Stephen Um on Teaching Micah

Stephen Um on Teaching Micah

Nancy Guthrie interviews Stephen Um


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Stephen Um: To do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. If we look at this verse and we pull it out in isolation and we take the co-opted modern version of social justice and we just say, okay, this is at the heart of what God is saying without any proclamation or declaration of the Gospel, without any fulfillment through the atoning sacrifice and the satisfaction of God’s holiness in the person of Jesus Christ, that we will be completely missing this for us and the entire life.

Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible,” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of the Gospel coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more at Today, I’m talking with Dr. Stephen Um, who is senior minister at Citylife Church in Boston, Massachusetts. We are both at the Gospel Coalition National Conference in Indianapolis.

We are here to talk about the book of Micah today. Dr. Um has just published a book called Micah for You, published by the Good Book Company. This is a great resource if you want to teach through this book because it includes some teaching, it includes questions that you can really use it as a guide for your study. Maybe you could just tell us in general, why might we want to teach the Book of Micah.

Um: I think Micah, like lot of the other prophetical books summarizes the condition of God’s people during this particular period. There was a reason why the people of God were brought into captivity. There’s a reason why God allowed foreign powers to come in and to bring them into exile. And the reason why this was going on was primarily because of the sin and the idolatry and the misuse of power and the oppression. The calculating, evil, scheming that the people of God were participating in, therefore, God had to bring judgment. But so encouraging, and this is what we need to keep in mind, even though when you read through the prophetical writings and Micah is no different in this regard, that 80% of it is judgment. So you hear the message of idolatry, you hear the message of sin and how people have abandoned their God and judgment comes for God’s people. But thankfully, as we will see kind of sprinkled throughout this particular book, you see a message of hope, of God’s desire to restore his people, the remnant of his people. And we’ll see how we can tie those themes in with the person of Jesus Christ.

Guthrie: Yeah. We tend to pull out the verses from prophets that are the hope part and leave behind the judgment part, but we need all of those messages. Okay. You mentioned a couple of words in there that maybe you can expand on. You mentioned exile and you mentioned this hope. So maybe it would be helpful for you to set the book of Micah in context of the story that we are reading in the Old Testament. Who is he talking to at what point in Israel story?

Um: Well, Micah is speaking to God’s people. And what we see here from verse one, that he says, “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Now, what’s interesting about that is that’s not what’s typical. It’s not a typical introduction because in lot of the other prophetical writings, you’ll have a reference to the prophet and it will say that he is the son of so and so. So Joel, son of Pethuel or Jonah, son of Amittai. But here it says here, Micah of Moresheth. Why doesn’t it refer to his parents, perhaps scholars have pointed out that, that his family was not very prominent? And so that might be a reason. But what we also notice here is his message, his prophetic message and preaching came during the reign of these Judean kings, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. And what’s also important to notice here is that there is no reference to the kings of Israel, only to the kings of Judah.

Guthrie: So maybe it’s helpful to help people understand, this is at the period of time when the kingdom is divided. And so Israel, at this point, is this northern Kingdom of 10 tribes. And when we’re talking about Judah, we’re talking about this southern kingdom of two tribes.

Um: And then it also says here at the end of Verse 1, it says here, “Which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.” So Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom and Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah and Israel would be the northern. And he is from a region called Moreshet, which is about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Couple of dates that are important for the listener, and that is that the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC, and the southern kingdom went into exile and fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC. So Micah is ministering to a group, to the northern kingdom during this time when the Assyrians were in power. And so…

Guthrie: So they haven’t yet fallen and he’s warning them about this judgment to come because of the way they’re living.

Um: Yes, I mean there are some references as we’ll see later on where it’ll mention this in Chapter 1, it says, “For they shall…” In Verse 16, it says here “For they shall go from you into exile.” Not everything that he is saying is happening before the fall. But you’ll see that there are some references afterwards.

Guthrie: So here in Chapter 1 of Micah really Verses 2 through 9, he seems to be describing like a prophet would do what’s gonna happen first in the northern kingdom where they’re going to in terms of the Assyrians and then eventually in the southern kingdom. What is he saying is going to happen?

Um: This is almost like you’re in the courtroom and a case is being presented and the people of God are guilty. And so you see here in Verse 2 where it says, “Hear, you peoples, all of you.” They’re being summoned. You’re being summoned before the presence of God. And it says here, “And let the Lord God be a witness against you.” And we’ll see this kind of traditional language, legal language, courtroom language throughout this particular book. But we see here in Verses 2 through 9 here, here is the indictment and that is that there was the existence of high places we see here in Verse 3, and it says, “And we’ll come down and tread upon the high places.” That’s a reference to God’s people engaging in pagan idolatry worship.

So the listener needs to be mindful that it’s not as though God’s people abandoned believing in God. They didn’t say, “You know, I’m gonna stop believing in Yahweh.” That’s not how it works even for us as modern Christians. We don’t say, “Well, I’m gonna stop believing in Jesus.” But the danger is not necessarily that sort of atheistic idolatry, but adultery that is, hey, I liked the things I liked, the benefits that God gives me. I like all of the privileges of the Gospel that that come with being in union with Christ. But you know what, I’m attracted to these other things as well, that my heart is drawn to other objects of my affection. And this is what was going on. They saw other pagan gods and they said, “You know, we’re gonna participate in that as well.” So scholars will refer to this as syncretism. So they would worship the living God, Yahweh, and they would even make sacrifices to him, but then they would also follow other pagan gods.

Guthrie: And when I look at Verse 8, we hear the heart of Micah, do we not know, about this situation? “For this I will lament and wail, I will go stripped and naked I will make a lamentation and mourning, like the ostriches for her wound is incurable.” It’s interesting to see the very heart of Micah as he looks at this rampant spiritual adultery of his people and he sees that judgment is coming for that. In Verse 7, “All her carved images will be beaten to pieces.” And all of these things are gonna happen. And as you mentioned earlier, Verse 16, they’re gonna an exile. He’s not delivering a message of judgment with glee. His heart is broken.

Um: Oh, absolutely. These are his people. And he’s lamenting. He’s like a lover who goes to his bride and says, “Why?” Or goes to the wife or the husband said, “Why would you want to leave this relationship?” He’s not happy to see this happening. He said, “Why would you, when I was willing to express all of my commitment and devotion to you?” So the hearing you have lament language in Verse 8, “For this I will lament and whale, I will go stripped and naked.” God is absolutely not pleased and not encouraged by a situation that his people are in.

Guthrie: Well, when we get to Chapter 2, we discover that Micah is not the only preacher that the people in his day are listening to. So there are some others who are speaking to them, but their message is very different. What are we hearing from them?

Um: They are the preachers of smooth things. So they’re the ones who are saying, “Oh, everything is well, we don’t need to be concerned. All is good. I will preach to you have wine and strong drink.” And the indictment comes in Verse 11, where it says, “He would be the preacher for this people.” That’s a little bit humorous because when Micah is saying is yeah, that’s the kind of preacher that you would expect. That’s the kind of preacher that you wanna hear. We wanna hear a prophesy that aligns with the way that we wanna live our lives. We don’t wanna hear the person who’s going to speak the truth and love. We want the person to just simply accommodate and allow us to live the way we want to.

Even as modern Christians, we don’t like the preaching or the sermons that will come and to challenge us or to rebuke us or to speak to truth and love and calling us to repentance and faith.We like that kind of preaching, which will just tell us, hey, everything is good. You have all sorts of potential and things are not that bad and you can be a highly effective and successful person. And right now, there are a lot of external obstacles and you just need to know how to navigate through that. But essentially internally you’re doing okay. And what Micah reminds us is, no, we’re not doing okay. We’re not doing okay because we have been engaged in oppression, we have had no concern for people who are vulnerable and marginalized, we profess faith in God, but yet we don’t have a desire to love neighbor, right? The great commandment as you need to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, right? This is referring back to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, which was that daily creed that was so important to the Jews that they will recite every day where they said, “Hear, O Israel,” this is what Deuteronomy 6 says, “Hear, O Israel.” And that’s where the term Shema comes from. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And there’s only one God, not many guys. And you need to love this God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And then of course the second part that Jesus combines from Leviticus 19:18 where he says that you need to love your neighbor as yourself. And these two laws summarize the entire Old Testament law.

Guthrie: Yeah. And I can really see that in Micah because we were talking about in Chapter 1 worship of false gods. But then when we get to Chapter 2, the sin that he is indicting him them for the charges he’s bringing into the courtroom, that seems to be a lot more about how they are treating their neighbors. Like I’m looking at verse 1 of Chapter 2, “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds. When the morning dawns, they perform it because it’s in the power of their hand.” And it’s such a vivid picture, isn’t it? Like people are lying awake in bed devising schemes to defraud their neighbors or to oppress their neighbors.

Um: Yes. What we need to be aware of, in ancient times who was perfectly legal to take someone’s field if they defaulted on a loan. So it was completely lawful to take their robe or their house or whatever as collateral because they weren’t able to pay. And so this kind of repossessing of things was perfectly fine. That’s why they came and did it during the morning when the morning…the sun was coming up. They didn’t have to do this in secret as if they were doing something and people thought, “Hey, that’s an unlawful.” But when Micah is trying to say is even if that is the case, you have no burden and concern for those people who are hurting, who are struggling, who could use a support and you are doing everything in a calculating way that will benefit you. And so when you think about oppression, we tend to think of the worst possible scenario.

But Micah is trying to say is when you don’t love your neighbor, well, when you are using your power and your advantage and not to be merciful to those who are in need for your own economic gain, then that’s harmful. And again, the Bible and certainly the Book of Micah is not saying that economic gain is inherently wrong, right? Of course, that’s not what it’s saying, but when you use the advantages and the opportunities and the power that you have and not being mindful of the needs of your neighbor, this is what they were doing. And this is what he’s calling oppression. In Verse 2, “They oppress a man in his house and a man and his inheritance.”

Guthrie: In the beginning of your book, you wrote that Micah has the elements that all prophetical books have. All of these books talk about sin, judgment and hope. And we get to this first little glimmer of hope in Verses 12 and 13 of Chapter two. What is the hope that’s being offered here?

Um: Well, it, let’s just take a look. It says in Verse 12, “I will surely assemble all of you, Oh Jacob. I will gather the remnant of Israel again.” There is still hope for a remnant that God will restore. “And I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture noisy multitude of men.” And so, and then it says in Verse 13, “He who opens the breach goes up before them, they break through the past and past the gate going out by it.” And so this is a picture of how the shepherd is going to come and burst through the breach that is a gap in the wall of the fortified city, and to be able to enter into there and open the gates of oppression and to lead his people out for a new day. That’s the image that we find here.

And it says here that there will be a noisy, a multitude, you know, why does it describe that? It’s essentially there’s their celebration. People are able to finally be happy and to be able to celebrate because this is the dawning of a new day of a new era. And it gives a picture of a shepherd who will shepherd his sheep and his flock. And we will see later on that this great image of how God is a shepherd. And then we will obviously be able to make connections to images in the Old Testament where it says, God, the Lord is our shepherd. And then of course ultimately to John 10.

Guthrie: And that image, which comes up numerous times in Micah is pretty important to us. If when we’re teaching this book, we want to get to the gospel. Isn’t it? Because it refers to a shepherd and a king. Isn’t this one of the first books in the Bible where those two images come together for in regard to pointing to this future Messiah?

Um: Yes. And if I may just inject here at this moment, we have to be very careful when we’re reading scripture, not to simply look at the main idea of a given literary unit. Of course, that’s important and we need to study the Bible carefully to see the logical flow, the use of different words and its grammar and how it flows together logically and structurally. But we need to situate that main idea in light of the big idea. And so we tend to read scripture by simply looking at a doctrine and we look at it topically and logically, but not necessarily historically. And so we tend to say that this way of reading scripture is what we call a redemptive historical model that we see the one story plot line of scripture. And we need to know that from Genesis to Revelation, the entire Bible has many, many different books, but those books represent one book.

And so there’s one redemptive gospel story. And so if we don’t do that, then we’re going to be tempted to merely apply even good and right true Biblical principles in a moralistic way without seeing how those things have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. So what are some of those gospel pieces should we look for in all of Scripture? Of course, we wouldn’t be so silly to say that we can find Jesus in every verse of the Bible. That’s silly, and of course that’s not true. But there are certain gospel pieces that we find all throughout Scripture. And let me just list a few.

Number one would be, there are all sorts of themes throughout Scripture and those themes are not completely resolved until the coming of Jesus and Jesus resolves those themes. So there’s a theme resolution gospel piece. Another one would be there are all sorts of stories in the Bible, and those stories are not complete until the coming of Jesus. So there is the story completion gospel piece. There are also many symbols in the Bible and all those symbols are not completely fulfilled until the coming of Jesus. And that will be the third gospel piece, symbol fulfillment. And another one would be all the different pipes that we see and also la reception. So there are all sorts of laws but they are not perfectly received or obeyed until the coming of Jesus. There was only one person in history who obeyed and received the word of God perfectly. And so therefore, we need to be in union and connected to this one law keeper who provided us the perfect performance and the righteousness and the perfect little obedience that we’re not able to provide as we respond to God’s holy law. So these are the various gospel pieces that we need to see throughout Scripture.

Guthrie: I’m guessing that one of the reasons you brought it up is just because of this imagery here in Verse 12 about this sheep and this flock. And so you mentioned that there are all these themes and images that run throughout the whole of the Bible because you know that this imagery of a sheep and a flock, that it runs from the very beginning all the way through the Bible, and you know how it’s going to be seen in the person of Jesus Christ and even ultimately in the consummation. That’s what kind of caught your eye, did it not? When you read that word sheep, you couldn’t run over that too quickly, and it’s because you know that larger theme?

Um: Yeah. And so we would say as you so often times do Nancy, and rightly so, that you try to help people to read the Bible through a biblical theological lens, that is to be able to see Jesus in all of Scripture. So when you see certain themes such as the theme of a flock or a sheep or a shepherd, or even a king.

Guthrie: A king, very much in the Book of Micah is gonna be significant, isn’t it?

Um: That’s right. And these are themes that you find all throughout Scripture. For example, when you go to the gospels in the synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is no other theme that comes up more often than the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. And of course, in John, you only have a few references to that because I believe in John, eternal life and new creation of life or life, spiritual life is his equivalent of the Kingdom of God. But what we find in the first three gospels is this emphasis on the kingdom. So if we were to just simply do a word search, and in our Bible software, look at a concordance. By the way, a concordance is the most important tool for studying the Bible. So even if people do not know the original Hebrew or Greek, if you have a good English concordance or Bible software.

Guthrie: Great one online.

Um: They can go to many online, or even the ESV or You just punch in a word, then you’ll find where all of these words show up in the Bible. But if you were to put in the word kingdom, and if you say, well, this was a primary theme and the message of the Ministry of Jesus, the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven, then you would expect to see it all throughout the Old Testament. But that particular word actually shows up only a few times. But that doesn’t mean therefore that the theme of the kingdom, right? The kingship of God, the sovereign rule of God does not exist all throughout Scripture.

Guthrie: Dominion, reign, those are some of the synonyms and words that you might that pop up and give you the idea about that same thing.

Um: That’s right. Or I can refer to another word such as water. It’s an irrigation metaphor that gives life. And so sometimes people say, okay, I’m gonna put in water in a concordance. And of course, there are places in the Old Testament about water, but there might be other words that are parallel.

Guthrie: Thirst.

Um: Thirst.

Guthrie: Well.

Um: Well, or spring, or even the word do is a very, very important word in the Old Testament, do and rivers. So there are many different words and, and so what we need to do is, again, is there a theme for a shepherd or a king or a flock or God’s people even though different words might be used? And that’s what we’re trying to look at.

Guthrie: Before we go back to Micah and I have to tell you about something Dr. Um that I haven’t told you about yet, but you set me up for it, so I have to tell you. Fall of 2019 through spring of 2020, I’m going to be offering biblical theology workshops for women in cities all around the country. Now, I don’t have one in New England yet, so maybe we can talk. Okay.

Um: Yeah, we can make that happen.

Guthrie: But what I’m doing in those workshops, exactly what you’re talking about. We are gonna talk about the larger story Bible, we’re gonna talk about, I came up with a list of what I’m calling the top 20 themes of the Bible. Maybe you can look at it, tell me if you think I’ve hit the right 20. And I’m going to train women at this workshop how to trace that theme through every part of the Bible and then do kind of what you’re talking about. We’re actually going to go to the beginning of each of the gospels and look at them and see how, when we do understand a theme like king and kingdom or a theme like lamb and sacrifice, light and darkness. And we’ve seen it through all the way through the Scriptures and then we get to the gospels and we see these words arise like you and I are talking, then we’re better able to handle and understand that passage rightly because we see it in context of that theme.

Um: Yes. I think that of course systematic theology is extremely important and necessary. So I am not saying anything negative about that discipline of trying to read the scriptures and understand these very important biblical doctrines. But the Bible is not laid out for us in that way. The Bible is to be read canonically and historically and so you don’t, you have Genesis Chapter 1, you have Genesis Chapter 12. You don’t have God Chapter 1. And then the next book is Sin Chapter 3. And then the next book is the church, or the next book. Of course, these are all biblical doctrines and important and necessary, but the Bible is laid out in a historical, chronological canonical way. And so we need to understand how all of these different stories and themes and the law and the different eras, how these things cohesively come together and find their ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. And I would say when you go to the New Testament authors, that’s exactly how they understood the Old Testament. There’s no way that they would be able to understand all of…

Guthrie: Read the sermons the Book of Acts.

Um: That’s right. And they all, if it’s a Jewish audience, absolutely would make reference to the Old Testament. And they understood the Old Testament context. Some people tend to think, oh no, they didn’t understand. They made an error. Of course, they didn’t. Of course, they understood the Old Testament context and they knew their Old Testament well. And they’re keeping that in mind by showing how Jesus has come to provide the resolution, the completion, the fulfillment, or the reception of all of the things that were incomplete, unresolved and unfulfilled and not completely obeyed. And we find that in the person of Jesus Christ. So when we get to this theme here about a shepherd, of course people will know that great Psalm in Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd, but you people might not be aware that the reference to a shepherd in the Old Testament wasn’t always a positive image, that a lot of the shepherds were not good people.

And so you see that in the Book of Ezekiel, for example. So when Jesus comes in, John Chapters 10 and says, “I am the good shepherd,” he’s trying to say, I am the good shepherd as opposed to all of the bad shepherds. And so here will be a modern gospel implication for this. I believe that every human being longs to be approved and to be loved and to be cared for. So some people will say, “Oh, no, no, I’m an autonomous person. I don’t need that. I can care for myself.” First of all, there is no autonomous person. There is no person who is fully independent. And so we all long for that. Whether we long to be cared for through our careers or whether we long to receive fulfillment through our recreation or through our family, we all have those sources. And even if we try to look within, we want to be our own internal shepherd.

And of course, the reason why we have all these problems, emotions of anxiety and boredom and irritability and despair and anger, all of these are problem emotions and fear is because we are trying to shepherd our own lives. We’re trying to run our own lives and we’re realizing that we’re not competent enough to do that. And therefore all of these problem emotions emerge. And so what the Bible is trying to remind us is, no, you’re not supposed to be the shepherd. You’re the flock. You’re the sheep. I am the good shepherd. And in this context here of this little glimmer of hope here in Chapter 2, Micah says that God will assemble all of his people, the remnant of Israel, and he will gather his flock and he will be the king who passes before them and he will be the Lord of their lives. So again, a beautiful image of how even in the midst of their own idolatry and oppression and misuse of power and neglect of the neighbor, that God was willing to have mercy and to restore His people.

Guthrie: We get a picture of these bad shepherds, these rulers abusing their power when we move into Chapter 3. And in these first four verses, these civil leaders of Judah, they’re the ones who are responsible to execute justice, but they’re cannibalistic exploitation of the poor and the powerless reveals they actually have no interest in walking God’s ways. And we find out in Verse 4 of Chapter 3 what their judgment is going to be. We read, “Then they will cry to the Lord, but he will not answer them. He will hide his face from them at that time because they have made their deeds evil.” This is a different kind of judgment, but it’s kind of a scary one, isn’t it?

Um: Well, it is because we see that also in Verse 7 where it says,”The seer shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame, they shall all cover their lips for there is no answer from God.” I say it this way, when a couple comes into my office and the marital counseling, if one person comes alone, and says, “Well, my husband didn’t wanna join me.” Or if a husband comes and says, “My wife didn’t wanna join me,” then they’re in serious trouble because they don’t even want to be in the same room. But when they come together and all of a sudden, even though they’re not in the legal profession, they become like expert litigators defending their case. You hear from the wife and say all the reason why I’m having all these struggles because my husband is this way and he’s provoking me and then I listened to the husband and then he’ll say exactly the same thing. The problem in this relationship is my wife. And I try to remind them by saying it’s very helpful if you’re honest, when there is marital strife for you to know that the primary problem in this relationship is you. I’ll say that to the wife and I’ll look to the husband and say, “The primary problem in this relationship is you,” because the cause of your sin is the stuff that comes out of the heart.

The other person is an external force. Yes, they’re great at provoking you, but nevertheless, they can’t put what’s already in the heart. They can only provoke what’s in the heart and it’ll come out and being expressed in different ways. So when in a marriage relationship, people neglect one another, they’re essentially saying, you know, I don’t even wanna acknowledge you in my presence. It’s like what Jesus says when people say, you know what, you’ve committed murder in your heart. It’s in Matthew Chapter 6. You’ve committed murder in your heart when you call the other person, raca. Essentially, you’re saying you’re a non-person. I’m not even going to acknowledge you. When somebody yells at you, at least they’re acknowledging you have been created in the image of God. You’re a real human being. I hate you right now, but I’m still going to yell at you, still acknowledge that you’re there. When somebody neglect you, they’re just saying, you know what, I’m not even gonna engage in the relationship. And so this is a scary judgment. There is no answer from God. I mean, God has essentially said, well, you put yourself in this situation, you will cry out to me, but I will not answer you.

We have to be very careful as modern readers that we don’t inject the culture’s definition of justice into the biblical texts and the Bible’s version of justice. So of course one of the main baseline cultural narratives in our times would be social justice. And what’s beautiful about that is we can find a point of identification and point of reference with what the Bible emphasize, because Bible here in Book of Micah absolutely emphasizes the importance of justice and how God is a just and righteous God. But I think one of the most important difference is in our culture of social justice, there is no forgiveness.

So the people who are the ones who are advocating for social justice and talking about how we need to be extremely tolerant, have not gotten to a point where they’re so militantly opposed to those people who disagree with their cultural narrative that they are actually not tolerant. There’s absolutely no forgiveness if you’re not in our tribe and you’re not with us when we’re talking about how we need to care for marginalized people, then that we are not going to want to even allow you to participate in this space, in this public arena. We’re not gonna even have a discussion with you. But that’s not the way biblical justice is. Biblical justice will talk about sin and judgment, but there’s always restoration and there is forgiveness and reconciliation.

So I just, I need to point that out because there might be a lot of young listeners who have been involved in a progressive movement within the church and they’re saying, well, what we need to focus on as Christians is all about social justice just as our culture is doing that. And I will say, yes, we need to focus on justice, but you need to know that social justice has co-opted or adopted biblical ideas or Christian ideas about justice. But it has extrapolated to its most extreme individualistic expression. So we have to be very careful to say that biblical justice is not the same thing as social justice.

Guthrie: At the end of Chapter 3 in Verse 12 we read, “Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field. Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins and the mountain of the house, a wooded height.” So maybe we need to hear this, the way these people would have heard this. This is the mountain of Zion. This is Jerusalem. This is the temple, which is where they get their identity. Chapter 4 then seems to take a term, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the House of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be lifted up above the hill.” So explain to us what’s happening here.

Um: I think you’re pointing out something very important here, Nancy and that is again from one verse to another from Verse 12 in Chapter 3 to Verse 1 in Chapter Four, you have this tension again. At one point judgment was Zion is gonna fall. Zion is the mountain where Jerusalem is, is built on that. And then in the latter days I will be in the future the mountain of the House of the Lord shall be established in the highest of the mountains. Well, which is it? Well, God’s people will have to go through a process of judgment, but God will restore because of their sin and idolatry, but God will restore them. So there is this kind of tension from one verse to another. And when you refer to a mountain, modern people might think, oh, it’s just referring to a beautiful big hill, a mountain. But there is a very important theological meaning to the reference to the mountain.

Mount Zion or Mount Sinai are very, very important images that we find in the Bible. And let me say, and I have this in my book and just wanted to, Mount Sinai is where God gave the law. And here in Micah 4, there’s a reference to Mount Zion, again, where Jerusalem was built and what God dwells in the midst of his people. So this is very important here. Mountains are where God rules and where He dwells. So a mountain, it’s a reference to His rule and also His dwelling or His presence, and again, not just a beautiful geographic reference to an image of God’s creation. And so of course the connection that we will make here would be that it’s referring to the presence of God or the Temple of God. And verse two equates the mountain of the Lord with a house of the God of Jacob. And we know that the reference of the house is where we get the word of Bethel is clearly a reference to the presence of God.

And look what it says here in Verse 2. It says, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Now, Hebrew writers will use parallel structures in order to provide emphasis. And that’s what we have here in Verse 2. But this is not a symmetrical parallel structure, but it is kind of inverted. So it says here in Verse 2, “For out of Zion,” and that will correspond to from Jerusalem, “and shall go forth the law that will correspond with the word of the Lord.” So it’s just inverted a picture. Through this structure, we see that there is a great emphasis on the fact that God dwells and that He rules.

And when we think about the promise of salvation, that is what we’re going to get in its fullness, the dwelling of God and the rule or the kingly reign of God. And what do we find again, if we were to move ahead into the future that we have Jesus, as it says in John 1:14 “The word became flesh.” The word became flesh. And literally the translation there is tabernacled among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only full of grace and truth. And we also see the postscript in John 2:19-20 where it says destroy this temple and I will build it up in three days. And John said that Jesus was referring to his body.

So there’s so many places in the New Testament where it clearly says that the fulfillment of all of the things that are being talked about, about God’s dwelling in the future is actually not being fulfilled in a building, but that new temple is in the person of users’ Christ. And that new temple in the person of Jesus Christ also happens to be the king of the Kingdom who rules. So what we see here, the fulfillment, even though you say, well, where is Jesus here in Verse 2, you don’t clearly see, but what I’m saying is you need to draw out those themes, the gospel piece and connect it to the person of Jesus because he is the fulfillment of God’s dwelling, he is the fulfillment of God’s rule, because he is the new king who dwells with his people.

Guthrie: Yes. We really get a picture of this game when we move into Chapter 5.

Um: Verse Two. It says here, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah.” So I think there’s a place where Joshua had an opportunity to list all of the cities in this region, the towns and cities, and he didn’t do it. That’s how insignificant Bethlehem was. And the only reason why there was some significance to Bethlehem was because that we see that this is where King David’s family was from 1 Samuel 16. But it does say, “Who are too little to be among the clans of Judah.” And this is the way that God works. This is the beautiful image, the beautiful a way that God does things that oftentimes he will use the second born son over the first son.

Guthrie: Over and over again.

Um: No one would ever think that anything great could come from Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah. But this is the way that God works. He oftentimes does things in an ironic, unexpected, surprising, upside down, subverted way. Why? I think the reason why he does that is so that we cannot boast, that we will say, “I am here because I come from an elite clan or I’m here because I come from aristocracy. I come from royal blood.” And, so, when Apostle Paul says this in First and Second Corinthians, he said, “Look, you didn’t come from noble birth and you’re acting as if you are superior over these other people.” And this is God’s way of humbling his people. And so he’s saying, Yep, the future Messiah, this shepherd, this king, this ruler will come from Bethlehem.

And it also says whose origin is from old, which is very interesting. This term is used only two times in the Old Testament, once in Habakkuk 1 and Deuteronomy 33 and has this meaning of like being everlasting or eternal. So this is to say that that Jesus’s mother, Mary had a child who was older than she was. That’s the point. His origins were of old, of ancient days. But it also says in verse three that he would be born through the normal process of pregnancy, labor and delivery. And so the Prophet Isaiah nuances as well by saying that the child will be born but the son is given because the son eternally existed. But through the expression of the incarnation that Jesus was able to come in this humble way.

Guthrie: Go on to Verse 4.

Um: “And he shall stand to shepherd his flock and the strength of the Lord in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they shall dwell, secure. For now, he shall be great to the ends of the earth and he shall be either piece.” Again, you see themes here, this, this picture of when this ruler will come, this shepherd will come, that there will be peace. People will dwell in security and he will come in the majesty and the name of the Lord, his God, of course, the name Jesus is just a very common name in early Judaism. But again, here the name in the sense that the name is Lord, that he is lahweh, that he is a divine image of God himself. 1 Corinthians 1, I’m sorry, Colossians 1: 15-16, “And so the shepherd will come and the flock will be strengthened by that,” even though, again, up to this point, most of it has been judgment. You’ve seen glimpses of glory, but we see a greater expansion of this in Chapter 5 and going into Chapter 6 and of course we’ll see the beautiful picture in Chapter 7.

Guthrie: Yes. And here in Chapter 6, you mentioned, right when we began, and the book opened with this you know, hear what the Lord says. And you talked about how picture a courtroom scene, he’s calling witnesses. He’s made an indictment. He’s given evidence, has any, about all of their idolatry and oppression. And we’re still sensing a progression here. Then when we get to Chapter 6, when we read, “Hear what the Lord says, arise, plead your case before the mountains and let the hills hear your voice. Hear you mountains, the indictment of the Lord and you enduring foundations of the earth for the Lord has an indictment against his people and will contend with Israel.'”

Um: This is a prophetic subpoena. God is calling them to court and he is saying, “Hear what the Lord says,” again, saying, come here everyone, we’re gonna start the proceedings. So “Hear what the Lord says, ‘Arise. Plead your case.'” So litigate. I wanna hear what your defense is for the way that you have acted and the idolatry and the oppression and the misuse of power in the ways that you’ve neglected helping those who are vulnerable and marginalized. Plead your case, hear you mountains, the indictment of the Lord and it says hear the indictment against his people and he will contend with Israel. So what you find here in Chapter 6 is you have to charge the sentence, the judgment, and thankfully at the end you have a conviction and a verdict that is reversed.

Guthrie: Well, let’s land first later in Chapter 6 because if anybody knows any verses from Micah, they probably know the one that we just talked about that gets quoted in the New Testament about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. But then the other one that they know is Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love, kindness, walk humbly with your God.” So help us maybe by beginning in Verse six that leads up to Verse eight. It really helps us to understand what that verse is about and to not misuse it. If we understand it in context, understanding this indictment and the people are asking back. So you know, what is it you want me to do? Help us understand Micah 6:8 in context beginning with Verse 6, right?

Um: Yeah. So he’s essentially saying you for to use the language of today, that you can give everything that means anything to you, your time, your money, your possession, your goods, doing church until you’re blue in the face. But this will all be a sham if it doesn’t crystallize as concrete love for your neighbor. So you can do all of this religious stuff and people will think that you’re being very, very spiritual. But if you neglect the needs of your neighbor, so that’s what he’s saying. It leads up to that. So that’s why it gets to Verse 8 where it says I mean, look at Verse 7. It says, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams and with 10 thousands of rivers of oil?”

Guthrie: You have to hear almost the sarcasm in that, don’t you? It’s like, what do you want from me? God, you want a thousand rams? You want rivers of oil, my first born?

Um: And then the process, okay, okay, then you want my first born. He is saying, “Look, you can give all of that to me, but if it doesn’t crystallize as concrete love for your neighbor, then that means absolutely nothing.” That’s why he says in verse eight. “He has told you, Oh man, what is good.” So he’s saying all those things that you’re doing with a heart that doesn’t have concern for people and neighbor, that’s not good if you do that with that sort of heart. But oh man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. If we look at this first and we pull it out in isolation and we take the co-opted modern version of social justice, and we just say, okay, this is at the heart of what God is saying without any proclamation or declaration of the gospel, without any fulfillment through the atoning sacrifice, the satisfaction of God’s holiness in the person of Jesus Christ, then we will be completely missing this verse in the entire Bible.

However, when it says you’re doing justice or there are two kind of similar words that the Old Testament uses for justice or righteousness, and it’s a legal term is essentially saying, doing what is right, what is just. And so what they were doing was not just, what they were doing was not right. And so when we think about justice, oftentimes, we tend to think about it not within the context of restoration, but we only think about it in terms of a judgment. And let me just read something here that I wrote. It says, when we think of doing justice, we typically think of something like performing retribution. Most people equate justice with punishing wrongs. That’s certainly part of what justice entails, but it’s actually much broader than that. It is certainly giving the perpetrators their due. But doing justice is also giving those who cannot stand up for themselves, the victims, the poor, the powerless, the vulnerable, the voiceless their due as well. It is more than only punishing wrong. It is creating a situation and a society where everything is right, a society where every last person in it, including the most vulnerable and the weakest can flourish and thrive. That’s what doing justice according to the Bible really means.

So if you understand that that way then a lot of social justice is not paralleled to this understanding of biblical justice because there isn’t forgiveness in social justice. They look at the people who are the opponents in the opposing tribe and they say, “Hey, we need to completely eradicate them. We need to get them out because they’re the people who are harmful and we’re trying to create a safe environment.” But what it says here is, well, if we’re looking for a justice, then everyone will have to fall under the judgment of God. Everyone, not only those who are opposed to us in the other tribe, our opponents, but ourselves as well.

Guthrie: And the good news of the Gospel is right here. For people like you and me who deserve to fall under the judgment of God when I read this line in Verse 7 of Chapter 6, “Shall I give my firstborn son for my transgression?” All I can think of, no, I don’t have to because God has given his firstborn son for my transgression. And when I read those lines in Verse 8, “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.” I think, well, I might have made some attempts at that, but I haven’t done it perfectly and still the Lord requires of me, this of me. So is there any hope for me? And I say yes there because there is one who has done justice perfectly. There is one who has always loved kindness. There is one who was always walked humbly with God and because he has met God’s requirements on my behalf, and I have put all of my hope and faith in him, therefore, I have hope. I know that I’m not going to fall under God’s judgment, but instead I’m going to have peace with God

Um: That is the law reception gospel piece that I was talking about that you just explained. Well, someone else has to come and live the life that we should have lived and died the death we should have died. And the one who is able to obey him, to perform and to submit to the will of God perfectly

Guthrie: Such good news. Earlier, we, in a sense, heard Micah lament over the state of his people in the judgment that was going to come upon him. And then in Verses 14 through 17 Micah offers a prayer for his people and he calls out to God shepherd your people with your staff and the flock of your inheritance. And he places all of his confidence in the hope that God has revealed to him. The nations shall see and be ashamed of all of their might, they shall turn and dread to the Lord our God. They shall be in fear of view. And then we come to the very last few verses of Micah and I wonder if you would talk about those for us because it’s almost as if so he’s pleading with God in prayer to do something in the lives of his people and then it’s like he just breaks out in praise for who God is and the way he works among his people. So talk to us about these last few verses in Micah 18-20.

Um: Yes, yes. And I’ll do that in a moment, but I just wanna point out that this is a beautiful, what we will call a lament. Micah is lamenting. He recognizes that the people of God deserve destruction and judgment from God because of their idolatry. And so he’s like pleading by saying in verse nine of Chapter Seven, he says, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light. I shall look upon his vindication.” So it’s almost as if Micah is saying, look, take my life. I’m willing to be the substitute. I’m willing to do whatever is required in order to meet the expectations that you have on behalf of these people who have fallen away from you. Even Micah knows that he is insufficient to be that ultimate substitute.

And of course, the word Micah means what it says here in Verse 18, “Who is a God like you?” So Micah means in Hebrew, who is a God like you. And of course, in one way, we can answer that by saying, well, no one is like you. No one is like God. But in another way we can say, well, yes, someone is like God. And so when it says who is the God like you pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance and you have this language from the book of Exodus of passing over transgression and he does not retain his anger forever. Again, even there in Exodus 34 about how he is slow to anger because he delights in steadfast love, which again is a reference that we saw earlier on a loving kindness or a reference back to Exodus 34 and it says in Verse 19 “He will again have compassion on us. He will tread our iniquities on the foot. He will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Listen to this. “You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham.” And I just wanna talk about this here.

This phrase here in the Old Testament in the Hebrew, this word combination of steadfast love and faithfulness is an extremely important word combination. So if we go to Exodus 34, it shows here that Moses comes on before Yahweh and the Lord passed before him. In Verse 6, “And proclaim the Lord the Lord a God, merciful and Gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving, iniquity and transgression and sin.” And then we tend to stop there in the memory verse. We just remember just that part of Verse 7 but the rest of verse seven says this, “But who will by no means clear the guilty visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and children’s children until the third and fourth generation.”

So what is this saying? The word faithfulness literally in the Hebrew is translated as truthfulness. So steadfast love is referring to his loving kindness. But truthfulness is referring to the justice of God, the holiness of God, the righteousness of God. So he is holy and we need him to be holy, but at the same time, we need him to be somebody who is full of steadfast love. And so the way that Micah is concluding his entire book is combining judgment because God is holy and restoration hope because he is a God who is full of steadfast love. Now, that’s beautiful in and of itself. And so what we find in whereas in Psalm 85 yet, another place where these two words are combined and it says in Psalm 85:10, “Steadfast Love and faithfulness meet righteousness and peace kiss.” But why is that so important? Because when you look at the Greek translation of this Hebrew combination of steadfast love and faithfulness, guess how he translates it?

Guthrie: I can’t guess.

Um: Grace and truth. So where do we see that language? The word became flesh and tabernacled among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only full of grace and truth. So again, in the person of Jesus Christ, you actually see the fulfillment. Who is the God like it? Well, no one. But who is the God like you? Well, the son, the son who fulfills everything that you see of the living God doing here for his people, when he will bring judgment for the idolatry, which is faithfulness, but he will also provide steadfast love for restoration hope. But the beautiful part of this is the judgment doesn’t fall on us. The judgment falls on the son.

So Jesus absorbs the judgment and the verdict is reversed and we receive the blessing that Jesus deserved and Jesus receives the curse that we deserve. And so in a sense when it says here in Psalm 85:10 that righteousness and peace kissed, well, that for Jesus was the kiss of death. He died on the cross when he absorbed the righteous wrath of God so that peace would land on us. He has come in grace and truth. This is the beautiful picture of the gospel that comes full circle, finding his fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. We can’t just read Micah without seeing how Christ has come to fulfill all these beautiful expectations that people like us who are sinful can never meet perfectly, but our savior has.

Guthrie: Okay. Thank you so much Dr. Um. Appreciate your time to help us teach the Bible. You’ve been listening to Help Me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie at production of the Gospel coalition sponsored by crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more about crossways gospel-centered resources at

Editors’ note: 

Nancy Guthrie will be recording a live session of Help Me Teach the Bible at our 2020 Women’s Conference, June 11 to 13 in Indianapolis, as well as speaking twice on the book of James. You can browse the complete list of topics and speakers. Register soon!

Many believers are familiar with only two verses in Micah—the prophecy that a ruler will come from Bethlehem (5:2), and the answer to the question, “What does the LORD require?” (6:8). In this conversation, Stephen Um—senior minister at CityLife Church in Boston and author of Micah for Youhelps teachers understand the legal setting of the book of Micah with its charges, witnesses, evidence, verdict, sentence, and mercy. Um explains the difference between biblical justice and modern understandings of social justice, as well as key themes and images in Micah such as shepherds, kings, and mountains.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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