First Mennonite Church
June 16, 2019
What Does the Lord Require?
Texts: Micah 6:1-8; 7:18–19
During a recent Wednesday Bible study, we considered the passage about the death of John the Baptist. And Karen expressed very well the reason John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. Karen said, “Being a prophet was a very risky profession to have. You get in trouble for what you have to do or say on behalf of the Lord.” You see, John the Baptist was beheaded because he told Herod it was unlawful for him to have his brother’s wife. Since that day, Salome, the wife of Herod, determined to get rid of John the Baptizer.
The prophet Micah might have been one of the loneliest men during his time. His message was certainly one that was discomforting to the powerful and yet comforting to the oppressed. Micah did not succumb to the pressure other so-called prophet did just to sit well within the religious and political environment. These false prophets, says Micah, prophesied for food, wine and beer. And their message was well received by all the people (Micah 2:6–11). “If one feeds them then they proclaim peace” (3:5). “Her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money, yet they lean upon the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.’” (3:11).
As for Micah, he claims not to come from a lineage of prophets, but as he says, he “is filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (3:8) Therefore, as every true prophet of the Lord did, Micah preached a message of warning and judgment to those who violated the covenant and he preached a message of comfort and hope to those who were oppressed by the system devised and imposed by the ruling class.
In chapter six, Micah’s prophetic imagination portrays a scene in which Israel is dragged into a gigantic courtroom. YAHWEH opens the court proceedings, not by listing the charges against Israel first, but by subjecting himself to judgment. “Oh my people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. These two questions reveal the tenderness of God’s heart towards his people even in light of the clearest sign of rebellion on their part. Instead of projecting himself as an angry and blood-thirsty God, hungering to execute vengeance, God makes himself vulnerable. God cringes at the prospects that Israel’s sin merits only punishment. You see, God would not have asked Israel for loyalty if he had not shown it first. God would not have asked Israel to act justly if he had not been a just and righteous God. God would not have asked Israel to act compassionately towards one another if he had not shown concrete acts of compassion to his people. Thus, the self-judging questions God asked first were intended to highlight the moral authority with which he was about to judge his people.
In the same way today, God would not ask you and me to do something if he has not done anything for us. God would not ask us to love him above all things if he has not shown to us the cost of unconditional love. God would not ask us to forgive if he has not forgiven us our trespasses and sins. God would not ask us to give to him or his cause if he has not given us first. Or as in the words of Jesus in Matthew 11, he will not ask you to take his yolk upon your shoulder if he had not taken all your burdens and given you rest, (11:28, 29). The Lord is not an unfair or unjust God. As Paul writes, the Lord is righteous in his judgment (Romans 2:5).
After God pleads with Israel to answer him on how he might have wronged them or burdened them that could justify their wicked ways, the Lord reminds Israel of a few crucial moments along its history.
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.
5 Oh my people, remember
what Balak king of Moab plotted
and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
In that prophetic imagination, Micah voices what could have been Israel’s response to the Lord. And the prophet responds on behalf of Israel’s with four questions:
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 olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
The prophet seems to frame an answer to God based only on religious rituals and external offerings. The list includes offering of bulls, oil libations, and even child sacrifices. In other words, Israel believed that by fulfilling its religious obligations and by offering animal sacrifices and produce to God, everything should be fine. But then the prophet takes the role of the prosecuting attorney and declares the basis of God judgment: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. In other words the prophet tells Israel, “If you did not know what to do or how to act is because you simple have not cared to see. God has shown you what is good; thus, you should know what to do and how to act. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The other day someone told me that she was happy to know we still sing hymns and not, what she called “the seven-eleven” songs. She said, “I am worried of what might happen to the young generation that is missing the sound biblical and theological material hymns have.” She was also impressed that we have managed to stay with the piano, only, for congregational singing. I should tell you that I want to agreed with her on everything she said on this matter. And I know that you do too. But here is the truth of the matter according to Micah: religious orthodoxy is not enough. We can sing the best composed hymns declaring the soundest theological truths about God, Christ, salvation, and everything biblical, but if we fail to do what God also requires would render everything else unacceptable to the Lord. We can be the strictest observers of every kind of spiritual practices. We can pray, fast, give alms, get baptized, go to church, serve in committees, be the pastor, or be in any other kind of leadership role, but if we fail to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God, we should pay attention to the words of the prophet Micah. He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? And we should also heed the words Jesus directed to the religious leaders of his time: Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (Matthew 9:13).
Although the words of the prophet Micah were discomforting to those who were not willing to hear them, his message, as I said at the beginning, was also a word of comfort to those who were willing to obey the Lord. Despite Israel recalcitrant heart, God was still offering them a way out if Israel repented. The comforting message of Micah is revealed in chapter seven where he states:
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.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (7:18–19)
Each of us has to answer Micah’s question: what does the Lord require of you? And the answers is: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
May we search our heart and remember what the Lord has done for us. May we open our eyes to see what the Lord has done for us. And, may we desire to act according to the example of Jesus Christ, who sought to please his Father alone. May we be always ready to show mercy towards others. And may we keep learning humility from Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen!