The Lament of the Land (Micah 7)

The judgment of Israel for sin is a common theme in the Bible.  But only rarely is the land itself given a voice to cry out concerning the iniquities committed on it.  This is the unique perspective of Micah 7:  in this chapter, the land itself laments the tragedies that it has and will have to suffer.  

This unusual prophecy caught the imagination of Jesus.  He quoted a portion of it in his own prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 10:34-36, Luke 12:51-53).  It’s outcry of the land contains an important message for us today when people and nations are once again risking spoiling their land through sin and the judgment that follows.

Micah spoke shortly before the devastating Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.  This was the breakaway Israelite kingdom that ruled over the northern ten tribes.  His message came at a time of political turmoil:  The northern kingdom had been ruled by five rulers in the space of twenty years.  Two of these had ruled for less than a year, and three of them had gained the throne by murdering its former occupant.  False prophets filled the land with false hope (Micah 3:5-7).  And this spiritual and moral corruption was spreading south to Judah.  But despite the judgment and destruction that Micah warns is coming, in the end God will restore his people. 

The Lament of the Land is the climax and final chapter of Micah’s prophecy (Micah 7): 

1             Woe to me!

                For I have become like the gatherings of summer fruit;
                                Like the gleanings of a grape harvest.
                                There is not a cluster of grapes to eat;
                A first-ripe fig my soul desires. 

The idea of the land crying out in mourning appears frequently in the prophets (Isa. 33:9; Jer. 12:4, 23:10; Hos. 4:3, Joel 1:10; Zech. 12:12).  But only here is the land given voice directly. 

The “gatherings of summer fruit” refer to the harvest of fruit that takes place in August and September in Israel.  This is ordinarily considered a time of great abundance and joy.  But from the point of view of the land itself, the once heavily laden trees and vines have all been laid bare; their bounty of fruit stripped away.  The fields and orchards appear desolate and forlorn.  No cluster of grapes remains hanging on the vines.  The first-ripe figs of springtime, considered the tastiest of all, are nowhere to be found.    

            The godly one has perished from the land,
                And the upright among man is not.
                                All of them lie in ambush for blood;
                                They hunt, each man his brother, with a net.

We now learn that the missing clusters of grapes and first-ripe figs are a poetic image pointing to the lack of decent human beings in the land.  The godly man, too, is out of season.  All now act as criminals, seeking to trap and kill their fellows.  This is an allusion to the lawless conditions and political turmoil in the land.

3              With regard to evil, both palms do well:
                                The prince asks, even the judge, for a bribe,
                                And the great speaks out the desire of his soul,
                                                And they weave it together.

One of the two “palms” of the hand are the prince (the king), who in those days also acted as a judge—here a corrupt judge.  The other is the “great” (or wealthy, influential) man, who has the power to get whatever he wants.  These two work together like a pair of malicious hands doing evil.

4a            The good one among them is like a briar;
                The upright like a thorn bush.

Even the best of the people are like dangerous thorn bushes, which are the natural groundcover in much of Israel.  Their thorns and barbs stick in your pants, socks, and shoes when you walk across the land.  Some will even sting you.

4b            The day of your watchmen [Israel],
                Your visitation, has come!
                                Now will their dismay be!

Because of the debased state of the nation, the day is upon Israel (“your” is masculine singular) when their watchmen will shout out the alarm, warning of an invading army.  But this is not a random attack:  it’s a visitation of God himself against a lawless nation.

5              Don't trust in a companion.
                Don't confide in a friend.
                                From the one lying on your bosom
                                                Guard the openings of your mouth.

The times are so dangerous that you can’t trust a friend or even a lover, but must watch carefully everything you say. 

6              For son despises father,
                                Daughter has risen up against her mother;
                                Daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
                A man’s enemies are the men of his own household.

The situation is so bad that even within families, there are divisions and dangers. This verse is directly quoted by Jesus to deny that he came to bring peace on the earth (Matt. 10:34-36, Luke 12:51-53).  Rather, he came to bring division like that in the time of Micah, as some accept and some reject his offer of mercy from God.

7             Yet I, in YHWH I will watch
                I will wait for the God of my salvation.
                                My God will hear me.

Yet in spite of all this, the land itself is faithfully looking to God to deliver it from the terrible judgment released against it because of the sins of those living on it.

8              Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,
                Though I have fallen, I have endured.
                                Though I sit in darkness,
                                YHWH is a light to me.

Though the land has fallen in defeat before its enemy, it is able to endure this time of spiritual darkness because of the illumination of the light of the LORD.

9a            The rage of YHWH I will bear,
                For I have sinned against him,
                                Until he pleads my case
                                And executes my judgment.

This raises the question of what sin the land has committed.  Or is her sin rather by association with the sinners living upon her (compare Gen. 6:11-12)?  If so, the land has taken upon itself the sins of others, an example of the innocent suffering for the wicked, the same idea that underlies the sacrificial system of Israel as well as the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  The land is willing to endure the punishment of the LORD because of the sins of its residents, waiting for God to bring deliverance.

9b            He will lead me out to the light.
                I will behold his righteousness.
10a                          And my enemy will see it
                                And shame will cover her—

In the end, God will surely deliver the land by his righteousness, just as he delivered Jesus from death, and the enemy will see it and be ashamed.

10b          The one saying to me,
                “Where is YHWH your God?”—
                                My eyes will look [in victory] at her.

The enemy mocked the land’s hope in God.  But in the end, the land will prevail over its enemy.

10c          Then she will be a place of trampling
                Like mud in the streets.
11                             A day to build your walls,
                                That day your border will be distant.

In that final victory, the enemy land will be trampled on in victory.  She will have to return home to defend herself, and as a result, her threatening border will once again be moved far away. 

12            That day will be, yet to you [Israel] he [God] is coming
                                From Assyria and the cities of Matzor [Egypt]
                                And from Matzor and to the River [Euphrates]
                                And from sea to sea, and mountain to the mountain [Jerusalem].

Yes, the enemy will one day be defeated.  But first “you” (Israel, masculine singular) are going to receive God’s judgment.  This will come at the hand of the Assyrians.  And this is exactly what happened:  the Assyrians advanced first south to Egypt (poetically here called Matzor) and then back again, leaving desolation in their wake.  “Sea to sea” is from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea; “mountain to the mountain” is from the mountains of Assyria in the north to the holy mountain of Jerusalem, which the Assyrians besieged in the lifetime of Micah, during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah.  All this is a description of the actual extent of the Assyrian expansion.

13            And the land will be a desolation
                                Because of those dwelling upon her
                                From the fruit of their deeds.

The land will be made desolate, in punishment for the sins of those living upon her. 

14            Shepherd your people [Lord] with your rod,
                The flock of your possession,
                                The one dwelling alone in a wood
                                In the midst of Carmel.

The rod is a symbol of judgment, but also of the care of the shepherd who protects his flock from danger.  This sometimes involves swatting them to get their attention:  a punishment to keep them from far greater danger.  This protective care is compared to taking a flock of sheep and goats to the forest on top of Mt. Carmel.  This was a place where people could retreat for safety in times of danger.    It’s also a picture of the remnant that would survive the Assyrian onslaught.

14b          Let them graze Bashan and Gilead
                As in days long past.
15            As in the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt,
                                I [God] will show him extraordinary things.

Here the prophet appeals to God to let his people expand once again as far as Bashan (the Golan Heights) and Gilead, both up on the heights above the east bank of the Jordan River.  These are areas that Israel had conquered in the time of Moses, when great miracles had taken place.  In response, God speaks through the prophet, revealing that he will do great miracles again.

16            Nations will see and will be ashamed
                Of all their might.
                                They will put their hand upon their mouth;
                                Their ears will be deaf.

The nations, despite their military power, will once again see God’s care of Israel, and be in awe.

17            They will lick up dust as the snake
                As the crawling things of the land.
                                They will come trembling from their fortresses
                                To YHWH our God.
                                                They will be in dread and they will be afraid of you.

 The nations will be in fear of Israel and turn to the LORD. 

18a          Who is a God like you,
                                Who forgives a transgression and
                                Who overlooks a sin
                                                For the remnant of his possession?

Who is like God, who forgives the sins of his people?

18b          He has not kept his anger forever
                For he delights in kindness.
19a                         He will repent; he will have compassion on us.
                               He will overcome our transgressions.

God will eventually have compassion on Israel, and forgive them for their sins. 

19b          And you will cast into the depths of the sea
                All their sins.

He will remove their sins completely from them.

20            You will give truth to Jacob,
                Kindness to Abraham,
                                Which you swore to our fathers
                                From the days of old. 

God will extend truth and kindness to Israel as he promised to the patriarchs of old. 

Copyright © 2022 by To The Ends Of The Earth Ministries

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