Lesson 2 - Micah 1:1-8 - DIVINE LITIGATION
Last Week: As an introduction the Minor Prophets, we covered the entire Book of Obadiah, which, at just 440 words, is the shortest book in the OT. First, we learned that these books aren't "minor" in the sense that their message is less important, but only for the reason that they are short in length. The prophecy of Obadiah is unusual insofar as the origins and the timeframe of the writer are both very vague and the fact that God's warning of judgment was directed solely at a foreign nation, Edom. The Edomites were ancestrally related to the Israel through Esau, the twin brother of Jacob and had been a historical enemy of the Israelites since the time of the Exodus. The main message we learned from Obadiah is that it's a serious mistake to oppose God's people. Nations today that persecute Christians and their churches are already in trouble with God and facing judgment.
This Week: We'll hear from Micah (in Heb. lit. means Who is like God?), a prophet of Judah and contemporary of Isaiah whose message spanned the reign of three kings: Jotham (750-730 B.C.), Ahaz (730-716 B.C), and Hezekiah (716-687 B.C.); and it was during a very turbulent period of history: the Davidic Kingdom of Israel had split between the Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel; and the Assyrian Empire had risen to be the dominant military power in the region. Then in 721 B.C., the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and sent its people into exile. Afterward, during Ahaz' reign, Judah became a vassal of Assyria when it was compelled to pay tribute (i.e., extortion) to keep them from attacking. The message of Micah to the people of Judah came as a complex mixture of impending judgment and hope. On one hand, he warned of judgment upon Judah for its social evils, corrupt leadership, and idolatry; but on the other, he foretold a time of transformation and exaltation of Israel and Jerusalem.
Read Micah 6:1-2 - THE LORD'S INDICTMENT AGAINST HIS PEOPLE
1 Hear now what the LORD is saying, "Arise, plead your case before the mountains, And let the hills hear your voice. 2 Listen, you mountains, to the indictment by the LORD, And you enduring Foundations of the earth, Because the LORD has a case against His people; And He will dispute with Israel.
Note: In Chapter 1:1-2, Micah introduced himself as a prophet from Moresheth, a village about 30 miles southeast of Jerusalem, who received a prophecy from God in the form of a vision. It was specifically addressed to "you people, all of you" (1:2), i.e., the entire population of Judah, and covered the timeframe of the three kings of Judah mentioned the Introduction (750-687 B.C.)
v. 1a: "Hear now what the LORD is saying," - As we will see, Micah's prophecy is carefully framed using the language of a lawsuit. The command "Hear now," is the equivalent of a summons to appear in court: and if you fail to appear, the consequences can be very unpleasant.
v. 1b: "Arise, plead your case before the mountains, And let the hills hear your voice." - The "mountains" will be impaneled as the LORD's jury and the "hills" will hear their testimony.
v. 2a: Listen, you mountains, to the indictment by the LORD, And you enduring Foundations of the earth," - The term "indictment" is generally understood to be an accusation of wrongdoing. Sitting as a jury, the "mountains" and the "enduring Foundations of the earth" are imminently qualified as impartial by the fact that they have been able to observe history unfold since time began (Gen. 1:1). They have seen and heard everything; and as if they could speak, they will bear witness to the truthfulness of the LORD's claims.
Read Micah 1:3-5 - THE LORD STATES HIS CASE.
3 My people, what have I done to you, And how have I wearied you? Answer Me. 4 Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of slavery, And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 My people, remember now What Balak king of Moab planned And what Balaam son of Beor answered him, And what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, So that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD."
v. 3: "My people, what have I done to you, And how have I wearied you? Answer Me." - The LORD called His people to testify how He Had caused them to be so weary of Him. In this context, weary means disillusioned and fed-up, not physically tired. His question conveys a sense of pity; instead of criticizing them, God asked how He had failed them, which was a rhetorical question that was in fact unanswerable: they had complained against Him often, but He had given them no cause to do so.
v. 4a: "Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of slavery," - In this phrase, we see God introduce "Exhibit A": Instead of letting them down, He had lifted them up by bringing them out from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and led them into the Promised Land of milk and honey. He had done nothing but good for them. (Ex. 12 generally).
v. 4b: "And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." - This is "Exhibit B": God had also given them capable leaders for their wilderness travels in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Moses as their prophet, had given them the Law (Deut. 18),; Aaron had served them as their first High priest, and Miriam was a prophetess who led them in worshiping God for His greatness and goodness (Ex. 15:2-21). Pretty strong case so far, wouldn't you say?
v. 5a: "My people, remember now What Balak king of Moab planned And what Balaam son of Beor answered him," - This is "Exhibit C": Do you remember the story of Balaam and the talking donkey in Num. 22? The King of Moab hired Balaam, a mystic, to place a curse on God's people but Balaam revealed that God would never do that (Num. 22-24). In fact, God's intentions for His people has been steadfastly good.
v. 5b: "And what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, So that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD." - This is "Exhibit D": "Shittim" was the Israelite's last camping place before they crossed the Jordan and "Gilgal" was where they had camped after their crossing (Josh. 3 and 4).
Fact No. 1: God had always done what was consistent with His covenant obligations to His people, not burdening them but always defending, protecting, and enabling them. He had led them lovingly from slavery in a hostile land to settlement in their own bountiful country (Josh. 24; 1 Sam. 12).
Read Micah 6:6-7 - MICAH'S RESPONSE FOR THE PEOPLE
6 With what shall I come to the Lord And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take pleasure in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Note: At this juncture, God has rested His case and now, acting as the people's defense counsel, Micah will reply to the LORD's indictment.
v. 6a: "With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high?" - Micah responds in the form of a question and an answer. The question here is what kind of offering should the people bring to the LORD that would please Him in view of all of the good things He's done for them i.e., defending, protecting, and enabling them throughout their history as established in vv. 3-5.
v. 6b: "Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves?" - As his first offer of a defense, Micah asks whether "yearling calves" as burnt offerings might be sufficient. A yearling calf was one of the most valuable types of animal offered for sacrifice, and as a "burnt" offering, it would be entirely consumed rather than eaten. So, Micah is proposing what would normally be considered to be a very generous offering under the Levitical sacrificial system.
v. 7a: "Does the LORD take pleasure in thousands of rams," - Here, Micah answered his own question by assuming that the yearling calves wouldn't be enough, so takes the question a step higher to ask whether "thousands of rams" would be sufficient. We need to see that the prophet is saying this for effect, using hyperbole-gross overstatement-to make the point he's coming to.
v. 7b: "In ten thousand rivers of oil? - Olive oil was one of Israel's primary agricultural products. Offering "ten thousand rivers of oil' is yet another example of gross overstatement since normal sacrificial practice required only small quantities of oil.
v. 7c: "Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" - Presuming a "no" answer that thousands of rams and rivers it oil aren't enough, Micah goes to the ultimate extreme, asking whether the sacrifice of a "firstborn" child would be enough to please the LORD. Although child sacrifice was practiced among some of the pagan religions of the ancient Near East, it was an abomination to the LORD GOD of Israel. So this question is self-answering: Instead of pleasing the LORD, such an offering would constitute a grave sin that violated the sixth Commandment (Ex. 20:13). And the general answer to all of Micah's questions about offering is no, this is not what the LORD wanted from them.
Fact No. 2: The main point Micah makes is that the quality and quantity of sacrifices wasn't the real issue here. The prophet only used these exaggerated examples of ritual worship to show that none of these things would atone for the sins of the people that he was getting ready to reveal to them.
Read Micah 6:8 - WHAT DOES THE LORD TRULY REQUIRE FROM YOU?
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
v. 8a: "He has told you, O man, what is good;" - By using the singular "O man," Micah emphasizes the vast difference between God and man and also makes the accusation personal-addressing it to every individual in Israel, from the kings, leaders, priests, and the wealthy all the way down to the most common people.
v. 8b: "And what does the Lord require of you" - From this point, the prophet takes the idea of what it takes to please the LORD in an entirely different direction. He doesn't say that the offering of sacrifices is wrong per se (they are, after all, required under Jewish law), but is focusing instead on attitudes that come from the deepest part of a person's life-the heart, the innermost person.
v. 8c: "But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" - This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of God's essential requirements in the Bible. It explains the essence of spiritual reality in contrast to mere ritual worship. Specifically, God wanted His people to practice "justice," which can be defined as fulfilling ones' personal responsibilities and obligations towards other in a manner consistent with God's moral standards of honesty and fairness (see Isa. 42:1). He also wanted them to practice loving "kindness," by making and keeping commitments to help one another, as He had done in His covenant obligations for them (vv. 3-5). And finally, He wanted His people to "walk humbly" with Him, to live their lives modestly, trusting and depending upon Him rather than selfishly relying on themselves. You can see a progression in these requirements, moving from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to divine relationships. Very simply, doing justice towards other people demands loving kindness, which necessitates walking humbly in fellowship with God.
Fact No. 3: No right relationship with God is possible unless you are faithful to your God-given responsibilities in relationships with your fellow human beings.