The children of Israel had drifted from the presence of God as a result of their sinful behavior. God called prophets to speak His truth to the people over the years – and Micah was one of these prophets.
His prophecies focused on the discipline God would use upon his people for their disobedience and at first glance the writings seem bent on punishment, but with further reading it becomes evident that God’s great love for His people is what was behind all the prophecies. The Father desires righteousness and obedience from his children. Yet, he’s not some cosmic killjoy. It’s about honoring the father and experiencing Him personally.
On Christmas Eve, we read in Micah 5 how God’s plan for his people would unfold with the birth of His Son in a small town called Bethlehem. God’s great love resulted in the sending of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, we gain so much – the opportunity to know God intimately. The privilege of heaven. The joy of life.
Yet, I fear that often we are more like the Old Testament Israelites than we wish to admit. We, too run the risk of finding ourselves wondering why we don’t “feel” saved or “feel” the presence of God as in the past.
I talk to people all the time who struggle in their faith. They remember what it felt like then they first became believers and yet, they feel so distant now. They wonder how it ever happened that way.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Any relationship has requirements. Left alone, drift occurs. It’s just in this case, the only ones drifting away are us. God never moves.
God recognizes that often his people drift.
So, what do we do next? What does God require from his people?
He says so in Micah 6
6 “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?
7 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?”
Micah begins with a question. What do I need to bring before the Lord? What is God looking for?
Does God desire burnt offerings, with one year old calves?
We need to remember that a system of sacrifices had been set up by God through the Levitical priesthood. Micah was not downplaying this system, nor saying it was insignificant or wrong. The Levitical system had been set up by God to provide, among other things, atonement for the sins of the people. Micah was a righteous man in this Israelite community. Therefore, he had no doubt participated in many sacrifices.
Yet, even in the midst of the ceremony, in the midst of the system that required blood sacrifices, Micah knew that these sacrifices done as routine, just for the sake of religiosity were useless. These sacrifices were to be outward expressions of inner trust and dependence on God for His grace and mercy.
Micah went on to ask if sacrifices of thousands of rams or offering 10,000 rivers of oil or even his firstborn would suffice.
This hyperbole was stated in such a way as to get everyone’s attention. It would be obvious that God would not desire any sacrifices that appeared as those offered to neighboring nation’s false gods. The people should get that. We should get that. Even in these statements, Micah was using illustrations of things that could be offered to God as good and holy and yet. . .God didn’t want those.
This would be confusing to the people. If at this point they were listening and desiring to regain intimacy with the Father, they would naturally think these offerings would be good enough. But, they would not be.
With the attitude and actions the people of Israel were displaying, God was using Micah to tell the people that simple religious actions would never suffice. Just deciding to go back to church – to volunteer more, to give more in the offering plate – none of this alone would amount to much. In fact, none of this alone would bring the people back into the intimate presence of God.
So, it leads to the obvious question “God! What do you want?”
Couples who have communication difficulties often find themselves asking this question of each other. Husbands will say “If she’ll just tell me what she wants, I’ll do it.” Wives say the same thing “Jus tell me what you want.” However, so often relationships still suffer because we move ahead with the “fix its” that we think will work, those things we think will heal a relationship only to find that the distance remains.
It happens spiritually. We desire to experience God in a more intimate way. We have become aware of our sin and God is convicting us and rather than respond as God would desire, we work our plan. Sometimes it looks good and feels religious. . .but, even so, it brings us no closer to the Father.
So, God. . .what do you want?
Micah reiterated God’s desires. . .
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The good relationship is one that is beneficial and intimate. The presence of God is experienced.
Do justice – be fair in how you deal with others. This is love in action. It relates to the Great Commandment – love God and love others. In a culture that rewards the cheater and overlooks injustice, God reminds us that we are to go against the flow. We’re told that cheaters never win and yet, it seems at times that they do. Even so, God’s children are different. We’re to do right and live rightly. We are to do justice to others. We do not get a pass. We justify and excuse injustice. We must stop.
Love mercy – the Hebrew word here is literally translated as “loyal love” i.e. carrying through on one’s commitments to others. You see, God’s Word is good as gold. He can be trusted. His word is His bond. As his children, carrying His spiritual DNA, we are to love mercy as well.
Walk humbly with God – The word translated as humbly here (sena) is only used here in Scripture. It means to fellowship with God in such an intimate way but with no arrogance.
This is where I need to warn you. If you’re not careful, if you take this portion of scripture out of context, you run the great risk of creating a theology and life philosophy based on works. In other words, by seeing what Micah states God requires, we tend to think well, if you do this, this and this, then God will like me. He will love me and I’ll be OK.
That mentality leads to a life of sin management which slides into legalism and results in more distance from God. There’s no intimacy in legalism. There’s no life in this type of theology.
So what are you to do? Recognize that what leads to these actions is a change of heart. It can begin with a change of mind, but must be more than intellectual.
We can experience the presence of God again. We can be closer to him than ever before.
What would keep us from experiencing Him fully?
The same things that were keeping the people of Micah’s day from experiencing Him fully.
The same things that were keeping people in the day of Christ’s birth from experiencing him fully.
When we seek self more than seek Him. When we design our own way rather than following His way.
Yet, because of His steadfast love, and righteous discipline, he calls us back to him.
For some of you here today, you have drifted so far, you fear that you don’t even know him.
Don’t let the Enemy steal your life. Grab it back.
Some of you here never entered into that relationship. God is calling you to himself today.
We are not promised tomorrow. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to renew your walk with the Lord.
God offers forgiveness and a new start today for all of us. . .
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.