Thursday, 20 July 2017

Understanding Micah

Old Testament prophecies sometimes contained a jumble of themes, some of which seemed to apply directly to their immediate audience, other things the Apostles took as applying to their own time, other things which even the Apostles spoke of as still-future - sometimes written in straight prose, other times written in the apocalyptic genre with visions and symbols. How are we to sort it all out? In the light of New Testament truth! Consider the Book of Micah, for example. Micah was a prophet who ministered in Judah prior to Israel and Judah going into captivity. We notice certain themes in his text, like:
  • Israel going into captivity;
  • promises of restoration;
  • Gentiles becoming involved;
  • a ruler coming from the little town of Bethlehem;
  • saving - but also ultimately judging
So far a lot of that is sounding really grandiose! But then we find it also mentions things like this:

  • a man's foes shall be they of his own household

And that doesn't paint such a grandiose picture. So what's really happening, we wonder.

On top of that, although much of the language seems to be intended quite literally, we also notice that at least some of the language seems to be employing word-pictures for effect.
Now, taken on its own, it wouldn't have been easy for Micah's immediate audience to conclude exactly what it all meant, who it was about, or when it was all going to happen. Obviously part of it was meant for them - but all of it? Those were the kinds of questions even the prophets themselves were asking. So how are we to "rightly divide" it all? Well, we know from elsewhere in the Old Testament that the Jews did indeed end up going into captivity, as Micah had said; and we know they were afterwards restored, also as Micah said; and their Temple, which Micah mentioned, was also rebuilt afterwards. Then, we turn to the New Testament, and what else do we find. We find that Peter, Stephen, and Paul in their sermons in Acts, regarded the promises concerning Israel's restoration to their land, and the rebuilding of their Temple, etc. as already-fulfilled, just like the Old Testament had mentioned that it had been. And we find that Jews, proselytes and Gentiles were indeed flowing annually into Jerusalem to the house of the Lord on the mountain of the Lord (multitudes on the day of Pentecost, and the like of the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the book of Isaiah) to keep the Feasts. That sounds a bit like what Micah was describing. We find that the Apostles labelled their day as "the last days", a term Micah also used. And yet there were other themes in Micah which the Jews of New Testament times regarded as not-yet fulfilled. Like, they were still expecting the 'ruler' which Micah mentioned, to come and to be born in Bethlehem. But we notice that the Apostles were claiming that He had come, and was born in Bethlehem, and that it was actually Jesus. We notice the Apostles proclaiming that this Jesus was the king of Israel, language used by Micah. But we find that not all the Jews believed their claim. It puts them in some hot water. But we see Jesus said something that sounds a lot like something Micah said: that a man's foes would be those of his own household. So maybe that was to be expected. We find that even Messiah's own foes were those of his own household - the Jews themselves! Micah is all starting to make a lot more sense now! Jesus really was Micah's ruler Who was to come, even though many of His own people didn't receive him. Then we notice in the New Testament that the Apostles still spoke about some future things, like the final judgment and visible coming of the Kingdom. And that completes the picture portrayed by Micah. Now we've "rightly divided" Micah - into things past, present and future. How? By reading it in the light of the New Testament - New Testament history and theology - by understanding it within the framework which the Apostles derived from their understanding of the Old Testament - by taking note of the way they applied the words and deeds and history of Messiah (as recorded in the four Gospels), as they proclaimed it in their sermons (in Acts) and taught it plainly (in their Epistles). The New Testament interpretation of Old Testament prophecy! When we do that, we find it's all about JESUS.

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