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Pictures from Micah: Righteousness

The next picture it much like a three paneled mural.  Micah chapter 6 hold a favorite verse that is a popular scripture song: verse 8.  And that is the last part of this three paneled piece, but I don’t think we adequately appreciate verse 8 because we don’t usually step back and see it in its relationship with the surrounding text.

The Lord’s Complaint (vs. 1-5)

The first section this piece is actually the longest: Micah 6:1-5.  The first two verses invites the mountains and the hills to hear the Lord’s complaint against Israel (His people).  I find it a little curious that God calls on nature to witness to the righteousness of God’s dealings with His people.  But mountains and hills were the traditional places of worship.  

Consider the mountain witnesses: 

  • Mount Moriah, also called “The-Lord-Will-Provide”, where Abraham took Isaac (Gen. 22); 
  • Mount Horeb where Moses encounters God in the burning bush (Ex. 3); 
  • Mount Sinai where God re-established the Abrahamic covenant with Israel (Ex. 19, 10); 
  • Mount Gerizim and Ebal where Joshua renews the covenant and the blessing and curses are pronounced (Judges 8)
  • Mount Gilboa where King Saul was killed after he departed from the Lord (1 Sam. 31)
  • Mount Moriah, also called Zion, where Solomon built the Lord’s temple (1 Kings 3)
  • Mount Carmel where Elijah alone represented the Lord against the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)
  • And all the unnamed mountains and hills where the children of Israel set up altars to false gods to emulate the surrounding nations

Indeed the everlasting hills were witness to God’s long-suffering and mercy to Israel.  It is to this very history that God refers in His complaint in verse 3-5.

“O My people, what have I done to you?
And how have I wearied you?
Testify against Me.
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
O My people, remember now
What Balak king of Moab counseled,
And what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
From Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
That you may know the righteousness of the Lord.”

How God has led us in the past is our proof of His love and care for us, and our assurance of His provision and leading for the future.  As one dedicated follower once wrote:

In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God!  As I see what God has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as Leader.  We have nothing to fear fro the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.  (Ellen White, 3 Selected Messages, 162)

The Lord’s complaint is that although He provided everything to ensure that His people would prosper and grow in the knowledge of Him, they committed spiritual adultery with the so-called gods of the surrounding nations.  (Read the book of Hosea)

The “Self-Righteous” Response (vs 6, 7)

In response to the Lord’s complaint, Micah gives a two-fold answer.  The first, and longest part, reflects our efforts to worship God according to our intuition and faulty wisdom.  Notice how the effort to worship or, more acutely here, appease God build upon one another.  Micah begins with the suggestion of simply bowing and ends with offering his own child. 

This is what happens to us when we stop review how God has led us and what God has told us.  The Israelites began to confuse the character of God, one of love, with the so-called gods of the surrounding nations.  Everything in the worship of Jehovah pointed to a coming One who would die on the behalf of man because God so loved mankind that He was willing to do what was necessary to reconcile us to Him.  Everything in the worship of the false gods was about appeasing angry and capricious beings that were looking for an excuse to torment mankind.  As the Israelites looked into the worship of these false gods, their attitude and idea of Jehovah became distorted.

To this day there are people who believe that they must sacrifice (literally) their children to gain the favor of some so-called god.  What could wound Jehovah more than that?  

The relationship between the eternal Father and the eternal Son is one so much closer than that of a parent and a child.  Yet they were willing to sever that relationship, not to appease some blood-thirstiness, but to make it possible for you and I to return to Him by being washed clean of our sins. 

These two verse encapsulate what our worship looks like when we try to fix our relationship with God.  We can’t.  No sacrifice on our part is enough to fix the brokenness. 

The Righteous of the Lord (vs 8)

Finally we come to this last little picture.  It is a pretty little picture when we view it on its own, but it becomes breath-taking when we come to it after seeing the previous two.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly
And to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Compared to the previous picture of groveling, blood, and sacrifice, this picture of worship seems so easy and reasonable.  But we often fall into a trap by making this a check-list.  So let’s look a little closer.

The text is very plain: God requires these attributes of us.  But are they as easy as they look?

“To do justly”  Surely that is not so hard; we think we can handle this.  What does “justly” entail though?  When someone has been injured, we feel compassion and want compensation for them.  But what if the perpetrator is someone we care about, too?  Are we then so quick to want the full weight of justice to be done?  Don’t we hope that a little mercy is extended?  What about justice for my sins?  Do I really want justice?  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

“To love mercy”  After thinking more carefully about justice, you may be less likely to jump in and say that loving mercy is no big deal.  After all, the text does not say that we have to practice mercy.  But the “mercy” here is translated from the Hebrew word hesed. This is God’s amazing, all inclusive love for humanity.  As a former pastor explained it to me, hesed is God’s obsessive 24/7/356 love for you — for every member of humanity.  Do you love the fact that God love the person you hate the most as much as He loves you?  Israel had a hard time with this.  Remember James and John wanted to call down fire and destroy the Samaritan village because they wouldn’t let Jesus stay the night.  We are generally okay with this concept, but when someone hurts one we love we want the fire not the redemption. 

That brings us to the last part: “to walk humbly with your God”  Not too long ago, I was thinking of this verse and wondering about the progression.  I believe that although God did not dictate the Bible to His penmen, like Micah, He did inspire them.  So the vocabulary and syntax is precise.  Why does walking humbly come at the end?  Then I realized that the more I try to do justly and to love hesed the more I’ll realize that I can’t.  Therefore, I must walk humbly and allow God to teach me, lead me, and change me because I can’t do the other two.

God’s complaint against Israel was not that they were imperfect, but that they stopped relying on Him.  When He brought them out of Egypt, He did something that none of them or any person could have done.  When He saved you, He did something that you could never have done.  So why, after having been saved in such a miraculous way, do we think that God expects us to continue in His path of righteousness by our our strength and wisdom.  He did not save us to grovel at His feet; He saved us to be in relation with Him.  How did Jesus build a relationship with the disciples?  By spending time with them helping others.  

Try it.  Spend some time this week with Jesus helping someone else.

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