He's Not What You Think
So this is the book of Micah, written by the prophet Micah, and I have a son named Micah. He’s my firstborn son, he’s four years old, some of you know him. And Melissa and I gave him the name Micah because of what the name means. The full name is Michaiah, which translates literally as, “Who is like YHWH?” — Who is like the Lord? (Micah is the shortened form of Mi-cha-yah in the same way Mike is the shortened form of Mi-cha-el). Both are good names.
And I’ve loved the name “Micah” and wanted to use the name, way back before I was even married. It started back when I was a sophomore in college and I had the chance to preach Micah chapter 6 at a little church in a little town (maybe 20 people were there), but I sort of decided back then, that if my future wife liked it, and if God would give us a son, that we’d name him “Micah.”
I liked the name so much back then in my X-Box days when I played the game Halo I made my character’s name Michaiah. [So for you guys who are looking to sanctify your video gaming, use biblical names. There are a lot of Bible names that make good Halo names, but you have to dig for them.]
So, yeah, I preached Micah 6 about ten years ago, and what happened back then when I preached this book happened all over again this week as I preparing for today, it’s that: I just fell love again with the message of God in these verses. I love what he says here. I just love it. And the summary of what he says is simply this. God says: I’m not what you think.
That’s main point of these verses, and what I’d like to do this morning is for us to look closer at that — to look closer at these verses in Micah 6. This really is the high point of the book, and what we find here is basically an argument, it’s a back and forth between God and Israel. And I want us to understand this argument, to really get what’s happening here. That’s the plan for today. So let’s check it out. Look again at verses 1–8.
The Argument (6:1-8)
Now, I’m calling this an argument, but it is more like a trial, or it at least begins that way. This is a courtroom scene. Look at verse 2.
“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.”
So there’s a dispute here. God is going to bring charges against Israel. But instead of clear charges — like “You did this and that” — he charges them by asking questions. And the whole trial becomes one rhetorical question after the other,: from God, and then from Israel, and then from God again — and this is not what we would expect in court. It feels more like a good, old-fashioned argument.
Have you ever had a argument before that was all questions?
Do you know what I mean? No one really makes a statement, but it’s just questions back and forth, and you know what you’re doing. . . .
Honey, have you ever considered taking out the trash instead of letting it overflow like that?
Well, Sweetie, why don’t you just help and take out the trash yourself?
Well, Baby, why don’t you start putting the diapers in a separate bag?
Well, Dear, why don’t you change more diapers?
Do you see what I mean? It’s just one question after the other. It’s not exactly courtroom protocol. It sounds more like an argument you’d hear in the kitchen. And that is the kind of the argument that we see in verses 1–8. God makes his case against Israel by asking a series of questions, and then, in verse 6, Israel replies by asking him a series of questions.
So, first, let’s look at what God says . . .
God’s Questions (verses 3–5)
Look at verses 3–5. This is the set of questions that God asks, to make his indictment against Israel, and you’ll notice right away that he’s not saying anything directly about Israel, but he’s talking about his own character and actions. Verse 3, he says, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!”
Okay, so I don’t know how you feel about sarcasm, but it’s about to get thick in Micah 6.
God is speaking to Israel, and as we’ve seen already in the Minor Prophets, Israel is not in a good place. They have broken covenant with God. They have despised his law. They have treated one another unjustly. And worst of all, they have abandoned God to worship the false gods of the nations. So God is speaking to a disobedient, unjust, adulterous people. And he asks them:
Israel, can you please tell me what I’ve done to you? Tell me, have I wearied you? Or in other words, he says, Tell me, have I been a burden to you?
God and Israel and everyone else know what Israel has been doing. They all know the situation here of Israel’s sin. And God comes to Israel and asks them: Hey, what did I do to you?
And then, in verses 4–5, God starts to the answer the question. And here is where the sarcasm comes in. He does a little review of the facts — we all know what Israel has been doing, so what exactly has God done to Israel? . . .
Well, God is about to tell us. He says in verse 4: “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
God is talking about the exodus. This was the amazing event at the beginning of Israel’s history when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Israel was being oppressed by the most powerful nation on the earth, and Exodus 2:24 tells us that God heard their groaning — and so he sent Moses to lead them to freedom in the most dramatic fashion. He sent ten plagues, amazing signs and wonders, to set his people free. That was the exodus. That’s what he’s talking about here.
And then in verse 5, God says again, “O my people” — and then he says “remember.” And another way to translate this is to put it in the form of a question, as if God is asking Israel if they remember what he did. We can almost hear that question form coming through. Verse 5:
O my people, do you remember what Balak, king of Moab devised, and what Balaam, son of Beor, answered him?
This is another story going back earlier in Israel’s history. We find this story in the third book of the Old Testament, back in the book of Numbers, chapter 22. And the gist of the story goes like this: There was a pagan king named Balak. He was king of Moab, which was an enemy to Israel. So Balak devises this plan to hire a prophet to curse Israel for him. That prophet’s name was Balaam. So Balak tries to hire Balaam to curse Israel, and he sends him this message in Numbers 22:5–6,
“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt [speaking of Israel]. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me.”
And Balaam is greedy, so he decides to take the cash and dish out the curse. But, here’s the catch: Instead of Balaam pronounces a curse on Israel, God makes Balaam pronounce a blessing on Israel, not one or twice or three times, but four different times. Which is pretty amazing. You can read the whole thing in Numbers 22–24, and it’s important that we understand what happened in this story: it’s that God was so sovereignly determined to bless his people that he used a prophet hired to curse them, to actually bless them . . . four times.
And God says here in Micah 6, Hey, Israel, do you remember that?
And then he asks, in the second part of verse 5, “Hey, do you remember what happened that time from Shittim to Gilgal?” The English Standard Version doesn’t repeat the word “remember” in this verse but it is implied; the NIV puts it in there because it’s in the same train of thought. God basically says: Hey, Israel, do you remember Balaam? Do you remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal?
This goes back again, earlier in the Old Testament to Joshua 2 when the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River from Shittim to Gilgal. Shittim was the place on one side of the Jordan River, and then Gilgal was the place on the other side of the Jordan River. So when God split the Jordan for the people to cross through it, he led them from Shittim to Gilgal, and then in Gilgal is where he renewed his covenant with them. And the whole journey became symbolic of God making a way for his people when there was no way. He provided for them. He did impossible things for their good. So when God brings it up here in Micah, he is asking if they remember that. Do they remember when he led them on this journey? That time he made a way for them when there was no way?
So this is the last question God asks them here, but if we put them all together, this is how it goes. He starts in verse 3. He says. . . .
O my people, what have I done to you? Have I been a burden to you?
Was it that time I set you free from slavery in Egypt? Or what about that time when I turned curses against you into blessings for you? Or maybe it was that time I split an entire river in half so that you could walk safely through on dry ground? — you remember that, right? — that time I made a way for you when there was no way, when I showed you my salvation?
Seriously, Israel, please tell me. Have I wearied you? Have I been a burden to you?
So God puts these questions to Israel, and this makes up the first part of the argument.
Israel’s Questions (verses 6–7)
And then, in verses 6–7, Israel replies to God with their own questions. And here is where it just gets nasty.
Verse 6 begins: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?”
And it sort of sounds like a good question, like they are sincere and want to mend their relationship with God. But it’s not. This is smart-mouthing.
Do you know what I mean by the word “smart-mouth”? When I was a kid, I had a bad case of smart-mouth. Smart-mouthing is what my parents called it — either that, or “talking back.” And actually, one of earliest conversation memories I have had to do with this.
It was a normal North Carolina day, my mom had been telling my sister and me something. I don’t remember what it was, but it was a sit-down conversation. So she was telling us something important, and I jumped in and started talking back, and she stopped me and said: “Jonathan, who asked you?” And then she sent me to my room.
And I remember being in my room, but I wasn’t sulking — I was thinking about the next thing I wanted to say. So I started calling for my mom from my room — “Mom! Mom!” — because I had something else I wanted to say.
And she finally came, opened my door, stuck her head in, and I said: “Mom, I have something I want to ask you.” And she said, “Well, what is it?” And I said, “Well, I want to ask it, but I’m afraid you’ll be mad at me for it.” And of course she insisted that I ask her anyway. So I did. And I said: “Well, mom, all I want to us know is: who asked you?”
And it did not go well for me. I spake as a child, and that was a turning point. It was enough that I remember it. [So mom, if you hear this. Thank you.]
So maybe it takes a former smart-mouth to recognize a smart-mouth, but there is nothing wholesome about Israel’s question in verse 6. What they are really asking is: God, what do I have to do to make you happy?
God asked them: What have I done to you? How have I burdened you?
And they ask God: What do I gotta do to make you happy?
And then the sarcasm gets nastier, verses 6–7:
“Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Israel says, in other words: What do I gotta do, God? Do I need to bring you burnt offerings of baby calves? Or would you happy if I offered you thousands of rams? Or what, do you need ten thousand rivers of oil? What will make you happy?
Do you hear how absurd this is? There’s a lot of snot in this attitude. It’s sickening. And the worse is that last question in verse 7. Israel says:
Okay, God, really, what do we gotta do to make you happy? Do you want us to sacrifice our children? Do we need to murder our firstborn sons to get you to take it easy?
This is repulsive. It’s poison. It’s so nasty that I wish time-travel existed just so I could go back slap the man who said this.
And what is so terrible is that they know that God does not want that. Human sacrifice was a practice of the pagan nations to their false gods. Human sacrifice is what the false gods, the demonic gods, demanded, not YHWH. In fact, YHWH, the true God, despises human sacrifice, and says in Jeremiah 7:31 that it never came into his mind to ask for such a thing. And Israel knows that.
So this question is meant to twist the knife. They are, on purpose here, belittling God by projecting him to be like all the false gods of the nations.
What do we gotta do to make you happy? Do we need to bring you burnt offerings of baby calves? Or would you happy if we offered you thousands of rams? Or what, do you need ten thousand rivers of oil? What’s gonna make you happy, God? Do you want us to slay our children for you?
God Rests His Case (verse 8)
And then in verse 8, God steps back in and he rests his case. He answers their questions, their sarcasm with another set of questions. Verse 8:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This looks like one question, but I think it’s actually two. The first part could go like this:
What is the good, O man, that he declared to you [?] [and then]
What does he require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God [?]
So I think there are two questions here, both getting at the same point, and this is a good verse. It’s a good verse. I like it. But I read some commentaries this past week that said things like this is the greatest verse in the Old Testament. And I just want to be clear, so you all know: this is not the greatest verse in the Old Testament. It’s a good verse, I like it, but my sense is that those who call this the greatest verse in the Old Testament are the ones who don’t understand it. This is the token verse for those people who want to say that all God really cares about is that we’re nice to one another. That’s what some take it to mean, that God really just wants humans to live with a kind of generic morality. Some want to use this verse to say that God really just wants everyone to get along, to stop being so divisive, and so exclusivist. What does God require? Just that you be a good person.
And I don’t think that is what this means.
Remember, this is God’s final answer to Israel’s questions, and it’s meant to rest his case. Israel was getting nasty sarcastic about the kinds of sacrifices they needed to offer in order to make God happy. And they were getting absurd, going as far to ask him if they should sacrifice their children.
And God’s reply in verse 8 is to say: Really? Are you being serious? What have I been saying to you? What do I require of you but to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with me?
Which is another way to say, live by faith. That is what God is saying. He’s not saying: “Don’t give me sacrifices, just be a good person.” He is saying: “I don’t want your sacrifices. I want your faith. I want you to trust me.” This is more about relationship, not morality.
And we’ve seen this in other places throughout the Bible. Psalm 50 puts it beautifully. I love the Psalms. Listen to Psalm 50:8, which is also a courtroom scene like Micah 6. God says:
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; [Israel]
[for] your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
[In other words, I don’t need your sacrificed animals. I own all the animals in the entire world.]
14 [Instead] Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Do you see what he is saying? God wants us to trust him. He wants us to rely on him, to look to him, not to how many calves we can sacrifice, or how many thousands of rams we can find, not to how good we can be, or to how successful we can become. We glorify God not by thinking we earn his mercy by our goodness, but by trusting in the mercy he gives despite our goodness.
That’s how we glorify God. By trusting him. By believing that he is enough for us, that his grace is great enough to reach us, that his mercy is all we need.
Micah 6:8 is not God telling us that he requires that we all try harder and do better. God is telling us to live a life of trust and dependance on him. God doesn’t want your sacrifice, he wants your faith. God doesn’t want your performance, he wants you to stop — to stop thinking you can do something to deserve his love, to stop thinking that somehow you can build up your spiritual resume to win his grace.
He wants you to stop that, and to know that he loves you where you are. We don’t transform ourselves to merit God’s love; God loves us where we are and that is what brings the transforming power. That is what Paul means when he says in Romans 5:8 that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Faith means that we don’t contribute anything here, but we rest in God, and that glorifies him.
And I think the rest of the book bears this out. We see this is chapter 7 when Micah finds himself in the wake of God’s judgment. After God rests the case in 6:8, he sends destruction on Israel, and Micah is at ground-zero. And in the midst of all that, in the midst of God’s judgment coming down, Micah does not think to himself: I should really clean myself up, and try to impress God. He doesn’t say: I need more bulls! I need more sacrifice! I need to do good to make this right!
But he says in 7:7, in the same spirit of 6:8,
“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”
Micah is waiting. He is trusting God.
And we know this is not the default mode of the human heart. We are self-justifiers, all of us. We are bent towards working, not waiting. To wait, to believe, to trust God — this is not what we would expect God to want us to do. But it is, because he is not the kind of God we would expect. This God is not like what we think. And that’s how the book ends in 7:18. Micah asks his own question here at the book’s end, and in a doxology. He says in verse 18,
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?”
Micah, the prophet, says here: Mi-chai-ah.
Who is like the Lord? Who is a God like this? Who does this?
And the answer is no one. Nobody else is like this God, the one, true God. He is a God so different from all the rest, that he doesn’t demand that I sacrifice my son to make him happy, but instead he sacrificed his son for my eternal joy, and for yours.
And that’s what brings us to the Table.
The Table is the part of our service where we want to be absolutely clear about Jesus, the ruler who was born in Bethlehem.
The most vivid, ultimate expression of God’s love for us was when Jesus died in our place and was raised from the dead on the third day. And when God calls us trust him, he is calling us to trust him there. The faith that God requires is know that we can never be good enough, and never do enough good, but that he loves us where we are, and Jesus died for us by mercy and by grace, and that is our only hope.
And when we come to this Table, that is what we are saying. We are saying no more to the the bulls and rams, no more to the rivers of oil, no more to our performance. We are turning away from all these things, and we are saying yes to Jesus. When we eat and drink at this Table, we are saying: our only hope is Jesus.