“How sad for me! For I am like one who — when the summer fruit has been gathered after the gleaning of the grape harvest — finds no grape cluster to eat, no early fig, which I crave.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
If there’s any one word that is most often used to describe the Old Testament prophets, what do you think it would be? For me some words like judgmental and mean come to mind. That’s the kind of characterizations I often see them given in the culture at large. If there was a single word that was most used, though, it would be the word angry. That word is common. But is it right? Maybe not. Let’s talk about it.
Because of the nature of their messages, the prophets are often imagined as an angry, judgmental group. It’s not hard to understand why. Read Ezekiel’s colorful indictment of Israel in which he describes them as a particularly profligate prostitute. Read some of the assurances of violent judgment in Isaiah or Jeremiah and this image that is fixed in the minds of so many makes sense.
But is this really the best way for us to picture them? Maybe…but then again, maybe not. Let’s use this verse right here as an example. What came at the end of chapter 6? Do you remember? It was judgment, right? God, through Micah, promised judgment for the sins of the people. It was more a judgment of natural consequences than active ones, but it was judgment all the same.
What’s more, it was judgment in response to pretty grievous sins that had been laid out in some detail. The people were in the wrong. There was no question about that. Micah was angry about it too. He shared God’s righteous anger over the sins of his people. At the announcement of this judgment, Micah should have been almost gleeful in relating what was coming to them, right? That’s certainly what we would expect.
Yet, what do we actually find? What are Micah’s first words here? “How sad for me!” Wait? Shouldn’t he be happy? Shouldn’t Christians be happy when we see the guilty sinners around us get what’s coming to them? That’s how we are often characterized. Unfortunately, that’s a characterization we all too often deserve. And indeed, there are passages in various places like the Psalms, that seem to support such a notion.
That being said, although things like the imprecatory psalms are certainly worthy of our attention and understanding, that’s not what we see here in Micah, and that’s not the bigger perspective on the issue we get from the Scriptures as a whole. When it comes to God’s perspective on judgment, what we find here in Micah is much more reflective of His thinking than the picture of an angry God glad to smite those who oppose him we are often sold.
Look a bit deeper at Micah’s emotion here. He’s not just sad. He describes himself as a farmer who, once the harvest has come in, finds nothing to enjoy after the work has been done. He does all the work, goes to see what has been collected, and finds nothing there to enjoy. There’s not just sadness here. There is a sense of disappointment and frustration and gnawing emptiness that longs to be filled by something that isn’t there to fill it.
But why? Why would he feel this way? Perhaps because he feels like the people are not ultimately going to respond to his prophecy. They are going to ignore him and receive in full what God plans to send. And yet still, why no glee? Where is the anger we expect to find?
Put yourself in the place of a parent. When your kids behave badly and it’s time to punish them for it, do you take delight in delivering that punishment? Of course not. Why? Because you love them. You have to punish them because their behavior demands it. To do otherwise would allow them to think it wasn’t as wrong as it was and that would be unloving. But the fact that you have to punish them at all means the relationship has been broken. That’s nothing to celebrate or even be angry about. It is a cause for hurt and sadness; it’s feeling like you’ve poured into them much and come up empty.
Friends, this is how our God feels about our sin. It’s how He felt about the sins of the people of Israel. He may have judged them because they deserved it and He is a just God. But He took no pleasure in it. There’s a reason He was always so much quicker to forgive and restore than He was to judge and punish. And, the prophets, who all shared His heart for His people, felt the same way.
We should feel the same way in our own lives. When we see people experiencing the awful consequences of sin, that should never be a cause for rejoicing on our part. It should be a cause for mourning and compassion. Sin’s consequences are always a reminder that the world has not yet been restored to its intended glory. We should weep over this like we might weep over the death of a child. God certainly does.
The question that really determines our attitude here is this one: Do we really love people like God does? If we don’t, we need to get that fixed first. Once we do, though, then while we may support the pursuit and application of justice, seeing it always breaks our heart. We want to see justice done quickly so that redemption and restoration can happen. So, we love people like Jesus did. Everything else comes after that.