Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly - Part 5

Series: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sermon by David Strain on Jun 23

Micah 6

Now if you would please take your Bibles in hand once again and turn back to the prophecy of Micah, Micah chapter 6 on page 779 in the church Bibles. We have been working our way steadily through the book of Micah and we’ve come to the penultimate chapter this evening. Micah really has been alternating back and forth between an oracle of judgment and rebuke on the people of Israel, the northern kingdom, the people of Judah, the southern kingdom, alternating back and forth between that an a promise of coming blessing in the age of Messiah - the age in which we now live, the age of the Lord Jesus Christ. And today in Micah chapter 6, he alternates back as it were to focus once again on the judgment of God on the sin of His people. In particular, the dominant motif in the chapter is that of the courtroom God is prosecuting His lawsuit against His wayward people.

And we’re going to see as we read through, and I want you to be on the lookout for three aspects of the divine lawsuit. We’re in the courtroom, the heavenly courtroom. God is pressing His case against His wayward people and there are three parts to that lawsuit. There is the indictment in verses 1 through 5 and again with more specificity in 9 through 12 - the divine indictment, the charges. Then in verses 6 and 7, we have the response, the plea of the people. It’s not a very good response but it is their response nevertheless to the divine charges. And then in 13 through 16, at last we have the verdict of the heavenly Judge as He hands down His sentence. So the divine indictment, the people’s plea, and the heavenly sentence. It’s a solemn scene and so we need to pray once again that God would help us to hear His Word in humility and with hearts that are receptive to its truth. So let’s pray together.

O Lord, open our eyes indeed now by Your Spirit’s work that we might behold marvelous things out of Your Law, for Jesus’ sake, amen.

Let’s read God’s Word together. Micah chapter 6 at the first verse:

“Hear what the Lord says:  Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 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.

 

‘O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! 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. O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.’

 

‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? 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?’ 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?

 

The voice of the Lord cries to the city - and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:  ‘Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it! 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. Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins. 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. 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.’”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

I was reading in The Atlantic newspaper the other day a story of a legal case in Washington, DC in which a young man was found guilty of a crime and at sentencing all parties agreed that in this case probation was an appropriate censure, an appropriate penalty. However, at the last minute, a computer algorithm called a Criminal Sentencing AI, artificial intelligence, deemed the offender “high risk for future criminal activity,” and so the prosecutor immediately took probation off the table insisting that the young man be sentenced to juvenile detention instead. And when the young man’s defense attorney looked into how this algorithm works, she discovered there had been no judicial or scientific scrutiny actually applied to the criteria the algorithm used. And so this Criminal Sentencing AI gave the appearance of a high-tech scientific recommendation, which would therefore, of necessity of course, be free of human bias. But when the criteria used by the algorithm were examined, it was discovered there were all sorts of biases and assumptions about the type of people most likely to break the law that was informing the whole process. In the end, the judge ruled the use of this Criminal Sentencing AI out of bounds altogether. But presumably what made this computer program appealing was the thought, the sense that is provided objectivity. It took matters out of the hands of a fallible, human judge and provided scientific objectivity. Of course a computer program is only as good as the one who programs it, and therein lay the flaw in the entire system. The fact is, even in the very best of earthly criminal justice systems, because it is implemented by fallible people there are often tragic miscarriages of justice. Sometimes justice fails.

The Divine Indictment

In Micah chapter 6, we are in the heavenly courtroom and God Himself is prosecuting the case. It is the case of the Lord God versus the people. That’s the case. The Lord God versus the people. And in this courtroom, there is no possibility of a miscarriage of justice, which is really bad news for us because we’re in the dock and the indictment of God against us simply cannot be answered. Would you look at the passage with me for a moment? I want you to see in the first place the divine indictment. What are the charges God brings?

You see that language, don’t you, immediately there in verses 1 and 2. “Hear what the Lord says:  Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 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 here’s that moment. The doorbell rings, you open the door, the courier hands you an evelope. You’ve been served; you’ve been summoned to appear at court. It actually turns out you are the accused and you must come to court to enter your plea. God has an indictment that He is serving against His people.

In verse 3 we get to see God’s case, the heart of God’s case against us. Verse 3, “‘O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!’” That’s the issue. The people have grown weary of God. It’s not that they have become tired of religious activity, as we will see. That’s not really the concern. Micah is not wagging his finger at the congregation for not showing up often enough on Wednesday night. That’s not the problem. No, it’s much worse than that. They’ve become fed up with God Himself. They’re tired of Him. They’re impatient, you see, with the old, old story of Jesus and His love. “Heard it all before. It’s just not doing it for me anymore.” That’s what they were saying.

And in verses 4 and 5, the Lord reminds them of all that He has done for them. He points in verse 4 back to the exodus which is the great central act of salvation in the Old Testament scriptures. “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.” The exodus, then, in verse 5, He reminds them about the wilderness journey that the people of Israel made when they came out of bondage and He reminds them of the conquest, their entry into the land of promise. “O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.’”

You may remember some of the story of this. Balak, the king of Moab, hired the prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Israel but the Lord intervened so that instead of cursing, all Balaam could say were words of blessing and eventually the Lord gave victory over Moab into the hands of Israel at Shittim. Then when they came to the borders of the land of promise at Gilgal, you remember what happened there. The Lord parted the waters of the Jordan as He has done for the generation before at the Red Sea so that the people may pass through on dry land. God is saying to them, “Look, don’t you see, I have saved you again and again and again.” In verse 5, He calls them to “remember.” That word is important. “Remember” here does not imply that the people had sort of forgotten the details and needed to be reminded of their history and theology. That’s not what it means. Micah, God through Micah, is calling the people to reappropriate for themselves the story of redemption, to enter back into the reality of redemption for themselves. You see how He speaks to them? This generation who are facing Assyrian invasion and exile, centuries after the exodus took place He says, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you.” The reality of God’s past work in saving His people is a reality you can enter into today. Remember, that is, enter back into, by faith, the redeeming grace of the living God.

That is still God’s invitation. It’s a remarkable invitation to all people, everywhere today. His mighty work in redemption - not now redemption from Egyptian slavery or from Moabite kings, but redemption from sin and death and hell by the cross of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that mighty work of redemption is a work you may know yourself and enter into by faith. Today you may reappropriate it and take hold of it and experience its blessed reality personally. That’s the wonder of Micah’s message. You may remember Katherine Hankey’s hymn - we sometimes sing it here - “Tell Me the Old, Old Story.” The second verse says, “Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in. That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin. Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon. The early dew of morning is passed away at noon.” That’s our hearts. That’s what we’re like. Micah knows it. What God has done we easily forget. We need to remember, not just recall the details but enter back into it by faith; take hold of it for ourselves, make it our own. Appropriate the Gospel personally.

But the church in Micah’s day, Micah’s generation, was having none of it. They were fed up with the “old, old story of Jesus and His love.” And if you look down at verses 9 through 12 you get to see some of the fruit of their rebellion and rejection of the Lord and His redeeming grace. What is this weariness with God do in a life when it really begins to take root? Look at verses 9 through 12. “The voice of the Lord cries to the city - and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:  ‘Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it! 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.” Here is God now as He presses His case, bringing evidence in support of the indictment. Here’s the evidence of a wayward heart that has rejected the Lord. What does it do? It says it turns instead to scant measures and wicked scales and a bag of deceitful weights. It’s filled with violence and lies and deception.

Micah is reminding us of a principle we probably all are aware of and often forget. He’s reminding us of a key principle. The principle is: You serve what you love. You serve, you obey, you give yourself to the great object of your love. So John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love Me you will” - do what? “If you love Me you will obey My commandments, you will keep My commandments.” If you love Jesus, a heart that loves Jesus wants to please Him so it obeys Jesus. What about when money and status and power become the great objects of your love? What happens then? Then they become your master and it’s not long before they start asking you to cross the line in their service and soon the boundary is that God in His word has established that ought to inform our consciences, start to look to us to be unreasonably narrow. “Surely there’s a better, kinder, gentler, more inclusive approach than God’s way.” And you begin to rationalize and excuse and justify different approaches. And slowly, slowly, slowly you slide into the vice grip of your heart idols. “You’re living for me now,” money says. “So go ahead. Skim a little off the top why don’t you. Everyone else does it. And look, the tax man really doesn’t need to know about all of your income, does he?” Unjust scales. Wicked measures.

“You’re living for me now,” power says,” so if you really want to get reelected, the bigger the campaign contribution the more influence you should seat and the more concessions you should make. Who really cares about the most vulnerable of your constituents? They’re not to vote at the poles anyway.” “You’re living for me now,” says reputation, “so listen up. If you want that promotion, you’re going to need to find ways to sabotage your colleagues chances of advancement. Throw them under the bus when the first opportunity presents itself. “

You hear the charges that God is filing against us. It’s not that they weren’t religious and observant, it’s just that they had become fed up with God and God’s way. They’d had enough. The old, old story had become old hat and yesterday’s news. They were no longer satisfied with God’s saving grace and so they turned to money, power and status instead. And God presents the evidence and presses His case against them. If we were in the dock and God was bringing this case against us, I wonder how we’d fare? The truth is, our hearts are continual factories of idols as John Calvin famously said. We turn aside in weariness from the ways of God preferring money and power and reputation so very often. Don’t we? The divine indictment.

The Plea of the People

Then notice secondly, the plea - the plea that the people enter. Look at verses 6 and 7. Micah anticipates the response of the people of God. Here’s what they say. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? 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?” Essentially here’s what they’re doing. They’re taking out their checkbook and they’re saying, “Ok Lord, what’s it going to take? Just tell me what it’s going to take to make all this go away. I’ll write the check right now.” And they’re treating God like one of the corrupt officials they deal with every day who’ll take a bribe or a kickback. Only they think the currency God is interested in - do you see this - is some amount or measure of religious performance.

And do notice the escalating scale. These are bargaining positions. Do you see them in verses 6 and 7? “How about, I’ll tell you what God, how about an offering - a year old calf? How about that? How does that sound to you? Will that do? No, okay, alright let’s try thousands of rams; ten thousand rivers of oil. Still not enough? You drive a hard bargain.” And look carefully at this last bargaining position. It’s shocking actually. Look at verse 7. They seamlessly slide from the kind of offerings that Moses commanded in the Torah to the kind of offerings that were characteristic of the pagan worship of the god Molech, the sacrifice of firstborn children. “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Micah probably is thinking about that sort of paganism. Like a corrupt businessman who’s been caught red-handed, all the people want to know is, “What’s it going to take to pay God off?” They don’t care if it’s Jewish or pagan particularly. They’ll perform whichever rites they need to, to be squared away with God so they can get back to living life their way. They’ll do almost anything, give almost anything except for themselves.

And it’s shocking actually to see it here in black and white like this, but the truth is, this is the default setting of our hearts. Isn’t it? Don’t you recognize yourself? I recognize myself here. When my conscience stings and I feel the rebuke of God’s holiness at my waywardness and sin, what’s my first instinct? It’s to look around for some penance to perform, some payment to make, some good work to do that will offset my failure and relieve my conscience. I’m not really turning from sin to God. I’m trying to pay Him off.

But brothers and sisters, that’s not Christianity. That’s paganism! Listen to me, if your god can be bribed with some prayer or church-going or charitable giving so that he will leave you alone to live like the world lives, you’re not a Christian and your god is not the God of scripture. But that is what the people of Micah’s generation were doing, precisely.

But then look at verse 8. It’s almost as if Micah has been in the gallery in the courtroom, watching the proceedings. And as he hears this response from the people, who instead of saying, “Guilty as charged,” try to bribe the judge, Micah, it’s like he can’t contain himself and he interrupts the proceedings. He speaks up in the middle of it all to remind the defendant, “God has already told you what is good! God has already told you what He wants from you. 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?” God is not interested in any amount of religious worship. Whether it is the worship He has required in His own Word or the pagan idolatry and superstition of the world, He has no interest in any amount of religious performance if your heart remains unrepentant and cold toward Him. God wants authenticity. He wants reality that shows up in the way we live. That’s what verse 8 is really saying.

Notice how Micah begins when he interjects. “He has told you, O man, what is good.” How does the train come off the tracks this badly? How did the people of God fall into this kind of a spiritual state. It starts right here. You stop listening to what God has told us in His holy Word. You neglect the scriptures. That’s where the train comes off the tracks - with a closed Bible gathering dust on your shelf, a heart that is shut to the Word of the Lord.

And what is it that God is looking for? What are the characteristic marks of a heart that is surrendered to the grace of God? There’s justice, kindness, and a humble walk with God. It’s actually a summary of the two tables of the moral law - love for God and love for neighbor - not unlike the summary that Jesus gave, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophet hangs on these two.” Micah begins with love of neighbor and then moves to love of God.

He says there is to be justice toward one another. “Mishpat” - that’s the Hebrew word, “order, rule.” It reflects the way God Himself governs all things. The righteousness of God is to be reflected; righteousness in our dealings with one another if our hearts are right with the Lord. And there’s kindness. The word is “hesed.” You may know that Hebrew word is often translated variously, “mercy” or “grace” or “loving-kindness.” This, after all, is how God treats His own covenant people, with hesed, with covenant love, loving-kindness. He stoops down and rescues them from bondage and brings them into liberty by His grace. Having received such grace, you are to show grace to others.

And there is a humble walk with God because we know we have no contribution of our own to make. We are bankrupt sinners and without hope, save in His sovereign mercy. And so we cast ourselves upon Him in humility, depending upon Him, leaning on Him, walking with Him. You see, Micah is saying to them, “Your prayers won’t help you.” That sounds a little radical for a preacher to say to a congregation on a Sunday - “Your prayer isn’t going to help you.” A fat check to the church budget will not change things, not for your spiritual condition before God. Plug into a small group, go on a mission trip - it will not alter your standing in the divine tribunal. Look, giving and praying and going are good things, but they make really bad saviors. God is looking at your heart. God wants to know, “Are you for real?” It’s not about how religious you are. They were perfectly willing to go through any amount of religious performance if it will appease God and get Him off their case. It’s about whether you have really taken hold of the wonder of grace for yourself such that your heart begins to melt and you desire nothing so much as to live to please the living God. And so you begin to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your God, not in an attempt to please Him, but because He has loved you freely by His grace and your heart can do no other in response.

I wonder if that describes your Christian life. The indictment - do you see it? The plea. What a terrible response the people make. They try to bribe God. Have you been trying to bribe God? Is that why you’re here this morning? Your conscience is stinging and you haven’t been here for weeks, months perhaps, but in order to appease your guilty conscience and get God off your case, here you are. Understand, please understand there’s no amount of religious performance you can make you can make that will ever bribe God. And so God issues the verdict - verses 13 through 16. He hands down His sentence. The ancient covenant curses listed in places like Deuteronomy 28 - if God’s people broke covenant with Him, He would bring judgments upon them - that’s exactly what Micah now says are going to befall them. He’s going to strike them with a grievous blow, verse 13; famine will overtake them, verse 14; the sword, crops will fail, verse 15 - because they walked, Micah says, in the counsels of Omri and have done the works of Ahab.

First Kings 25 says that “King Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did more evil than all who were before him.” Until, that is, his son Ahab came along. It’s like the two of them were competing to out-do one another in wickedness. So 1 Kings 16:30 says this. “And Ahab, the son of Omri, did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” Micah’s point is - Israel are following in the footsteps, in the statutes, obeying the pattern of life set by these two kings proverbial for their wickedness. And so the result is the judgment of God. And there really is no way to get out from under this. We can’t duck it; we can’t avoid it. We have to face it. An unrepentant heart, a heart that will not embrace grace and plead guilty and cast itself on the mercy of Jesus Christ alone, a heart like that has nothing left but the judgment and wrath of God - the divine sentence. May God help us hear the warning and flee the wrath to come.

Let me close with this. There is a tragic irony in our text. I wonder if you noticed it in the plea that the people enter as they hear God’s indictment. A tragic irony in the text. They thought that even if they went to the lengths of sacrificing their own firstborn son that perhaps that would be enough to satisfy God, to make Him leave them alone, not realizing of course that in the Gospel God is the one who bears the curse. God is the one who pays the penalty of the broken covenants. He takes the curses upon Himself and gives up His firstborn son, the Lord Jesus, to the cross of Calvary. There, He dies like a covenant breaker, though He is “holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners,” He dies the death I deserve to die under the covenant wrath of God that I may go free.

You see, the wonder of the Gospel is not that you mustn’t sin and if somehow you manage it God will then accept you. That’s not our message. The Gospel is, you are helplessly enslaved to sin and you cannot help yourself. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He has loved us, has given His Son to the cross for us and paid in full that anyone, anyone, that you, if you will trust in Him, may not perish but have life. Before the divine indictment, you must plead guilty as charged, and then point to the cross where the sentence was paid in full, where the judgment was exacted and fully satisfied. If you will trust in Jesus today, guilty sinner, God will declare you not just “not guilty,” He will say over you, “Righteous. You are righteous. Not with your own righteousness but with the righteousness of My Son, and I will accept you in Him.”

Trust in the Lord Jesus. Do it now. Do it today. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. God has a case against you but there is a deliverance, there is an answer, there is a remedy, a way of escape. It is the cross of Jesus Christ. Resting upon Him there is full and free pardon. May God help us to turn to Him. Let’s pray.

Father, thank You, thank You for the Lord Jesus in whom Your case is fully answered. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And so now before You today, here, we plead guilty. We’re not going to attempt to bribe You anymore. That may be why we came here this morning. But we won’t leave that way. We’re not trying to pay You off with a little bit of religion. No, the truth is, our hearts are guilty. We love our idols. We’ve grown weary of You. Forgive our sin, O Lord, not for our sake but for the cross of Jesus, for His blood and righteousness. He has paid in full, and so for His sake, wash us clean. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

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