While the Jerusalem Micah knew was built by blood, destined for destruction, and soaked with injustice (Micah 3:9-12), the future Jerusalem is exalted above the mountains, committed to God’s agenda for the world, and enacts peace within the world. Rather than present injustice and war, the future Jerusalem secures justice and peace. The contrasts are stark.
|Leaders despise justice.||Yahweh will arbitrate justice.|
|Leaders empower themselves through violence.||Nations will no longer train for war.|
|Leaders give false messages.||Jerusalem teaches Yahweh’s ways.|
|Jerusalem will be plowed under.||Jerusalem will be exalted above the mountains.|
|The temple will be overgrown with weeds.||Yahweh’s house will receive the nations.|
|Nations will bring disaster upon Judah||Nations will flow into Jerusalem to learn of Yahweh.|
|Injustice means economic oppression for the people.||Every person will experience prosperity.|
|Fear abounds due to injustice and war.||No one is afraid.|
Micah 4:1-5 is a classic salvation text paralleled in Isaiah 2:2-4. Who borrowed from whom or whether they were both dependent upon another source is uncertain, but it is clear that the message stands in stark contrast with the injustices of Judah and the Assyrian invasion. Both prophets, Isaiah in Jerusalem and Micah probably in rural southwest Judah, ministered in a time of injustice and war. Micah, despite the predication of Jerusalem’s destruction, envisions a time when Jerusalem will become the center of the kingdom of God that draws the nations into relationship with God. This is not the case in the present (Micah 4:5), but it is a future hope.
The picture is idyllic. Notice the elements:
- Mt. Zion is the highest mountain even though it is not now.
- Nations will come to the mountain of the Lord.
- Jerusalem will teach the nations God’s ways.
- God will arbitrarte between nations with righteous judgment.
- Nations will respond by giving up war and pursuing peace.
- Everyone will enjoy life and prosperity without fear.
The exaltation of Jerusalem attracts the attention of the nations. They come to Jerusalem for divine judgment (“shall judge between many peoples”) and God settles the disputes among the nations. The nations, in response, give up their war implements, choose agricultural production, and no longer train for war. The result is that every person will enjoy prosperity and peace because the nations no longer wage war against each other. Everyone will sit (rest, be at peace) under their own vine and fig tree, that is, they have sufficient leisure, food, and drink. This is not merely the absence of war but the actualization of peace. It is a life without fear.
When will this happen? Micah locates it in the “latter days.” Some identify this with a return from exile. But the postexilic community does not fit this description. Nations still waged war and they did not flow to Jerusalem to become disciples of Yahweh.
Others identify it with coming of Jesus into the world or the present reign of the kingdom of God in the world. One might point to Peter’s identification of the “latter days” Joel anticipated with the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost as evidence that Micah’s “latter days” are also fulfilled in this moment (Acts 2:21ff). Nations came to Jerusalem at Pentecost, God poured out the Spirit on all flesh, and the church heralded a message pf peace. In other words, if Micah 4 is fulfilled in Acts 2, then Micah 4 is a spiritualized description of the church. But does this do justice to what is said about the nations (political entities)? Do the nations no longer train for war? This does not seem to be a description of the present world, and the interpretation overspiritualizes what does not seem intended as such.
It seems best to understand Micah’s vision along the line of Isaiah’s “new heavens and new earth” vision in Isaiah 65-66 (also Isaiah 9, 11). Micah envisions a time when nations will live in peace, learn from God, and enjoy life upon the earth. Some place this in a future millennium (a limited 1000 years), but I think it belongs to the New Creation itself, the new heaven and new earth upon which the New Jerusalem will descend. There the nations will receive healing, enjoy the light of God, and live upon the new earth. This, I think, is also the vision of Isaiah. It is the description of Revelation 21-22.
However, we should not think that because this is a description of the new heaven and new earth (if indeed it is) that it has no meaning or application to our present situation. It is important to remember that our present age is the presence of the “already/not yet” kingdom of God. Even though we do not yet experience the fullness of the kingdom in the new heaven and new earth, we do experience new creation in Christ by the presence of the Spirit. We live in the present reality of the kingdom of God even though it has not yet fully arrived and fully transformed the present old creation into the fullness of the new creation. Or, another way of saying this is that we advocate and bear witness to the coming fullness of the kingdom in the present age. We live, then, as new creatures in Christ whose citizenship ilies with the kingdom of God. We live out the new creation within the old one.
What, then, might this mean in terms of this text? It seems to me that several points are pertinent.
We invite all nations to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to come learn of God. The message of the kingdom is inclusive. The kingdom of God transcends the nations and is not identified with any specific nation. There is no nationalistic exceptionalism within the kingdom of God.
We invite all nations to learn war no more. If the kingdom of God, when it has fully come, includes the destruction of weapons of war and the pursuit of peace, then if the church is the presence of the kingdom within the world it must advocate and pursue peace. The church, as the proleptic presence of the kingdom, is a peaceable kingdom; it is a reconciling and peace-making presence in the world.
We invite all nations to seek peace and prosperity without fear. The vision is that every person will have their own vine and fig-tree, that is, every one will have food and drink. Poverty is not part of the kingdom of God. Even within Israel there was to be no poverty (Deuteronomy 15; cf. 1 Kings 4:25), and the kingdom of God–when it has fully come–will rid the earth of poverty. The church, if it is the presence of the kingdom in the present, must advocate for the poor, call the nations to peaceful prosperity, and seek to develop strategies that deal with poverty upon the earth.
Micah’s kingdom vision–his new heaven and new earth vision–calls the church to live as if the future has already come, as if the fullness of the kingdom of God has already arrived. The church leans into Micah’s vision and owns it as their own.