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Personal Reading & Reflection on Micah (1 to 2 pages minimum) The prophet Micah’s ministry took place during the reigns

of corrupt kings like Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The nation Israel was divided into two kingdoms – one based in Samaria and the other in Jerusalem. Their rulers were indicted as leaders “who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.” The people of God were enslaved in idolatry (1:7) and oppression of the poor and needy (2:1, 9). They have an appearance of following Yahweh but there was idolatrous syncretism with the practices of surrounding nations. As a result, the Lord sent Micah to proclaim a warning of impending judgment in the form of Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. Even the chosen nation is not spared from painful discipline by a holy God if she chose to depart from righteousness. But there were false prophets who proclaimed peace where there was no peace. For monetary gain, they say comforting words that people want to hear rather than the painful truth that they need to hear. Lulled into a sense of false security, the people of God failed to repent of their wicked ways. Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us." Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets. (3:11-12) Scandals abound in modern society when it comes to money and religion. What is the motivating factor behind men and women joining the ministry? Is it “success”? Sometimes greed for material prosperity is justified in the pulpit if one can only be “generous” at the same time. Or generosity is seen as the means to get health and wealth? The bad news of sin and judgment is conveniently watered down for feel-good, psycho-therapy. False prophets deny the people of God the opportunity to be challenged by the word of God and respond appropriately. But the Lord has not completely abandoned His covenant people. The prophesied judgment of exile is followed by hopeful promise of salvation and restoration of a remnant. Even in foreign lands of Babylon, the Lord will preserve, purify and prosper Israel. The cycle of exile and restoration would continue even until the time of Jesus. The Kingdom has come. But it will not be ushered in with violence. The Lord himself will come to the rescue and redeem his people. But he will discipline those whom He loves when they sin.

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Writhe in agony, O Daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the LORD will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies. (4:10) In His covenant faithfulness, the Lord will show forgiveness and mercy to the sinful nation of Israel. He would remember the covenant He made with their forefathers to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham. Micah declared the character of God as being true to them even when they have gone astray. Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago. (7:17-20) The oppressive and violent nations who are unwitting agents of divine wrath will also be judged for their sins against the nation Israel. For many living in prosperous and comfortable modern society, the notion of divine wrath seems harsh and outdated. But for those who suffer from injustice, the promise of divine judgment is like a spring of fresh water in the desert. I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever. As for you, O watchtower of the flock, O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem." (4:7-8)

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There are flashes of eschatological fulfillment in Micah’s prophecies that point beyond the immediate context of his time to the coming of the Messiah. The restoration of Israel from exile is accompanied by universal peace. Poetically illustrated, the nations would turn their weapons into instruments for agriculture. We see a glimpse of the eschatological vision of the prophets for universal peace in the consummated kingdom of God. Today, the church as the community who live under his reign ought to be agents of peace and reconciliation. What practical consequences would this insight have for the church in response to nuclear weapon race or expensive military spending when the poor is neglected? Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (4:2-3) Of course, there is the famous Messianic prophecy that a ruler shall come out of Bethlehem, whose origins are from ancient times. Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and would also be the birthplace of Jesus the Messiah. Both Matthew (2:6) and Luke in their Gospels spoke of Bethlehem to the Messiah’s birth place. It also points to the kind of peaceful leader the Messiah would be in contrast of the oppressive rulers in Micah’s time. All of the Old Testament points to Christ as their fulfillment and culmination of all their hopes. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times… He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

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And he will be their peace. (5:2, 4, 5) What then should be the response of the people? In his prophecy, Micah renounced the kind of empty sacrifices that are not accompanied with justice, mercy and humility. The Lord is not pleased with the idolatrous worship practices of Baal followers who sacrificed their own children. He is not pleased with the quantities of rams slaughtered and oil being poured out as if He needed them. He searched the inner hearts and ethical behavior of the worshippers – in spirit and in truth. Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (6:7-9) The biblical God does not demand men and women to sacrifice their children as human sacrifices or suicide bombers to display how great He is. Instead, He loved them so much that He sent His only begotten Son to atone for their transgressions and sins. As a result, those who now follow Him should pursue justice, mercy and humility. Ritualism that is not accompanied by transformed priorities and lifestyles is meaningless. Perhaps the modern church can paraphrase the questions of Micah thus, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of songs, offerings and sermons if worship is not accompanied by justice, mercy and humility?” The prophet Micah challenged us today to be committed to social justice, not just feel-good piety. The Malaysian church was recently awakened to be more pro-active in the public square as a result of the “Allah” controversy and bombing of churches. It is an opportune time for believers to speak up on issues that affect the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised not only from Christian community, but from different ethnic and religious groups as well. We are also challenged to recognize our standing as the new people of God who live under His covenant of grace. The covenant has holy requirements for our ethical conduct and there would be severe discipline for His people when we sin and disobey these commandments. Sometimes God uses even pagan nations as instruments of His wrath. We may recall how secular TV stations exposed and humiliated so-called ‘healing evangelists’ who counterfeited miracles to cheat believers of their money. If the church is committed to truth and holiness, we need to lead the way in exposing the deeds of such unscrupulous people who misused the name of the Lord for selfish gains. Such actions would require courage because it would not be a popular thing to do. For

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then, we are confronted with the choice of either to be men-pleasers who hide the truth or to confront men with the truth even when it is unpleasant?

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