4. Micah: The God of both Justice and MercyRelated Media
Words to Anchor your Soul
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?
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?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:6-8 (NIV)
I love the verses above. When I proudly believe that God is pleased with me because of my giving, sacrifices, ministry, or worship, these verses remind me that my actions toward others show what’s really in my heart. Where is my concern for justice in the land? Where is my compassion that leads to mercy even when people are guilty? And how closely am I really walking with God?
God is just, and he expects us to treat people fairly and promote justice for others, particularly those lacking equal voice or opportunity. But our just God wants us to love mercy too. It seems to me that unless we walk humbly with God, that’s impossible because in our pride we lack compassion and unconditional love.
The Old Testament prophets speak a lot about justice and mercy, not because such qualities provide a relationship with God, but because, first, they show God’s love to others and, second, they indicate what’s truly in our hearts. I hate to confess it, but my prideful belief that people get what they deserve and can succeed if they work hard blinded me to the systemic injustice that prevents their success. Opportunity isn’t equal for all. Although I’m not condemned for my lack of compassion because of Christ, this attitude reveals a disconnect with God’s character. He isn’t pleased with my pride and disregard of others, and yet he continues to show me mercy and patience. As a mom, I understand: I experience the same feelings with my own children.
Sometimes in our haste to declare ourselves forgiven and in Christ (and we are if we believe in Jesus), we ignore his call to love others by the power of his Spirit (1 John 4:7-12). We are to continually confess and repent of our sins (1 John 1:8-10), which requires introspection and acceptance of hard truth. My favorite prayer of confession comes from The Book of Common Prayer: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”1 God pierces my heart every time I say these words.
As we read Micah, let’s keep in mind that God is in the business of changing us; he loves us too much to leave us where we are. Let’s listen to his voice so we can become more and more like Jesus—brimming with justice and loving mercy.
How does God remain both just and merciful? You likely know the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). It’s one that every non-Christian knows too. Jesus agreed with her accusers that the penalty under the Old Testament Law was to stone her, but he called on the one without sin to go first. One by one all left. Instead of the sinless Son of God condemning her, he gave her mercy, just as he gives us. Was justice done? Absolutely. Because God in Christ died for her sins and ours as well. Justice requires rectification for cheating on a spouse, and Jesus accomplished justice for her sin and all our sins through his own death on the cross. Justice isn’t abandoned to show mercy.
In light of this story, we’re using rocks to symbolize the book of Micah.
Part One Study
Micah 1:1 tells us that Micah spoke for God during the reigns of Jotham (750-731 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.), kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. He was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.2 Although his primary message focused on the northern kingdom’s destruction, he also warned Judah against following the sins of Israel. In 722 B.C. Micah’s words were fulfilled when Assyria destroyed Israel.
The book of Jeremiah written a hundred years later tells us that Micah’s prediction of the destruction of Israel made a difference. When Jeremiah relayed God’s warning about coming judgment on Jerusalem and the temple, his audience of priests, prophets, and others didn’t like the message and wanted to kill him. Thankfully some of the Judean elders disagreed, using Micah as an example:
Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountains of the house a wooded height.’”
Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves (Jeremiah 26:18-19, ESV).
Dr. Chisholm comments: “This demonstrates that Micah’s prophecy, though seemingly unconditional in tone, was implicitly conditional. Because of Hezekiah’s repentance, the prophesied judgment was postponed.”3
Sometimes I get lost in Micah because he uses various names for the two kingdoms. He often refers to the northern kingdom Israel by the name of its capital Samaria. Sometimes he uses the name Jerusalem for the capital of the southern kingdom Judah, but he also calls it Zion. At times he uses the broader term Jacob, who was the father of all the Jews, which ends up confusing me even more.
As you read Micah this week, pay attention to the predictions of judgment and promises of a better future. Judgment and mercy.
Read Micah 1:1-2:13 carefully, picturing yourself among the people who will be affected by what he prophesies, and journal with these questions in mind:
- How do the images that Micah uses of God’s judgment (1:2-7) affect you? Consider Micah’s reaction in 1:8-9 to your own reaction.
- For what kinds of sins is God punishing his people?
- What do you learn about God’s ultimate mercy in 2:12-13?
- What is God saying to you about responding to the ruin/desolation that happens to other people?
*** Read Revelation 19:11-21 and compare its images of the judgment at Christ’s return with those in Micah.
Part Two Study
This section’s reading begins with judgment, but it moves to images of eventual restoration. In its promises of the future you will read messianic predictions, so pay close attention. Remember that one prophecy often has multiple fulfillments or includes near (i.e. soon after the time of Micah’s writing) and distant fulfillments side by side. At other times it includes promises that are still future to us today, not to be fulfilled until Christ’s return in the end days. Often it’s hard to tell. Note that the term “the latter days” or “that day” often refers to the end times. Feel free to read the notes in your Bible or a commentary for help.
As you read, also notice the groups of leaders that God calls out and the highly poetic language used to describe their sins. (For example, they aren’t literally tearing the skin of the people, etc.)
Read Micah 3:1-5:15, noting both judgment and promise (mercy) as you journal.
- What do you learn about God’s perspective of the actions of the governmental and spiritual leaders of Micah’s day (3:1-12)?
- Meditate on and drink in the various promises of restoration. (Some of them predict the time after the exile while others point to the ultimate time of Restoration. Still others do both.) What do you learn about God through them? How are the pictures of the future meaningful to you?
- Micah 5:1-5a predicts the coming Messiah. Write down your insights and any fulfillment you are aware of in Jesus.
- In what way does God seem to be applying this passage to your own life and/or to the broader church and its leaders?
*** Reread Micah 5:1-6, and journal about what Jesus’s audience may have understood from his teaching in John 10:1-18 from their familiarity with this passage.
Part Three Study
In this last section of Micah, God indicts his people as a group and takes their actions very personally. FYI: Micah refers to Omri and Ahab who were northern kings well-known for their idolatry. Tragically, they influenced the southern kings to follow their counsel rather than seek God (Micah 6:16).
*** Read about King Omri of Israel in 1 Kings 16:25-28. Read about his son King Ahab’s negative influence over Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah who married Ahab’s daughter, in 2 Chronicles 18:1-19:3. Journal your insights.
Read Micah 6:1-7:20, and journal as you consider these questions:
- What charges that God brings against his people throughout Chapters 6 and 7 resonate with you as you look at Christian culture today? Note how God planned to judge his people in Israel for such things.
- What remedy does God suggest for the people (6:6-9)? (If you have time, compare James 2:14-26.)
- What encouragement do you receive in Micah Chapter 7 from God’s promises and his character?
Being married to a seminary professor has its marvelous benefits, as you can imagine: training godly students for Christian ministry, meeting Christians from all over the world and becoming involved with them and their ministries, being constantly stimulated and challenged by students, and visiting lecturers that we have the privilege of entertaining in our home. But along with all the wonderful things associated with being married to such a man, there is also the heavy side.
Some students can and do idolize various Christian ministers and when one of these people fail in a significant way, these students are devastated. They feel like they will never be able to make it in ministry because their hero has fallen. At times like this my husband and I have had the privilege of reminding them that we all are frail and that there is no substitute for a personal, intimate walk with the Lord, for accountability in our lives, and for committed prayer on our part for each Christian leader ministering to us and our family.
We have seen the Lord’s faithfulness through many of these situations, some after years of heartache, but through it all God has and is revealing Himself to His people in ways we did not expect. He alone is our perfect, Holy, righteous, loving, unfailing God. He wants us to take our eyes off men and place them on Him because He is GOD and there is none other!
1 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: The Holy Eucharist Rite Two at https://www.bcponline.org accessed 9/11/18.