The words of the prophet Micah open for us a world with which we are largely unfamiliar. The basics are there. God’s people sin in the Old Testament. God responds with words of judgment. The people respond with sadness and horror. Micah, the prophet is sad because he lives to serve God. His name is a rhetorical question: Micah means “Who is like Yahweh? Who is like God?” The name Micah states what needs to be stated--no one and nothing is greater than the Lord God.
Micah was dealing with a situation where the prophets and preachers were only concerned with political correctness. They worked in league with the royal cabinet of bureaucrats. This altered their preaching. Instead of preaching and prophesying God’s word and truth, they preached only things that would keep them in everyone’s good graces. This corrupted the nation. Since the truth of God’s word was not being proclaimed and people were not being led in the right directions, everything in society started to go awry. Sexual impurity ensued. The people began to worship pagan deities. The high places and mountaintops were not used for praying to Yahweh. Instead, the high places were used for worshipping those pagan gods.
Corruption, both political and monetary, became an enormous issue. During Micah’s days of prophecy, there was corruption from within. The infrastructure began to deteriorate. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was another mounting problem in Micah’s day: The imperial Assyrian army was picking up speed. The Assyrians were growing in power. Isaiah, in like manner, speaks of the Assyrians coming onslaught. Picture a strong ancient army. They are all unified by their war uniforms. A multitude of strong men of great number. They were professional soldiers, not volunteers. They knew how to fight.
Isaiah says of them: None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes broken(Isaiah 5:27). This was not an army to contend with. This army was preparing to come to lay waste to Samaria and Judah. Isaiah also says that the Assyrian army was going to be used as “the rod of God’s anger(Isaiah 10:5).
Micah speaks of this coming destruction in chapter one. What does Micah say in response to this ill news? “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the jackal and mourning asthe owl”(vs. 8). In like manner, Micah says that the people should roll themselves in the dust (vs. 10). Chapter one is completely void of any gospel. These are words of judgment.
In the picture of Micah wailing and howling as he is stripped and naked, leads to something different than what had been going on in these lands. When Micah says to roll in the dust and to shave their heads bald, we are seeing something that was not happening there for some time. Wailing, howling, shaving the head, and rolling in the dust were visual manifestations of repentance.
Rolling in the dust is the symbolic action that acknowledged the reality that they were but dust. This was the acknowledgment that they were not in control of their lives, ultimately. To roll in the dust and to shave their heads was, in effect, saying that they no longer lived for themselves. To roll in the dust was to recall the words in Genesis that man was formed from the dust of the earth and he would return. What was important about this action was that the person who did it was acknowledging a difference between man and God.
God is not of the dust. God is eternal. God has no beginning and no end. Man does have an end. Hidden in the ashes is hope. One cannot overlook the importance of Micah’s words of judgment. It was the only hope for the people to turn and repent. A silent prophet in the Old Testament means bad things for the people. Even prophecies of doom must be valued as God’s gifts to His people. Silence is a worse form of judgment and the great and strange irony is that the prophets who were only speaking soft words in Micah’s day were as though they were silent. They were doing the people no good.
Micah gives hope; God gives hope through Micah. Words of law are to be equated to God’s kindness to the recipients. We need to hear difficult words sometimes. Neither should the pastor be silent. Law and Gospel are to be preached. Both Law and Gospel are to be valued as God’s gift to His people.
The reality for us is that we are in danger from the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh. To acknowledge our sin, as painful as it is, is a reminder to ourselves that we are not God. We have a beginning and an end, but our God is eternal. Whether there be struggles from within as the people in Judah and Samaria battled, or whether there is an enemy from without that threatens to overtake us like the Assyrians, we can be sure that the gospel has been placed for all.
Jesus is our everlasting help. To repent of your sins is to look to Christ as the Savior who conquers the enemy. Christ crucified is the image we bear because it is there that God’s answer is given to you--it is in the image of the crucifix that we are reminded that we are not God. As you roll in the dust, remembering your own mortality, your frail soul and stature, the image of Christ hanging on the cross is the Father’s answer.
The difficulty that the image brings with it is still God speaking good words and not remaining silent. Christ’s answer is one of atonement, forgiveness, love, pardon, nurture, protection, and promise. The answer is Christ crucified for the world. What freedom this is for us! His bonds spell the breaking of our chains. We are holy; we are loved. We are blessed. In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son........ Thanks be to God.