference is to the Jews who had drifted so far away from God’s law, but some of them, “the remnant,” returned to the spiritual “children of Israel”—the church—under the Messiah. That’s only a guess, however.

Regardless, He will “feed His flock in the strength of the Lord,” and He “shall be great to the ends of the earth” (v. 4). And He shall be our peace and protection (v. 5). Verse 5 is lovely. “When the Assyrian comes into our land” refers to any spiritual enemy that we face. Because of Christ, we will have “seven shepherds”—the perfect number—“and eight princely men”—yea, more than enough—to meet the crisis. The Lord protects His people, completely and thoroughly. Not only will He protect us, but He will give us victory (v. 6). God’s people will be a blessing to the world—“like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass” (v. 7), in other words, the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-14). Yet God’s people are not weak by any means. They “shall be among the Gentiles…like a lion among the beasts of the forest” who “both treads down and tears in pieces” (v. 8). We are “more than conquerors” in Christ (Romans 8:37), defeating all who stand in our way (v. 9). “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The Lord Jesus gives us overwhelming strength and a decisive victory. None can stand in His way, and when His people follow Him, they have comfort and protection in Him. A marvelously beautiful prophecy.

Our sufficiency is of God (vs. 10-14)—He will “will cut off your horses from your midst and destroy your chariots. I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds” (vs. 10-11). “Sorceries” and “soothsayers,” as well as “carved images,” sacred pillars” and “wooden images” were also “cut off” or “pluck[ed]…from your midst” (vs. 12-14). All the vain things that we have depended upon in our lives are no longer necessary, if we keep our faith in God. But those who reject him will come face to face with His “vengeance in anger and fury” (v. 15). To sum up, this whole chapter speaks of what we have in the “Ruler” Who was born in Bethlehem (v. 2). Reconciliation to God (v. 3), sustenance (v. 4), peace, protection, and victory from and over our fiercest enemies (vs. 5-7), a refreshing influence in the world (v. 8), and strength and victory in the world (vs. 8-9). All of this if we turn from the futility of the world and trust Him (vs. 10-14). Otherwise, we will face the wrath of a vengeful God (v. 15). The blessings we have are found in His church, the very first thing Micah introduced in this exquisite passage on the Messianic age in chapters 4 and 5.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Micah 4

The church (vs. 1-5)—Micah 4 and 5 are exclusively Messianic and refer to the New Testament age. These first five verses speak of the future establishment of the church. This is evident in several ways. Micah speaks of the following and I will compare his statements with New Testament verses:
“the last days” (v. 1)—Acts 2:17 tells us we are in the last days;
“the mountain of the Lord’s house” (v. 1)—I Tim. 3:15 calls the church the “house of God”;
“many nations shall come” (v. 2)—the gospel is for all, of course (Mark 16:15);
“He will teach us His ways” (v. 2)—"They shall all be taught of God” (John 6:45);
"For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (v. 2)—“that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47);
“He shall judge between many peoples” (v. 3)—His word will judge us all (John 12:48);
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares" (v. 3)—“that in Me you may have peace” (John 16:33). The peacefulness of Christ’s kingdom is also described in Micah 4:4, “But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” The vine and fig tree reference is a proverbial Jewish picture of being at peace with others, God, and one’s self. Even in the Christian age, many will continue to follow their own gods, “but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (v. 5). A lovely picture of the church and the gospel age.

The members of that kingdom (vs. 6-8)—It won’t be just the rich and powerful who will compose the membership of Christ’s body. The lame, the outcast, “those whom I have afflicted” will be a “remnant,” and “a strong nation” (vs. 6-7). It was a common belief among the Jews in the first century that only the rich could be saved. They must be righteous or God would not have blessed them so much. This was even the view of the Lord’s apostles (Matt. 19:23-25). But God’s love extends to all, the His true kingdom is spiritual, not physical, something the Jews never learned, and haven’t learned to this day. Verse 8 once again appears to reference the beginning the church in Jerusalem.

Crisis before deliverance (vs. 9-13)—These last few verses of chapter 4 seem to lead into chapter 5 where the Messiah Himself is introduced. Israel had rejected its true king and counselor, Jehovah, thus “pangs have seized you like a woman in labor” (v. 9). Thus, “to Babylon shall you go” (v. 10), but the Lord will deliver them. “Many nations have gathered against you” (v. 11), “but they do not know the thoughts of the Lord, nor do they understand His counsel” (v. 12). God has had a plan for mankind since Genesis 3:15—yea, from before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4)—and that plan included the children of Israel. And no nation, or collection of nations, can overturn the purposes of the Lord. His people will be victorious with a powerful, mighty victory (v. 13).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Micah 3

The oppressive rulers (vs. 1-4)—Leaders are supposed to lead their people, of course, not fleece them. That wasn’t happening in Micah’s day. This chapter starts out with a message to “heads of Jacob, and you rulers of the house of Israel” (v. 1). They were supposed to be just (v. 1), but rather they “hate good and love evil,” (v. 2), and “eat the flesh of My people, flay their skin from them, break their bones, and chop them in pieces like meat for the pot, like flesh in the caldron" (v. 3). The abuse of power is one of the most consistent crimes among rulers down through history; James Madison said to never trust any man with very much of it. Ancient Israel was plagued with the same malady. And when these leaders finally do “cry to the Lord,” then “He will not hear them; He will even hide his face from them at that time, because they have been evil in their deeds” (v. 4). There will always be a day of reckoning for wickedness; and when men call on Jehovah in that day, it will be too late.

A word to the false prophets (vs. 4-8)—Next, “the prophets who make my people stray” (v. 5) come in for censure. They cry “peace,” but they devour the people, and they make war against the true prophet of God, “him who puts nothing into their mouths,” i.e., doesn’t assist the false prophet in his evil ways. There will be nothing but “darkness without divination” for these evil men (v. 6). “So the seers shall be ashamed, and the diviners abashed; indeed they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer from God” (v. 7). They never did truly speak the Lord’s message, but the day will come when they won’t even be able to speak their lies. In contrast, Micah was a true prophet of God: “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the LORD, and of justice and might,” and he was doing the job the Lord wanted done: “To declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (v. 8). People must be warned away from the sin they are living in; but the message they too often here is one of “peace.” False teachers will always tell people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. It was as true in Micah’s day as it is today. And visa versa.

A stirring rebuke (vs. 9-12)—The chapter ends with a powerful censure of these leaders: “Now hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity” (vs. 9-10). Their judges took bribes, their priests and prophets did their work solely for money (v. 11), and “yet they lean on the LORD, and say, 'Is not the LORD among us? No harm can come upon us'” (v. 11)—they have the unmitigated gall to think that a holy, righteous God would approve of their activity and not hold them accountable. Well, we have leaders in our country today who think the same thing. The Lord had a message for the rulers of his day: “Because of you, Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest” (v. 12). Notice this denunciation was against Judah and Jerusalem, not the northern kingdom. Interestingly, this verse will save Jeremiah’s life about 100 years later. The event is related in Jeremiah 26. That great prophet condemned Jerusalem and the people were going to kill him for it. But there were some people who came to his aid: “Then certain of the elders of the land rose up and spoke to all the assembly of the people, saying: ‘Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest’’” (Jeremiah 26:17-18). So one prophet saved the life of another. It is noteworthy that Micah’s prophesy in 3:12 did not come to pass for well over 100 years. According to the passage in Jeremiah, Micah made this prediction in the reign of Hezekiah, who was one of the better rulers in Judah. But the Lord knew in advance the ways of the people and sent His prophet to try to save as many as possible.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Micah 2

“Woe to those who devise iniquity” (vs. 1-2)—These people laid around at night thinking of the wickedness they could do: they “work out evil on their beds.” And then, “at morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand” (v. 1). No one could stop them. Covetousness and oppression come in for special mention by the prophet in verse 2 as sins that were conspicuous.

“Thus saith the Lord” (vs. 3-5)—Just as the people “devise iniquity,” the Lord was “devising disaster” against them; and they will not escape (v. 3). Samaria would end up as no more than a proverb (v. 4), and there would be no one left to determine what belongs to whom or to cast any lots for it (v. 5).

The people had become the Lord’s enemy (vs. 6-11)—Not surprisingly, the people didn’t want anything to do with the true prophets of God: “Prophesy ye not, say they to them that prophesy” (v. 6, KJV; the NKJV’s “Do not prattle” is atrocious). God will eventually give them their request. Yet He pleads with them, “do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” (v. 7). If they would just submit to His commandments, then “good” would be the result. But how long had He been telling them that? Literally hundreds of years. But His people “is risen up as an enemy” (v. 8). They rob the men and steal from women and children (vs. 8-9). Their corruption seems to have known no bounds. But, prepare for captivity, utter destruction is on the way (v. 10). The prophet of that people is the one who tells them what they want to hear (v. 11). People never believe that disaster is coming until it finally does arrive. America, will you please listen to the prophets and not those who tickle your ears?

The restoration (vs. 12-13)—But, after punishment, God would restore Israel: “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture” (v. 12). He doesn’t say when, but there is a very good chance that this is a Messianic prophecy, and I say that because of the statement in verse 13, “Their king will pass before them, with the LORD at their head." Israel didn’t have a king after their return from captivity, so this needs to be understood either figuratively in some way, or as referring to the future King, Jesus. The latter seems more probable, because it is difficult to see a figurative “king” in Israel’s future after Babylon, especially since the verse also speaks of “the Lord at their head.” The “one who breaks open” is very obscure, and perhaps refers to those who allow the Jews to return home after bondage.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Micah—Introduction and Chapter 1

Introduction—We know almost nothing about the prophet Micah. Verse 1 says he was from the town of Moresheth, which is believed to have been on the west coast of Israel, near the Philistine city of Gath. Micah prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, which would have been from about 760 B.C. to 697. He was a contemporary of Isaiah; indeed, Micah 4:1-4 is almost a duplicate of Isaiah 2:1-4. He prophesied “concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (1:1), mostly to the northern kingdom, but since Assyria took the north into captivity in 722/21, Micah would have, of necessity, shifted his message to the southern kingdom of Judah.

Chapter 1

The Lord is coming (vs. 1-5)—After a brief introduction of himself, Micah calls for the attention of Israel: “Hear, all you people!. Listen, O earth, and all that is in it!” (v. 2). The Lord, “from His holy temple,” has a message. And that is that “the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth” (v. 3). This coming is figurative, of course. As we have seen in earlier prophetic books, the “coming of the Lord” is a day of judgment against sin, and Micah’s statement must be understood that way as well. The prophet pictures this “coming” in graphic, calamitous terms: “The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split like wax before fire” (v. 4). And why is the Lord doing this? “For the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (v. 5). He specifies both Samaria and Jerusalem as guilty of sin.

Punishment upon Samaria (vs. 6-9)—Because of her sins, Samaria will be “a heap of ruins in the field, places for planting a vineyard” (v. 6). In other words, the city will be so utterly destroyed that men will eventually be able to use the land for agriculture. Her destruction will be complete, all the way down to the foundation (v. 6). The graven images “shall be beaten to pieces,” and “all her idols I will lay desolate” (v. 7). Idolatry was the major sin of both Israel and Judah. There will be wailing, howling, and mourning (v. 8). “For her wounds are incurable” (v. 9). The cancer has spread so far that there is no hope of recovery. People can indeed reach a point where their spiritual situation is hopeless.

Widespread punishment (vs. 10-16)—This is a difficult section and many of the references are obscure and probably lost to us. Interestingly, most of the cities mentioned in these verses are in Judah. Again, Israel’s punishment would be first, but perhaps because “her wounds are incurable,” Micah turns his attention to the southern kingdom. Some of these statements, in the original, are plays on words. For example, in verse 10, Beth Aphrah (“house of Aphrah”, KJV) literally means “house of dust.” Thus, the “house of dust” was to “roll yourself in the dust.” In verse 14, the word “Achzib” means “lie” or “falsehood,” thus “the houses of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel.” In verse 16, making one’s self bald was a sign of distress, which the people should indeed feel, “for they shall go from you into captivity.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jonah 4

Jonah sulks (v. 1-11)—It appears that Jonah was more patriotic than he was spiritual. He was angry that the Lord spared the city. This is a bit amazing to me, a man who has preached for almost 40 years now. How I would love to go to a city, preach to it, and have the whole town repent! But that wasn’t Jonah. He was “displeased” and “angry” (v. 1), and complained to God about it: “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (v. 2). Jonah wanted Nineveh to be destroyed, not saved. It’s very possible that, since he was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos, he knew of their message, i.e., that Assyria was going to be God’s tool in punishing wicked Israel. Well, if Assyria wasn’t around due to God’s destruction of it, then that empire couldn’t very well attack Israel, could it? If God will wipe China off the map, then the United States won’t have to worry about that country doing something ill to us in the future. But that isn’t the way God works.

Jonah asked the Lord to take his life, he was so miserable (v. 3). The Lord responded, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (v. 4). No, of course not, he should have rejoiced at the salvation of souls. Jonah then “went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city” (v. 5), perhaps hoping the Lord would destroy it anyway, or more than likely, just to sulk. It was very hot and “the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah” (v. 6). The plant provided shade and “Jonah was very grateful for the plant” (v. 6). But the next morning, the Lord sent a worm to devour the plant, and then “a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint” (v. 8). Thus, once again, he wishes death to come (v. 8).

The chapter ends with the Lord rebuking Jonah. The prophet was more concerned about his own comfort than the salvation of many people: "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left--and much livestock?" (vs. 10-11). And the book ends there.

Jonah obviously doesn’t come out well in this story. He appears selfish and, again, more patriotic than spiritual. He had no concern for well over 100,000 souls who needed the grace of God. It is a reminder to us that God loves all people (John 3:16), and we should, too. As Americans, we have a lot of bitterness towards Islam today and many of the Muslim people because of the terrorism some of them have practiced in recent years. But the Lord still loves those people, and if given a chance, we should do all we can to convert them to the truth of Jesus Christ. That is a powerful lesson from this great book.

And one final note: while Jonah’s actions here are distasteful to us, this is not the only time the Lord used him. II Kings 14:25 reads “He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.” Notice, Jonah is called “His servant,” which, I believe, indicates the true nature of the prophet. He simply did not want his people destroyed by Assyria. That’s not a valid reason for not doing as God commanded, but let’s not judge him totally by what is written in the book of Jonah.

Jonah 3

Jonah preaches to Nineveh (vs. 1-11)—Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. It was a huge city, as indicated by Jonah 3:3. It extended about 30 miles along the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and, at places, about 10 miles back away from the river. It was perfectly located on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. It was a very old city, being mention in Genesis 10:11 as having been established by Nimrod, the “mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:9). The area today which Nineveh occupied is nothing but ruins, as the city was destroyed by the Babylonians and Medes near the end of the 7th century B.C., an event predicted by the prophet Nahum in his book. Zephaniah also mentions it.

Jonah 3 records a remarkable story. The prophet had gotten the hint from the happenings as recorded in chapters 1 and 2 that the Lord really wanted him to go to Nineveh, so when “the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee” (vs. 1-2), Jonah “arose and went to Nineveh” (v. 3). Verse 2 provides one of the greatest descriptions in the Bible of the responsibility of a preacher of God: “preach…the preaching that I bid thee.” Nothing more, nothing less than the word of God. How much better would our world be if only all men who claimed to be God’s spokesmen would heed this command to Jonah.

The message Jonah was to preach was “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (v. 4). It’s interesting that there is no “unless you repent.” It’s just a prophetic pronouncement of doom. Later in the chapter, the king of Nineveh commands all his people to “turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands,” (v. 8), for “who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (v. 9). The city was obviously in some peril at the time, because “in forty days” was not much time for a disaster to arise against Nineveh. It’s possible that the Lord could have rained down fire and brimstone like He did against Sodom and Gomorrah, or sent some other sort of natural calamity, but I think the best explanation is that the Ninevites were being sore pressed by some foreign foe who was on the verge of conquering, or at least severely damaging, the city. Thus, with that bit of providential working, God was able to persuade the people of the city to turn to Him in true contrition. And when “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way,” He “relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and did not do it” (v. 10). Even though there was no statement of repentance in Jonah’s preaching (at least as recorded, and as implied in the king’s statement in verse 9). still, when anyone truly turns from sin, Jehovah will always forgive. And this great, powerful city was ripe for His word, and that’s why He wanted a prophet to go and preach to them. It’s a remarkable story, but it also tells us that we must keep preaching, regardless of how wicked people seem to be. For we never know what the Lord is doing behind the scenes to prepare a people to receive His word and be cleansed from sin. Things may not look good to us, but we are to keep our faith in God, obey His commands, and trust Him to do as He pleases.