“Surely a son considers his father a fool, a daughter opposes her mother, and a daughter-in-law is against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Every family has a worldview. It may be a jumbled mess, but every single family has a set of things that they believe together. Children raised in that house assume on that worldview until they are old enough to question it. At that point they may consciously own it, but they might also reject it. Eventually, families often expand by marriage. This introduces new worldviews into the mix. Hopefully the two or more worldviews are similar, but they may not be. The result of all this is often chaos and conflict. Why am I starting with this when it doesn’t at all seem to be Micah’s point? Because it was Jesus’ point a few hundred years later.
We are finally getting down to the end of Micah’s collection of prophecy. Here we are getting some of the prophet’s final statements on the state of the people of Israel. He will close with some more positive reflections which we will look at together next week, but here things are pretty gloomy. As we talked about yesterday, the prophet is heartbroken over the state of his nation. He loved his people. He didn’t want to see them in the state that they were in. But in it they were.
In the verses that precede what you can see above, Micah paints a picture of a people in crisis. The nation’s moral core was eroding quickly and the character of the people was crumbling from the inside out. Indeed, whenever a nation falls apart, it is rarely something big or external that does the first and most significant damage. That happens well before the collapse when the basic building blocks begin to fracture.
In Israel, those fractures were spreading and quickly. Listen to this: “Faithful people have vanished from the land; there is no one upright among the people.” Micah was almost despairing. There was no one left to do what was right; no one who cared enough about his words from the Lord that they were going to be impacted by them enough to make meaningful changes. Instead, “both hands are good at accomplishing evil: the official and the judge demand a bribe; when the powerful man communicates his evil desire, they plot it together.”
It was bad enough that a basic trust among neighbors was gone. “Do not rely on a friend; don’t trust in a close companion. Seal your mouth from the woman who lies in your arms.” Yes, even within a single family there was breakdown and strife.
Now, that’s all what was in the background of Micah’s writing this. And if this was the only time it appeared in the Scriptures, it would be worth noting as a cautionary tale, but not for much beyond that. It is not, however, the only time it appears in the Scriptures. Jesus Himself would later quote this verse when talking with the disciples.
Check that out starting in Matthew 10:34: “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.'”
So then, what is Jesus saying here? He’s warning the disciples that they should expect persecution when following Him. To take up the mantle of “follower of Jesus” involves a worldview shift. Depending on how one was raised, that may represent a marked departure from the worldview of one’s home.
Think about this for a minute: If your kids came and announced they now believed something totally different from and even antithetical to what you had raised them to believe, how would you take it? Would you just say, “Okay,” and move on? Probably not. More than likely you would be devastated. You would be devastated and angry at them for rejecting what you had taught them was right and true. Their rejection of your ideas would be quickly reinterpreted as a rejection of you.
Now take all of that natural emotion and put it in the context of someone rejecting the ruler of this world in favor of the King of all Kings. The devil is not at all above using family pressure–even the threat of family violence–to drive someone out of the arms of Christ and back into his own. Moving from the realm of theory, there are countless numbers of stories of children raised in explicitly non-Christian contexts announcing their newfound faith to their families and experiencing disorientingly severe persecution for it. There are not a few children raised in Christian households who have done just the opposite and received a similar reaction. That is to our shame. Many, many followers of Jesus know that what He said to the disciples here is true not simply because they trust the one who said it, but because they have experienced it themselves.
Here’s the question I really want to ask this morning: How do we get from Micah to Jesus? Micah spoke this verse into one context, and Jesus seems to use it in an entirely different context. Surely Jesus wasn’t wrong to do what He did–after all, He’s the author of all Scripture and so can interpret it however He wants and will always be right. But does that mean Micah was wrong?
Here’s what’s happening: Jesus took a verse from Micah and applied it to His current context in a way that honored the original context, but applied it forward to His contemporary setting. To put that another way, He was exegeting His context in light of the Scriptures. This is, to a certain extent, what we have been doing on our journey through the Minor Prophets together over the past several months. We have been looking at verses spoken to a different people in a different situation at a different time, applying the lens of Christ to them, and grappling with how we should understand them now. This is a legitimate thing to do–after all, Jesus Himself did it. But, we have to do it carefully.
If we are not careful, we can find ourselves taking verses out of context and applying them falsely to our own. We can take ideas that meant one thing and twist them around to mean something entirely different, but helpful to our current context, and we must be right because the Bible says so. Much spiritual and even more physical abuse has happened because of this.
How can we avoid this trap? Here are some tips:
- The text cannot mean something now it could have never meant then. If the author could not conceivably have meant it in a certain way, we cannot take it to mean that no matter how convenient that might be for us in a given moment. In this case, Micah’s description of the breakdown of the family could have easily applied to the kind of clash of worldviews Jesus describes.
- When we are seeking to understand difficult passages in the Old Testament (or the New), we must always do our work in the context of a community of faith that is together committed to the integrity of the whole text. This will provide us with a feedback loop that can filter out errant or just plain wrong interpretations.
- We must always remember that the Old Testament only applies to us through the lens of Christ. Jesus fulfilled the Law. His word goes now. We are not Israel. God’s promises to them do not apply to us. If we are going to interpret any passages in the Old Testament it must be with Jesus in mind.
- If we don’t understand a text, it’s better to wave the mystery flag and get help than it is to try and push through on our own. The Holy Spirit can help us directly, but He more often works through the community of faith.
Now, there is more that goes into getting the Old Testament, and in particular the prophets, right, but if we’ll start with these four points, we’ll be off on the right foot.