And in the end of days, the mountain of the house of YHWH
will be established on the top of the mountains
and it will be raised up higher than the hills.
And people will flow into it.
Many nations will walk into it and will say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHWH
unto the house of the God of Jacob
that the Lord may teach us the Lord’s ways
and that we may walk in God’s paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law
and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem.
God will judge between many peoples
and will render judgment for mighty far-off nations
so that they will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears to pruning hooks.
Nations will not lift up swords against one another
and they will not learn war again.
But each person will sit under their vine and under their fig tree
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of YHWH of hosts has spoken.
For all of the peoples will walk, in the name of their own god
but we shall walk in the name of YHWH our God forever and ever.
Micah lived in a small, pastoral village called Moresheth about twenty miles from Jerusalem. In the Eighth Century BCE, the Kingdom of Judah was experiencing an economic revolution that brought the growth of vast estates and the collapse of small family farms. Yet at the same time as their economic prosperity, the tiny nation of Judah was also living under threat of foreign military powers. They had seen the Northern kingdom fall to Assyria and King Hezekiah was trying to grow Judah’s military power, which included turning Moresheth into a military and administrative outpost of Jerusalem. Micah saw life in his small-town change dramatically and knew first-hand how the overbearing policies of the political, social, and religious leaders of his time affected peasants like him.
Micah was a prophet of the marketplace, concerned with economic and social ethics. He declared his opposition to the violence of war and its devasting economic implications for his fellow farmers. Because when you spend tax dollars on war, you can’t spend them on feeding the hungry. Micah preached words of judgment and salvation, of hope and lament. He railed against the injustices he saw in his community and nation, but he also preached hope for the future. The hope that he prophesied sprung forth from ground soaked in militarism, fear of violent superpowers, and economic tension that Micah’s neighbors were experiencing.
Militarism, fear of violence, and economic anxiety are problems our country also knows well. Our country has been at war for 65% of my life. We have been at war for so long that many people have forgotten we are a country at war. Our lives go on as we deal with our daily anxieties and problems and so we forget the rapidly growing national debt, the absence of an exit strategy, and most importantly, the lives that have been devastated in the last 17 years of war. Because while perhaps you and I can forget the fact that we have been at war nearly two decades, there are people who live like Micah of Moresheth. Their lives have been turned upside down by militarism.
They are the 6920 Americans families who are grieving the loss of their brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. They are the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the name of “enduring freedom.” They are the Iraqi and Afghani people whose hometowns were invaded for the sake of their safety and security. They are the thousands of military personnel who have “learned war” in the name of peace.
I didn’t really understand what it meant to “learn war” until my brother joined the US Coast Guard and went through basic training. For 8 weeks of hell, he learned how to stand, how to fight, how to shoot, and how to speak. Everything about his life was retrained to the military’s standards. He was there to learn how to save lives, which he undoubtedly will do in his career of military service but make no mistake—he was also there to learn war. He is now a part of the United States Military complex, one that cost us $523 billion dollars last year. And now I am also tied to this system in ways I hadn’t been before, as I watch my brother serve in a complicated, flawed, and massive military.
I suspect this is what Micah felt when he watched his hometown get enveloped by the Judean Militaristic Complex. Fears of violence and war lurked in the back of everyone’s minds—when they worked and when they rested, when they went up to the temple to worship and when they returned home to a town they no longer recognized.
This prophecy of hope in Micah 4 is of a day, perhaps far in the future, of the establishment of the Lord’s house. Now, the ancient Hebrews quite literally thought of time differently than we do. They thought humanity experiences time like a rower of a boat who moves forward into the future by facing backward. You can only reach your goal by taking your bearings from what is visible in front of you, which is history. Micah sees humanity moving toward a day of peace, not by looking forward to the unknown path of how we get there, but by looking backward at what God has already revealed.
As much as our lives as Americans have been defined by military strength, the collective identity of the Israelites was even more so. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh is described as a “man of war.” Throughout Exodus, Judges, and the book of Samuel and Kings, God provided victory in battle. God literally fought on Israel’s side in battle. They understood this to mean that God was physically present on the battlefield and also in the war camp. This meant that the camp and field were holy ground and surrounded by the same concern about ritual purity as the temple itself. When God was on their side, warfare was an act of worship.
Warfare had been ritualized and celebrated, much like our elaborate displays of patriotism at sporting events, parades, and holidays. God bless the troops and God bless America. We believe that God is fighting on our side. So, you can imagine, the shock of this prophecy for those who heard it for the first time. The future is not of a military victory to end all victories with Yahweh leading the charge, it’s of a house of God in the mountains. Everyone, from all nations near and far, friends and foes, will stream to God’s house to learn God’s laws, and to walk in God’s paths. From Zion will come torah- the law and instruction. God will not be a military commander, but a judge who peacefully settles disagreements, even among mighty nations.
With God as the judge, there is no need for warfare. What then, to do with the weapons of war? With the more than 270 million firearms in our country? What then? They are no longer needed, but that does not make them irredeemable weapons of destruction. Instead, they will be turned into plowshares and pruning hooks. What was once used to harm, is now used to bring life in the garden. Young men will not have to leave home to learn the art of war but instead will learn how to bring life from the ground. The gardener will replace the solider.
This vision is also found in Isaiah, but Micah adds verse 4, that every one shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. This verse has held deep meaning for countless people in the thousands of years since it was first uttered, including for George Washington, as fans of the musical Hamilton know. It was a traditional Israelite saying that foretells a very particular kind of peace: security in possession of one’s own land for long enough for vines to produce fruit.
“And no one shall make them afraid.” I can’t get over that line, and not just because I’ve listened to the Hamilton soundtrack a few hundred times. Who has made you afraid? Can you imagine a world without them? Is that even possible?Is it possible for parents of black children to imagine a country where they do not fear for their children’s lives at the hands of the police? Is it possible to imagine a future where undocumented people do not fear the unmerciful hands of ICE around the corner? Is it possible for women to imagine a world where they do not fear being alone with a strange man?
No one shall make them afraid. This is not just a promise that God will judge fairly, but that fellow humans will not pose a threat. As much as I long for a world where I am no longer afraid, I also long for a world where I do not make anyone afraid. My embodiment as a white woman in America is a literal, bodily threat to people of color who have been lynched for being in the presence of those with my complexion. I think of Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 because of a white woman’s lies. How many black women have been raised to fear what a white woman’s words might do to them? How many relationships have been destroyed, or never allowed to begin in the first place, because of fear and hatred of one another? I long for the day when the paradigm of victim and victimizer will be no more. When oppression does not enslave both the oppressed and the oppressor, for no one is free until we are all free.
Micah’s prophetic words would have been as radical to the ancient Israelites as they are to us today. No military… at all? Even a US President once called this vision “weakness” for the promised end of days does not make sense to those in power. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” The promise of the future if foolishness to those who enjoy power and privilege today. For those who have never been afraid of another person, this promise isn’t particularly remarkable. But for those who have known fear at the hands, the tears, the hatred of another human being, God promises safety and rest in the shade. A day is coming, when you will be safe on your own land, with your vine and fig tree. The Lord of hosts has spoken, so to those with ears to hear, may you hear you hear the word of the Lord for you today.