What the World Needs Now: Micah's Last Sermon
Have you ever looked back at your life or your ministry? How does it appear to you – as a success, or as a failure? In the last chapter of Micah, we see Micah reflect on the entirety of his ministry in Judah. Micah overlapped with three kings, one of whom was lukewarm; one of whom was very wicked; and one of whom was relatively godly. And his assessment (Micah 7:1) is stark, “Woe is me.”
Imagine feeling that way at the end. Perhaps you don’t have to imagine – perhaps that is how you feel as you reflect. Micah assessed his own situation and he saw that it is desperate. No one wanted his brand of preaching; no one wanted to hear someone preaching judgment and repentance. And because the people didn’t want to hear about sin, they were incapable of hearing about salvation.
In effect, what Micah is doing in his last sermon is no different than what so many of us do in what we call “exit interviews.” Have you ever left a job and said, “What this company needs is…”? Or, perhaps as you get older you say, “What the world really needs is…” That is exactly what Micah is doing. We have seen the focus of his sermons and the problems of his congregation. Now Micah concludes with telling us what the world needed most.
How would you answer that question? What do you think the world needs now? Is it a new political leader? Do people need greater advances in technology, or access to resources? What does the world need now?
According to Micah, the first thing that Israel and the world needs is a good Shepherd. Listen to the words of Micah’s prayer: “Shepherd Your people with Your scepter. The flock of Your possession which dwells by itself in the woodland, in the midst of a fruitful field. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead.”
In Micah’s day, Israel had all kinds of supposed shepherds. Israel had kings and nobles, but they only robbed the people. Israel had prophets, but the prophets only said what people wanted to hear. It was a tapestry of deception from top to bottom. The people were not being fed. But Micah knew that Israel, and the world, desperately needed God to be their shepherd. What they needed was a shepherd who would lead them to rich pastureland.
That is what the reference to Bashan and Gilead is all about. These were rich lands which produced abundant crops even when the rest of the land was experiencing famine. Elijah fled to these lands during a time of famine. Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh saw these lands in Numbers 32 and begged God to give them permission to settle there. And the famine described in Isaiah 33:9 was shown to be especially harsh because it touched Bashan and Gilead – lands known for their abundance.
After identifying the first need – a Good Shepherd – the second need that Micah identifies is quite simple. The people needed not only a Good Shepherd, they needed a second exodus: “As in the days of old. As in the days when you came out from the land of Egypt, I will show you miracles.” Micah harkens back to the days of God’s early work in redeeming His people. He redeemed them, you will remember, by miracles – the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea; He led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire. Their needs were met – not by their own efforts, but by the sustaining grace of the Lord. Even their daily bread fell from heaven, and their water was given out of a rock. These were miracles. These were occasions in which Israel was sustained by God alone. This is what Israel needed again. This is what the world needed and needs.
Because, you see, when God is clearly the one at work, everyone can see it. That is what Micah means by the words in verse 16: “Nations will see and be ashamed of all their might. They will put their hand on their mouth, their ears will be deaf.” That is the remarkable feature of a work of God. It convicts people, because they know it is from Him.
Micah knew that the people needed something that only God could provide. They didn’t need the kind of success that could be attributed to human ingenuity or skill; they needed to see something that was clearly from the LORD.
In the context of Micah’s sermon, this also seems to imply that the people needed to see God’s judgment. When people see God working in a supernatural way, they recognize their own sin, and they flee from whatever they were counting on for security: “They will lick the dust like a serpent. Like reptiles of the earth. They will come trembling out of their fortresses; to the Lord our God they will come in dread and they will be afraid before You.”
These words, of course, are an allusion to the curse God places on the serpent in Genesis 3. The serpent is condemned to “lick the dust” all the days of his life. When Micah diagnosed the condition of the world, he saw their need for a sign from God, but that sign was to take the form of an act of judgment.
We can see all this today. No one in the world is convicted of sin when they see a church operating on the same principles as the world. They may be intrigued, they may even want to join, but they are not driven to flee to God alone for their security. That happens, humanly speaking, when people see that things are different – not the same. When the only reasonable explanation is the work of God’s Holy Spirit, then people are convicted of sin. They are driven to leave the fortresses of their own making and come to God in dread, pleading for their salvation. This is very similar to the dynamic Paul gives witness to in Philippians 1. He reminds the Philippians to be united, “In no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” Paul is speaking to a church that was suffering for the gospel, and mocked by others in the world and, presumably, others who claimed to be believers. He reminds Christians that when they stand firm, that shows that it is God’s work and it is a sign of destruction to the opponents of God’s work. Because when it is clear that the work is God’s, men become convicted.
Ultimately, Micah knows that there is no God like the God of Israel. He begins verse 18 with a rhetorical question: “Who is a God like You?” The answer, of course, is implied: There is no God like the God of Israel. Why? Because no God shows mercy and faithfulness like the God of Israel. He pardons iniquity; He delights in unchanging love; He is the God of Passover, who preserves His remnant.
And so, Micah knows, that his God – the God of Israel – will one day deal with sin. He will judge sin and show compassion. Again, Paul’s words in Romans about the death of Jesus should ring in our ears: God is both just and justifier. Micah looks forward and says, “Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
Can’t you see what Micah is prescribing for Israel and for the world? Micah’s diagnosis of the world is fourfold. The world needs a Good Shepherd; the world needs a new exodus; the world needs a clear sign – a sign of judgment. And if we were to sum it all up, the world needs exactly what the LORD is – a God both just and compassionate.
Now think about the New Testament. Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd; Jesus meets with His followers on the eve of Passover, giving them news of a new redemption from slavery through His body and blood, memorialized in a new Passover meal which His followers must celebrate together. Paul talks about the promises to Abraham and says, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). Paul also reminds us that, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Jesus tells his followers that His death brings about the forgiveness of sin; that in His death He bears iniquity so that God can truly forgive sin and maintain His justice.
In short, although Micah might not have fully realized it, in telling us what the Israel and the world needed – then and now – Micah was telling us about the Person and work of Jesus Christ.