Equally Skilled Hands

Scripture Focus: Micah 7.3-4, 18-20
3 Both hands are skilled in doing evil; 
the ruler demands gifts, 
the judge accepts bribes, 
the powerful dictate what they desire— 
they all conspire together. 
4 The best of them is like a brier, 
the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. 

18 Who is a God like you, 
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression 
of the remnant of his inheritance? 
You do not stay angry forever 
but delight to show mercy. 
19 You will again have compassion on us; 
you will tread our sins underfoot 
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 
20 You will be faithful to Jacob, 
and show love to Abraham, 
as you pledged on oath to our ancestors 
in days long ago. 

Reflection: Equally Skilled Hands
By John Tillman

Micah’s concluding trio of poetic sections are tinged with lament because disaster and destruction are coming, but they all have a taste of hope. Micah sees beyond the deserved punishment in the present to the undeserved restoration in the future. The section that is heaviest with lament is the first. 

In most individuals, one hand is more skilled than the other. Scripture notes several times the left-handed and ambidextrous skills of Benjamite warriors. (Judges 3.15, 20.16; 1 Chronicles 12.1-2) Micah says both hands of his nation and their leaders are equally skilled at wickedness. The righteous have been swept away—like harvested fields, where only bare vines remain. The country sprouts with rulers, judges, and the wealthy and powerful, who are like briers or thorns. There is no grain, grapes, or figs, only grift, bribery, conspiracy, and betrayal. Yet, God is the focus of Micah’s hope.

The second section is a confession with confidence in restoration, spoken in the voice of Israel. “I have fallen,” Israel says, “but I will rise” because “the Lord will be my light.” There is darkness now, but light is coming. Micah warns Israel’s enemies not to gloat because one day, the Lord will remove Israel’s shame, and her enemies will face their own downfall.

The concluding psalm overflows with praise, fueled by God’s faithfulness. Based on God’s nature, not their worthiness, God’s flock will be cared for, guided, and blessed. The good shepherd will defend his flock and put an end to evil, crushing sin like a snake underfoot. Wickedness will drown in the depths and righteousness rise to the heights.

Micah looked around his world, nation, and city and saw chaos, corruption, and coming catastrophe. So might we. We may see left and right hands equally skilled in wickedness in our world, nations, and cities. Powerful rulers, judges, and leaders dictate what they desire, take bribes, and demand loyalty. Our neighbors, communities, and even family members may treat us like enemies.

Let us hope not in the left or right hands of leaders but in the nail-pierced hands of Christ. Jesus is the snake-crushing, lost sheep-seeking, wounded sheep-healing, banquet before our enemies-providing shepherd of our souls. (Psalm 23) His skilled hands hold healing, hope, justice, and peace. Let us take his hand and follow him, extending our other hand to the world. The only source of hope is in his hands.

Music: Jon Foreman – “Equally Skilled

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Micah 7 (Listen 3:36)
Psalm 88 (Listen 1:58)

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Wail-Patterned Baldness

Scripture Focus: Micah 1.16
16 Shave your head in mourning
     for the children in whom you delight;
 make yourself as bald as the vulture,
     for they will go from you into exile.

Reflection: Wail-Patterned Baldness
By Erin Newton

The ancient world viewed hair as an outward expression of inward devotion—for good or for evil. Nazarites made vows to God and would never cut their hair. This is part of the epic of Samson, whose hair was cut, and his strength failed.

Deuteronomy 14.1 strictly prohibited shaving one’s head for the dead. Likely due to similar practices by the Canaanite cult of the dead. Shaved heads, in this case, would suggest infidelity to God and the embrace of idolatry.  

Sometimes hair needed to go. Leviticus 14.8 prescribed head shaving after cleansing for a skin disease. I can see the practicality of this command. The skin disease had been defiling, and removing all hair would provide a clear picture of any spots hidden on one’s scalp. It would be like a clean slate for the person, yet shamefully everyone would have known.

Joseph’s head was shaved when he was brought up from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. When his interpretation proved valid, he was rewarded with honor and authority in Egypt.

In Micah 1, the prophet described God descending to the earth in judgment. It is the epic Divine Warrior scene. The mountains melt underfoot. The valleys split apart. The mere presence of God undoes the creation.

God was coming to judge the nation because of Judah’s high place in Jerusalem. High places were where sacrifices occurred. Archaeological discoveries show massive standing stones (some over 10 feet tall). During periods of reform, Hezekiah removed high places and destroyed the Asherah poles. Sadly, these high places were rebuilt by Manasseh, including altars to Baal and Asherah.

God tells the people that judgment is coming—exile. Their children would grow up and lose their homes, their livelihood, their community, and their sense of identity. They were called to grieve the loss they were about to incur.

Shockingly, God told them to do the unthinkable—shave their heads in mourning—an act specifically prohibited.

Their baldness was a sign: Was it idolatry and worshiping the gods of the Canaanites? Was it a disease and uncleanliness? Were they, like Joseph, just released from prison? In a way, the answer to all these questions is yes.

They had sinned through idolatry, their hearts were sick and unclean, and they were headed to captivity.

Our hair care is not threatened by judgment anymore, but our hearts should be equally exposed as we mourn our sin.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Micah 1 (Listen 2:46)
Psalm 79 (Listen 1:50)

Read more about Cost of Immature Leadership
Wartime captives would be shaved and marched naked. Shaving half the envoy’s beards…implied they were on their way to being prisoners.

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O Little Town of Bethlehem — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 126:1-3
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Micah 5:2
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Reflection: O Little Town of Bethlehem — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

The endearing carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, was written in 1868 for the Sunday School children of Philadelphia’s Church of the Holy Trinity. Phillips Brooks, rector of Holy Trinity wrote the lyrics and Lewis H. Redner, church organist, contributed the music.

Phillips Brooks was born in Boston, attended Harvard University, and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1859. Brooks relocated to Philadelphia where he served as rector for Church of the Advent for three years before moving to Holy Trinity shortly after the start of the American Civil War.

Brooks preached against slavery, ministered to African American troops, and advocated for granting equal rights to freedmen. When the funeral train carrying Abraham Lincoln’s casket stopped in Philadelphia, Brooks was selected to deliver the local eulogy.

Following those tumultuous years, in August 1865, the church sent Brooks abroad for a year where he traveled through Europe and arrived in the Holy Land in December.

After two weeks in Jerusalem, he traveled on horseback out to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. There Brooks took part in the Christmas Eve service at the ancient basilica built over the traditional location of the Nativity. He was so moved by the experience that he wrote about it to the congregation back in Philadelphia.

I remember especially on Christmas Eve, when I was standing in the old church at Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God…

The memory of visiting Bethlehem stayed with him, and three years later, he wrote the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem for the church Christmas service in 1868. You can hear the peaceful tranquility of his experience expressed in the opening stanza.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by

Brooks gave his lyrics to organist Lewis Redner, asking him to compose a tune. Redner was occupied with preparations for the Christmas service and had not written the tune by Saturday night. Stressed about the performance the next day, he fell asleep, only to be awakened by what he said was an angel whispering the tune in his ear. Redner commented, “Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas of 1868.”

The carol has endured long since then for its sanguine simplicity and because it reminds us of the profound meaning of the birth of a child in the little town of Bethlehem.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today!

Listen: Little Town by Amy Grant
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. — Psalm 144.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 22-23  (Listen 6:51)
Psalms 126-128 (Listen 1:58)

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Leaders Sent by God

Scripture Focus: Micah 6.2-4
2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; 
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. 
For the Lord has a case against his people; 
he is lodging a charge against Israel. 
3 “My people, what have I done to you? 
How have I burdened you? Answer me. 
4 I brought you up out of Egypt 
and redeemed you from the land of slavery. 
I sent Moses to lead you, 
also Aaron and Miriam. 

Mark 1.7-8
7 “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

Reflection: Leaders Sent by God
By John Tillman

God points out Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the human leaders he sent to guide Israel out of slavery to freedom.

The people God uses are never perfect. Moses had a violent temper, both as a young man and near the end of his life. Aaron built the golden calf and then lied about it. Miriam criticized Moses’ interracial marriage and was cursed for it.

It’s good to recognize God uses imperfect people. If we sin and repent, God can still forgive and bless others through us. But how far does that go? Do we give a pass to pastors with frequent outbursts of temper and violent speech? Do we excuse leaders who accept cultural idols of the moment? Do we defend racist comments? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6.1-2)

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were confronted about those sins and repented. No one made excuses. For those leaders who continue in sins, Micah has another example—Balaam. 

Not only will God use well-intentioned but imperfect leaders in our lives, he will use outright enemies. God can turn enemies’ evil intentions into good outcomes. For leaders inside or outside our churches who are unrepentant, the best we can hope is that like Balaam, God will somehow turn their evil into good.

God continues to use imperfect men and women to lead his people but he has gone even further than that, sending to us his own son, Jesus.

John the Baptizer was one of those imperfect leaders God sent. He said of Jesus, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” We are not worthy either. With what can we come before the Lord? 

Micah asks, “will the Lord be pleased…” with any extravagant offering? No. Even Micah’s simplest definition of God’s requirements is beyond us. (Micah 6.8) Our justice is tainted. Our mercy is rarely given. Our humility gives way to pride. 

Therefore, God has offered his own firstborn for the sin of our souls. (Micah 6.7) Jesus has acted justly on our behalf, has loved mercy enough to die for us, and walks humbly before God appealing to us. He not only saves us but leads us.

What more could God do for us than this? Will we remember or will we turn away?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine our of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

Today’s Readings
Micah 6 (Listen – 2:28)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Micah 7 (Listen – 3:36)Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)
Nahum 1 (Listen – 2:24)Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)

Read more about Complaints and Responses
Moses took these personal attacks to heart, growing angry rather than compassionate toward the people’s legitimate needs.

Read more about A Bad Day Fishing
Peter’s first recorded words to Jesus in response to the miracle are “go away.”
Peter seems to believe that his sins disqualify him.

Representative Combat

Scripture Focus: Micah 5.1b-2
…They will strike Israel’s ruler 
on the cheek with a rod. 

2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
though you are small among the clans of Judah, 
out of you will come for me 
one who will be ruler over Israel, 
whose origins are from of old, 
from ancient times.”

Reflection: Representative Combat
By John Tillman

When Elon Musk challenged Putin to a fight over Ukraine, few thought, “That’s a good idea.” And it’s not just because we were afraid Musk might lose. In our individualistic society, we are unlikely to agree that one person can represent us as a group.

People strongly identified with their nation, their king, or their gods in less individualistic eras. This is one of the reasons representative combat made more sense in those cultures. We see this in the example of David fighting Goliath.

In the Bible, names of people or places are often used as an appellation for the entire nation or group. They might be called, Israel, Judah, David, the root of Jesse, Jerusalem, Zion, Samaria, the name of the current king, etc. The leader or city was the nation and the nation was the leader or city. When tribes revolted against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, they said, “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son?” (1 Kings 12.16) It was a ripping apart—a separation of identities.

We still use names this way linguistically but I doubt we feel as unified emotionally. We still refer to the United States as Washington, the White House, or the name of the current president. We are likely to refer to other countries using similar appellations: Moscow, Downing Street, Macron… But if a leader is disrespected, “struck on the cheek with a rod,” we might be angry on his or her behalf but most wouldn’t feel as if we were struck. Language changes slowly. Hearts change in an instant. Culture changes somewhere in between.

When we do choose a representative in important matters we want a “winner.” We want someone important, impressive, and powerful to show up. Micah’s description of a ruler coming from the humble town of Bethlehem is an upending of that.

If we are to have any part in God’s kingdom, we must bind our identity to Jesse’s son, the humble Jesus, born in Bethlehem. Jesus is our representative, our “David,” the true Israel—the one who struggles and overcomes in an unexpected, upside-down way. If the appellation, “Christian” applies, then when Jesus is struck on the cheek, we are. When Jesus dies, crucified, we die. When Jesus slays the Goliath of sin and death, we rout them at his side.

If we hesitate to identify with Jesus, humble and crucified, nothing else he did will be credited to us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds all day long; though I cannot know the number of them. — Psalm 71.15

Today’s Readings
Micah 5 (Listen – 2:21)
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

Read more about Unto Us, He Comes
He comes to the victims and perpetrators of war and conflict, bringing them peace.
Unto us, he comes.


Read more about Christ, the True Hero
As Christians, it is more important that we realize that we need a hero than that we pledge to be one.