The second half of Micah chapter six is arguably one of the bleakest portions of the Bible. Functioning as the conclusion of the lawsuit which opened in chapter 1, and following immediately on the heels of the closing arguments portion of 6:1-8, verses 9-16 contain no sweetness, tenderness, or hope. There is only the unmitigated, unavoidable coming wrath of the one true God. While a difficult portion to ponder, it reminds us of the inflexible holiness of our God and causes us to look beyond these verse to the whole drama of Scripture—where alongside the promised wrath there is also assured mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
Micah 6:9-16 serves as the verdict in God’s lawsuit against the nation of Israel. The verdict breaks into three parts.
A. The Announcement (v. 9)
Here, God formally announces His judgment against the nation. “Call” here is not a happy call. It is not the tender voice of the Bridegroom to the bride. It is not the voice of the One who called Israel into the wilderness to “speak to her heart” (Hosea 2:14, lit.). This is the voice of the God snubbed and slighted, the thrice-holy God whose authority has been challenged and His Word toppled. This is the God whose loving warnings have gone unheeded, whose patience has run out, who must execute judgment to be consistent with His perfect holiness. It is the voice of the coming Adversary, who is no longer for them but against them in all His terrifying omnipotence and ferocity. It is in this context, then, that “fear” of His name should be understood. The Bible describes two kinds of fear of God. The first, the kind commended in Proverbs and Paul’s epistles, is a loving reverence, a submission to His lordship and His commands that results in repentance, obedience waling in His ways and a right understanding of who He is and what He requires. It is the kind of humble fidelity that views God as high and exalted and self as low, broken, and in need of grace. It trembles at His Word and is the heart of saving and sanctifying faith.
The other is mentioned in this verse. It is the fear of abject, holy terror. It is the fear of dread. If you do not have a relationship with this holy God by faith, you should be extremely afraid! For there is only unmitigated wrath and fury reserved for you. Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church in A.D. 56 that there will be wrath, indignation, tribulation and distress for those who die in unbelief (2:8-9). He writes to the Thessalonians that Jesus will return in flaming fire and dole out retribution (“vengeance,” NKJV) against the lost, shutting them away in “eternal destruction” away from the experience of His goodness and power on behalf of the redeemed (1:8-9). Their opportunity to rightly fear Him having passed, the only option is to walk in dread of the coming passionate retribution. It truly is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31)!
What is the meaning of the appointed time? It is another statement of the sovereignty and ultimate determinative authority of God. The wrath is coming because the ultimate Controller and Appointer of all things has said this is its time to be judged. It would not come a moment too soon or too late, but only when the Sovereign said it would be so (cf. Daniel 2:21). Just as it is not in Israel to respond to God’s call for repentance of its own ability, neither is it in Israel’s power to negotiate or forestall the coming judgment once God has decreed its appointed time. Israel was meant to be a microcosm of what a people looked like when ruled by and in covenant relationship with the only true God. But in His sovereignty He sets them aside. With this judgment, the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) have begun. Beginning around 30 A.D., this also meant that a new institution, begun by Jews but eventually comprised largely of Gentiles, would function in Israel’s place for a period of time following its greater judgment for rejecting the Messiah (cf. Deut. 18:15, 18-19). It, too, would be tasked with the responsibility and privilege to demonstrate to a watching world what it meant for sinful people to live in fruitful communion with one another and with God, under His lordship as exercised by His Word and in the bonds of His chesed love. They would be a testimony to His power and the beauty of His ways. They, too, would know the power, authority, and potential flowing from a covenant made with God. They too would know, and some of its men would be used to complete, His Word. They would serve as a preview of the greater coming millennial and eternal kingdom, a down payment of the completion of current promises during these future eras. This new institution is the church (Matthew 21:41-43). Left unrevealed until the ministry of Jesus (beginning in Matthew 13), and unrealized until the Day of Pentecost, the church is a new spiritual institution which is organizationally and compositionally distinct from the nation of Israel, yet shares radically and graciously with them in their covenants and promises. As God judged Israel in Micah’s day, He has temporarily set the nation aside in ours. Intended by Him to be a rich portrait of how He intended life under His lordship to be, the nation became unruly, carnal, and rebellious. God has had enough. Until the true King returns to set up His kingdom on earth and regraft Israel into the olive tree of covenantal blessing and fruitfulness (cf. Zechariah 12-14), He is through with the nation. Judgment has come.
B. The Summary of Findings (vv. 10-12)
Here, God spells put exactly what He has determined about the nation—why they are deserving of the judgment He has promised. They in fact are the polar opposites of the virtues He commands and commends in 6:8. Wickedness (vv. 10-11) is highlighted specifically as a kind of selfish, deceitful greed. Typified by scales which were deliberately imbalanced to cheat sellers out of money, this kind of dishonest and utterly self-absorbed love of financial gain will stop at nothing, even harming one’s Jewish brothers, to get what one wants. It could be broadened to any kind of selfish manipulation or pursuit of personal profit at the expense of sacrificially loving others. Violence (v. 12a) was the expression of a heart that either didn’t get what it wanted, or what it sued to get it. The same word is translated “malicious” in Exodus 23:2. In Psalm 72, a messianic prophecy, Jesus is displayed as the One who rescues the lives of His people from oppression and violence (v. 14). The word should not be limited to physical abuse but a disposition of adversarial striking out, in word, thought and practice. It is the heart attitude behind the wickedness of verses 10-11. God’s people in both Old and New Testaments are commanded to love, serve, bless, protect, and cause the flourishing of each other. The man or woman ruled by a violent spirit is more than willing to harm, dismiss, attack, slander, mistreat, and break promises to those who prevent them from getting what their lusts crave. Finally, deceit (v. 12b) is the means to getting what the violent person wants. They lie, explicitly and by omission. They twist words. They play the hypocrite. They placate and butter up and tickle ears, all for the purposes of manipulation and self-satisfaction. This kind of deceit is widespread in Micah’s day, and after 20 plus years of prophetic ministry, all of these things are still going on. Amos would concur: “Yet [after all this] you have not returned to Me. …Prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (4:11-12).
C. The Penalty (vv. 13-16)
God’s penalty imposed falls into two parts: summary (v. 13) and specificity (vv. 14-16). The summary is packed full of references to the Pentateuch, especially the lengthy covenantal stipulations in Leviticus 26. Even the Hebrew wording is the same. We can surmise from this that God is deadly serious about following through on what He has promised. He does not lie but speaks truth only, truth that can be heard and understood by human beings. He does not speak in code and does not mislead His people. If He promises judgment after impenitent sin, it will assuredly come. And if He then assures restoration to a rebellious Israel in a literal earthly kingdom upon the return of the Messiah (Romans 11:26; Revelation 1:7; cf. Zechariah 12:10), then we must not take these things away from Israel and put them onto the church. God means what He says and while He can certainly unfold more about specific promises, add detail, and even expand the recipients of certain promises (such as the church being included in the new covenant), He cannot and will not go back on His Word.
When the faithful God judges His people, what does this look like? Futility. Physical ailments, loss of material goods, continual hunger, working without reaping the benefits, and ultimately being carried away by force upon the Assyrian invasion are their lot. All of these things had been mentioned not only in Leviticus 26 but in the even longer warnings outlined in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. And why, ultimately does all of this happen? Here is where verse 16 comes in. Omri and Ahab were two of the worst kings of Israel, and were father and son. Here is the heart of God’s curse upon the nation: Instead of listening to Him, they have listened to the worst of men. Instead of treasuring His covenant and precepts such that they follow through with a jealous obedience, they have followed the counsel of evil men because this mirrored the dictates of their own sinful hearts. God, the One deserving of their faith and surrender, has been trashed so they could get what they wanted. He is the ultimate Victim of their violence.
The good news for Israel and for us is that God remains longsuffering. His nature is to forgive. He will again have the nation of Israel as His. For He sent the promised Messiah to absorb His curse upon Jew and Gentile alike who turn to Him in faith and await with joy the completion of His every promise.