Summary: The world needs to see us see us acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly before God.
“What is Good?” Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Whether it’s Christmas or someone’s birthday, or any other gift-giving occasion, there are some people simply impossible to find gifts for—what do you get for someone who doesn’t want or need anything? You’d like to give something meaningful, but it’s hard. Perhaps this is how the prophet Micah was feeling. “What can I do for God?” It’s a question we’ve all asked (I hope). What could God want from us? Is anything we might hope to offer good enough? Micah’s name means, “Who is like Yahweh?” Because God is unique, how can we hope to please Him?
Micah personifies and speaks for the nation of Israel—both felt guilty before God; both were filled with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. God’s people had sinned; they were like a schoolchild sent to the Principal’s office. They knew they were in trouble and couldn’t figure what to do about it.
Micah prophesied during the eighth century BC, when Israel and Judah had risen to heights of economic affluence but were spiritually bankrupt. There’s certainly nothing wrong with financial prosperity, so long as it does not replace our devotion to God.
The prophet appears (appropriately) before the Lord empty-handed. He sees the insufficiency of sacrifices and offerings. External rituals aren’t enough to please God. In fact, the nation has been inactive, out of practice; they’ve forgotten how to pray, they’ve lost touch with the Scriptures. They’ve forgotten the Law of God and have become ignorant on how to approach the Lord. They’re like people who attend worship only once a year and who’ve forgotten what to do/what goes on in church.
With efforts to remove God from our schools and public life in general, our nation could eventually become like the Israel of Micah’s day. Someone who wrote a letter to the editor of USA Today wondered, “If we separate ourselves enough from God, when we find we need Him, will He listen?” How do we repair the bond of fellowship with God? Micah calls God “exalted”—the word means high, lifted up. For some, God seems far away, remote, inaccessible. Yet God is as close as prayer.
What can we offer God? Verses 6-7 offer some suggestions, but these external things are not what God requires. The quality of our worship is important, but not nearly as important as the quality of our lives. All forms of worship are acceptable only as they are accompanied by clean hands. Micah is saying, don’t assume that religious ritual alone will please God….
> “Burnt offerings, with calves a year old”. Yearling calves were regarded as the choicest sacrifices.
> “Thousands of rams”, suggests the large quantity of animals to try and gain God’s favor.
> “Ten thousand rivers of oil” –Oil was used in Temple worship, but all the oil in the world will not bring us into fellowship with God.
> Neither will even our “firstborn”, the most precious thing one could give to God.
Sins were forgiven through sacrifices, and for all time through the sacrifice of Christ. These verses aren’t saying that sacrifices are meaningless...but they can be empty and ineffectual if our attitude is wrong.
There are many more ways to appear “devout”. People through the ages have sought to gain God’s favor with acts of piety. For example, in our church we pray the Lord’s Prayer, a wonderful prayer which unites us to all believers. But some people figured the more they said it, the closer to God they’d become. They would recite the Lord’s Prayer dozens of times a day...even though Jesus condemned “vain repetition” in prayer. In order to atone for sins, people have been known to commit acts of self-flagellation. Literally they would flog themselves, beating themselves bloody, hoping God would accept their sorrow over sin. We certainly don’t need to abuse ourselves to gain favor with God.
How would you like an appointment with God? That would be pretty intimidating. Appearing before God might seem somewhat like a job interview—you want to make a good impression. When we approach God, He’s not concerned about what’s on our resume or whether we’re “dressed for success”; He’s concerned about what’s in our hearts. He accepts us even though we may think we’re not very wise or important. No matter what we bring when we pray, we have God’s attention and full acceptance.
Verse 8 tells us what God does require of us. However, let’s clear up a possible misperception. We cannot earn salvation—-we can only receive it. Verse 8 is not the plan or path of salvation. God is stating what He wants from those who are already His people. Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly are the outgrowth of genuine faith. Charles Spurgeon once stated, “If faith does not make a person honest, it is not an honest faith.” These things show us what God’s people do—not how we become His people. A living faith is seen by godly behavior. Our actions reveal whether our faith is true or not. Micah lists three characteristics of a life that is pleasing to God. Authentic faith produces personal holiness because it comes from God, along with the power and desire to live for Him. These things can’t be done without God.