David Alves, one of our members, will be presenting a series of reflections on sermons given at Grace Church to aid us in considering and obeying God’s Word. Following is a reflection on the message recently preached by Tim Knotts, Sunday morning, October 4, 2015.
The writings of the prophet Micah detail the courtroom drama of God’s indictments against Israel. Residing in the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy and ministering just prior to Israel’s (the northern kingdom) fall to Assyria in 722 BC, Micah was God’s prophetic voice of both wrath and blessing to a people mired in rebellion against their covenant God. To that end, Micah’s book functions as a sort of legal document, with the prophecies serving as aspects of God’s prosecution of the wayward nation. Yet, because God is merciful and has made unbreakable promises to both Israel and the world, the prophecies contain glimmers of hope for the future—when, instead of the wicked kings who have led them into idolatry and a national and cultural life characterized by wholesale rejection of divine and covenantal authority, Israel will enjoy freeing service to the one perfect king, and be used of Him to bless the whole world during His future millennial reign.
The current text focuses on God’s “closing arguments” in His case against Judah—in terms of their failed responsibility towards Him and His infallibly righteous standard.
A. The Call to Witness (vv. 1-2)
As with the other prophecies (1:1-2:13 and 3:1-5:15), Micah begins a new discourse with the words “Hear now what Yahweh is saying,” a call to utmost responsibility and accountability on the listener’s part. The fact that God is again addressing the people, coupled with its content, suggests that they have in fact failed to repent as He has commanded. Unsurprisingly, then, the intensity of the Lord’s rebuke is heightened. As the mountains and the created order itself served as witnesses to the Lord’s judgment on Judah in 1:2-4, God again calls upon them to be His witnesses. This clearly hearkens back to God’s repeated calling of heaven and earth to act as witnesses of Israel’s covenantal commitment to Him (Deut. 4:25-26, 30:19, 31:28, 32:1). The idea is they promised, “before God and everyone” (everyone including the very creation itself!) to obey the Mosaic covenant and to thus be loyal and loving slave-worshippers of Yahweh (cf. Deut. 26:16-19, 27:9-10). Thus, if they went back on this commitment, heaven and earth were a constant shout of their guilt and need for cleansing. Mountains were featured prominently in the famous recitation of blessings and curses after the entrance to the Promised Land (Deut. 27-28). Joshua’s memorial stones are an obvious allusion, too (Joshua 4; cf. 24:27). Because Israel is God’s land, and because He is the omnipotent Creator who has bound Himself to them in covenant, it is only fitting that the land itself serve as a witness to the rightness of God’s holy anger and the failure of His people.
Christians—those united to Christ who live and minister in the dispensation of the church age—are not under the Mosaic Law. However, to conclude we are not in covenant with God, and therefore unaccountable to Him and free from His chastening, is incredibly wrong. As participants in the New Covenant, Christians enter into its personal application with the Lord Jesus at salvation, vowing to obey and follow Him as enthroned King and personal Lord (1 Pet. 1:2). The New Testament documents, then, are the divine words on how to live out and enjoy the benefits of this covenant. What are its implications, its blessings and curses, its benefits, and the consequences for rebellion? This is the purpose of the 22 church letters in particular. The Christian has placed himself under resurrected, even eschatological, authority, and since we serve the One “who has all authority in Heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:19), that One will move heaven and earth to witness against the professed believer who has failed to evidence his faith by obeying His covenant. Even true believers will face loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ after the rapture, which is precisely why Paul exhorts first-century saints, living only a few years after the ascension of the reigning and coming Messiah, to have as their deepest ambition “to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:8).
B. God’s Charge against Israel (vv. 3-5)
The Lord moves into specific charges, which outline His goodness and provision and thus the people’s utterly inexcusable defection from Him. He questions why the Judahites are “weary” of Him (v. 3). “Weary” is a good translation, as the word implies a kind of exasperated impatience, even a physical tiredness, because of frustrating circumstances. God assumes and queries the people’s weariness of Him. What on earth has He done to warrant this kind of reaction? The following verses show that the fault lies not with their (and our) perfect God, but with the restless fickleness of the human heart.
God first brought the nation out of Egypt—the Exodus was the seminal religious event of OT revelation and functioned as the lodestone for Israel’s’ religious self-identity. The merciful and omnipotent Yahweh had exercised His matchless power in rescuing Israel from Egypt and in so doing constituting them as His people, with resultant obligations to Him. God’s “ransoming” refers to the sheer mercy and grace of their deliverance; it was not something they could merit or do on their own. Any responsibility the Jews had in securing it (such as painting the lintels of their homes) was a divinely-appointed means to the wholly gracious activity of the Sovereign. The sending of Moses and his siblings refers to God’s provision of utterly sufficient human leadership: Miriam (prophet), Aaron (priest), and Moses (in a generic sense, king). God constituted Israel as His theocratic community and though He chose to rule through human instruments, those means were utterly adequate to do all He required of the nation. Indeed, this God is so sovereign and so devoted to the welfare of His people that even the curses of a false prophet came out as blessings, which is why Balaam is mentioned. (It would also imply another failure on Israel’s part for falling into the sexual and theological immorality offered by Balak. This was how they responded to His overriding of satanically-driven attempts to curse them?) “Shittim to Gilgal” was the final encampment prior to the Promised Land, comprised of the children of the generation that died in the wilderness wanderings. Besides being a testimony to the faithfulness of God (this generation did indeed take hold of the Land), the reference is another indictment, as they succumbed to Balak’s temptations.
God has consistently provided everything His people need to walk with Him, and yet they throw His provision in His face in ungrateful rebellion. So too, God has given church saints all we could need to obey Him, and many gracious blessings besides. Dare we find ourselves wearied of His ways, murmuring against the dispensations of His providence, or using His gifts as the cuckolded provisions of an adulterous woman?
C. Israel’s Charge against God (vv. 6-7)
The hardened people respond not with repentance, but a shocking kind of exasperated indignation. This is the soul of a people fed up, jaded, completely turned against the One the once professed to serve. God has indicted them, and they respond in kind. These verses encapsulate the people’s desire to evade God’s righteous requirements by painting Him as demanding, impossible to satisfy, and asking altogether too much of them. The note about sacrificing sons is worth dwelling on. Explicitly forbidden by the Pentateuch, the idea is that even the most extreme and barbaric of then-current worship practices were not enough to please God. Even worse, at the time of Micah’s ministry, it became commonplace for Jews to blend this worst element of pagan worship with that of Yahweh. Their unwillingness to listen to God’s Word and especially His requirements for sound worship twisted into a self-serving approach of God on autonomous terms, and not only that but finding fault with God for not accepting it. This section highlights, in brutal character, the utter self-deception of sin. Sinners want to blame others for their sin—if not for its committal, then for not accepting the behavior. Sinners wish to be in control of their own lives, including how and whether they worship God. Sinners want to go their own way and look at life and relationships selectively, calling others out for their response to the sin while ignoring the sin that caused the response.
But, there is a nugget of truth in the indictment. Did the burnt offering, in itself, please God?
D. Micah’s Response (v. 8)
Micah embodies the response of the faithful, regenerate remnant. He is like those in Malachi’s day who feared Yahweh and responded to His messenger with greater fidelity—the ones whom He calls His “jewels” (KJV) who are written in His book (Malachi 3:16-18). I believe Micah’s response carries two utterly necessary emphases: Man, in himself, is utterly depraved and cannot please God on His own, and that genuine faith characteristically, though imperfectly, responds in the way Micah has described.
“Justice” is the same word frequently translated “judgments” (KJV) or “ordinances” (NASB), and refers to thinking and acting in accordance with what God has revealed as upright and good. To be “just” is to live in conformity with the will of God. “Kindness” is that famed OT word chesed, referring to a loyal, committed love for God and others. “Humbly” is a rare word that always refers to a submissive, creaturely response to the Creator—to know your place before Him and to do what He says. Who among us has done this with anything approaching the perfect standard required by our covenant God? None of us. From the womb we have gone astray (Psa. 58:3). God’s holy standard does not change, and since man in his sinfulness could not meet it, God became a man and fulfilled His holy requirements on behalf of all who will trust Him alone. Then, in the new life He gives them, they begin a journey of discovering, repenting of, and replacing the injustice, lovelessness, and pride rooted in their hearts.
In his proclamation of God’s perfect righteousness and in pointing to the mercy of the Messiah and the transformative power of God, Micah closes off a section bristling with the wrath of God into an unexpected declaration of sovereign hope—an unshakeable hope which church saints graciously enjoy.