Does Our Behaviour Really Matter ?
It is a serious thing to learn that someone has brought a legal case against you. And it was a serious business for Micah’s contemporaries to hear that the LORD had an indictment to bring against his people. God was exasperated by the way in which his own people had been treating him. They had, it seemed, completely forgotten all the good things he had done for them.
The kind of response the LORD looks for in his people is not a mere outward form of religious behaviour that has no moral influence a person’s life. No, what God wants is to see his people doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with him.
But the question that then arises is "What will the LORD do if his people fail to live up to the standards he has set for them?"
The people of Micah’s day might have been tempted to reply that their recent experience suggested that the LORD wouldn’t do anything at all! He would overlook any shortcomings they might exhibit, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he quite simply pass them over? At the end of the day, does it really matter?
Well, many in the world today might like to believe that the LORD just isn’t that interested in what we do. And perhaps that is even true of some within the church. How men and women might like to believe that our ongoing sin doesn’t bother him. After all, isn’t it God’s business to forgive sin?
Now, if you think that sin, your sin, is a matter of little or no importance then you have already failed to understand a whole lot of Bible truth. As Micah continues his prophecy he returns to the charges that the LORD has to bring against his people. However much we might prefer to treat sin as a small matter, the LORD does not.
If you are not yet a Christian you need to understand this. It was because your sin is so important to God that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for it – that death was, and is, the only way for your sin to be dealt with in a way that doesn’t destroy you.
But maybe you are a Christian and you believe yourself to be saved from your sins past, present and future so you wonder why you should be concerned about sin anymore. Surely it is not important how you live your life now that you have been saved and forgiven?
Well, let me say first of all that it is gloriously true that the salvation Jesus brings is a full and complete salvation – our sin, past, present and future, has been forgiven, is being forgiven and will be forgiven – that is all wonderfully true and we rejoice in the amazing good news of the gospel. But having said that we are not to deduce that it no longer matters how we live and how we behave now that we are Christian believers. Christian salvation is salvation from the guilt, penalty, power and corruption of sin and for us to go on sinning, wallowing in the corruption of sin, would be to repudiate God’s purpose in providing the salvation that we sinners need. God’s people are to lead lives of increasing holiness and the LORD expects to find this in the lives of his people as his family likeness develops and deepens in all of us.
So as Micah continues he reveals not only that the LORD’s people are capable of serious shortcomings but that God takes note of our failures to live according to the standard God expects of us. But Micah has something more to say – the LORD will discipline his people for this and when they sin openly and flagrantly that discipline will be serious and severe. As the apostle Peter would later write: "judgment begin(s) at the household of God;" 1Pet.4-17.
As Micah describes the LORD’s indictment against his people he provides us with his answer to our question: "What will the LORD do if his people fail to live up to the standards he has set for them?"
The LORD Calls Out
The first thing Micah wants us to notice is that the LORD has something to say about how the people are behaving and he is going to address himself to the city. That it, he is going to speak to Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
v.9a "The voice of the LORD cries to the city..."
God speaks to his people!
This is something that we who frequent a church are so familiar with that we may well fail to appreciate just how wonderful this is. Whether he has something good to say to us or something that will be uncomfortable to hear it is surely encouraging to know that he is there and he is not silent! If you don’t hear his voice it may be because you don’t value your Bible enough because God speaks to us in the pages of the Bible.
One day the famous puritan Thomas Goodwin went to listen to a man named John Rogers. Rogers was a simple country preacher, someone we might refer to today as a "hellfire and brimstone preacher."
Mr. Rogers was preaching on the subject of the Scriptures and he was very concerned that the people he was preaching to were neglecting the Bible. These people just weren't hearing the Word of God!
So John Rogers picked up the Bible from the cushion on the pulpit and began to walk away with it. It was as though God was taking away his word and would no longer speak to the people. Rogers then stopped and impersonated a stricken and worried people speaking back to God. He fell down on his knees and cried out, pleading most earnestly:
"Lord, whatever you do to us, do not take the Bible from us. Kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods, only spare us Your Bible. Do not take away the Bible."
Rogers knew how dreadful it would be if God were to take away his word and stop speaking to his people – I wonder if the same can be said of you. I wonder would if your life be any different at all if there were no Bibles in the world, no Bible in your home.
Well God was about to speak and Micah adds his personal comment telling us:
v.9b "it is sound wisdom to fear your name:"
John Rogers would have added a loud amen to that and I hope you will too. It is a great privilege to have God’s word but we won’t benefit from that privilege if we don’t listen and pay attention when God speaks.
And here in Micah 6:9-16 God is about to speak to his covenant people concerning their acts of covenant disobedience. He may well be speaking to us too about our NT acts of covenant disobedience – will we listen? Will we pay attention? I hope so.
What Has God Got To Say?
v.9c "Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!"
Right at the outset the LORD explains what it is he has to say. He has to speak about discipline and how he will have to apply it to his people who persist in doing anything but conform to his standards.
Now discipline is an uncomfortable matter and we may associate it with a schoolteacher who enjoys inflicting painful discipline on his pupil. Perhaps you remember hearing, just before the cane fell, "this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you". Well, you didn’t believe them did you? It was the smug look of sadistic glee that gave the lie to their words – they swung the cane, the ruler, the strap quite simply because they enjoyed doing so.
If that was your experience then you may be tempted to think that God, like those teachers, takes delight in inflicting discipline, the severer the better. But that is just not so – he speaks of discipline here, of discipline that he is quite prepared to inflict, in the hope that it will prove unnecessary. He would far rather see his people repent and mend their ways than he be required to use sterner treatment.
But make no mistake he is quite prepared to use discipline, even what might seem to us to be harsh discipline, if his people will not listen or pay heed to his warnings. He disciplines in order to promote the genuine well-being of his children and you should view all such discipline as a welcome proof of his love for us because he only disciplines his children!
Why God’s Patience Runs Out
v.10a "Can I forget any longer...?
It seems that God is never in a hurry to punish sin. In fact he is so patient with sinners that we can all too easily misread his patience. Sometimes we misread his patience as indifference, sometimes as inability, but here the LORD himself refers to it in terms of "forgetfulness". Of course when he speaks of forgetfulness he means that he deliberately does not call something to the forefront of his thinking so to speak. Our God forgets nothing in an absolute sense but he can decide, and often does decide, not to act immediately upon what he knows and then his inaction looks rather like forgetfulness.
But, and it is an important but, his patience can run out and it is a serious business when it does.
Micah proceeds to list a range of sins that were evidently prevalent in his day. It was these sins that provoked God and brought his patience to an end. Micah lived a long time ago and the sins he describes as being rampant in his day are also widespread in ours. As we think about them for a moment we should ask ourselves whether any of these sins are spoiling our lives too.
In v.8 Micah explained clearly what the LORD required of his people: they were to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with their God. Now we discover that they were not doing anything of the sort.
vv.10-12 "Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth."
Instead of justice those who could were filling their houses with the fruit of their wrong doing. And Micah is quite detailed about the dubious practices that were being employed by the traders in their transactions.
Scant measure refers to unscrupulous ways of making out you’re selling more than you actually are for the price – you experience this at times when you buy what looks like a large box of goodies only to find that half the space is taken up with packaging.
Wicked scales and deceitful weights meant that buying and selling became corrupted – and it was generally the poor who lost out as they were made to pay more for what they wanted but actually got less than they thought. And we still need to keep a careful eye on such practices as this statement on the National Audit Office website states:
" The accuracy, reliability and fairness of weights and measures is key to ensuring that the products we buy every day are not being sold in short weight or short measure."
When I was a teenager one of my friends started to work for the Department of Weights and Measures and one of his favourite Bible verses then was in the Book of Proverbs:
Prov.20:23 "The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him."
The problems of Micah’s day are evidently still with us.
And where dishonest practices exist we can hardly be surprised to hear that dishonest speech abounds. Violence, lies and deceitfulness characterised Micah’s times and I don’t think we can say that much has changed.
What Happens When God’s Patience Runs Out?
The LORD’s response to the sin of his people is a reasoned and rational response – the persistent sin of his people will provoke him and the consequencies will be unpleasant:
v.13 "I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins."
And in the verses that follow Micah colours in what that grievous blow will look like.
Basically the sinful path chosen by his people will lead them into a life of unsatisfying frustration, and it is God who will see to that!
vv.14-15 "You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be hunger within you; you shall put away, but not preserve, and what you preserve I will give to the sword. You shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine."
Micah’s choice of language here recalls the promises and the curses that were associated with the covenant that the LORD established with his people way back in the days of Moses. At that time Moses had spoken to the people of the blessings they would experience if they took God’s word seriously:
Deut.7:12-13 "And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you."
But Moses also warned of the severe consequences that would accompany a decided failure to keep God’s rules. In Deut. ch.28 the blessings of obedience are contrasted with the curses of disobedience and those curses would include the following:
Deut.28:38-40 "You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off."
When the "grievous blow" fell Micah’s fellow countrymen could not say they hadn’t been warned! God’s word spoken long before to Moses had not changed and the same truths applied in Micah’s day. The people should not expect to go on prospering if they set aside God’s word and refused to repent and the same is true for us too. God still wants his people to live upright and holy lives as they respond to his love and grace demonstrated so generously in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The LORD Is Justified
If Micah’s hearers were tempted to think that perhaps that their sin wasn’t as bad as all that Micah hasn’t finished with them yet:
v.16 "For you have kept the statutes of Omri, and all the works of the house of Ahab; and you have walked in their counsels, that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing; so you shall bear the scorn of my people."
If you don’t know much about the two kings who are mentioned here you’ll find descriptions of father and son in 1Kings 16 and the account is not flattering!
1Kings 16:25-26 "Omri did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did more evil than all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols."
1Kings 16:30-31 "And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him."
Idolatry, syncretism and false worship were the chief sins of these kings who were only too happy to follow the way of the world rather than the way of the LORD. Ahab was particularly bad; becoming an accomplice to murder didn’t bother him if only he could increase his property portfolio. Rather than listen to the LORD he preferred to surround himself with a group of yes-men who would tell him what he wanted to hear.
And Micah said to the people of his day – you’re just the same. I wonder, would he have to say the same to us today if he were to come as a visiting preacher?
As we come to the end of our study this week I hope you remember how it began. Back in v.9 the voice of the LORD was crying out and Micah declared that it really was the sensible thing to do to pay attention to him. And this points us in the right direction for knowing how to interpret and benefit from this passage.
The LORD’s announcement is a call to repentance and it points to his willingness to forgive his people all of their sins. Yes, discipline may be necessary and will be implemented if there is no reaction to his crying out but the door is not being irretrievably slammed here. As Micah himself will tell us in the next chapter the LORD is a truly amazing God because he pardons iniquity! Ezekiel puts it very clearly when he conveys his message from the LORD:
Ezek.38:11 "As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?"
And the same message continues to be proclaimed in the NT:
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."
And such a confession which leads to forgiveness doesn’t stop there but it leads to a renewed freshness in our walk with the LORD and to the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
May we all learn to keep short accounts with God, quickly repenting and confessing our sin. And may we may increasingly live lives in harmony with him who has loved us.
To God be the glory.