Summary: There is a lot of talk about "justice" these days--and rightly so--but "not everybody talkin' 'bout justice knows what they're talkin' 'bout". What does the Bible say about justice?
“These people? They honor God with their lips, but the truth is, their hearts are far from Him.” These are the words of Isaiah the prophet and Jesus the Messiah—and they describe the people to whom Micah speaks. Last week, as we began a short series entitled "For the City" from Micah, Pastor John addressed a rarely-talked-about topic: lament. As we looked at Micah 6&7, the words of God's prophet for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, we saw the conditions of the city, Jerusalem, being worthy of lament. In Micah 6, the forecast Micah gives for the people of Judah is solemn and somber, with the judgment of God about to befall the disobedient people. Interestingly enough, though, the people still look at least somewhat "religious", to outward appearances. It's as if they were still putting on their "Sunday best", showing up for morning service, singing songs of praise and worship, dropping money in the offering plate...just like millions of Americans will do this very day, either in person or "virtually". They looked the part! But their day-to-day living showed another reality, and it wasn't pretty. Let's look at Micah 6:1-5:
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.”
The scene before us is a courtroom. God is the Plaintiff, and Micah his attorney pleading his cause. The mountains, "enduring foundations of the earth" as they are described, because they have (figuratively) "seen it all", are the jury to which Micah pleads, and the defendants are all of Judah. Micah speaks for God in asking, "what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? The people don't have access to the Temple in the city of Jerusalem; God has used the pagan Assyrians and their kings as His instruments of discipline, and so the people, who want to seek God's favor via worship, aren't able to at the Temple. Their protest goes something like this, as we read between the lines: "God, why have you allowed us to suffer? And why will you not accept our sacrifices of worship? Can’t you see that all we want to do is worship you!"
Speaking again for God, Micah answers the question: I delivered you, gave you good leaders, cared for you, led you to a land flowing with milk and honey, protected you against your enemies, because you are "my people" (twice in these four verses a merciful God, in the midst of His complaint, reminds them of relationship: "my people"). Could God not now deliver them from the hand of Sennacherib, the Assyrian ruler? Of course, but the problem was not with God, but with Israel. In :6-7 comes the question from the people, "well, what should we do about it?
“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?”
• What will it take, Lord? Burnt offerings?
• Even better burnt offerings? A one-year-old calf was considered the choicest of sacrifices.
• Thousands of burnt offerings?
• What if we multiply the offerings to “10,000 rivers of oil…or more”?
• Do you want me to sacrifice my child on that altar?
• "God, You tell me what religious obligations to perform, because I am wracking my brain here... I mean, can you help a guy out here, Lord? Seriously! Name your price!"
The purpose of this entire exercise in Micah 6 is not judgment, but rather mercy, God desiring to woo back His covenant people to Himself, as He calls on them to forsake their sin, to stop thinking all will be well if they can just have praise and worship time at the Temple. Instead, do what you have been told to; verse 8:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you