Micah as a book belongs to the Biblical category “Minor Prophets” but this category shouldn’t lead us to minimize the significance of this prophet’s message. Micah’s ministry covered the reign of three Judean Kings (at least) – Jothan (750 – 735 B.C.), Ahaz (735 – 15), and Hezekiah (715 – 687) – and his words were felt so strongly in the halls of power that in Jeremiah’s day people were still commenting on the influence of Micah’s words on king Hezekiah (Jer. 26:18). If you aren’t familiar with the timeline of the Kings of Israel and Judah it might help you to know that Micah was active at roughly the same time in the eighth century as Hosea and Isaiah.
The book of Micah is an interesting book, one that is not perhaps as familiar to us as other books in the Old Testament canon. If that is the case for you I would recommend taking one of our commentaries out of the library and spending some time in this small book. Micah is only seven chapters and can be read easily in one sitting. Some of the interesting features of the book:
- This prophet apparently took his message to the people of God while naked (1:8) and barefoot.
- The book contains some of the most well known verses in the entire Bible –
- Micah 4:3 – The United Nations building features a statue famous across the world that bears this verse as its inscription. The same verse has been quoted in song by Michael Jackson (Heal the World) and the finale to the famous musical production Les Miserables
- 5:2- This verse is read every Christmas (the wise men coming to Herod) and represents a clear case of predictive prophecy as Micah accurately predicted that Jesus would be born in Behtlehem.
- 6:8 – As we will soon see, this verse has been called the perfect summation of Old Testament religion.
- In the theme of predictive prophecy, Micah also accurately predicted both the Babylonian exile and return approximately a century before Babylon even became a world power (4:10)
As you can see, this Minor Prophet is minor only in the length of his book.
Micah’s work as a prophet of God was a calling to a people who had grown corrupt in their prosperity and soon to suffer the consequences of their immorality.
In this book God brings charges against His people of unfaithfulness to the covenant He had made with the nation. Where God has been faithful (6:1-5) His people have responded to His faithfulness with outward religiosity that conceals inner moral corruption. The problems in Micah’s day the wealthy were oppressing the poor, merchants were cheating customers through dishonest weights and measures (6:11), the religious leaders were selling their services, and the rulers of the people were selling legal judgments for bribes. Yet apparently this people assumed that as long as they kept up temple worship the Lord would continue to bless. Micah is commissioned to declare just how wrong this assumption was.
Remember that I told you our text is considered the highwater mark of Old Testament Theology? Our own government has drawn on the same verse as the perfect expression of religion:
“Off of the grand reading room of the Library of Congress, one of the really beautiful buildings in the world, are various alcoves dedicated to the “humanities.” There is one for history, one for music, one for philosophy, one for poetry, etc. And there is one for religion. When the building was being designed, a survey was sent out to leaders of these various “arts” to determine what quotation or legend ought to be written above the door of each of these alcoves. Religious leaders were polled as to the most appropriate text for the religion alcove. Micah 6:8 was chosen as the text that best embodied the spirit of religion.” – unknown author
The assumption here is that religion’s great value is encouraging morality, encouraging people to promote justice, kindness, and walk humbly with the divine. To understand this passage in Micah that way, as simply promoting moralism, is to badly miss the intention for which God gave this text. Reading this passage in the context of Micah and the rest of the Bible gives us a completely different understanding than the one intended by the architects of the Library of Congress.
I. The Mercy of God (6:1-5)
In this passage God formally declares His case against His people, callings the mountains to witness His complaint.
God, the wronged party, has become wearisome to His people (6:3). And for what? Had he not been a good God to them?
God recounts the highlights of Israel’s history as a way of summarizing His enduring provision, faithfulness, and care for the nation:
- He brought them up from Egypt
- He ransomed them from slavery
- He had made them a nation (Moses), given them access to His presence and forgiveness for their sins (Aaron), and victory over the most powerful nation (Miriam; read Exodus 15:20-21)
- He even prospered the nation when Balak hired out one of their own prophets – Baalam – to curse the people.
II. The Moralism of Man (6:6-7)
In response to all that God has done how do men respond?
i. Burnt Offerings – but surely that isn’t enough
ii. Burnt Offerings of Year-Old Calves – Valuable sacrifices aren’t even enough
iii. A Thousand Rams – Only a king could pay this kind of fee
iv. Ten Thousand Rivers of Olive Oil – There literally isn’t enough olive oil in the world to cover this
v. First Born Child – We’re reaching the height of value here.
Do you see that the default religion of man as a race is works righteousness? The basic response of man to the divine is to ask “What must I do to get God’s favor?”
The people of God here are no different – they think burnt offerings would be a good way to respond to God. If that isn’t enough, how about really choice burnt offerings? Okay, probably not good enough. 1000 rams then, a King’s ransom. No? Would 10000 rivers of sweet oil be enough? Whew. Okay then, the best I can offer – my own child.
Notice that the people of God are treating the One True God as if He were a common pagan diety. Pagan literature is full of stories where men make sacrifice to appease or garner the favor of the god they worship. You’ve even seen it portrayed on television – “Throw the beautiful woman into the volcano to appease the volcano god.” Human history is full of the same, even Israel’s – in Jeremiah’s day God’s people were sacrificing their children to a false God named Molech (Jeremiah 32:35), an act strictly forbidden (Leviticus 18 and 20). The people of God are here assuming that the Lord God of Israel is no different than the most abominable false gods; you’ve got to do figure out some conjure or offering that will swing His favor to you because otherwise he’s aloof and capricious.
III. God’s Desire is Really a Matter of the Heart (6:8)
Take a minute and think through what the people are doing here. They’ve assumed that their God is no different than all the despicable false gods in history.
And yet all of His dealings with them prove that He is entirely different.
Did the nation of Israel have anything or do anything to cause God to intervene on their behalf while they were slaves in Egypt? Of course not.
Did Israel offer some kind of sacrifice that prompted God to wage war on Egypt? How could they – they were slaves and owned nothing of value to man or God.
Was it some act of religiosity on Israel’s part that swung God to their side when Egypt’s army was pursuing them? It’s ridiculous to even ask; not one Israelite earned the drowning of one Egyptian soldier.
So why would God do all those things for His people?
Because He’s loving by nature.
And a Father.
Entirely different from any other so-called god.
The people of God should have known that then and we should know that now. Our standing before God has never nor will it ever be a matter of what we have or can do. It will for all of eternity be a matter of who God is and what He has done, namely in His son Jesus.
Look at what Micah 6:8 records:
God doesn’t desire religiosity and the efforts of man. He wants, instead, people who practice justice, who love kindness, and who walk humbly with Him.
You see the difference here? For someone to “love” kindness it has to flow from the heart. The same with humility – you can’t be humble by doing religious acts. These characteristics have to flow from within. Yes, there is an outward expression but these characteristics start internally.
Jesus said much the same thing repeatedly. Two examples:
Read Matthew 9:10-13 and Mark 12:28-34
Is it not clear that God is not interested in our outward acts of religiosity but rather desires a heart that loves Him and wants to obey Him?
Of course, there is a problem there that I’m sure you’ve caught.
I mean, it sound so simple – so close to us. “Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with God – I can start doing that now.”
And yet is there anyone, save Jesus Christ, who can claim that their heart is capable of producing these virtues perfectly for even a full minute of their day? To do so would require a heart that loves God fully? Is there anyone who can claim that they have loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Of course not. We are familiar with Romans 3 – there is none good, none who seeks after God, none who does good – not even one.
So where does that leave us? If God doesn’t desire our religious acts and does desire a heart condition we can’t produce what do we do? The answer is clear: we suffer His wrath.
But wait a minute – we’ve already discussed that the one exception to the rule that there is none good and His name is Jesus. What if God could somehow work it out so that the good heart of Jesus that really loved God always could actually be put in my account so that when He thinks about me Jesus actually comes in to His mind?
Do you see why the Gospel is such good news? What we weren’t able to do because of our corrupt heart God provides by looking to Christ who always loves God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus is always just, always loves mercy, and always walks humbly with God. That God is satisfied to look to Jesus for those perfections and account them to us is immeasurably gracious and should bring sweet relief to our souls – what God requires of us religiously He provides on our behalf in Jesus.