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Monday, February 29, 2016

Is there a connection between Poverty, War and Prophecy?

So much change, and nothing changes--isn't that what they say? And the world of the Old Testament seems not so different from our own world after all. The prophesies might equally apply to our own rulers, wars and peoples, rich and our poor. And the condemnation? Perhaps we'd rather just consign it to history, ignore it as someone else's problem, or put our trust in politics. Our Bible Study group will finish Micah this week and maybe venture back to Isaiah. But more importantly, we'll look at at poverty, war and prophecy--history, threat and promise--and wonder where it leads?

(18) Poverty, War, and Prophets

Micah preached in the Southern part of Judah, well away from the troubles of Israel/Samaria/Ephraim. But Israel was still God’s people, and the nations threatening Israel were threatening Judah too.

History: Tiglath Pileser of Assyria was attacking Syria, Judah and the coastal nations. Israel wants Judah to join an alliance against Assyria, but Judah refuses. Israel and Syria/Aram/Damascus attack Judah (around 740BC), carrying off captives. They return the captives when the prophet Oded points out sons and daughters of Zion can’t enslave each other. Meanwhile Ahaz of Jerusalem invites Tiglath Pileser of Assyria to help him. TP conquers all Syria’s allies along the Mediterranean coast, cutting off access to the sea. He conquers parts of Israel, deporting Israelites from Zebulun, Naphtali, and Galilee (730BC). TP puts Hoshea on the throne of Israel, but Hoshea stops paying tribute and TP’s successor, Shalmaneser, attacks, deporting the rest of the nation (2 Kings 17:6, around 720BC). Meanwhile Ahaz, becoming increasingly uncomfortable, has given all the temple and palace treasures in tribute to TP and now starts trying to imitate Assyrian worship styles in God’s temple (2 Kings 16:8,10).

Prophecy: Isaiah and Micah both prophesy the end of Israel, to be followed by the end of Judah. They both mention the birth of a child, and they’re both considered to be prophesying the coming of the Messiah. Also, they both mention end-times – the end of the world. Why might disaster, Messianic promise, and end-time prophecy all go together? Does this have any connection with modern preoccupation with end-time and dystopian fiction?

Society: The split between rich and poor has grown in both Israel and Judah up to this time. Leaders in both countries have been condemned by (faithful) prophets for not caring for the weak and needy, and for twisting the law to their advantage. Meanwhile false prophets have promised continued prosperity. Why might a split between rich and poor, lack of concern for the needy, and using God’s word to justify wrong actions (and false confidence) all go together?

War: It was called the Syro-Ephraimite war, and it was the beginning of the end of Israel’s and Judah’s power. Why might a split between rich and poor, war, and loss of power all go together.

Micah’s promise to Judah:

1.       Read Micah 4:13-5:1 A prophesy isn’t a diary so we’re unsure exactly when this is written. But who just laid siege/is laying seige to Jerusalem? Is Micah prophesying victory over Israel and Syria?

2.       Read Micah 5:2 How small was Bethlehem? And where was Bethlehem in relation to Judah and Israel?

3.       Read Micah 5:3-beginning of 5 Could this be referring to how short the siege of Jerusalem will be, to the return of the exiles taken by by Pekah, to Jesus the Good Shepherd, or to all three?

Judah will survive the Syro-Ephraimite threat, but an Assyrian threat is looming.

1.       Read Micah 5:5-6. What might seven shepherds and eight princes mean?

2.       Did Judah destroy Assyria? If not, who did, and what is this prophecy referring to?

3.       Read Genesis 10:8, 1 Chronicles 1:10, Micah 5:6 Who is Nimrod? Hebrew tradition says he built the Tower of Babel. He’s considered an ancestor of the Assyrians.

4.       Read Micah 5:7-9 Is this a prophecy of Babylonian exile, Roman exile, or Christian exile (as in being among but not of the world)?

5.       Read Micah 5:10-15. Hmmm. Do we want this prophecy to refer to us? What would it mean if it did?

In Catholic tradition, God’s lament in Micah 6:3 begins the Improperia, sung on Good Friday. The message applies to all of us. Can you paraphrase Micah 6:3-8 in a way that applies to modern Christians here and now? What about modern Christians elsewhere--what might a country lose if it imagines its history is too short?

1.       Read Micah 6:8. What is necessary for our worship to be acceptable before the Lord?

2.       Read Micah 6:13-14. What image would this convey to the listeners?

3.       Read Micah 6:15-16. Will the people expect things to fall apart, or will the end surprise them? What might this mean for us?

4.       Do you remember who Omri and Ahab were? Who might be our Omris and Ahabs?

5.       Read Micah 7:1-4 To what extent might this describe any humanly successful society?

6.       Read Micah 7:5-7 Are we really meant to “trust no one” like it says in the X-Files?

7.       Read Micah 7:8-9 What kind of confidence is Micah describing? Where do we place our trust?

8.       Read Micah 7:10-12 Is this talking about rebuilding Jerusalem after exile, restoring Israel in the present day, extended “walls” reflecting the spread of Christianity, or what?

9.       Read Micah 7:13. Does this verse alter your answer to the previous question?

Last words:

1.       Read Micah 7:14 What image would they have conveyed to listeners then? What image does it convey to you?

2.       Read Micah 7:16-17 What time do you think this refers to? Does it make you think the end-times are close at hand or far away? Does it make you want them to be close at hand or far away?

3.       Read Micah 7:18-20 Which bit of these verses has most meaning to you personally?

History:  Read 2 Chronicles 28:22. Ahaz puts his trust in other powers, rather than God. What tempts us as individuals, churches or nations to do the same?


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