Grief and Hope
Passage: Micah 7:1–7
God is our hope beyond our unhappy endings.
What’s the most common ending we hear to a kids’ book? “And they all lived happily ever after.” After all the problems have been solved and everything is as it should be, these words wrap up the story. It’s a happy ending. Everybody loves a happy ending. We want happy endings. We want good to win against evil. We want the hero to triumph. We want the bad guys to lose. We want the story to be completed with a happy ending.
Katie’s happy ending for a movie is for the guy and the girl to get married and have babies. So she is always waiting for that and when a movie doesn’t end like that we joke and say, “But they didn’t get married and have babies!”
We love happy endings and we want happy endings, but we don’t always get happy endings for everything in life. We have situations that don’t end well. We might have relationships from our past or with family that remain broken and painful. We live today with the hurts, wounds, and scars from our past. Marriages end. Families break up. People die. Cars are totaled. Houses burn down. Jobs are lost. People get cancer, have heart attacks and strokes and miscarriages. We’ve had plans for our life that didn’t work out, parts of our stories that we wouldn’t have written for ourselves. Many unhappy endings.
Sometimes we might try our hardest to have a happy ending to something. We might do everything we can for things to end well. We might do everything right. Everything we were supposed to do, we did. We might pray and pray and pray, asking God for things to work out. But still, we didn’t get a happy ending.
What in your life has not had a happy ending? Take a moment and think about things in your life that haven’t had a happy ending
What do we do with those? How do we handle them?
Today, we are continuing our series called “Micah: Who Is a God Like You?” Micah was a prophet - a spokesperson for God, living 700 years before Jesus.
The passage we will be hearing from today is what’s called a lament. A lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. You find a lot of these in the book of Psalms. Lament psalms are one of the most common types of psalms.
Laments complain to God about a situation. Complaint is what makes them unique, but they also include confidence or trust in God. Lament is not just venting and griping. Complaining without trust is not a biblical lament. But the trust doesn’t happen after everything is better; it is expressed in the middle of everything going wrong. Often these psalms move from lament to praise for what God has done to relieve the difficult circumstances. But not every lament psalm moves to praise. There are some that just stay negative in complaint. But they are still confident in God.
When you read through the Psalms, these might be the ones that make you feel uncomfortable because they are negative and complaining. You probably don’t highlight them or post them on Facebook or buy coffee mugs or canvas prints for your wall with laments on them. But the reality is that these laments match the actual experience of our lives. This is where we live every day of our lives: in the disappointments, frustrations, pain, and suffering of a fallen world corrupt with sin. These laments were written by people who were experiencing circumstances and relationships that didn’t have happy endings and they brought it before God.
Laments teach us how to relate to God when life doesn’t go as we want. They teach us how to express our anger, sadness, and disappointment to God, even when we are angry and disappointed with God. They are God’s invitation to bring our emotions to him - even the ones that aren’t sunny and happy. They give us the words to say when we don’t know what to say, when we find ourselves sitting in the wreckage and pain of whatever has happened. When all we can seem to ask is, “why” and our pillow is wet with the tears of crying.
In Micah 7:1-7, Micah brings his grief and sorrow to God. He shows us how he is feeling. Micah didn’t get a happy ending and this passage helps us see what to do with our unhappy endings. But it also shows us Micah’s hope and confidence.
Micah’s Grief Expressed with a Fruit Metaphor (7:1)
Micah begins in verse 1 by saying “Woe is me!” We often use this phrase to make fun of people who are complaining. We say things like, “Everything is ‘woe is me’ with them.” Or when someone is complaining we say, “Oh ‘woe is me.’” But Micah uses it here to express grief and sorrow over his own situation. He is lamenting his own circumstances.
The rest of the verse says why he is in sorrow using an image:
1 Woe is me! For I have become
as when the summer fruit has been gathered,
as when the grapes have been gleaned:
there is no cluster to eat,
no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. (Micah 7:1)
He is like a vineyard or orchard owner who has worked hard to produce a harvest. But then goes out at harvest time to glean the grapes and gather the first-ripe figs that his mouth was watering to try but he finds nothing there to harvest. There’s no fruit from his labor. The plants are bare.
Fruit Metaphor Explained (7:2a)
Verse 2 explains the image:
2 The godly has perished from the earth,
and there is no one upright among mankind; (Micah 7:2a)
The vineyard and orchard represent the southern kingdom of Judah, the people to whom Micah has been preaching. The fruit represents types of people he hoped to find. What Micah hoped to find in the vineyard of God’s people were godly and upright people.
“Godly” translates the adjective version of hesed, a word we talked about last week in Micah 6:8. That important verse told us what God wanted to see in his people. It says:
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
“Kindness” is the Hebrew word hesed. It is often translated as “steadfast love” in the ESV translation. It is compassionate, loyal love to covenant partners who are in dire need. Micah wanted to find people who loved kindness, who loved hesed. He wanted to find people of compassionate, loyal love. He wanted to find faithful people. Instead, they had all perished from the earth.
He also wanted to find “upright” people. These are people of straightness, fairness, integrity, righteousness, honesty, and justice. They do right by other people. They don’t cheat other people. You can trust them. Upright people are straight instead of crooked. But Micah finds none.
Ambush and Hunting Metaphor (7:2b)
What does he find instead? The rest of the verse gives another image:
2 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. (Micah 7:2)
Micah goes out to the vineyard or orchard of God’s people to find the fruit of godly and upright people. But he finds none. Instead he finds people who are lying in wait to ambush others like thieves and criminals and setting up nets as traps like hunters.
Ambush and Hunting Metaphor Explained (7:3)
Verse 3 explains this image:
3 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. (Micah 7:3)
What Micah finds in his nation are people who are good at doing evil. Both their hands are set to work on it, meaning they are giving their full effort to it. The prince and judge who are supposed to be upholding justice, taking care of the people, and leading are instead asking for a bribe. They are being paid off and corrupting justice. They are filling their own pockets. The great man - leaders, the powerful, those with influence - utters the evil desire of his soul. They want evil things and they are talking about it. They are planning and plotting how to get what they want. Thus, he says, they weave it together.
Micah sees a bunch of people acting like bandits in the bushes plotting an ambush. He sees a bunch of people going out like hunters with nets to catch their prey. And the victims of these bandits and hunters are the very people they are supposed to be protecting and helping. They are plotting against their own countrymen to fulfill their own evil desires.
Brier and Thorn Hedge Metaphor (7:4b)
Verse 4 gives his final image for what he finds:
4 The best of them is like a brier,
the most upright of them a thorn hedge. (Micah 7:4a)
Micah pictures himself as the owner of a vineyard or an orchard. He’s worked hard for it to produce fruit. He’s preached his heart out. He’s delivered the hard words that God called and empowered him to deliver. He has told them that they’ve turned from God and if they don’t turn back, there’s going to be disaster. He has addressed the elephant in the room. But when it comes time for harvest, he walks out to the vineyard and finds none of the fruit he desired to see. Instead of finding sweet grapes and figs, he finds prickly briers, a hedge of thorns.
He had hoped people would turn from their ways. He wanted to find people who were now godly and upright, taking care of the people, upholding justice, lifting up the needy and vulnerable. But instead, what he found were hedges of thorn bushes. He found people who were obstacles and barriers to justice. He found people who were prickly and piercing, ensnaring, wounding, and tearing their victims with their tangled mess of spikiness. If you are looking for mercy or sympathy, you will only find them to be hard and piercing.
The Day of Their Watchmen Has Come (7:4b-6)
Because this is what Micah finds, he speaks to them directly to tell them the consequences in the second half of verse 4.
The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come;
now their confusion is at hand. (Micah 7:4b)
“Watchmen” were lookouts posted on city walls to watch for approaching danger. Often this word was used as a metaphor for the prophets. They were like watchmen on the wall of the nation, watching for approaching danger. Micah and the other prophets of his day like Isaiah had warned of the approaching danger. If they didn’t turn back to God, a foreign nation would come in, destroy Jerusalem, and take them into exile from the land. Micah says that that day has come. It will be a day of confusion: chaos, disorder, unrest, and panic.
He gives them commands in verse 5:
5 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; (Micah 7:5)
Basically he tells the people not to trust anyone. Don’t trust your neighbor, don’t trust your friend, don’t even trust your wife. Why? Verse 6 tells us:
6 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. (Micah 7:6)
These are violations of the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). Micah summarizes by saying “a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” The people they should be able to rely on for safety and security are the ones from whom they need to protect themselves. The basic message is: don’t trust anyone because everyone is an enemy, even the people closest to you that you should be able to trust the most. The attitude of self-interest that characterizes the leaders has infected the people as well. When their punishment comes, there will be no one to turn to for comfort because everyone will just be out for themselves. Everyone lives selfishly out of self-interest and self-protection.
Micah gave his life to turning this nation around. He preached the hard words God gave him to say. He mourned over the state of his country and its fate if they didn’t change. They had become a nation of corrupt leaders who don’t take care of the people and people who don’t take care of each other. Justice was absent. The sweet fruit of kindness, mercy, and compassion were nowhere to be found. Instead there were a bunch of prickly thorn bushes, poking, scratching, biting and devouring one another.
This is why Micah says “woe is me”. He gave his life to what God told him to do. He didn’t hold back. But in the end, he didn’t see a change in the people he preached to, prayed for, and cried over. This is his complaint. He laid his life down in service to doing God’s will and has nothing to show for it. The people didn’t change. Disaster will still come upon the nation. They’ll be taken into exile.
Micah Watches and Waits for the Lord to Save (7:7)
That’s Micah’s grief and complaint. Verse 7 shows us Micah’s hope and confidence:
7 But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7)
Micah contrasts himself with everyone else: “But as for me.” He isn’t going to be like them. When the punishment comes, he is going to act differently than them. He refuses to be dragged down into this mess where people are biting and devouring one another to survive or get ahead.
He says he will look to the LORD. The word “look” here is the same word as “watchmen” in verse 4 only here it is in verb form. “Watchmen” watch. Micah has not left his post. The image he is using is that he was on the wall of the city as a watchman telling the people of the disaster coming and they didn’t listen. But now that it’s here, everyone down below will be fighting one another to survive. But he will still be on the wall watching. He will look to the Lord.
Micah says he will wait for the God of his salvation. He is confident that God will hear him. God is going to come through for him. The rest of the chapter is going to show us what Micah is waiting for God to do. It gives us a picture of the kind of salvation he has in mind: those who remain faithful to God can expect their gracious and faithful God to restore them.
Micah did everything God told him to do and he didn’t get to see the fruit he wanted to see. He went to the vineyard and found no grapes. He went to the orchard and found no figs. There was no fruit. Micah did everything he was supposed to do but he didn’t get the outcome he wanted. He preached his heart out and gave decades of his life to this. It would have been great if the nation would have turned back to God and he would have been credited with starting a revival, his face on the front page of the papers. But that’s not what happened. Micah is living with an unhappy ending. Even though we are reading the book of Micah now and paying attention to him, the people of Micah’s day largely ignored him. He was not popular. This was true of all the prophets. People didn’t like them or listen to them.
What does Micah’s story show us about our own lives? Doing what God asks us to do doesn’t mean it will always turn out well. Success for Micah wasn’t turning the nation of Israel around through his preaching. Success is obedience to God. Success is faithfulness. Success is doing what God has told us to do.
There’s a version of Christianity that leaves no room for passages like this. It’s a version of Christianity that has been infected with the American dream. The American dream says that you can be anything you want to be. If you want to be something, you just have to set your mind to it. The sky's the limit.
When we create an American dream version of Christianity, we have a Christianity that says that if you just believe enough, you will get what you want. It says that the good news is if you have God in your life, you will have a life of earthly health, wealth, success, and blessing. Your dreams will come true if you just believe. This is commonly called the prosperity gospel.
Let me tell you clearly: this is completely against Scripture. This Americanized version of Christianity - the prosperity gospel - is false. It does not fit with what we see in the teachings of the Bible or with what the people of the Bible experienced. Many experienced unhappy endings. God is not a genie who grants us our every wish if we just believe enough. This version of Christianity leaves no room for lament.
The question is: can we live with a God who doesn’t give us everything we want or desire? Do we still want him even if that’s the case? Will we obey even if it means pain and disappointment? Will we do what’s right even if others won’t respond rightly to it? Will we do his will even if it means suffering and rejection?
It’s not going to be easy and the laments of Scripture give us permission to bring that reality to God. They invite us to practice honesty with God. In talking about lament, one of my seminary professors said intimacy with God has its privileges; not just anyone can speak this way to God (Magary). God welcomes our complaints. He has an open door policy on grievances. When we think he has done us wrong, when we are sick and tired of the way things are, we can go to him. In fact, going to him is the best thing we can do. That’s what biblical laments tell us. They give us the words to say to continue a relationship with God when we feel we’ve been mistreated by him or that he has mismanaged our life. They provide the path to reconciliation when we feel hurt.
What unhappy endings do you have? What has not turned out as you wanted it? Tried your hardest and got nothing. What can you do with it? Here are three things.
First, grieve it. What did you lose? What loss did you experience? What did you desire that you didn’t get? Or what was taken? Express it to God. Grieve it. Mourn it. Let other people into it.
We usually have two different extremes when it comes to our feelings: feelings are evil or feelings are everything. We either stuff them thinking any emotion is bad or we bow down to them as our ultimate guide and we don’t question them or let anyone else question them. A middle way is to pray your feelings. Make them part of your relationship with God - bring them to him.
The Bible contains laments, even in its book of worship, the Psalms. Lament is a way to worship God! God is telling us that he is ok with people expressing their grief to him and is even honored by it. He’s even telling us he’s ok with people being mad at and disappointed with him! We should be ok with it too. God can handle it.
Second, know that Jesus is with you in it. He is with you, he feels with you, he feels for you. Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us that Jesus is our high priest who sympathizes with us so we can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence.
Micah is a spokesperson for God so in a way he is expressing God’s heart. God wanted to find fruit too. Jesus expressed the words of verse 6 about the people in his day. And he weeps over Jerusalem. Jesus, the Son of God, shows us God’s heart. Jesus lamented when he found things not as they were supposed to be.
God did not stay distant from our pain, suffering, and affliction. There’s a book I read this summer about a pastor who lived in the 4th and 5th century named Augustine. In one of the chapters, the author addressed Augustine’s answer to the problem of evil. God doesn’t give an answer to evil like it’s an intellectual problem to be solved or explained; he gives a response. He says this:
“In sermons, what is offered is not an ‘answer’ to evil, as if it were merely a problem or question; instead, what is offered is a vision of the gracious action of God, who takes on evil. The cross of Christ - the incarnate God - is the site of a cosmic inversion where all that is not supposed to be is absorbed by the Son, taken to the depths of hell, and vanquished by the resurrection. Evil isn’t answered; it is overcome…God doesn’t abstractly solve a ‘problem’; God condescends to inhabit and absorb the mess we’ve made of the world.”(On the Road with Saint Augustine, 185-186)
Jesus lived a perfect life. He did the perfect will of God. He did everything right. But he experienced the most pain and suffering of us all. He had the most unhappy unending, even though he did all that God asked him to do. He can understand what we are going through. Jesus lamented during his ministry and he lamented on the cross. The point is that God not only invites us to come to him with our pain: he entered into ours.
Third, what hope does God give you beyond this? If I were to sum up this passage with a big idea it would be this: God is our hope beyond our unhappy endings. God gives us hope beyond our current circumstances. God will put an end to unhappy endings. Our unhappy endings aren’t the end of the story. Our unhappy endings aren’t the end of our happiness. How do we know that? Because Jesus has already lived the worst unhappy ending we should have and has come out the other side. Jesus is the guarantee of our better future.
There are many psalms that express hope because of. It’s hope because of what God has done. Laments are often hope in spite of: even though everything is a mess, God is still on the throne. The confidence of laments is “hope in spite of”.
In the midst of our pain, in the midst of our disappointment, in the midst of the mess and brokenness and suffering we find ourselves in, we can hold onto God by saying: God, in spite of all that is going on, I know you are on the throne; God, in spite of this being a complete mess, I believe you are in control; God, in spite of the pain I’m in, I believe you are good.
Whatever you wrote down for your “unhappy endings”, write “in spite of” over the top of it and below it write “I look to God.”
Our world doesn’t know how to deal with its emotions. We’ve seen many protests this past year, which are in one way a form of public lament. They are voicing a complaint about the current circumstances. They aren’t a biblical lament because they aren’t a complaint expressed to God and don’t express confidence in God.
We’ve seen this past year how many of those go bad. People take matters into their own hands. They turn into riots with looting, violence, and destruction. We saw this happen at our own capital this past week as people marched to those their disapproval of the election.
We need to be a community that shows the world how to lament - how to deal with sadness, disappointment, anger. No matter how we feel, we don’t not take matters into our own hands in a violent and destructive way.
As a community, we are called to weep with those who weep. We are called to lament together. We are called to grieve with one another when we experience loss. But we have a hard time sitting in someone else’s pain and misery. We want to pull them out of it. We feel uncomfortable so we want to help them stop feeling like that. Or we even think they shouldn’t be. We might change the topic. Or we try to help them look on the bright side or see the silver lining. We look for the reason God has them going through it. Or I hear this line a lot, “at least you…”
We need to learn to lament together and be with each other in our difficult emotions and show the world how to deal with them when life doesn’t go as we want it to.