He prayed while his contemporaries trusted in rituals and practiced a syncretistic religion that mixed elements of nature religion with nationalism and the worship of God. He prayed while a hostile nation sent its armies to eradicate cities and demoralize populations with sickening brutality. He prayed when he himself had announced that God was judging his people for their unfaithfulness.
The prophet Micah concludes his prophecy with a prayer. He recognizes God’s care and love for his people even as the nation staggers under the impact of military attack. He believes that God will judge the enemies who are punishing his people. He praises the character and reliability of God. He remembers, when it would have been so easy to forget, that God keeps his promises.
He reminds the Lord and his people of God’s historic care, that God is the Shepherd for a flock that needs to feed once more in fertile fields. He prays,
“Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvelous things” (Micah 7:14-15).
Micah prays for Judah and Israel, but he prays also for their enemies. He prays, as we might expect, that the enemy will know shame for their actions, and that they will fear God. He prays that they will repent, that trembling, they will recognize the reality of Israel’s God, and in fear begin to worship him. To say that our God is awesome is to confess that it is frightening to be in his presence. Micah’s description of the enemies’ repentance describes their dread as they approach the Lord in reverence. As Hebrews 10:31 notes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” What Micah and the writer of Hebrews both understood was the holiness of God, a holiness to which he calls his people in both the Old and New Testaments. Micah prays,
“The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick dust like a snake, like the crawling things of the earth; hey shall come trembling out of their fortresses; they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall stand in fear of you” (Micah 7:16-17).
Micah prays to God the Judge, but he also calls upon God as Savior. God abhors unrighteousness, but he also forgives in compassion. There is consequence for rebellion against God, but God will pardon. He has made promises to his people; God keeps his promises even when his people do not. God sees hope for the most disobedient. Horrible acts of genocide, commandeering of property, and religious persecution terrified Micah’s contemporaries when they heard about the enemy’s committing them. Micah prays with confidence that God will judge that evil, but that he will do so in a way that turns the hearts of the enemy towards obedience to God. Micah prays in a time when it seemed there was no hope for the recovery of true worship, justice, or fair treatment of the poor among God’s people, when seemingly barbaric enemies threatened their existence, and prays with hope. God will once again show compassion. He will cast out all sin, but he will show faithfulness to his people.
Micah calls for fire. He calls for justice against brutal enemies. He cries out earlier in his prophecy against unfair business practices and excessive reliance on ritual (Micah 2:1-3; 6:8). He deplores the plight of Israel as Assyrian armies advance. He prays that God will guide his people once more; he prays that God’s judgment will convert the nations; he prays that God will forgive:
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).
May we pray, as Micah prayed, that worshipers of God will practice justice and compassion that is consistent with the character of the God we profess to worship. May we pray, as Micah prayed, that the most barbaric terrorist will learn to fear God in a way that will teach them to love God and to love other people as they love themselves.