September 07, 2021 Marc Sims

Fear God (Micah 1:2-16)

Fear God (Micah 1:2-16)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/802276--fear-god


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What weighs on your mind? What tends to generate the most anxiety in you?
  2. What is the "fear of the Lord"? Is the "fear of the Lord" something you feel like you rightly understand?
  3. Which of three aspects of the fear of the Lord (grandeur, gravity, and goodness) do you feel like you need more of in your life to rightly "fear the Lord"?


Sermon Manuscript:


What weighs on your mind? What generates the deepest sense of unease and worry within you? There are many things we can be anxious about today, from things as small as that minor house project we have been putting off or the phone call we need to make, to things as big as what our children’s future looks like or whether or not we are going to be able to pay our bills next month. Further, it seems like the wider world is just a firestorm of anxiety—from covid, to school starting, to government mandates, to climate disasters, to global conflict—it feels like what we have to worry about just keeps increasing.


Which, in a way, is confusing—we are safer, healthier, and have more creature comforts today than any generation that has ever existed. Yet, we are more terrified, more fearful, and more anxious than ever before. When we read accounts of past generations we never see the same kind of depression, meaninglessness, and profound anxiety that are hallmarks of our generation. Which is amazing considering the suffering and hardships they endured—no one in this room is worried whether or not our children will survive past infancy or worried that violent marauders are going to pillage our city. So why are we so consumed by anxiety? Why does everyone that you talk to feel stressed out, worried, and stretched thin emotionally?


Proverbs 28:1 tells us, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Irrational fear is what marks the wicked, but courage is the hallmark of the righteous. Courage like a young David who sees Goliath taunting and mocking the living God and sees all the armies of Israel trembling in fear, but still says: “Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” (1 Sam 17:32). David is just a youth and Goliath is a giant who is wielding a sword roughly the size of David—not even the most experienced soldier in Israel is willing to face him! How does David do this? 


The fear of the Lord. I am convinced that what grounds a Christian’s courage and tames all other fears is the fear of the Lord. What do I mean by that? I don’t mean that David simply saw God as a bigger Goliath than Goliath and was afraid of what God would do to him if he didn’t go fight Goliath, so that David was basically being propelled by the same fear that paralyzed everyone else from fighting Goliath, only coming from heaven instead of the Philistine battle lines. No, in the Bible the fear of the Lord is an awareness of the grandeur, gravity, and goodness of God. David is confident that the God He serves is more awesome and terrifying than this Philistine before Him and that this God is ultimately for David—it is that kind of righteous, liberating, happy fear in God that quells David’s fear of Goliath and gives him courage.


Friend, there is so much today that you can be tempted to be fearful of. The fear of the Lord is what we need to deliver us from all our other fears. In the first chapter of Micah God is going to reveal His grandeur, His gravity, and His goodness, He is going to reveal why we should fear the Lord.


Hear, you peoples, all of you;

pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,

and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,

the Lord from his holy temple.

3 For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,

and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.

4 And the mountains will melt under him,

and the valleys will split open,

like wax before the fire,

like waters poured down a steep place.

5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob

and for the sins of the house of Israel.

What is the transgression of Jacob?

Is it not Samaria?

And what is the high place of Judah?

Is it not Jerusalem?

6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,

a place for planting vineyards,

and I will pour down her stones into the valley

and uncover her foundations.

7 All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,

all her wages shall be burned with fire,

and all her idols I will lay waste,

for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,

and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.

8 For this I will lament and wail;

I will go stripped and naked;

I will make lamentation like the jackals,

and mourning like the ostriches.

9 For her wound is incurable,

and it has come to Judah;

it has reached to the gate of my people,

to Jerusalem.

… 16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,

for the children of your delight;

make yourselves as bald as the eagle,

for they shall go from you into exile.

-       Micah 1:2-9, 16


The Grandeur of God


Micah opens with an alarming and terrifying depiction of God:


Hear, you peoples, all of you;

pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,

and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,

the Lord from his holy temple. 

For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,

and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.

And the mountains will melt under him,

and the valleys will split open,

like wax before the fire,

like waters poured down a steep place.” – Micah 1:2-4


God begins His prophetic word to Micah with a summons for all peoples to heed. Despite the fact that God is going to be address Israel specifically in Micah 1, He wants all the nations of the earth to hear. God’s judgment is for Israel’s sins, but the judgment is for them participating in the sins of the nations—so it serves as a sobering warning. If this is how God judges His chosen people, how much more severely will He treat other nations for doing likewise? 


God describes Himself here as sitting on His cosmic throne in His heavenly temple, laying out a charge against the inhabitants of the earth. But He rises from His throne and descends down to earth to bring judgment.


Imagine you create a detailed wax model of a mountain range and valley, complete with trees, rocks, and rivers. Then imagine you put on gloves and grab a long, thick steel rod that has been sitting in the hot coals of a fire for the past hour, and slowly lower it on top of that little wax model. What would happen? This is what is going to happen to all of creation when God descends and reveals His glory in its totality. It’s as if God’s holiness radiates so intensely that the elements themselves combust and melt, that the biggest and grandest and seemingly most permanent objects in creation—mountains—turn into puddles at His presence. This is what happens when God reveals Himself in the fullness of His glory. The “high places” were the locations where Israel, following the pagan nations, had erected places of pagan worship for false gods. It is these places that God is going to trample upon, melting the very hills upon which the altars stand upon. This is a dramatic way for God to reveal that He, not any other pretender, is the real God.


In all of this we are struck by the sheer grandeur, the bigness, the glory of God. And it is this massive, mighty, tremendous vision of God that is precisely what we need. The most psychologically healthy people alive are those who have been pulled out of themselves by some great and grand cause or thing to which they devote their life to. Conversely, the most miserable and anxious people are those who are turned inward, vain people who love themselves most and are desperate to preserve their comfort. This, of course, is because God made us to glorify Him, to behold Him and all His beauty; sin turns us inward upon ourselves, but God beckons us to look outward. 


When God has been so dehydrated and miniaturized down to a Happy-Meal toy of affirmation and well-wishing and patting us on the back, then its no wonder we would be terrified of what our boss is going to say or what our friends are going to think of us. Those things carry a lot of emotional heft, the mental fabric of our mind sinks and tugs under the weight of those things, but God? God is feather-light. Our minds are not consumed with God the way we are consumed with what other people think of us or our fears about what tomorrow may bring—God is the afterthought, if He is thought of at all. But Micah 1 jams a stick into the bicycle spokes of that kind of thinking. Micah 1 presents a picture of God with titanic weight and cosmic grandeur—what seems most permanent and invincible in life melts like water in His presence.  And when we see God this way, with this heft, the weight of Him makes everything else seem dinky in comparison. Even our own sense of ourselves feels miniscule and tiny—not because we have a problem with low self-esteem or self-hatred, but you just aren’t thinking about yourself when you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or look up at the Milky Way. That kind of self-forgetfulness is one of the most psychologically healthy characteristics we can ever have.


John Calvin writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.” I wonder how many of our fears would greatly reduce and seem less all-consuming if we regularly were reminding ourselves of the sheer grandeur of God.


The Gravity of God


The next verse in Micah reminds us that God is not only grand, but also a God who takes evil gravely. Look at verses 5-7:


All this is for the transgression of Jacob

and for the sins of the house of Israel.

What is the transgression of Jacob?

Is it not Samaria?

And what is the high place of Judah?

Is it not Jerusalem?

6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,

a place for planting vineyards,

and I will pour down her stones into the valley

and uncover her foundations.

7 All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,

all her wages shall be burned with fire,

and all her idols I will lay waste,

for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,

and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.

-       Micah 1:5-7


Verse 5 explains that the mountain-melting arrival of God in verses 2-4 are a response to Israel’s sin. I wonder how many eyebrows were raised when Micah got to this part of his prophecy? Verse 2 made it sound like God was coming to judge the nations, the non-Jews, but here at verse 5 Micah explains that it is actually the transgression of Jacob, the sins of Israel. Further, he hones in on the two capitals of the northern and southern kingdoms: Samaria and Jerusalem. The northern kingdom, which was just known as Israel, had abandoned God earlier than the southern kingdom, known as Judah, but Judah was quickly catching up to Israel (see vs. 9). 


Samaria and Jerusalem were the religious and cultural centers of the nation—this was where the important people did important, sophisticated things. Cities themselves have a sense of grandeur and an illusion of permanence. If you walk around Manhattan or Seattle or London you can feel a sense of awe at the sheer size of everything, at the accomplishments of mankind. But it is these epicenters, Samaria and Jerusalem, where God’s judgment is coming. Perhaps it is Samaria and Jerusalem (both of which were situated on top of hills) that God was referring to when he spoke of mountains melting in His presence.


Here we are told that God is going to plow Samaria like a field, all the precious stones that erected the walls and buildings that gave its inhabitants its sense of security and permanence will be poured down (see ‘poured down’ in vs. 4). Why is God doing this? It is because of her idolatry, her spiritual prostitution where she has thrown herself into the proverbial arms of another lover, another god. A few weeks ago we looked at Ezekiel 16 and the way that God understood his people’s rebellion to not simply be a violation of rules, but a perverse kind of spiritual adultery that elicited God’s wrath and judgment. Which means that God takes sin personally. He isn’t a school principle handing out demerits for students breaking the dress code; He is a spouse who has been cheated on.


Friends, this tells us that God takes sin seriously. God is not morally mushy; He is not permissive or lenient because His conscience is guilty from His own sins too. His righteousness is as clear as the morning and as unyielding as iron. The world tries to tell us that our sin is normal and righteousness is strange; our flesh tells us that what is forbidden is desirable, and what is commanded is exhausting; Satan tells us that if we indulge in this secret sin, no one will ever find out and there won’t be any consequences. The seductive woman in Proverbs says to the passerby, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant,” (Prov 9:17). What is forbidden is made to look attractive, until the next verse reveals the deadly reality: “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol,” (Prov 9:18). 


There is no such thing as secret sin—God sees everything you do, and everything will be revealed. And there is no such thing as sin without consequences. Don’t be fooled— you should desire sin the way cattle desires the slaughterhouse. Israel thought that their status as the God’s covenant people gave them a license to sin, to love and trust in other things more than God, to lie about God, to abuse and take advantage of the poor and oppressed, all while believing that they were blessed by God and so be spared of any judgment. But in verses 10-15 God goes through Israel naming specific cities and towns that are going to be destroyed because of their sin, before concluding with verse 16: 


Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,

for the children of your delight;

make yourselves as bald as the eagle,

for they shall go from you into exile.

-       Micah 1:16


God’s people will be carted off to exile for their unrepentant sin, just as the curse of the covenant detailed (Deut 28). And that is exactly what happened. Assyria came in and totally decimated Israel and carried them off into exile as prisoners, and not long after, Babylon did the same thing to Judah. God does not make empty threats. And I wonder if one of the reasons that God does not weigh more heavily on our minds is because we believe that really there is no moral weight to God. He is a kind of senile grandparent who doesn’t really care about how we behave, but just likes to see us on the weekends. But friends, God is holy, which means He loves what is good and hates what is bad and always will do what is just and right.


These two truths, the grandeur of God and the gravity of God should drive all of us to Jesus. Jesus is the remedy to our great problem of our sinfulness and God’s holiness. Jesus Christ and His work to die on the cross and raise again to new life is the answer. At the cross Jesus took the penalty for our sins and absorbed into Himself the judgment that our sins deserved so you and I could be saved. And whoever is listening to me, wherever you are spiritually, this is what you need.


Are you not a Christian? Come to Jesus. It is by Jesus alone, not your good deeds or nice living or even religious efforts that you will be saved. Picture the weight of your sin like a great boulder you are carrying, bring that to Jesus and heave it over onto Him to carry. His death is enough to pay the debt of your sin so that you can be spared from judgment.


Are you a Christian weighed down with a guilty conscience over sin? Friend, come to Jesus and confess your sin, and repent of it. Everyone who follows Jesus still struggles with sin, but we do not live by sin, we turn from it. Don’t hide, don’t think you can outwit God. Walk in the light, confess your sins, trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.


The Goodness of God


Micah, before listing off the cities about to experience God’s judgment, explains:


For this I will lament and wail;

I will go stripped and naked;

I will make lamentation like the jackals,

and mourning like the ostriches.

For her wound is incurable,

and it has come to Judah;

it has reached to the gate of my people,

to Jerusalem.  

-       Micah 1:8-9


Micah laments and weeps over the judgment of God. He strips himself naked and wails aloud like a beast, dramatically crying over the judgment to come. At first glance this looks like God has poured out His judgment and Micah is heartbroken over what God has done—as in, God has just done something that Micah feels is too much, too harsh. This subtly perpetuates the idea that God in the Old Testament is cranky and cruel, pouring out judgment indifferently on sinners, and Micah is left heartbroken at the callousness of God. But we have to remember that the entire book of Micah is itself a “word of the Lord that came to Micah” (Micah 1:1), including this lamentation and weeping. Micah’s dramatic tears are themselves a revelation from God that He wanted to communicate to His people. Which tells us that Micah alone isn’t heartbroken—but so is God. God isn’t happy to judge His people the way He is happy to save them. 


We see this in the book of Ezekiel:


“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ez 18:23).


We also see this in Lamentations:


“…though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lam 3:32-33).


God is not delighting in the death of the wicked, He isn’t laughing about afflicting men. It does not give God “pleasure”; He does not afflict “from his heart.” The puritan Thomas Goodwin points out that God’s justice here is therefore his “strange work” whereas His mercy is His “natural work.” All throughout the Bible we are told that God is “provoked to anger,” but never are we told that God is “provoked to love.” Thus, God’s anger requires provocation; His love never does, it flows freely from who He is. So, as God pronounces His judgment here in Micah, He does so with tears and weeping.


I can’t help but think of Jesus Himself in Matthew 23. There Jesus pronounces a series of judgments on the religious teachers of the day, chastising them for their false religion and hypocrisy, ignoring God while simultaneously using God for their own vanity. Here we find Jesus’ strongest language in all of the gospels, literally cursing the Pharisees and calling down judgment upon them. But, immediately afterwards, Jesus walks outside of Jerusalem and looks at it and breaks down and weeps: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37).


What is God’s heart towards you? Is He sitting in Heaven just waiting to fry you? Can He not wait to just flush you down the toilet of judgment? No, not at all. God is good, friends. God loves you. His heart is broken over your brokenness and rebellion. Come to Him, the God who will judge you is the God who would much rather save you.


Friend, here is what I am trying to do with this sermon: I am trying to recalibrate your heart to see that God—not covid, not our government, not your family, not your tiredness—should be the weightiest reality to you. Or, to use a more Biblical term, I want you to fear God. It is when you fear God that you are set free from other fears and can become bold without becoming arrogant and become cautious without becoming cowardly. To fear God we need to see the sheer grandeur of God, the moral gravity of God in light of our sin, and the goodness of God displayed in His heart towards us. When you realize that God is big, powerful, holy, and for you, everything else in life will begin to feel less terrifying.