When that day comes
1. What is given to us for today's worship service is from Micah 4:1-8. In this passage verses one through three already appear in Isaiah 2:2 on in almost exactly the same way. What could this possibly mean? Today, as we think about this similarity I would like to grab hold of the message which this passage is speaking our way.
The Message Of Hope Spoken Once Before
2. First, I would like you to hear Isaiah chapter two. As it is easily noted even in translated versions of the Bible, Isaiah chapter two is not completely the same piece of literature as its corresponding biblical passage in Micah. They are almost in agreement word for word, but in a few places one may observe changes in word order or a number of additions. I will not go into an elaborate lecture on this today. I say only by way of a concluding remark that the form by which the text of Micah has been arranged is more balanced in meter and gives the impression that its Hebrew poetry is in better shape. This arrangement suggests that what appears in the passage of Micah is from a later period.
3. As for Isaiah 2:2-4, I think it is good to see it as one of the end time prophecies by the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz. As for end time prophecies from Isaiah, chapters nine and eleven are famous as messianic prophecy, and here again it is supposed that it is within the same ideological tradition.
4. For instance, the same subject is seen in 9:1-6 and other places. "...The footwear of the soldiers which stomped the earth and the bloodied military uniforms were one and all thrown into the fire and consumed. A single brand new child is born to us. A single male is given to us. He has the authority to rule upon his shoulders. His name will be called 'the leader who astonishes, the powerful God, the eternal father, the ruler of peace.' His authority to rule is to increase over the throne of David and his kingdom, there is to be no end to peace. The kingdom will be established according to the righteousness and works of grace even now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of the Armies will accomplish this," (9:4-6 [KJV 9:5-7]). Here he is speaking about the enthronement of the messianic king, but in their contemporary situation, there existed already a king of the Judean monarchy. This means that Isaiah was rejecting the current kingdom. The reason he must reject it is because the monarchy is no longer doing the will of God. The truth was that one could not say that God was governing through the king in the Judean kingdom. What was in control was only the sin of man.
5. So, it is supposed that the background to the final prophecies of Isaiah was despair over the current situation of the kingdom. However, Isaiah would not live in abandonment of hope. In any age there are persons, lots of them, who will not take a single step away from their despair over the current status of society. However, Isaiah was not like that. Amidst despair he turned expectantly towards the power of God. He waited and hoped for God to direct reality in a world under the controlling power of righteousness and grace.
6. Likewise in the second chapter of Isaiah the hope and waiting upon the power of God continues to be portrayed. The contents of that chapter begin with the words "at the last day." With respect to "the last day" in end time prophecy, whenever we talk about "the end of the world," "the last day" has a very different meaning. "The last day" is a phrase that means the beginning of a brand new era. He says that "at that time, the mountain of the temple of Jerusalem will rise high and peoples from every nation, which have been hostile towards Israel, will come like a great river to Israel. They will not be coming to fight. They are coming to seek the Lord." He says to us that they are gathering saying, "Let's climb the mountain of the Lord and go to the house of the God of Jacob. The Lord will make the way for us. Let's walk on that way." With these words there on the mountain of the Lord, the people hear the word of God and follow the Lord's instructions. The Lord will perform a righteous judgement and restore order. At that time true peace will be realized. In a place where God completely governs, true peace is realized. He sees that kind of hope in "the last day." He did not throw away hope; the message of hope was passed on even until a later period.
The Message Of Hope Spoken Again
7. The description I just gave appears in Micah in nearly the same wording. Please listen once more to Micah chapter four. And as I just said, it is supposed that the corresponding biblical passage in Micah belongs to a later period. In brief, the message was spoken again after being taken from the prophecy of Isaiah and then being incorporated into the book of Micah. In what time period could this have taken place? In verse six on, the following is written. "When that day comes, thus says the Lord. I will gather those persons with lame feet, and summon those persons who have been driven out. I made then meet with calamities. But, I will care for the lame as the remnant people and will build a strong nation of people who had been led far away. On Mount Zion, from now till forever, the Lord will be king over them," (vv.6-7). The words "persons who have been driven out," and "persons who have been led far away" appear here. In saying "persons who have been driven out" and "persons who have been led away," this provides the background to the message. So in talking about the historical setting it must be the period of the captivity. What Isaiah said came before the destruction of the Judean monarchy. The temple in Jerusalem was still in existence. However, this Mican passage, intowhich that message was embedded, was after the destruction of the kingdom and the collapse of the temple. This is the context. It is a time period with nearly a difference of two hundred years.
8. Well, I had probably better make a comment on books of prophecy in general. As it's already been made clear from what I said so far, the prophetic book itself does not show any record that, what we might call a prophet, was indeed writing the book. Before reaching its current form, both texts of Isaiah and Micah underwent repeated editing that spans a couple hundred years. Around the words of the prophets Isaiah and Micah as kernels, the poems and stories that already existed were added and also the prophecy from a later period was added on and so they reached their present form. Consequently, messages of different backgrounds are found in a single book of prophecy. That means that God did not just speak through Isaiah the man and Micah the man, but after them there were various prophetic schools that had started, after that, as a couple hundred years transpired God had repeatedly spoken to Israel [building on the original Isaian and Mican traditions]. I could say that the trace of editing propheticbooks are the records and testimonies of the fact that God had talked to the people for years and years.
9. Based on what I discussed in the above statements, I would like to think with you about the significance of how after nearly two hundred years the message from Isaiah and an almost exactly the same message were added to Micah chapter four. To do that we need to keep at least two things in mind.
10. First, immediately before in the first three chapters of Micah, the main concern is actually prophecy of judgement against Jerusalem. These are mainly words from Micah who lived at the same time as Isaiah. Jerusalem was still the capitol of Judah [the southern kingdom of Israel; the twelve tribes were split into north and south after king Solomon's death] and it was a message for the period of time when the temple still existed. The decadence of the political and religious leaders in the Jerusalem of that period was being denounced. A festival was certainly taking place. Religion itself had not disappeared. A political and religious system centered in Jerusalem was going strong. However, despite being assigned by the Lord, these men were no longer interested in the will of God. They only ran with thoughts for self profit. "Listen to this. O heads of the house of Jacob, O leaders of the house of Israel! As you abhor righteousness and twist what's right, you men who build Jerusalem with unrighteousness and Zion with spilled blood! The heads judge as they take bribes, the high priests teach as they take a price, the prophets announce oracles as they take money. And worse they say let's rely on the Lord. They say, 'The Lord is with you, isn't he? Calamities will not reach us.'" (3:9-11). That was how it used to be in Jerusalem at one time. As far as the glory of God went, it was a vision far from view.
11. And the second point we ought to keep in our minds, as I just mentioned, verses 4:1-3 added here belong to the period of the captivity. Micah prophesied that "Therefore, because of you, Zion will become a plowed field and Jerusalem will change into a pile of stones. The temple mount will become a holy high place [a heathen worship site] where trees grow luxuriantly." That really happened. Isaiah said, "Peoples of many nations will come en masse seeking the word of the Lord and gather at the mountain of the temple of the Lord." The messageof hope spoken by Isaiah probably sounded quite empty and vain in their situation, didn't it? It was a far cry from, "The temple mount will soar high," because there wasn't even a temple any longer. It had collapsed long before. In fact, the temple mount was in ruins. He was saying that various nations of people will assemble together there. It was supposed to be that "All kinds of peoples will head for it as a large river." But instead, if you talk about how the actual situation really was, the people of Israel were dispersed as captives.
12. As I reflect on the two points made above, the message, that he takes up here again and which the former Isaiah spoke, is nonsense. If one just looks at the reality in front of one's eyes, that is, things like the phrase that says "the temple mount will soar high," it just sounds like the joke of a fool. However, there were still people who did not toss the message off though it could be construed as nonsense. As they retold the same message of hope, there were persons who decided to write it up just as it was into the book of Micah. We must face this fact with astonishment over such a reality.* We must learn from them how to live by faith.
13. What they held on to and would not let go of was the message of "the last day." With that message they were not thinking of some obscure and distant end. And not just that but,in believing that the perfect government of God "is definitely coming, is surely coming," it meant that they were waiting in expectant hope. Of course, they did not deceive themselves. They firmly grasped the reality that because of their personal sins they had faced judgment. They had never taken their attention away from what was also written in Micah's initial chapters [concerning the sinful state of Israel]. Therefore, it was not just simple optimism. But, they didn't stay in those first three chapters either. Keeping in mind that these first three chapters of Micah as words of judgment were realized historically. They continued further in putting the message of hope to "the last day." Having looked thoroughly at the facts of their current situation they had a hope that went beyond that situation. It was a faith that looks towards the end.
14. So, the very hope and faith that looks to the end gives us clear direction on how we ought to live in the period before "the last day." The following is written in verse five. "Each and every nation will walk according to the name of our own God." This was a fact pertaining to this age of the end which had appeared in their prophetic eyes. The perfect government of God has not come yet. As people enslaved they are driven away to the middle of a foreign nation who truly do not look to the Lord. But, they do not fall under the control of theconditions around them. They knew those conditions all too well. Therefore, they continue on in this manner: "We will walk in the name of the Lord, our God, forever." The people who look to the end receive the current state of things with personal responsibility. People without hope for the end of time get tossed by the realities that are seen. So, the [hopeless] live at the outer edge of responsibility for their state of business. However, truly the outer edge isn't where one should be. Now, the individual is asked to walk in the name of the Lord. He is asked about the very important matter of his particular relationship with God.
15. So, however the circumstances are around you, for persons who decide to walk in hope based on the name of the Lord, God is giving you a message of renewable hope. "When that day comes, the Lord says, I will gather those persons with lame feet and I will summon those driven away. I made them meet with calamity. But, I will make the lame as the remnant and I will make a strong nation from those driven away. On Mount Zion I will be king over them from now and forever. O tower that guards the flock of sheep! O fortress of my daughter Zion, the sovereignty you used to have, even the nation of my daughter Jerusalem I will bring back to you once more," vv. 6-8). "When that day comes. When that day comes!" With that message they broke through the wretched reality of the captivity and they saw the figure of a restored Jerusalem.On the basis of God's perfect control, they saw their character and recovered the character that they ought to have.
16. Well, how is it with us? The church is now placed in the middle of a world that seems to be controlled ever so much more by sin and death. The reality for both individual believers and the church is is that there is a serious defeat for sin. In continuing to bear troubles, stress, and pains we must even more patiently endure the way the Babylonian captives did. We may want to cast off the message of hope that God has given to us. But, God, who they looked to and called upon by repeating the message of hope over and over when they declared "We will walk in the name of the Lord, our God, forever," is also our God. God, who continued to speak to them still more and more hope, is still speaking to us also, and God is the One who shows us a beautiful dream and vision. It is "when that day comes!," the time is coming when God's control will be complete. As persons being given eternal life, the time is coming when we will live under the perfect government of God. God has given us through the cross of Christ and his resurrection a message of hope that is eschatological and certain. We must not cast off the message of God's promise. I would like us to be people who keep walking in the name of the Lord and worship him no matter what conditions we may be under at the present moment.
End note: *A bit of theologomenon: This sermon builds off tradition/source criticism. The texts of Isaiah and Micah reveal at least two layers of historical audiences (those around 722 B.C.E. under Assyrian assault, the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the monarchy period and those after 586 B.C.E. under the Babylonian government, in captivity, and the fall of the Jerusalem temple) and editorial reworking. In other words, Isaiah preached the word of God and wrote down his messages. Some scholars think there may have been as many as four "Isaiahs," there had to be at least two voices. Then later, another prophet came, repreached it and rewrote it to its final form. The Holy Spirit superintended the entire process. In effect, when contemporary preachers take up the biblical text we are also updating it, reworking it for our audience and depending equally on the Holy Spirit. What we do as modern prophets is nearly the same as what the ancient prophets did. Namely, the word of God is given through the heart of a prophet saturated in biblical traditions or stories and poems known to be from God. The Holy Spirit breathes new life into old words for the new situation facing God's people. This is the miracle of the preaching event and of the written text we call the Bible. We should not doubt the authority of the text because it has a history and did not just drop out of the sky magically. So, listen confidently and God will wondrously speak to you through God's man or woman even today. What a miracle!