For this I will lament and wail; I will go barefoot and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches. For her wound is incurable. It has come to Judah; it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem. Tell it not in Gath, weep not at all; in Beth-leaphrah roll yourselves in the dust. Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir, in nakedness and shame; the inhabitants of Zaanan do not come forth; Beth-ezel is wailing and shall remove its support from you. For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good, yet disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem. Harness the steed to the chariots, inhabitants of Lachish; it was the beginning of sin to daughter Zion, for in you were found the transgressions of Israel. Therefore you shall give parting gifts to Moresheth-gath; the houses of Achzib shall be a deception to the kings of Israel. I will again bring a conqueror upon you, inhabitants of Mareshah; the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam. Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair for your pampered children; make yourselves as bald as the eagle for they have gone from you into exile.
For all of us there are times when we need to try to understand or accept hard things and find a way to express overwhelming feelings. Some people find wisdom in painting or music or meditation or a walk in a quiet place; all are ways to pray. For others, poetry (either reading or writing it) is the way to find meaning in events. Working with words, grasping them, wrestling with them, shaping them, can finally lead to understanding and release.
Micah is a poet. His oracle of judgement on the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem is written in a poetic form; it is a powerful and emotive lament. He expresses his grief in graphic terms, and we hear howling anguish (lamentation like the jackals) when he reflects on the destruction of Samaria.
The poet pictures the advancing Assyrian army travelling from the southwest towards Jerusalem, razing the towns and villages on their route. He lists the communities that will be destroyed, and warns each one of what is to come. These are Micah’s own people: he has known these places all his life. He came from Moresheth-Gath. Perhaps his own family would eventually join the groups of homeless travellers who fled to Jerusalem, where they might find refuge for a time, if they got there before the Assyrians laid siege to the city …
Micah believes that disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem as punishment for the sins of the cities: their corruption, their failure to uphold justice for the poor. He makes this very plain. In the 21st Century we still have corruption and injustice, blatant and unrepentant, creating conflict and forced migration. Are we as forthright as Micah in pointing to this inevitable link in every way we can? We can find in music or meditation, in painting or poetry, praying and preaching, in living and loving, ways to see and share the truth. It will make us free.
Straggling lines of refugees carrying their lives in a bundle, nowhere safe to go; Rich folk needing bonuses to supplement their tax breaks, fund the second home: Lord have mercy. Frightened, hungry, silenced child on a cold unwelcoming shore finding no warm embrace; Innocent children pestering, Will Santa bring an i-Pad? They’ve all got one but me … Christ have mercy. Everyday clichés of injustice: God of love and justice, peace and joy, Give us wisdom to understand and courage to speak and vision to act. Lord have mercy on us all. Amen
The Rev’d Heather Pencavel is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.