A. The Walk of Humility
At his inauguration in 1977, incoming American President Jimmy Carter used the historic Bible that had been employed by George Washington at his own inauguration. Carter said, “Here before me is the Bible used in the inauguration of our first President, in 1789, and I have just taken the oath of office on the Bible my mother gave use a few years ago.” Carter then read Micah 6:8, his key verse. Carter thus recognized that even the most powerful men on earth are called “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly.”
Yet humility, in particular, seems to be in scarce supply these days. We see a seemingly unlimited procession of people seeking to become famous celebrities. In the last century, a famous boxer was widely known for boasting, “I am the greatest!” More recently, we have seen the rise of so-called “reality” television, where ordinary people are thrust into a celebrity-type spotlight. In the 1960s, pop philosopher Andy Warhol predicted, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Warhol later reversed this line to say, “In fifteen minutes, everybody will be famous.” The lists of famous celebrities seem to become increasingly crowded.
The Bible teaches us that “before honor is humility” (Proverbs 15:33). The humbled/exalted paradox is that those who strive to be honored will not succeed in God’s eyes, but those who serve humbly, without concern for applause, will be honored. Those seeking celebrity status should remember this warning: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble”(James 4:6). Humility, then, is not an occasional choice. For the Christian it must be a walk, a lifestyle (compare Philippians 2:3).
As see seek to serve the Lord, we should begin by asking, “What does God expect?” Fortunately, we do not have to guess the answer to this question. One source of information for as is found in the writings of God’s prophets. These men left a marvellous record of their messages: Bible texts that provide a clear picture of what God demands from His people.
B. Lesson Background
Micah is one of the great eighth-century prophets of Israel. That was also the time frame of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. Micah 1:1 records that he prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. However, this verse also tells us that his prophecies were for bolls Judah (with its capital city of Jerusalem) and the northern kingdom of Israel (with its capital in Samaria).The reign of those three kings spanned the period of approximately 750-690 BC, roughly 60years. This was a tumultuous time for the people of God. Micah lived through the destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 BC by the Assyrians(2 Kings 18:9-11). About 20 years later, Ise was probably an eyewitness to a similar threat to Jerusalem in 701 sc. That time, however, God miraculously delivered Judah from the Assyrian menace by destroying 185,000 members of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35).
There are strong connections between Micah and Isaiah, indicating they may have been colleagues. For example, Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3 are nearly identical texts. Both prophets share messages of the necessity for the people of God to repent and work for justice. Both preach the future hope of God’s coming Messiah. We also know that the ministry of Micah influenced the later prophets of Judah (see Jeremiah 26:18, 19).Micah’s words are both forceful and eloquent. He was well aware of the empowerment of God’s Spirit to give him his prophetic message (Micah3:8). He also knew that his message was not well received by some, and that there were those who wanted to silence him (Micah 2:6, 7). He indicted Israel with God’s “controversy,” meaning God’s charge of Israel’s failure to uphold the covenant of obedience and righteousness (Micah6:1, 2). This “controversy” with His people was not unique to Micah (see Jeremiah 25:31; Hosea4:1; 12:2).
Micah’s plea was that God’s people must realize that if they did not seek justice in their society, then God would purge them of evil by allowing their destruction. While Christians are not citizens of Micah’s Israel, that prophet’s call for holiness and righteousness sounds a needed plea to the church today.
I. Loving Evil(Micah 3:1-4)
The idea of loving evil seems detestable to most Christians. That idea is something that characterizes those “other people,” the unbelievers. In our world, where sinfulness is not hidden but celebrated, we can find many examples of people who seem to seek wickedness passionately in every possible form.
Yet God, who knows our hearts completely, can see that this is sometimes true of all of us. For Micah, even the apparently respectable leaders of Israel had been judged by their actions and found to love evil more than good (compare Psalm 52:3).Micah points out two fundamental flaws in their thinking that have caused this circumstance.
A. Mistake #1: “God Won’t Judge” (vv. 1-3)
I. And I said, Hear, I pray you, 0 heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment?
The British historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) commented, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” History is full of examples of leaders echo acted as if they were above the law rather than stewards of the law. Acton also said, “Remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control.”
It seems to be in this light that Micah thunders at the leaders of Judah and Israel the provocative question Is it not for you to know judgment? In other words, “Do you believe that you are above the law, that you can administer or withhold justice at your own whim?” (Remember: judgment often means the same as justice in the KAI). Those who think they can administer justice this way are in for a shock. The book of Revelation pictures a time when the wealthiest and most powerful people on earth will quiver in fear at the judgmental wrath of God (Revelation 6:15-17).This admonition is not only for the rich and powerful, however. It is for the father who tyrannizes his fancily behind closed doors. It is for the boss who exploits his or her employees at the workplace. It is for the shoplifter who believes that petty theft can be done secretly and without consequence. It is for those of us who believe we can get away with private sins of lust or pride. God is the perfect judge, and no one escapes His all-seeing eye.
2, 3. Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh with-in the caldron.
Micah employs some of the most violently graphic language of the Old Testament to drive home his point. God says that the leaders of Israel have exploited my people. These people are the very ones the leaders should have been protecting. Micah uses the horrific language of cannibalism, saying, in effect, “You have eaten my precious children.”
This does not refer to actual cannibalism, but to the relentless economic oppression of the poor people of Israel by the rulers. Those in power have manipulated the system to seize the property (and therefore the livelihood) of the lower classes (Micah 2:2). They have been consumed by greediness and wickedness (Micah 2:1).
Most cultures regard cannibalism as repulsive. In spite of its hideous qualities, however, it has occurred repeatedly in history. Usually it occurs in situations where people are facing utter starvation, and it is a last resort to secure food. One famous instance was the Donner Party, travelling to California in 1846. They were just a day late trying to cross the Sierra Mountains be-fore snow blocked the passes. Only 1,000 feet from the top, a snowstorm caught the 81 travellers. In a desperate attempt, 15 people hiked out. They became lost. As some died of malnutrition, others butchered them for food (labelling the packages so no one would have to eat a relative).Survivors finally stumbled into civilization and relief parties went back to save the others. Cannibalism had occurred even in the main camp. Nearly half the people died Cannibalism is hard to conceive of, even in situations involving starvation. But Micah de-scribes a situation in which the princes of Israel practiced economic cannibalism on their own people by choice, not by necessity. They had figuratively devoured their people. It is no wonder that Micah 3:4 says the Lord would hide His face from the perpetrators in their own lime of need!
B. Mistake #2: “God Ignores My Evil” (v. 4)4. Then shall they cry unto the Low), but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.
A difficult reality is that sometimes the consequences for sins are not immediately evident. For example, adultery can eat away at a marriage like a cancer, although the symptoms of that relationship cancer may take a long time to appear. Just because we are not incinerated by a lightning bolt every time we sin does not mean that God fails to notice or that God is in different. A hard lesson that the people of Israel have to learn is that God is not endlessly forgiving. There comes a time when God acts with decisive justice. God offers salvation by grace through Jesus, yet a time is coming when God’s wrath will be poured out on the disobedient (Ephesians 5:6).
Two centuries after Micah, the prophet Zechariah explains God’s judgment in a similar way. He notes that God’s prophets had called repeatedly for social justice but had been met by hard-heartedness. Eventually God responds this way:”Therefore . . . as [I] cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear” (Zechariah 7:13). God does not offer infinite opportunities to repent. The time for repentance is always now.
Loving Justice and Mercy(Micah 6:6-8)
To be sure, Micah has harsh words for those who have spurned God’s standards, loving evil. But Micah balances this with encouragement for those seeking to live lives pleasing to God.
A. Correct Action #1: Worship God (vv. 6, 7)6a. Wherewith shall I come before the Loon, and bow myself before the high God?
In examining our relationship with God, an important starting point is the issue of worship. The most foundational meaning of worship in the Old Testament is to “bow down before.” To do so is to acknowledge that God is great and worthy of honor and devotion (see Psalm 95:6).[See question #2. page 382.1
Another key aspect of Old Testament worship is sacrifice. To sacrifice is to relinquish freely something of value back to God. Sacrifice for us today may be in the form of monetary offerings for the work of the church. Sacrifice in the Old Testament often takes the form of agricultural produce and livestock, things that can be used for food.
Any person’s worship should include acts of sacrifice in order to be complete. Micah, however, drums a common beat of the prophets: that sacrifice without an attitude of submission to God is empty and worthless. God takes no delight in meaningless sacrifice; He refuses to acknowledge such hollow acts (see Amos 5:22).The following verses expand on this.
6b, 7. Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or 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?
Micah checks off possible sacrifices in a list of accelerating value. He begins with simple burnt offerings, which could be as lowly as a small bird (see Genesis 8:20). This proceeds to a year-ling calf, an animal of considerable value. Micah then moves to a kingly sacrifice, namely thou-sands of rams (see 1 Kings 8:63). He next mentions a sacrifice that moves beyond the potential of even the wealthiest person: a myriad of flowing rivers of olive oil. This is an offering of unimaginable value.
Micah ends the list with an unspeakable offering: human sacrifice of a firstborn child. This has dual significance for the Israelites of Micah’s time. First, they are aware of God’s testing of Abraham, who was commanded to offer his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis22:2). The lesson of that story, however, is that while God has a right to demand the sacrifice of that which is most precious to us, He does not condone human sacrifice at our initiative. Second, Micah’s imagery also reminds the Israelites of their pagan neighbours, who sacrificed children to false gods. This is abhorrent to the Lord (Leviticus 20:2; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35). Micah leaves questions unanswered, but the expected response is clear. We cannot earn God’s favour by our sacrifices, no matter how lavish they may be. Sacrifice can be empty or self-serving, and God does not desire such acts.
THE PRICE OF LOVE
What kind of gift does it take to demonstrate the value of love and devotion? Merchants want us to go overboard at Christmas. To convince a spouse of the depth of our love, we are encouraged to purchase expensive diamonds. Middle-aged husbands now receive advertising that tells them, “Now that the tight financial years of early marriage are past, purchase a ring that will tell her how much you really love her!”
The old Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas also goes a bit overboard. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree,” it says. And then come turtledoves, French hens, calling birds, etc. The list also becomes cumulative. That is, a partridge in a pear tree is given each of the 12 days, and all the other gifts also repeat on all later days. On the twelfth day there are 78 gifts given, for a grand total of 364. All to demonstrate true love! Wouldn’t one carefully chosen, thoughtful gift be more appropriate? Enough with all your birds and leapers! Rather than the quantity of sacrifices, God is more interested in the quality of love and devotion demonstrated in service.
B. Correct Action #2:Obey God (v. 8)
8a. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee.
Micah 6:8 is one of the most important verses in the Bible. It has been called the “key to the prophets.” It is a concise summary of what God demands from His people. It is not a list of actions, but rather a trio of attitudes that will result in behaviour that is pleasing to God. While this verse is addressed to the people of Israel, it still retains value for Christians who desire to live lives that are in accordance with God’s will. Micah is not teaching anything new to the people of Israel. He begins the verse by reminding them that they have been shown these things in the past. The requirements for goodness in the eyes of God can be boiled down to three things.8b. But to do justly.
To do justly includes the concepts of justice in the society and righteousness in one’s personal life. God’s “controversy” with Israel is that the government of God’s people is not just. Instead, it exploits and oppresses the poor and downtrodden for the advantage of the rich and powerful. God wants a nation that flows with justice for all (Amos 5:24). The Lord has made it clear that sacrifice without justice is not what He wants (Proverbs 21:3). God wants leaders who will protect the most vulnerable members of their community, often symbolized by widows and orphans in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 1:17;compare James 1:27).
Personal righteousness is also required. Righteousness is right actions, doing the right thing. The people of ancient Israel are to be guided by the Law of Moses, which clearly defines right behavior. As Christians we understand that we are righteous through our faith in Christ, not by keeping the law (Philippians 3:9). But this does not diminish God’s expectation that we will strive for holiness in our lives, to live righteously (1 Timothy 6:11).
The word translated mercy here may be the most significant doctrinal term in the Old Testament. It is sometimes translated loving-kindness and is seen as a supreme characteristic of God. The loving-kindness of God is to be valued more than life itself (Psalm 63:3). The mercy of the Lord prevents us from being consumed (Lamentations 3:22).
On both the level of the society and on the personal level, the quest for justice must be tempered with mercy. When we seek righteous judgments, we must do so with the loving heart of the Father. As with justice, sacrifices and worship ham those without mercy are not pleasing to God. Jesus was quick to quote Hosea 6:6 to His critics, reminding them that God desired mercy above sacrifice (see Matthew 9:13: 12:7).
8d.And to walk humbly with thy God? The third requirement is a necessary companion to the first two. God is not impressed by those who do acts of justice and mercy in order to gain credit and call attention to themselves (compare Matthew 6:1-4). Humility demands that we behave in a godly manner because it is the right way to act, not because we will be re-warded for it. Virtue truly becomes its own re-ward. The humble person will do the right thing consistently, even when no one else is aware of his or her action.
The opposite of humility is pride. Peter advised his readers to “be clothed with humility, “because “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). As a spirited stallion must be “broken” to be useful, so we must be broken and humble before God if He is to use us for His service (see Matthew 18:4). This brokenness and humility is our finest sacrifice to God (Psalm 51:17).
A.An Out-of-Balance Life
One of the grandest church buildings in the world is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (ancient Constantinople). It was built by the Christian Emperor Justinian in the sixth century AD. Justinian was perhaps the greatest ruler of the Byzantine Empire, and the Hagia Sophia was his supreme accomplishment. Justinian established a court system that dispensed justice for centuries. He was merciful to his people and lavished his largesse upon them. Yet he wanted his Hagia Sophia to exceed the grandeur of the temple of Jerusalem. Upon seeing the finished building, it is said that Justinian exclaimed, “O Solomon, I have outdone thee!” Justinian loved justice and mercy, but he failed the last of Micah’s three great standards: to walk humbly with his God.
B. The Well-Rounded Life
The well-rounded life is measured by all three of Micah’s cardinal virtues: justice, mercy, and humility. These three form an interlocking grid, and the absence of one will yield a life without proper balance.
Studying Micah gives us an opportunity for self-evaluation. Do sue seek justice and righteousness? Are there unrighteous elements in our lives with which we have become complacent? Do we really love being people of mercy? Have we be-come tired of kindness, “weary in well doing”(2 Thessalonians 3:13)? How would we evaluate our personal humility? Are we proud and boastful? Do we expect others to acknowledge our acts of service? Or are we content in knowing that we have done the right thing, whether or not we ever receive praise for it?
God of mercy, God of justice, sue come to You in humility. May You help us have victory over pride. May You help us be merciful, just as You have been merciful to us. May You help us long for righteousness and justice according to Your standards. We pray these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, amen.
D. Thought to Remember
Practice God’s requirements.