Dark, indeed, were the days in which Micah of Moresheth was called to preach to the children of Israel. When his ministry began, the sun was about to set on the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah looked little better. Kings, nobles, and even priests had turned from the one true God to worship idols made of wood and stone, even burning their children on firey alters. But our God refused to let his people remain in the darkness. Through the prophet Micah, God called to the people, reminding them that He is righteous and kind, and that they should be the same.
In verses 1 through 5 of our text, God calls His people to court. Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel. As He calls for the people to state their case, He begins by stating His.
O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may see the righteous acts of the Lord. God is effectively asking the people: Why are you sinning? Have I been unfair to you? Have I been stingy or mean? Have I gone back on my promises? No! Nevertheless, God calls in evidence of His gracious character by recounting His righteous acts. Just like in many of the Psalms, God points back to the Exodus to remind His people what He has already done for them. God mentions how He delivered them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and went ahead of them into the promised land, blessing them with freedom, good leaders, and victory over their enemies. ---
When you think about it, sinning makes no sense in light of God’s kindness. That’s the point God is making here. ‘I have treated you so well,’ He says, ‘why have you rebelled against Me?’
Interestingly, the apostle Paul makes exactly the same argument in Romans chapter 6. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin, that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Look at God’s righteous acts, Paul is saying. Remember that in Baptism God connected you with the death and resurrection of Christ—which is His most recent and also most glorious righteous act in history. Remembering what Jesus did for us makes sinning look ridiculous.
Sadly, the speaker in verses 6 and 7 has no idea about the real nature of sin or salvation. Listen to him: With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Sounds good, right? Is this man really repenting? Perhaps a bit about the nature of Old Testament sacrifices would help us find out.
The sacrifices which God laid out in the book of Leviticus had two distinct purposes. The first type consisted of those offered voluntarily, like peace offering and free will offerings. These sacrifices were simply God-ordained ways for the Israelites to express worship and thanksgiving. This notion lives on in our own era, as the book of Hebrews says, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. The present equivalent of these ancient animal sacrifices are good works, done by believers in response to God’s kindness.
The second type of sacrifices consisted of those offered to cleanse, whether of some ceremonial uncleanness or of actual sin. The sin offering and the guilt offering both fell into this category. These sacrifices were attached to promises from God. The most sweeping of all these promises was for the Day of Atonement: For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.
The sacrifices that the speaker in our text suggests are of neither category. The fact that the speaker suggests offering his own children clearly shows that he is neither clinging to God’s promises nor giving thanks. The type of sacrifices he suggests is utterly abominable to God. In fact, the attitude behind them is present in every false religion and frequently creeps into Christianity. It is at the core of our sinful human nature. These sacrifices proceed from the depraved depths of the human heart, thinking that something they can offer to God will appease His wrath and purchase His favor.
I want you to take a minute and think of a time in the past when you sinned, the more recent the better. Now, what did you do after you sinned? “Well, at least I didn’t go that far.” “Next time, I’ll do such and such to prevent myself from doing this again.” “God, I promise I’ll never do that again.” Perhaps you busied yourself with other things, or made sure that you have extra long devotions that day. Perhaps you prayed more or harder. Or, even worse, perhaps you thought, ‘Yeah, I sinned, but I got an A on that paper or I just prayed for my lost relative or I just shared the Gospel with somebody last week.’ These things are utterly abominable to God. Micah tells us why.
Verse 8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah summarizes the Law of the Lord with beautiful Hebrew poetry. Steven already preached to us on this profound topic, and Dustin mentioned it last week. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The point of God’s law is not a certain set of external behaviors, although they are most certainly included. The point is what Malcolm (our guest speaker from Haiti) called a “posture toward God.” In effect, God wants your innermost being to be bent towards Him at all times, in all things, and despite all temptations. This love for God and neighbor should be so great and so deep that even the most inexpensive selfish purchase or seemingly harmless word of gossip or text message during class would be utterly unthinkable. If you had love like that in your heart, you’d read the story of the Good Samaritan and think, ‘Yeah, I’d totally do that. Makes perfect sense.’ Instead, we make excuses and rationalize our inner desire to love ourselves and not our neighbor, and to leave God out of the picture entirely.
Listen again to Micah’s words. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? The first thing Micah lists is do justice. Since he says do, this basically means external good deeds. In the context, God rebukes the Israelites for cheating in their business dealings and accepting bribery. My guess is that these are not temptations you deal with on a regular basis, but here’s what doing justice might look like for you: paying your taxes, faithfully attending your classes and doing your homework, working diligently for your employer, and obeying traffic laws. We have a tendency to spiritualize “good deeds” into meaning evangelism and prayer and devotions, but beyond these, God’s desire for justice touches every area of your day-to-day life.
Secondly, Micah turns inward and tells us to love kindness. Our word kindness is the Hebrew word hesed, which is often translated “love,” “steadfast love,” or “mercy.” Here we see close connection with the Great Commandment which I mentioned already. Micah is telling us that God wants us to have an inner bent or heart-attitude that delights in loving God and neighbor, and, on the flip side, delights in being loved by God and neighbor. Interestingly, our natural tendency is to avoid anything to do with this commandment. We don’t want to need kindness from other people. Have you ever needed help for something, but were afraid to ask for it, and thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother him.’ Have you ever accidentally run into someone and then apologized profusely even after they said they forgave you? We just don’t want to need other people’s kindness. If we can be the giver of kindness, that makes us feel okay about ourselves.
Thirdly, Micah tells us to walk humbly with your God. This one, interestingly enough, is the exact opposite of what the speaker was suggesting. To walk humbly with your God involves recognizing that you can’t give Him anything He hasn’t already given you. I’d like to ask this guy from verses 6 and 7 where he was going to get thousands of rams or ten thousands of rivers of oil besides from the creation, which already belongs to God! Recognizing that you have nothing to offer God is foundational to walking humbly with Him.
The flip side of that same reality is that God has offered everything to you in Jesus Christ. Verse 7 asks, Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, it is God who gave His Firstborn to you! It is precisely because we cannot offer God anything that the Son of God came to us in our helplessness and offered Himself to the Father on our behalf. ---
Walking humbly with your God means recognizing that you have nothing to offer Him, but that in Jesus Christ, He has given everything to you.
This afternoon, God calls to you, reminding you that He is righteous and kind, and that you should be the same. Sinning makes no sense at all in light of God’s kindness, but when you do sin, don’t try to make up for it or excuse it. Know that you have nothing to offer God, but that He has given everything to you in His Son. Then go, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Amen. Let us pray.