Lesson 33: Sharing the Gospel with the World
Purpose: To encourage class members to fulfill their responsibilities as latter-day Israel to love all the people of the world and share the blessings of the gospel with them.
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. Jonah is called to preach to Nineveh, but he runs away.
2. The people of Nineveh respond to Jonah’s message and repent.
3. Micah prophesies of the mission of latter-day Israel.
The Old Testament concludes with 12 very short books of prophecy – the so-called “Twelve Minor Prophets.” Except for a verse here and there that we tend to quote in isolation as proof of some doctrine or other, most of us are entirely unfamiliar with most of these books. If you were to ask me to speak in Sacrament Meeting today on the book of Haggai, or the prophecies of Habbakuk, I’m afraid I’d have to make it up as I went along. And chances are, you wouldn’t know that I was making it up, because you likely are no more familiar with these books than I am!
Today we’ll be talking about one of those books, the book of Micah, a book with seven short chapters that you could probably read in a single sitting – although it would take us all many more than a single sitting to understand who Micah was speaking to, and what he probably meant by this or that statement. Still, in the time we have today, I’m sure we can go a long way toward learning what Micah had to say to us, here in this ward, in the year 2014.
[Draw familiar sketch on board showing Israel forking into Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Mark the Southern Kingdom with a “X”.]
We know very little about Micah,. the man. He lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, probably about 750-700 B.C., dying during the reign of King Hezekiah. He was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah. Unlike Isaiah, who was very interested in the political sins of his day, speaking about where Israel as a kingdom had turned away from God, Micah seems more concerned with social sins than political ones – that is, he warns everyone (political rulers, religious leaders, the rich, and the common people of Israel) about their terrible treatment of each other, and what the consequences of that social failure will be. But after painting a terrible picture of the destruction that will come as a result of sin, Micah offers at last a hopeful picture: At some future date, the Lord will take compassion on Israel and rescue her, if she will confess her sins and return to his ways.
Chapters 1 is a kind of introduction. Micah addresses both kingdoms, Israel and Judah, by referring to their capitals, Samaria and Jerusalem. Let’s start with Chapter 2, verses 1-2
1 Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.
2 And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.
Who is Micah addressing here – rulers, priests, anybody whom the shoe fits?
What does Micah mean when he says the wicked “work evil upon their beds”? [Be sure someone contrasts this with “when the morning is light” to show that Micah means the wicked plot all the time, day and night – not that the reference to a bed means unchastity.]
The Kingdom of Judah was not such a lawless place at this time that a man would take up his sword to drive his next-door neighbor out of his house. What kind of violence, other than the sword, do you suppose a wicked man could use to take his neighbor’s fields and houses away from him?
We know many of the ancient Israelite property laws, because they are spelled out in the Law of Moses. Presumably, since the Kingdom of Judah was still a law-abiding society, these acts depriving people of their property were legal – yet Micah still condemns them. How can an action be both legal and violent?
Let’s see how else the people are treating each other badly.
8 Even of late my people is risen up as an enemy: ye pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely as men averse from war.
9 The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever.
Who is the enemy in this case? Somebody from outside Israel, like the Assyrians or Babylonians, or – ? Micah has already told us that it is not right for a man to oppress another man. Why, in the context of ancient Israel, is it even worse for a man to oppress a woman or a child?
In Chapter 3, Micah moves on from condemning the evil of ordinary men, and condemns the evil of those who are placed to rule over and protect Israel.
1 And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment?
2 Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones;
3 Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron.
Isn’t that a gruesome image! How does Micah mean that the people’s leaders eat the flesh of their people?
If he means to create the image of a butcher slaughtering an animal, what does that say about the relationship between the people and their rulers? What has happened to the brotherhood of Israel, each man, woman and child being a child of Abraham?
If he means to create the image of a cannibal, how does that add to our horror of the situation?
It may be important to say here, and remember throughout the lesson, that Micah was speaking of conditions in his own day, but also in future days – this situation would arise not once, or twice, but many times throughout history, to our own day and beyond, any time that people became wicked and turned to their own interests and away from the interests of God. But as with all prophecies of the future, we should be careful about drawing too precise a parallel to any specific time or circumstances.
That is, while we may all recognize from the Book of Mormon that secret combinations exist, we need to be cautious and humble and not be overly certain that we can correctly identify secret combinations in our own society. And while it may be easy for us to recognize some elements of Micah’s world in our own society, we should not be too quick to identify Micah’s rulers as any particular nation, or administration, or officeholder in our own day – it’s too easy to point fingers as a way of excluding ourselves from responsibility. Micah’s prophecies point to conditions that occur again and again, and are a general warning to us all, now and always.
After condemning political rulers who oppress their people, Micah moves on to condemn religious figures who prophesy for prophet, or who tell the people what the people want to hear rather than what God wants them to know.
5 Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.
6 Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them.
7 Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God.
How do false prophets make people err?
Verse 5 can be hard to understand in the King James translation but is easier to understand in other translations. Micah says that prophets cry “Peace, all is well” as long as the people reward the prophets for telling them pleasant things. But if the people don’t bribe the prophets – that is, if they don’t put bread into their mouths – then these false prophets predict terrible destruction against the people.
What do verses 6-7 tell us will happen to the wisdom and the ability of prophets to teach the word of God when they tailor their teachings to suit the preferences of the people?
Micah tells us that he is not one of these false prophets that can be bribed by the people – he speaks for God, in the power of God, and he has a message of condemnation for the wicked of the house of Israel.
8 But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.
9 Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity.
10 They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us.
12 Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.
We’ve already identified three groups of society that Micah condemns, by reading his lines addressed to each of them. In this passage, he identifies all three groups – what are they again? [The heads of the house of Jacob, who build up Zion with blood; the civil leaders who judge for reward/bribery; the priests and prophets who sell their offices.]
What is the end result when a society becomes that corrupt, according to Micah?
Micah does prophesy that after the destruction of Israel, the Lord will still turn again to redeem the people.
1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
These verses also appear in Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Micah. What do you think about that?
First, how do you suppose the people in Micah’s day, at least those who believed he was speaking for God, would have understood these lines?
What do mountains often mean in scriptural terms?
How do we as Latter-day Saints often understand these verses today?
Let’s read a little more about this prophecy of the days when the Lord would again redeem Israel:
4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.
5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.
6 In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;
7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.
Do you have any questions about the symbolism in those verses, or any other comment on these lines?
Micah then predicts very specifically that the Kingdom of Judah will be carried away captive into Babylon, and that all nations will look upon Israel as a land conquered, a people despised. He tells the people that the nations who believe that have no idea what God has in store for Israel.
12 But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor.
13 Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.
We don’t often read or quote Micah, as I mentioned before. But somebody did quote him.
3 Nephi 20:18-19
18 And I will gather my people together as a man gathereth his sheaves into the floor.
19 For I will make my people with whom the Father hath covenanted, yea, I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass. And thou shalt beat in pieces many people; and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth. And behold, I am he who doeth it.
How is that for evidence that Micah was a true prophet, who spoke the words the Lord gave to him!
In Chapter 5, Micah prophesies that the Assyrians will lay waste to Israel, with the Israelites scattered throughout the world, and gives us contrasting images of what it will be like for the world to have Israel among them.
7 And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.
8 And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
First, Micah says that the remnant of Israel – and we believe we are part of that remnant – will be as dew on the grass. That’s a very peaceful image, isn’t it?
Let’s go back to the days of your high school English class and think about dew for a moment. What could dew represent? What are the qualities of dew that might be applicable to the people of God being scattered throughout the world?
[Possibilities: Dew implies a blessing, suggesting moisture to raise crops – because Israel brings the gospel, it is a blessing to the world; where the conditions are right, dew appears everywhere, throughout a field, not just in spots, suggesting the widespread distribution of Israel; dew comes from the natural world, or from God – it isn’t produced by man, and comes whether man calls for it or not; noticing dew implies a certain level of peaceful and calm, not something you would tend to notice in a time of upheaval – suggesting –?]
The second image, the one in verse 8 to a lion among the flocks, is anything but peaceful. In what ways might it be an apt symbol for Israel scattered throughout the nations?
[Possibilities: Israel will destroy the false gods of the Gentiles; none can resist the power of God]
If we are indeed the “remnant of Jacob,” as we believe, scattered among the nations, what is our duty? In what ways can we be the dews on the grass?
Can or should we also be like the lion among the flocks?
Chapters 6 and 7 appear to be a separate writing added to the first part of Micah. In these chapters Micah repeats the theme he gave us earlier, condemning all classes of a society where everything it does is to get money:
2 The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.
3 That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.
The righteous cannot find peace anywhere in such a society, he says, and can only look to the Lord for justice.
5 Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.
6 For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
7 Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.
When we look unto the Lord, Micah says, and wait for the God of our salvation, our God will indeed hear us.
19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
20 Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.