Watching in Hope

Watching in Hope

Today I am in Micah 7 which has been a significant chapter for me over the past few years. To appreciate why, we first need to get into the chapter and see what Micah was writing about. Before I do that, it is important to comment a little on the background to this so called minor prophet. Micah was a prophet during the reigns of 3 Judean Kings (Jotham 750–735 B.C., Ahaz 735–715, and Hezekiah 715–687). It was round about the time of Isaiah and Hosea. The theme of Micah is judgement and forgiveness. God is preparing to scatter his people as Assyria (5:5-6) and Babylon (4:10) stand ready to take God’s people into captivity. Micah sees God both as their judge but as as their Shepherd King who one day will gather, protect and forgive them.

What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains. Everyone lies in wait to shed blood; they hunt each other with nets. Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire – they all conspire together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. The day God visits you has come, the day your watchmen sound the alarm. Now is the time of your confusion. Do not trust a neighbour; put no confidence in a friend. Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonours his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies are the members of his own household. 

In these first 6 verses we find Micah completely discouraged. Just feel the force of v1 where he says “What a misery is mine.” He likens himself to the one who goes out to gather at harvest but finds nothing to glean. He laments that there are no faithful people remaining in the land (v2-3) and even the best of them are to be avoided (v4). None could be trusted anyone: not your neighbour, your wife, your child or your friend (v5-6). As an aside it is interesting that these verses are quoted by Jesus (Matthew 10:35-36) when He is talking about having not come to bring peace but to bring a sword. The gospel says Jesus will turn all kinds of relationships on their heads.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LordI wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.

In many ways verse 7 is the key verse in the whole chapter. Why? Because Micah’s response is to wait upon the LORD and to pray. Though Micah feels discouraged, let down and even betrayed, he makes a choice to trust God. He moves his focus from the challenges around him and places it on God, his Saviour.

Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness. 10 Then my enemy will see it and will be covered with shame, she who said to me, ‘Where is the Lord your God?’ My eyes will see her downfall; even now she will be trampled underfoot like mire in the streets.

Having changed his focus he how instructs his enemies not to gloat (v8). Why? Because God is going to be His light and he is confident that he will see God’s righteousness (v9). There will be a light at the end of this dark tunnel he is in. Micah confesses his sin and acknowledges his need to God. There is a confidence here that God will bring him into the light. The confession of his sin is the first step in how he is going to get there. One day, he believes, those who have opposed him will be dealt with when God brings forth his ultimate judgement (v10).

11 The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. 12 In that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, even from Egypt to the Euphrates and from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. 13 The earth will become desolate because of its inhabitants, as the result of their deeds.14 Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, which lives by itself in a forest, in fertile pasture-lands. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in days long ago.

Moreover Micah sees that there will come a day for rebuilding walls and extending their boundaries (v11-12). The scattered captives will return from sea to sea and mountain to mountain. This is God’s ultimate victory for His people. The land will become desolate but a time is coming when it will be rebuilt (v13). This expansion clearly refers firstly to a return for the exiles but there is a second meaning here too: namely the inclusion of the Gentiles under the rule of the Shepherd King who comes into view again in v14. Here Micah asks God to lead and guide His people: to direct them back to this land as in the days of old. Back in Micah 5 (esp. v4) we read of a promised ruler who would come from Bethlehem (sound familiar?) and shepherd His people.

15 ‘As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders.’ 16 Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. 17 They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you. 18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry for ever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

Micah wants God to work wonders for them just as He did when He brought them out of Egypt (v15). When people see what God is about to do they will be speechless (v16-17). Then come v18-20 which are hugely encouraging. They are read regularly on the Day of Atonement and it is easy to see why. These words are a proclamation about God’s nature: God who is kind, compassionate and wants to make atonement for the sins of His people. Micah writes figuratively about God showing faithfulness to Jacob and love to Abraham: making good on His sworn oath to His people. God is like no other. He pardons not because we deserve it but because we ask Him who sent His Son into the world to be the Saviour of the World. God has made a covenant with us and He will keep His promises.

Apologies for the high level of detail there but that really helps paint a picture of what we are talking about here. I now want to draw out some thoughts from this passage and apply to our own situations.

1. Watch in Hope (v1-7): 

While our situation will never exactly resemble the situation Micah faced (God is not about to take us into exile) we do live in times when by and large the people around us do not honour God. The principle contained in v7 can be applied even more generally: there will often be times when we also feel discouraged, let down and/or betrayed. In those times the question we face is whether we are going to give up or make the choice to trust God? There is much all around me to discourage and knock me off track. Concerns about our family, health, finances, the state of the nation can all weigh me down and I am sure they do you also. Perhaps you are working through one of those periods right now. If so will you trust God. If not what will you do next time? Despite of how we feel this is what we must do. Rather than focus on the problem we have to focus on God.

One of the reasons this chapter has been significant is because working in student ministry in a secular English context is not easy. Numbers in student ministry across the board have been falling. It is harder than ever to work with a generation who increasingly know nothing about God. In the midst of that God has used these verses to encourage me to watch in hope and wait on Him. We need to rise up and pray for God to move in our time.

2. The Day will come (v8-13):

In the context of the passage, we are living in this day when God is going to rebuild the walls and extend the boundaries of His people (see also Isaiah 61:4). The gospel continues to be shared to people from every nation across our world. People are working on translating the Bible into every language and tongue. The people of God are no longer defined by a geographical nation but by a global movement that spans the world. Despite living in this era of global expansion the situation around us can sometimes feel quite different. As I suggested above, within the secular English student context have been experiencing more of a steady decline than rapid growth. We are so grateful to God within our own student ministry for some really fantastic people coming through the ministry but we long for many more. To me God has used these verses as a promise to us of future blessing.

3. The Shepherd-King (v14-20):

What is it that helps Micah live within this tension of watching in hope for God to work out His promises to them? Surely it is the promise contained within these verses of God’s Shepherd King who would come to lead them forward. Through Him God would work out His wonders and bring the Salvation that the whole world has been waiting for since time began. It was through this Saviour that God would make it possible for us to be forgiven, made right with God and have our sins hurled into the depths of the sea.

As we too live with this tension, we also need to set our eyes on this Shepherd-King, Jesus the Messiah. We too need to ask Him to act and to lead us forward. How is your relationship with Jesus and how is that relationship inspiring you to watch in hope and wait on God your Saviour? Perhaps God is asking you to confess you sin and draw closer to Him. God wants all of us to wait on Him, to remain in Him and get to know Him more deeply. A day for expansion will certainly come through God’s faithful people. The question is whether we are ready to step out with Him in faith.

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