In studying how the old testament is quoted in the new testament, every once in a while you come across one that makes you go hmmmm. In Matthew 10, as Jesus commissions the 12 disciples to preach the gospel throughout the nation of Israel, He gives them some specific instructions. In the midst of those instructions is a blatant quote of Micah 7:6. Because of the context of Micah’s prophecy as a whole, it may seem out of place to us. So the questions before us are as follows: Did Micah foresee the preaching of the twelve disciples and the results? Did Jesus change or reinterpret Micah’s original prophecy?
First, let’s look at Micah’s prophecy as a whole. This is a beautiful, picturesque book with a foreboding sense of doom for the sinful generation to whom Micah was preaching. The ironic thing is, the judgments that Micah foretold did not come within his lifetime. His preaching sparked a revival so that all of these judgments were postponed, see Jeremiah 26:16-19. The preaching is directed toward Micah’s contemporaries. “Woe to you wicked men!”, Micah 2:1. “You tell me not to preach,” Micah 2:6, “but because of you Jerusalem will be plowed like a field,” Micah 3:12. So in essence his message comes across like, “Because of you the destruction is coming.” They repented and the destruction didn’t come immediately, but the book of Lamentations documents how Jerusalem was completely decimated years later.
In spite of the judgment that is coming, there are immense blessings to be poured out. Just after Micah foretells that Jerusalem will be plowed like a field, he prophesies that in the latter days (so sometime after the judgment) the house of the LORD will be established on Mount Zion with the law going forth to all nations, Micah 4:1-3. In short, Israel is sinful but God is faithful. Micah is probably most well known for the prophecy concerning Bethlehem. Out of this little town where David was born will come the ultimate Ruler over Israel, the One who will shepherd the children of Israel. Most readers of the New Testament see this as confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah since He was born in Bethlehem. This is true, but within the context of Micah’s prophecy, it pointed more towards God’s faithfulness in the midst of Israel’s sinfulness. One day the Messiah would come forth from the little town, rule the nation of Israel, give rest and security to His brothers, and shepherd them like a flock, see Micah 5:2-5 (ending with “And He shall be their peace”). All of that is in spite of Micah’s sinful audience.
When we come to Micah 7:1-7, Micah is not foretelling of future events. He is only describing the current wickedness in the hearts of those to whom he is preaching. This is common among the prophets. They would tell the current state of affairs, and then direct a woe against them because of the rampant sinfulness. So here Micah is not predicting the future, but rather describing the present. Let’s look at verses 2-3.
The godly has perished from the earth,
And there is no one upright among mankind;
They all lie in wait for blood,
And each hunts the other with a net.
Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well;
The prince and the judge ask for a bribe,
And the great man utters the evil desire of his soul;
Thus they weave it together.
This is a vivid description of mankind in sin. This is not foretelling the future, but plainly talking about the current evils in society in Micah’s day. Many of the psalms spoke the same way. The apostle Paul quoted a good many psalms in Romans 3:10-18 to show the wickedness of mankind, see Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3, 5:9, 140:3, 10:7, 36:1, Isaiah 59:7-8. Paul’s point in quoting those psalms, and even Isaiah the prophet, was basically nothing more than, “Man is sinful and stands under condemnation.” There was nothing prophetic in the sense that it was predicting some future event. The same is true of this portion of Micah. Now let’s look at the section that is quoted by Jesus.
Put no trust in a neighbor;
Have no confidence in a friend;
Guard the doors of your mouth
From her who lies in your arms;
For the son treats the father with contempt,
The daughter rises up against her mother,
The daughter-in-law against her mother-in -law;
A man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
But as for me, I will look to the LORD;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
My God will hear me.
Here again is not a future event, but instruction for how to handle sinful conditions all around. Beware because everyone is sinful. You can’t trust a friend, a neighbor, a child, or sometimes even your own wife. The godly remnant is few in number. Verse 7 points to the fact that there are some who look to God and wait for Him. However, that godly remnant had better watch who they trust; the reason being: Mankind is that sinful.
Let’s look at Matthew 10 as a whole and then see how Jesus quotes this passage as a principle, not as a prophecy in the sense of predicting the future. Matthew names the twelve in Matthew 10:1-4 noting that he is being sent forth as The Tax Collector. The instructions of the LORD have the disciples only preaching to the nation of Israel. This preaching of the gospel of the kingdom had begun with John the Baptist as a new thing in comparison to the ministry of the law and prophets, see Matthew 11:12-13. Now Jesus and the twelve continue with the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. It’s a new thing, but some things are unchanged. The judgment will not immediately come, notice verses 14-15. If anyone rejects the message of the disciples, nothing happens immediately, but later at the judgment they will be held guilty with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Another thing to notice is the long-term scope that Jesus gives in sending out the twelve. He tells them they will appear before governors and kings. He tells them of the work of the Holy Spirit. He talks about fleeing from town to town for their very lives. Yet this period of time was short lived. The disciples came back quickly rejoicing that the devils were subject to the power that He had given them. There was no appearance before any kings, no baptism of the Holy Spirit, and no fleeing for their lives. Jesus here had been giving them over-arching principles that would apply all throughout the preaching of the gospel until the glorious coming of the Son of Man which He alludes to in verses 23, 32-33, 42.
What could the disciples expect from this preaching of the gospel of the kingdom? Would it result in the conversion of the nation of Israel? Would the kingdom come in its power and glory as they went forth to preach? No. The current arrangement of sinful mankind with a small believing remnant would not change. Some would believe, but many would remain in unbelief. A great hatred would arise toward the disciples of Jesus because of this preaching, see verse 22. (Remember that a part of this ministry was to perform miracles that would help those who needed to repent: heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out devils.) So the disciples could expect to be hated, but still needed to trust God and fear Him instead of fearing any person, see verses 26-31. Now let’s look at the passage where Jesus quotes Micah.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Jesus is giving a principle which is based on another principle. The underlying principle which Micah stated hundreds of years before is this: man is sinful so be careful who you trust even if you are in the same family. Jesus now expands on that principle as to how it relates to the preaching of the gospel. As the gospel is going forth, not all will be converted, so be careful. Some will believe and some will not. It won’t be a situation where some families [as a whole] believe and some families don’t. Many families will be split because of the decision to either repent and believe the gospel or to do nothing and stay in their sins. Now because of the presence of the Son of God, men are called to love Him more than any other family member. In the midst of divided families, the loyalty is to be with Jesus at all costs. We even have the preclusion of being a disciple without the death sentence of the cross. Losing your life (another way of saying “take up your cross”) will result in finding your life. Holding on to your life by loving your family more than Jesus, well, that’s a good way to lose your life entirely.
So in summary, Micah did not foresee the preaching of the twelve disciples. He foresaw a judgment and commanded men to repent in light of that judgment. Because of the great sinfulness of mankind Micah warned the godly remnant to be careful of whom they trusted, even family members. Did Jesus reinterpret Micah’s prophecy? No. Jesus used Micah’s principle of sinfulness in the exact same way that Micah did. Jesus expanded upon the applications because of the new revelation of the preaching of the gospel. But that does not change Micah’s prophecy or give us the authority to change it either. It is the same with Paul quoting the psalms in Romans 3. Just because Paul quoted psalms which show mankind as sinful does not mean that we can go back and reinterpret each psalm and read into it things that are simply not there. Those psalms and the rest of the law and prophets continue to speak an abundance to us just as they are, without any reinterpretation.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. This idea of divided families is a principle not a law with no exception. Some parents have the blessing of seeing all of their children become Christians. As those children grow up, get married, and have children of their own, they have the opportunity to see that same blessing in their family. However, the sinfulness of mankind will show this principle to be true to genuine followers of Jesus Christ. A man or woman who forsakes all and loves Christ more than any other family member will not be in true unity with all of his family. At that point it becomes necessary to employ this principle.