Clear expectations and instructions are important.
Organisations, like churches or businesses, work hard to DEFINE THEIR VISION. (Where they want to finish. Their ideal future). Because if you don’t know what your TARGET is/ it’s very hard to HIT it.
And a good boss will make sure an employee has AN ACCURATE JOB DESCRIPTION. And she’ll give CLEAR FEEDBACK. Because it’s frustrating for EVERYONE if you don’t know what you’re supposed to DO in your job.
And a good SPORTS COACH will set clear expectations about what he wants his team to do. Skills will be explained, demonstrated, copied, observed, and corrected.
And a young couple preparing for marriage will practice COMMUNICATION techniques, so they can clearly share their hopes and preferences. So there’s less chance of confusion or guesswork or resentment.
Clear expectations and instructions are important.
If it’s important in THESE situations, HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT is it to know what GOD expects? To know how he wants us to live, and respond to him. (The One who MADE you, who holds your life in his hands. The One who’ll, one day, call you to account). Is there a more important question than the one in Micah chapter 6 verse 8? “And what does the LORD require of you?” I don’t think so! So I can’t think of anything better you could be do for the next twenty minutes or so than listening to how God answers that question.
What the LORD DOESN’T require of you (6)
Chapter 6 begins with a command to LISTEN. Because God’s about to speak. It’s the same way chapter ONE began, and the way chapter THREE began. Look there in v1. “Listen to what the LORD says.” God’s the PLAINTIFF in a courtroom scene. He’s bringing his complaint against his people, and he’s calling on the MOUNTAINS to back him up. To support him.
2 Hear, O 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.
The mountains have witnessed God’s relationship with his people, right from the beginning. They’ve seen EVERYTHING. God begins his complaint in v3, firstly by examining HIS part in the relationship.
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.
In other words, “What did I do that was so terrible? I rescued you and redeemed you, and provided leaders for you. V5, I rescued you from the devious plans of King Balak. And I brought you safely across the Jordan River from Shittim into the Promised Land at Gilgal.”
And he finishes the history lesson at the end of v5, “that you may know the righteous acts (or “righteousness”) of the LORD. Most of the time when that word’s used, it’s about KEEPING A COVENANT. God’s RIGHTEOUS. He’s kept his side of the bargain. History bears witness to it. The mountains, there since the beginning, bear witness to it.
Two Wrong Answers
That’s the “terrible burden” God’s placed on his people. He’s setting the scene for his complaint about how badly his people have RESPONDED to that righteousness. (How undeserving he is of their faithlessness).
But before he can move on to the substance of his complaint, v6 and 7, one of the hearers interrupts him.
I’m imagining it’s A MAN. It’s one of the communication mistakes we identify in pre-marriage counselling. The wife wants to complain about her day. Her new husband BEGINS to listen, but then quickly interrupts with the SOLUTION. (What he’s going to do to FIX things.) But the wife normally doesn’t WANT a solution. She just wants him to LISTEN! Which is NOT what this person’s doing with God. Despite the command in v1to LISTEN. He jumps straight in with what he THINKS God wants him to do. (“With what shall I come before the LORD?”).
And it’s the FIRST of TWO WRONG ANSWERS. It’s NOT what God requires of us. God asks the question, “What did I do that was so terrible?” And then, v6, the hearer replies with a bunch of questions of his own.
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 oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
There’s an exasperated tone to the questions. As if he’s frustrated that he can’t please God, whatever he does. His FIRST question asks how he can please God. (What gift will satisfy him?) And then gives three answers, also in the form of questions. And they get, progressively, more and more ridiculous. Will a burnt offering work? A year old calf? No? Then what about THOUSANDS of rams? Or ten thousand rivers of oil? Ridiculous to even IMAGINE.
His THIRD question moves from the ridiculous to the absolute wicked. If God’s not satisfied by VOLUME. Then perhaps VALUE will do it. “What about offering my FIRSTBORN child for my transgression?” Even though God had specifically FORBIDDEN it! Of course God won’t be satisfied with THAT! God might have spoken with a bit of IRONY in v3 – “How have I burdened you?” But this is completely SARCASTIC.
It’s a WRONG ANSWER because it’s DEFLECTING BLAME. It’s not accepting responsibility. It’s thinking the problem’s with God. His standards are too high. He can’t be pleased. He’s unreasonable. We all make mistakes, why can’t God just OVERLOOK IT this one time?!
Or perhaps the thought is God’s being UNJUST. THIS GENERATION hasn’t done anything to deserve God’s anger. Why should THEY suffer defeat and exile because of the sin of their ancestors? God’s being UNFAIR. We’re not to blame! God’s to blame!
It’s like the person called out for bad behaviour. Losing his temper, for example. Rather than accept fault, and ask how he can repair the damage, he DEFLECTS BLAME. “It’s not my fault. He made me do it. She was asking for it. She knows just how to push my buttons.”
Or perhaps the attitude is GENUINE, rather than sarcastic. (He truly wants to do what’s right before God.) In which case, it’s wrong because it’s PROUD and SELF-RIGHTEOUS. It’s under-estimating the seriousness of sin. Or over-estimating our ability to satisfy God. It’s the morally upright person who thinks he’s acceptable to God because he’s nicer than other people, and doing his best.
It’s the anxious religious person, who builds up a portfolio of good works to impress God, and earn his entrance into heaven. But who’s constantly uncertain about whether he’s done enough.
It’s the older son in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Who thinks because he’s SLAVED for his Father for years, he deserves lavish gifts and a party of his own.
(That’s ONE wrong answer. We’ll see ANOTHER in a few verses.)
Which brings us to v8 – our key verse for today. It seems to be Micah stepping in, and speaking up for God. “Stop asking ignorant questions! Stop trying to GUESS what God wants from you!” V8
He has SHOWED you, O man, 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.
A pretty famous verse. Deservedly. Summarising what God’s shown his people over generations. We’ll come back to it in a moment. It’s the RIGHT answer to the question. But let’s jump past it onto v9. Which begins with another command to LISTEN.
Micah’s reminding people that GOD’s the one with the microphone. Stop your interruptions. “Listen! The LORD is calling to the city.”
God hasn’t finished his complaint. In fact, he hasn’t even STARTED it. He’s only described how faithfully he’s kept HIS side of the contract. So, v10, we finally get to God’s complaint.
Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ill-gotten treasures and the short ephah, which is accursed? 11 Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? 12 Her rich men are violent; her people are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.
The sorts of sins we saw back in chapters two and three. Injustice, dishonesty, violence. It’s the SECOND wrong answer to the question, “What does God require of you?”
God demands obedience. He demands people reflect his character and values. Living out justice, truth, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. And, instead, they DISOBEY. They walk in the OTHER DIRECTION. The OPPOSITE of justice, truth and mercy: INjustice, DIShonesty, and ABUSING the weak.
It’s the YOUNGER son in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. Independently walking away from the Father. Ignoring his care and wisdom. BOTH sons in the story aren’t living in fellowship with their Father. They’re not doing what he requires of them.
Injustice, dishonesty and selfishness. We see it in INDIVIDUALS. And we see it in OUR SOCIETY AT LARGE. We see it corporate culture. We see it in how FIRST World countries treat the THIRD world. How the HAVES treat the HAVE NOTS. How we treat indigenous people. Or refugees. Or the disabled. Or the unborn. Or unsupported expectant mothers.
God SEES it, and God CARES about it, and God’s going to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Which he describes in v13 to 16.
13 Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins. 14 You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. 15 You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.
The punishment’s not what we expect. It’s not destruction and exile. It’s frustration. It’s desolation and despair. They dishonestly pursued their idols of comfort and riches. So God will make their idols WORTHLESS. They won’t SATISFY them.
They’ll work to produce plenty of food, but they’ll still be hungry. They’ll horde money and possessions, but it will all slip through their fingers, and they’ll be left with nothing. They’ll plant and harvest and manufacture. But at the end of all the work, there’ll be nothing left to show for it. They’re seeking satisfaction from things God never designed to SATISFY.
It’s what lots of people experience TODAY, who spend their lives pursuing riches, or promotions, or beauty, or fame, or pleasure, or excitement. And when they GET it, it doesn’t SATISFY them. It couldn’t deliver what it PROMISED. And they’re LOST. They need a better TREASURE. A better object of worship. A better goal in life. The answer, of course, they need Jesus!
And that takes us to the end of ch 6. And the end of God’s complaint.
Three Right Answers
But let’s jump back to consider Micah’s answer in v8. We’ve seen TWO WRONG ANSWERS. (Proud legalism and wilful disobedience). Let’s look at THREE RIGHT ANSWERS. (What WILL please God?) He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good
It’s not a MYSTERY. We don’t have to GUESS. He’s SHOWED you through the history of his dealings with his people. Through his law, and through his prophets. For US, in New Testament times, that’s even TRUER. Because in Jesus we see GOD HIMSELF. As Hebrews 1:2 says, in these last days he’s spoken to us BY HIS SON. The radiance of his glory, the exact representation of his being. Jesus is God’s clear communication of both WHAT HE’s LIKE, and WHAT HE EXPECTS OF US. He LIVES IT, and he COMMAND it. And Jesus’ answer is the same as Micah’s answer. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
What GOOD RESPONSE does God require to his righteous covenant actions? It’s not IMPOSSIBLE, like pouring out ten thousand rivers of oil. It’s not IMMORAL like sacrificing your first-born child. But it’s also a lot more COMPREHENSIVE AND WIDE-RANGING than simply offering a sacrifice. (Than doing your religious duty. Than attending Sunday morning worship services, or chanting five ‘Our Father’s and three ‘Hail Mary’s).
First, ACT JUSTLY. Or to DO JUSTICE. The OPPOSITE of the Jews with their dishonest scales and ill-gotten treasures. Treat people FAIRLY. Don’t play favourites, based on wealth or influence. Treat the cleaner the same way you treat the company CEO.
Second right answer: LOVE MERCY. Don’t just DO mercy, LOVE mercy. It’s more than just ACTION. It’s ATTITUDE. Mercy translates the Hebrew word HESED. Or LOVING-KINDNESS. Covenant FAITHFULNESS. It’s what God shows us. So LOVE it. Internalise it. Make it part of YOUR way of doing things. Be Reliable. Truthful. Trustworthy.
And sprinkle it with MERCY. With gentleness and grace and compassion and patience. Be drawn to the lowest and the weakest, rather than the attractive and useful. HESED – MERCY – is about love AND truth. Heat AND light.
And THIRD right answer: walk humbly with your God. In Hebrew, it’s literally, “And in humility, walk towards your God”. Two answers to do with how you treat OTHERS, and ONE to do with how you treat God. Your life’s ATTITUDE is to be humility. And your life’s DIRECTION is to be GODWARD.
Humility recognises that your obedience has no merit about it. But everything comes by God’s grace. And so you’re thankful and joyful, as you walk towards him. Seeking to please him. Not self-righteous PRIDE like the cynical questioner in v6-7. Or the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And not walking rebelliously AWAY from God, like Jerusalem society in v9-12. Or the YOUNGER son in Jesus’ parable. But walking humbly towards your God.
But what does that LOOK LIKE? Especially when times are TOUGH? As we move into chapter 7. we see what it looks like to walk humbly before God / IN THE LIFE OF MICAH.
Verses 1 to 6, he despairs at the sin around him. Like a fruit picker, looking for a harvest but the trees are EMPTY. There’s not a righteous person to be found in the whole land. V3, the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful decide the rules.
But rather than descend to their level, look at Micah’s response in v7. But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
Walking humbly after your God begins with HOPE. Waiting expectantly for God to answer and act. And the REST of chapter 7 is the FRUIT of that hope. Circumstances might be hopeless. And your enemies might be sniggering. But God knows what he’s doing and I TRUST him. V8, Micah speaks to the enemies of Jerusalem.
8 Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. 9 Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He WILL bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.
Micah’s humility means he recognises his SIN. But it drives him TO God, not AWAY from him. Even if God’s bringing punishment. He still trusts God’s GOODNESS. “He’ll deal RIGHTLY with me. His MERCY will triumph over his JUSTICE.”
And, if you jump down to v18, you can see WHY Micah’s so hopeful. And why his humble walking after God won’t be disappointed. It’s not because Micah’s LOVELY or LOVEABLE. It’s all because of God’s LOVE. He knows God’s CHARACTER.
Who wouldn’t want to please a God like this? Who wouldn’t want to walk humbly after a God like this?
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.
Which would be a great place to stop. But I can’t help myself. I’ll finish with Jesus’ words from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, backing up Micah’s words about the compassionate and forgiving heart of God for repentant, humbled sinners.
Luke 15:20-24 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
What does the Lord require of you? To act JUSTLY and to love MERCY and to walk HUMBLY with your God.