How well do you Read Your Bible? Managing Prophetic Passage Pitfalls

How well do you read your Bible’s? Let’s do a little test shall we and see what comes about. Read the following passage:

  • “Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place” (Mic 1.3-4).

What event is being spoken about? What do you think? Is this event in reference to the entire planet—the whole earth and all that is in it? What about this talk about God’s holy temple? Where? In Jerusalem? Or some other place? What about this talk of God “coming out of his place?” Is this in reference to a physical temple, a physical throne or a picture of God taking action from Heaven? What about the text telling us that He “will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth?” Is God truly coming here? Is He really going to walk upon the mountains? Will they “melt under him…like wax before the fire?” Will the “valleys…split open…like waters poured down a steep place?” Or is such language referring to the appearing judgment from on High?

More importantly, is the timing of this event past or future? How are we to answer such questions? What is our best course of action?

Please Pay Attention to the…?

Have you ever heard the real-estate motto: “Location, location, location?” Well, for the student of Scripture our motto is or ought to be: “Context, context, context!” If we want to read our Bible’s well—and we should!—then we need to pay attention to the context. We need to learn to observe the details in the text.

Though this apocalyptic language used by the prophet Micah seems to be global in extent and appears to allude to some distant time in the future (I mean the world didn’t end in fire, and the mountains weren’t split wide open turned into valleys, and we haven’t seen God come down from heaven…YET!), the fact remains that the event in consideration has already transpired. And it did not happen on the whole earth, but in the entire land.  It was not spoken and written for all the people throughout the earth as if we all are about to experience it, but for a specific people limited to the land in question.

The objection rises: “Yes, but the text says ‘Pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it.’”

True enough, but let us go back to the text in its entirety. Look at what comes before (v.1) and what comes after (v.5). These two verses limit the transaction, no matter how fantastic we might find the language in-between.  Listen to what they say:

  • Verse 1: “The Word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”
  • Verse 5: “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?

The Hebrew word translated “earth” (Mic 1.2) in English is אֶרֶץ  (erets) and commonly refers to land, or territory/kingdom, or earth/soil. That the concern here is over Samaria and Jerusalem and the covenantally unfaithful within them ought to be apparent even when one performs a cursory reading of the text. Verse 1 says that this prophecy—the Word of God—was given to “Micah of Moresheth…concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”

Observational Details a Must…

In the text we find that the reader is even provided a rough timeline of the prophet Micah’s ministry.  Micah served during the reign of three kings from the line of David; Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. From this we are also able to deduce that this was at a time in history when the former kingdom of Israel was split into two separate nations: Israel to the north, and Judah to the south. The reference to “Samaria and Jerusalem” (v.1) highlights both of those nations as they were capital cities: Samaria of Israel, and Jerusalem of Judah.

This information is repeated somewhat in verse 5 as a form of indictment. One of the prophet’s primary roles was to confront covenant breakers with legal violations. I realize that the concept of legal violations is somewhat distasteful to modern Christian thought, but the truth is the same today. When we sin, we are in rebellion against the Law-Word of God; we have violated our covenantal obligations with Him. This is a legal violation.  And without some form of recompense (i.e. payment) we will experience the judgment of God (i.e. His Wrath).

The sins of the two kingdoms here (Israel to the North and Judah to the South) are given in verse 5: “The transgression of Jacob…is… Samaria,” and “the high place of Judah [her transgression] …is…Jerusalem” (cf. Hos 7.1; 2Kgs 16.4). Now if some of these things seem foreign to you, and you don’t get it… I understand. If you want clarification, you will need to do some “leg work” in searching the Scriptures to see what is going on during the time of Micah’s ministry (i.e. What were the kings of his day doing? How were they leading the people? What has God promised to do?).

Dig into the Historical Context…

It would also be beneficial to know the northern kingdom of Israel’s early years. What their first king instituted as common religious practices were the foundation stones of the apostacy rampant throughout her later years. What you will find is that Jeroboam established a new god (two golden calves; one in Bethel, the other in Dan), a new priesthood with new temples/high places and an altar in Bethel, as well as new religious festivals and a new capital to rival Jerusalem, lest “the kingdom will turn back to the house of David” (1Kgs 12.26; read 1Kgs 12-14).

This idolatry would continue until God sent Assyria against Samaria, eventually crushing them in 721 B.C. (approx.).

  • “Therefore,” declares the Lord God “I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards, and I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations. All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return” (Mic 1.6-7).

God would also send Assyria to the south, for “…disaster has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem” (Mic 1.12, cf. v. 9). Judah was not innocent of committing idolatry. Although from David’s line we find many good kings who sought to walk in the ways of David (i.e. man after God’s heart; following His will), there were many who did not. They, like Samaria built high places too (read through Kings and Chronicles if you don’t believe me), and because of this the Lord would also eventually make “Jerusalem…a heap of ruins” when God sent Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to beat down their gates, burn their city and temple, and tear down stone on top of stone exposing her foundation (approx. 600-586 B.C.; three phases of conquest).

However, history reveals that the prayers and devotions of Hezekiah stayed God’s hand of judgment. And rather than fight against Jerusalem, the Lord fought for it:

  • “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David” (2Kgs 19.32-34).

The Lord removed the threat of Assyria from Judah’s doorstep, and Sennacherib (king of Assyria after Shalmanser) left and was killed by his own sons, worshipping his fake god Niroch (2Kgs 19.35-37).

Learn to Tread Carefully…

What’s my point? That we need to take care when we read Scripture, in particular prophetic passages of the past. We need to carefully observe the context (linguistically, historically, culturally), before we attempt to interpret and then make application of it. What is recorded in Micah 1 sets the tempo for the rest of the book. The events he has in mind are futuristic for his generation. Take note of that. Granted, there are some references later on in his writings that point to the Messiah, but that discussion will have to wait for another day.