Micah 6:1-8 NIV
“Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. 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. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Introduction: A world in Turmoil
Political upheaval, rising and falling rules, wars, fear of outsiders, a rising sense of nationalism, and economic chaos. It might sound like I am describing the world we hear about every evening in the news, but I am not! While these descriptions might fit the world well, we find ourselves navigating through and trying to understand they are equally adept at describing the world of the prophet Micah who found himself called by God to minister amid a nation in turmoil and a world in tumult.
The State of the Nation
This is a time of great political and social upheaval in the tiny Kingdom of Judah, the remnant of those who were meant to be the ambassadors of God in the world, living differently to shine the light of the hope of Yahew and the coming Messiah to a world that was perpetually searching and never finding. The Little Kingdom was meant to display by their living and worship what the world was looking for. Yet, like so often throughout her History, they had lost sight of God’s power, majesty, and Grace. Instead, they had fallen into a routine of Worship without a heart beating to the Grace of God and the call of what it would mean to live for him.
The Heart of the Nation
Their life-giving faith had become a dead religion that sucked the life out of them as they veered more to the depravity of the world than the ethic of the Kingdom of God. As a result, they were in turmoil socially, politically, and spiritually – a country that was once to make known to the world (as a witness) the ethic of God, yet they now looked indistinguishable from the world around them.
An Existential Threat to the Nation
Not only was there the pressure of internal social, spiritual and political strife, but as a nation, Judah was not only stressed looking inwards: every day, they faced an existential threat at their borders as the Assyrians (who had conquered Israel) and the Babylonians, who at the time where a rising power and wanted to expand their influence by conquering the smaller nations around them.
It was a tumultuous time to be alive; where internally corruption, immorality and selfishness were the norm; externally, where at any point one of the great superpowers of the age might sweep in with devastation and devour all that was left of their life, culture and way. Yet, worse than all of that before God, Spiritually, they had become bankrupt; depravity and sin had become the rhythm of their worship as they worshipped a god in their image rather than Worship the God who had imaged them. Amid their sin and selfishness, they had watered down what it was to be a child of God into something palatable, doable, and routine. They were in love with the ease of their worship and its way rather than with the one it was meant to point them to. They went through the rhythms of the temple worship and felt validated in their sin rather than convicted and proud of themselves rather than humbled before the throne of God and the impossibility of their situation.
A Humble Witness of Hope to the Nation
It was from Moresheth s small backwater town that we know little about and struggled to locate that the humble prophet Micah was called to minister during the reigns of “Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah”.1 What qualified him for this call? Nothing other than the Grace of God as the word of God came to him. He was a man of no status, power, or influence – yet, he was undoubtedly one of the few faithful left and the one whom God chose to speak through as he called the nation of Judah and her people to repent and return to him.
Let us be clear the message that Micah was called to proclaim again and again across the reign of three different kings was not a nice one. It must not have been easy to speak or hear, as it critiqued and condemned every aspect of the life and worship of the nation. Yet, it was the message that the people of God had heard repeatedly and would continue to hear as Micah called them to turn from the wickedness of their sin, the stupidity of their idolatrous trust, back to the Grace and forgiveness of God.
Micahs message is severe, it is one of judgment and condemnation of the leaders and people of Judah for their sins of idolatry, injustice, and oppression of the poor. He points to the spiritual state of the nation’s heat by how they treat those the world deems insignificant, hence his continued witness for the recognition of the rights of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized in the society. What will set all the wrongs of this nation right? Repentance and a return to faithful worship of God.2
We find ourselves joining the Ministry of Micah towards the end of the records of his ministry and message. This sermon is equally as critical and condemning of the heat of the people and their actions before God as the first two in the book, yet, it finishes on a very different note as it offers the Hope of Grace and forgivness. As one commentator summaries:
“Poor ethics and idolatry continue to be impugned, but the correction yields blessed assurance in God’s grace.”
In the Courtroom of Heaven(6:1-2)
”Dum Dum” is a sound engrained in my memory from that familiar TV Show Law and Order. Even if you have not followed it closely, you probably know the effects of that sound on the show as they transition from one dramatic scene to another. Often, the beat was played as the investigation had finished, and we joined the unfolding trial at a later stage in the courtroom. Then, in the courtroom, the familiar characters would take their place: The judge, defence lawyers and prosecutors for the state as the evidence was weighed up, witness recollections investigated, and the innocence of someone decided by a jury of their peers.
A Complaint Arises(2)
The courtroom is a familiar scene for all of us. Here, at the beginning of Micah’s final message, we find ourselves being introduced to a courtroom Scene as God challenges Israel to defend her choices and lifestyle before the Jury of the mountains. The Lord God, as a prosecutor, arises and lays out the case before the Jury as he calls his people to ready their defence before a Jury of their peers. The mountains perhaps represent the nations of the world who had already witnessed Israel’s poor ethics and idolatry against the one who accuses them – God. Yet, Yahweh, the maker of the heavens and the earth, is honest with his people as he sets out his complain against them and, in a prosecutorial fashion, moves to lodge the charge.
The courtroom metaphor sounds dramatic, mainly as the charges are laid against the defendant for their sins and idolatry. Charges against a nation almost 3000 years ago can seem distant and nearly irrelevant. Yet, with it, we are bluntly reminded of two things: To honestly know God is to live for him in the way that he has laid out by his word and is directly correlated to our (and the how of) worship. Secondly, there will be an account before the name we take. One day all of humanity will be called to give an account before God about how they lived and their worship of him. The question for us is, who will be our defence?
Offer Your Defence (6:3-5)
We all know the rough ‘eb and flow’ of a courtroom as the prosecution lays out its case in the opening statement before the defence might arise to point out the absurdity of the charges, the cautious nature of the evidence and how soon all will see how frivolous the costs are. It seems like that will be the flow of this metaphorical heavenly court as the protection has laid his head and complained against the nation of Isreal before a jury of peers. It seems that soon She will rise to respond.
God Ponders his Provision
Yet, something far more profound happens, something far more beautiful. It is not the accused that respond to the accusation but the accuser! God answers his charges against this person as he ponders: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you?” It is a beautiful glimpse of the Grace of God who, even in his people’s sin, wonders graciously if there is something more he could have done for them. Now, let us be clear this is rhetorical musing, a device of speech to convict them even more when they remember the evidence that God recall! For each of the two questions God poses, he provides the evidence to disprove it and point to his goodness, protection, grace and love for his people:
- “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery…” (4)
- “My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted…” (5)
In his questioning and evidence, God asks the defendant to consider what they want from him. The point of this rhetorical questioning and presenting of proof: is to show that there is no defence in all the earth for how they have lived and treated their God and saviour. God is always good and faithful and can never be blamed; thus, by recalling his past miracles he providence, he seeks to remind rebellious people of the goods to which they are turning and, in contrast, the worthlessness of what they have turned to.
Not only does God lead his people kindly and towards Goodness, but he also protects them from ungodly and dangerous leaders. The second presented evidential scene recalls God frustrating worldly leaders who only intended harm for his people. The goodness of God not only provides but also acts to protect. Then when they had reached the promised land, God continued to provide, lead and show grace: the call to remember their journey towards Gilgag (6:5) continues to recall the provision and guidance of God under the leadership of Joshua into and then to clear the promised land.
A Challenge to Us All
God is good, and all the evidence points to it. I wonder what God might present regarding evidence towards us and how we treat him. The heart we bring to him in worship? How might we respond? Would we previously try to offer some defence for our rejection of God and our seeing of other things, or might we accept that there is only one good thing for us – God?
A Personal Challenge (6:6-8)
Having heard the pondering of the Lord, Micah begins to speak from his perspective as he wonders if there is anything worthy he can bring before The Lord. Is there any value this man can get before the God who has been exalted? Is there anything of value that any person can bring? Micah already understands Grace; he knows that we cannot offer the King of Kings to trade for the privilege of his court or love towards us. We are a people who live in response to what God has done by faith through Grace. Thus, this message of rebuke and repentance, poised with a call to a better life, is rooted first in eh Grace of God given to his people. It is not a message of moralism, a demand for the people to do better, work harder, worship more or sacrifice more regularly. On the contrary, it is a call for self-examination and humility to gain trust in and depend on the goodness of God. As Micah personally reflects on what it means to live for God and in response to His Goodness, he works his way through the entire Jewish religious system, pondering the value of sacrifices offered:
- Shall I come before him with burnt offerings?
- Shall I come before him with a year old Calf?
- Is there any value in offering God ten thousand rams (in today’s money, worth between £2-4 million ) on the altar?
- Perhaps the offer of 10,000 rivers of olive oil might be enough?
- If none of the above, then maybe the offer of the firstborn son for the sins of his soul might please the Lord?
As the Lord was rhetorical in the verses before so, here is Micah, as again and again, he wants the people of God to remember that we live in response to what God has done and nothing else – Grace. Micah’s summary of the sacrificial system, which was deeply rooted in Jewish religious custom, is not a dismissal of it: Rather, it is a rebuke of the heart behind the offering of worship. Specifically, Micah rebukes the people of God for performing the rituals of their religion without a heart that belongs to God. Why? Because he knows the assumption that they have decided to be true – that by simply doing, they will be okay. Outwardly they might look OK, but inwardly, their hearts are far from God as they beat to the devices and desires of the world. Bruce Waltke summarises: “The prophets did not repudiate sacrifice but subordinated it to ethics”3 or, to put it another way: What we worship/live for will be displayed by how we live and love one another. The citizens of Judah might have performed the temple routines, but the fruit of their lives showed another living.
Micah’s point? God does not want our dead religion; he does not desire not to need an offering of morality, duty, or performance. We can not strive before God nor earn enough to make our way into our presence. We cannot perform for him or sacrifice enough to remove the curse of our sin and the weight of our rebellion. God requires none of that from us! He does not want our Sunday performance or us to act out the routines of our Church, whether in the Sacraments of Communion, baptism or coming to church or doing things out of duty rather than delight. Micah rebukes here and in our life, today dead religion. Thus, we must ask if there is nothing on the earth we can offer, what is it that the Lord requires of us?
What it is the Lord Requires (6:8)
The answer is perhaps the most famous and quoted verse in the Old Testament; we see it on Coffee mugs, and we might have it written on banners or church windows. They are familiar to us and should be all the more powerful when heard in the context of what Micah has just said. What does the Lord require of us, if not any offering of sacrifice or the trade of our firstborn? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.“4 Their heart might belong to him and be displayed in their worship. Empty religion and religious routine mean nothing to God. He cares not for what we do in church or for the church if we might be good moral Christian people if our heart does not first belong to Him and the fruit of our lives display it.
“Israelites were to demonstrate the reality of their faith by sacred ritual and love for their fellow men.”
What does the Lord require of us? First, by faith, our hearts belong to him and are transformed by Him. Micah seems to offer a summary of the law in three characteristics that look so radically different to the ethic and heart of the world. Yet, they are characteristics that mirror the heart of God:
- Justice: This is the moral righteousness of God that his people (by faith and the spirit) must also possess and live out. Where “rectitude” is the state of being morally upright and righteous. A form made known by the heart in worship and how we deal with other people (think about James 2:1-13).
- Mercy/kindness: In the sense of love, or the royal law of James lived out within the community of those God has called to himself. Love one another as I have loved you… this is how they will know you are my disciples.
- Humility: Literally remorse, repentance and a humbly of ourselves before God in response to what God has done. To say it another way: We know our sinfulness in light of the beauty of His sinlessness and the wonder of life with him.
The Fruit of Faith
“If you keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.” – James 2:8 NIV
Faith and fruit go hand in hand. We must first know God before we can ever begin to live for God, which is why as a church, we seek to spend time each week in the word of God and, through the rhythms of our liturgy, are reminded of our sinfulness, his beauty and the wonder of Grace through faith in Christ. If we come to come this Sunday or any Sunday, we should never leave in a state where we think we might be alright without God or the idea that our faith is something private that the world might take no notice of. If we are the disciples of God by faith, then what the Lord requires of his people is what he requires of us now: That we know him by faith in Christ and live for him like Christ in the world. What we believe influences how we live in the world and the fruit of our lives.
“Do not merely listen to the word, but deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”- James 1:22 NIV
Conclusion: What Ethic Will We live by?
” Micah 6:8 is a concise statement of the essence of the prophetic message, a summary of the ethical demands of the covenant and a call to radical obedience to God’s will.” – Walter Brueggemann
As we finish, we are reminded beautifully that Micah 6:8 serves as a powerful summary of the message he has preached and the hope of Grace. Whereas his other sermons finished with little hope, this one shows signs of repentance with the remainder of the ethical demands of the covenant and the call to radical obedience to God’s will.
It presents a clear contrast between the ethics of the world and the ethics of Christ’s Kingdom and challenges us to consider the question of which ethic we will choose to live by: and by what we will be known and judged. The Lord requires us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God; through faith and obedience, our hearts are transformed, and our lives bear the fruit of righteousness.
We are called today and every day to spend time in the word of God, that we might grow in our love and knowledge of him, be reminded of our sinfulness, the beauty of His sinlessness and the wonder of grace through faith in Christ. Then in this way, we can live for God and bear witness to the power of His love and the transforming nature of his otherworldly Kingdom ethic. It’s the beautiful truth of Grace: that it is impossible without God and wondering with him and that faith and fruit go hand in hand for us.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27 NIV