Reading : Micah 6:1-16
What Have I Done?
There are people in the world today, perhaps many of them, who once used to behave as though they were Christians. They acted like Christians and believed what Christians believe but somewhere along the line something happened and they don’t claim to be Christians any more. That’s not to say that they have stopped living good lives it is simply to say that God is no longer at the centre of their thinking and Jesus is no longer at the heart of their affections. (If you have been a Christian for any length of time you probably know someone just like that.)
As we turn to our passage in Micah this morning we’ll find that this is no recent phenomenon either. Micah lived at a time in history when it looked like the majority of his contemporaries were backsliders and apostates. Outwardly they belonged to the people of God but they did not conduct their lives in a manner consistent with such a calling. If truth be told they were acting as if, quite simply, they were fed up with God. They were bored of him and in their boredom they had turned away from him no longer considering what he had once done for them as in any way valuable.
If you are worried that you might become just like them, or even that you are becoming like them – these verses in Micah ch.6 contain a genuine hope for you. All is not lost for these verses can teach you how to avoid becoming such a backslider.
Perhaps, though, you have already become rather like these people and you are beginning to wonder whether Scripture has anything to say to you? You have seen others in the world seemingly getting on fine in life without having a single thought of God and you have started to live as they do. Maybe your turning away from God involved taking a strong and deliberate decision to renounce your Christian past or perhaps you have simply drifted further and further from what meant so much to you back then. It doesn’t really matter how you got to where you are now, the question is "Can I return? And if so how?" Well these verses in Micah ch.6 do have something to say to you, they can teach you what you need to know.
So without further ado, let’s turn to Scripture.
Overview: A Courtroom Scene
v.1 "Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice."
Experts offer differing interpretations of the details of this passage – the relationship between the Lord and his servant Micah is so close that it is not easy to know when it is the Lord who is speaking directly to his people and when it is Micah who speaks as the mouthpiece of the Lord. In the event it doesn’t matter that much because the result is the same and so the overall picture is clear enough.
The Lord has a case to bring against his wayward people. He will lay out his charges before witnesses and he invites or challenges his people to speak up and to explain themselves.
v.1 The Lord begins by calling for all to listen to what he is about to say. Then in an aside, the Lord issues his instructions to Micah who will represent him will act as his mouthpiece, the counsel for the prosecution. Micah is the one who will present the Lord’s case and he will do so openly, before witnesses.
v.2 This verse case tells us that the case is to be presented before witnesses, it is something that is open and not hidden away.
"Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel."
Creation is involved, specifically mountains and hills which are viewed as being long-standing, solid and reliable, a worthy foundation upon which to establish justice.
vv.3-5 The case for the prosecution is presented. The Lord’s case or indictment consists of several points. We will come to these in a moment.
(In vv.6-7 Micah puts himself in the place of the accused, those whom the Lord is calling to the bar. And in this position Micah he asks some of the misguided questions that a would-be worshipper might ask before he proceeds to correct their errors.)
(v.8 contains a description of what the Lord does look for in the life of his people.)
(vv.9-16 bring the chapter to a close with a pronouncement of the Lord’s just judgment)
This morning we will limit ourselves to thinking about what the Lord has against his people and we will see how his interrogation points the way forward as he makes a number of direct statements concerning what he had already done for them. As we listen to what the Lord had to say then, may we understand how his words are relevant to us too.
The Lord Cares
Before we look at some of the detail of this "court-case" we first need to understand that the very fact that the Lord initiates proceedings is evidence that he cares when his people turn away from him. He is not the god of the deists who posit a god who once he had wound up his world left it to get on by itself. It is because the Lord remains interested in his creation that he brings his case here and his aim in bringing it is not limited to securing some sort of judicial victory. Yes, of course he will prove himself to be in the right - that end could never in doubt and is implied by the phrase translated "he will contend with Israel" which means that his contending would be successful, must be successful. His victory wouldn’t hang upon the verdict that the witnesses for they are not judges but observers who will recognise the justness of the Lord’s case.
Beyond the vindication of his name, the way in which the Lord’s arguments are presented reveals the Lord’s desire to win over his people, to bring them back to himself. This court case involves a passionate plea to repentance, a repentance that will lead to restoration.
If you are in a backslidden condition or if you have turned away from the Lord do you realise that these verses contain a wonderful hope for you? You may have bolted away from the Lord but the door has not been slammed on you yet – the Lord appealed and pleaded with his people because he was willing to take them back and he is willing to take you back too. Will you change your mind? Will you come back? Will you tell him that you made a mistake, a grievous, serious mistake? Will you ask for pardon? The NT encourages us to believe that repentance is the way to blessing:
Acts 3:19-20 "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord"
1Jn.1:8-9 "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I hope you’re not in a backslidden condition but perhaps you still fear that one day you will be. Well this passage has something for you too. The Lord who wants to restore backsliders to himself compassionately tells us here how to avoid becoming a backslider in the first place. So pay attention to what he says!
General Questions to Make us Think
v.3 "O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!"
The Lord, speaking through his prophet, gives his people the opportunity of explaining themselves. As we hear the Lord’s questions we are brought to see us just how his people had been treating him.
And what questions these are! This is the Lord speaking and he asks what his people have against him. They are behaving towards him as though they had found him guilty of mistreating them and he asks them tell him what it is he has done wrong.
Sometimes you’ll meet a person who says that the Bible is full of contradictions but if you ask them to tell you about them they fall silent. The same sort of thing is at work here. It is easy enough to act as though the Lord had been unfair in the way he treated you but it is a whole lot harder to be specific! And our problem is so often that we don’t want to take the time to think clearly. So the Lord asks this question: "What have I done to you?" he wants them to begin to think and in order to help them do so he will give some examples of just what it is that he has done for his people.
Before we turn to think for a moment about those examples the Lord asks another general question: "How have I wearied you?" The reason he has to ask this question is because the people are behaving towards him as though they had found life with him to be boring and tedious, just think about it the One True Living God dreary and tedious, that his service was wearying and burdensome, that his worship was dry, dull and so uninteresting that he had simply worn them out!
It really ought to be obvious to us that this God is anything but boring and tedious but we don’t always want to accept what is obvious and we need to learn how to evaluate things properly. I watched a Gardening programme on TV this week and mention was made of David Austin. Now David Austin is famous for his work with roses – in fact he spent 60 years of his life cultivating roses with their variety of growing habits, size, colour and scent. If a man can spend a lifetime being fascinated by one type of flower how can you not be fascinated by a God who made not just roses but every plant form that exists and he did so not in a sixty year working lifetime but in a single day? I don’t know whether David Austin had faith in Christ, that is not my point, but men and women can be so taken up with what the Creator has made that they fail to realise that the Creator himself must be something special!
I wonder, do we need to ask ourselves these general questions? Is our response to God all wrong? Do we think deep down that he has treated us badly? Do we too think that God and all things related to him are really just boring and not worth our time and attention? If we are beginning to find God and the things of God tiresome then we need to hear what the Lord said through Micah.
Examples to Reflect Upon
As the Lord continues to challenge his hearers he refers to a variety of different things that he had done for his people. Let us think about this for a moment. Was what the Lord did for his people in these examples bad? Was it really boring the way in which he had dealt with them?
Think, think, think!
His examples are all related to that great event in Israelite history, the Exodus, and he directs beams of light onto different aspects of what happened at that time. As we listen again to Scripture, I invite you to follow the Lord’s logic and to think about it with me for a few moments:
v.4a "For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery..."
Jacob and his family had gone down to Egypt to avoid the ravages of an extended famine and they had settled there. For a while all went well but, as time passed and the people grew in number, the Egyptians grew nervous. The Israelites were considered to be a threat that needed to be controlled and so Egypt resorted to oppression. The Israelites were submitted to harsh treatment and came to be treated as slaves. As the period of their slavery extended the conditions of it became worse and worse until finally Israel cried out to the Lord for deliverance.
You know the story. God came to the rescue. He delivered them from their slavery and even delivered them from the land of that slavery – he set them free! "And what was wrong with that? Can you condemn me for that?" asks the Lord.
But that is not all! How was a great nation to survive and prosper?
v.4b "and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam."
It would need leaders and God reminds his people that he didn’t just break the yoke of their slavery he also gave them leaders, good leaders. He gave them Moses, Aaron and Miriam. I know none of these was perfect and they all three of them had their moments of weakness and failure but they were good leaders, faithful leaders. They served as leaders for nearly 40 years.
Israel had lived in Egypt for 400 years and the type of "leadership" they experienced there was that of the Pharaohs. Pharaohs ruled as Supreme Leaders and were often considered by their subjects to be gods. How the people of God had suffered under some of these leaders! The leaders God gave his people were very different. Consider Moses for example – this is how he is described in the Book of Numbers:
Num.12:3 "Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth."
A meek man, a humble man and that is extraordinary when you reflect on some of Moses’ experiences:
Ex 33:11 "the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."
And Moses led the people. He, along with his brother Aaron, performed miracles in Egypt as the Lord prepared the deliverance of his people from Pharaoh’s grip. He spoke fearlessly to the most powerful man of his day and successfully brought the people out of Egypt. The people had seen and heard all about the plagues that fell upon Egypt and yet they had experienced safety as they followed Moses instructions. How could blood painted on the doorframe protect the first born dwelling inside? But when they painted the blood in the morning they found that no-one had died.
Moses led the people towards the Red Sea and the Egyptians, having regretted their decision to let them go, chased after them. And the Israelites had been protected as that cloud settled between their camp and that of the Egyptians. They had stood on the banks of the Red Sea and then crossed over on dry land because God had caused a wind to blow throughout the night. What timing!! They were almost across and they noticed the Egyptians were trying to follow. Were they going to captured and taken back to Egypt? Were their hopes of freedom to be dashed? And just as the last man stepped out the waters came back. The Egyptian army was destroyed. What timing! Was it for such a deed that the Israelites were now accusing the Lord? Was such a deliverance really such a dull and tedious affair? The Israelites at the time hadn’t thought so – they had celebrated and sung!!
Moses served the people well, Aaron – the High Priest served them well, and Miriam also functioned as a prophet bringing God’s word, serving well.
What a debt the people owed to their leaders as these leaders represented the people and their interests before God – bitter water was made sweet, water was brought forth from the rock, meat was supplied for them to eat, protection was given against all kinds of enemies, serpents, plague, and even deliverance from the wrath of God when Moses interceded successfully for them.
How much God had done for his people! What leaders he had given them! What impressive interventions there had been! And now the people of Micah’s were accusing him of doing them harm and of wearying them! Is that credible? Think, think, says the Lord, you know I’m right and you know you haven’t got a case, you’ve not got a leg to stand on.
So far we have thought about deliverance from Egypt and the gift of a good leadership but there is much more that the Lord has done for you, says Micah speaking as the Lord’s mouthpiece. What about the divine protection he afforded you when you came under threat from foreigners in the desert?
v.5a "O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him..."
Think about Balak and Balaam! Can you do that? Can you think about the event to which Micah refers here? Balak was the king of Moab and he felt threatened by this great nation of Israel that was making its way towards the Promised Land and was passing over his territories (the plains of Moab lay to the east of the Jordan and opposite Jericho). Well Balak in his fear tried to put a curse upon the Israelites. He thought if he could succeed in doing that then he might be able to beat the Israelites in battle and drive them from his land. Balaam was the go to man for such an enterprise – apparently he was highly influential and had good track record of success.
And what happened? Instead of cursing Israel Balaam, at last following the Lord’s instructions, blessed them! And when Balak tried again, Balaam pronounced another blessing. And he did so a third time too!
Did the people need protecting? asked the Lord "well, don’t you remember how I did just that?" Was that something to hold against me? Was that a tedious and boring intervention? Think! Think! Think!
And still the Lord hasn’t finished with his examples:
v.5b "and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal..."
Well what did happen between Shittim and Gilgal? You might not recognise those place names but they were as well known to the Israelites as Dunkerque is in British military history.
Shittim was the last campsite of Israel in the wilderness before crossing over the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. Gilgal was on the other side of the Jordan to the east of Jericho and it would be Israel’s base for operations after they crossed the river. Not only had the Lord begun the work of salvation in delivering his people from slavery, not only had he kept and protected them along the way he had finished the job by taking them over into the Promised Land.
Do you remember how he did it? Joshua first sent spies into the land and there they heard that the inhabitants were terrified by Israel’s approach. Rahab told them all about it for the Canaanites had heard what the Lord had already done for his people:
Jos.2:9-11 "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath."
The spies brought this information back to Joshua. Things were looking up at last for Israel. What encouraging news this was! But there was a problem - it was just the wrong time of the year to attempt a river crossing. The Jordan was in flood – it would be an impossible task to cross over! But still the Lord gave his instructions – the priests were to carry the Ark of the Covenant to the river’s edge and the moment their feet touched the water the waters would be cut off upstream thus allowing the entire company to cross over on dry land into the Promised Land. Again what timing! How dramatic this was! No all night breeze this time but a last minute spectacular display of divine power and the river is dried up!
What could the people say about this? Was this unfair, unkind, was it really dull and boring? How foolish to imagine so!
These were just some of the Lord’s saving acts, his righteous acts. As the people reflected on what he had done they must surely recognise that he had powerfully acted on their behalf and saved them. Wasn’t he in the right to expect a better response from them?
A Long Time Ago
One of reactions you might have to what I’ve just been saying goes like this: that’s all very good but it all took place a long time ago; what I want is for God to do something similarly dramatic in my life. I want to know of him acting powerfully with me and then I know I won’t be bored with it all and I won’t find it tedious then.
While I might understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying it – I imagine that we all want a vibrant, living relationship with God – we must let our Lord do things his way and allow him to determine what is best for us. If we don’t we may well find that we are already a good way down the same path as Micah’s contemporaries. Now you may be wondering why I say that so let me explain.
When the Lord spoke through Micah to his contemporaries, Micah referred to the Exodus as we have just been considering. The thing that might not have struck you is that the Exodus was already centuries past by the time Micah mentioned it and yet the Lord obviously expected his people to take it into account as they determined the way in which they would relate to him. In other words what God had done a long time previously was still of relevance to his people.
So if you want to avoid backsliding quietly away from the Lord and if you want to avoid a noisy complaining rejection of him for somehow failing to meet up to your expectations then you need to do what Micah called upon his contemporaries to do – to think and to think seriously about what the Lord has done and how thrilling it is.
If Micah’s hearers were encouraged to reflect upon the Exodus you are called to reflect upon what Jesus has done for sinners in delivering them from sin, death and judgment.
Jesus left the eternal delights of heaven in order to come into our world and to live a perfect life on our behalf. He came at tremendous cost to himself to save people like us. He went about doing harm to no-one only good. He told us about God and his ways and he showed us what God looks like when he lives in human form. He met the needs of the poor, the sick and the oppressed. When ridiculed or insulted he didn’t respond in kind and was silent before his accusers. He prayed for his enemies and he died the death we deserve to die. And everything was done just at the right time – not a minute early nor a minute late. He predicted the future and accomplished his predictions as he rose again from the dead. He didn’t send his followers to get even with his enemies but to preach the good news of peace and reconciliation with the Father to them and to all who would listen. He ascended back into the heaven he came from leaving behind the promise of a glorious return when he would assemble all those who put their trust in and to bring them home with him so that we might be with him and contemplate him in his full glory! In the meantime he watches over us – praying for us and ensuring that we have everything we need to live genuine lives of increasing holiness.
Take time to think about Jesus and all that he has done – you won’t find anything there that is unworthy of your thankfulness and praise; you won’t find anything in him that provides you with grounds for accusing him; you won’t find it dull and tedious or wearying and boring. You’ll find an account of a remarkable salvation won against the vilest of enemies for a people in deadly peril and yet unable to save themselves. And I trust as you reflect upon him and his work you’ll realise that he did it not just to save sinners, other sinners, but that he did it to save you.
Hallelujah what a Saviour! Don’t forget to think often of him, seriously of him and deeply of him.
And may God be glorified in our lives.