Have you even been driven too hard? Someone makes demands of you that just never seem to stop, and they ring you dry until you've got nothing left to give, and then they ring a little bit more out of you. Have you ever been driven so hard that you just wanted to run away or to tear your hair out or to lash out and say give me a break? Maybe your boss is just too demanding, always quick to tell you all about your faults, constantly pushing more and more work your way, cancelling holidays, making your life a misery; maybe it's your wife who nags you and nags you and nags you and you just want some peace; maybe it's your husband who won't let up and always finds fault; or maybe it's the teachers or the coach or your parents, or your in-laws. Some people just ask too much and they don't know when to stop. And when they're in charge it's awful. Do you know what I mean? Do you ever feel like that?
Some people live their whole lives under tyrants like that.
It seems that in Micah's time the people of Israel felt like that about God – God just won't let up with these constant demands, it's just take, take, take with God. Well he's wrung us dry and he'll not get a nother drop out of us. And if you've been following in Micah we have seen that God has exacting standards haven't we… maybe he is a bit harsh. Well in this passage God calls them, and us, to our senses – is God harsh with us? No, he's abundantly generous, extraordinarily kind, compassionate far beyond reason… we don't have a gripe against God, but God has a case against us.
We see this in three points:
First God Exposes Monstrous Ingratitude
Second God Reveals Greed and Lusts that drive our Ingratitute
Third God Disciplines the ones he loves to draw us back to himself
1) God Exposes Monstrous Ingratitude
God calls for a court hearing – God versus his own people. Who has the legitimate case.
Listen to what the LORD says:
Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. Hear, O mountains, the LORD's accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. "My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counselled and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD."
Look at verse 6-7
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 oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
It's hard to read tone, but that sounds to me like a bitter complaint – what would satisfy the exalted God – the sacrifices of the law? No he wants more… fields and fields of rams and lakes of oil… not enough for you God, what do you want from me – blood?
God is saying you've got it all backwards. You think I'm some sort of tyrant? You think I'm only in it for the sheep and the oil? Do you think of me as some sort of stand over man, always milking you for more? You've forgotten that I saved you from a slavery and death. How have I burdened you –was it by rescuing you from Egypt where you were so comfortable? Was it by sending leaders who stood up to Pharaoh and led you through the wilderness? Or maybe it was when I prevented your enemies from cursing you? Or when I parted the sea to let you through, or sent mana from heaven or gave you water from the rock as I led you through the wilderness?
You think I'm a harsh master? Remember what I rescued you from!
And I wonder if you can hear just a little of yourself in this argument–I'm sure it's not just me, doesn't God seem to ask a lot of us? We add up the pounds we give to make sure we just fall over the line of 10%, or if we're giving more we pat ourselves on the back for 20% or 35%... and we think God's getting a good deal from us! We get tired of serving in church, and sick of being told to tell others about Jesus, and we don't want to struggle against sin any more, we just want to have a bit of a blow out and indulge ourselves, get angry, lose our cool, spend some money, go out late, have a good time… whatever the temptation is for you… I grow weary of doing good, can't God just give me some time off to indulge myself??? Is that you too? Do you feel the weight of their complaint against God –he's just take, take, take, he doesn't understand me, he doesn't care about me, and I can't take it anymore.
And we get a picture in our minds of God as some sort of grotesque cosmic gangster figure – like a heavenly Jabba the Hut, gorging on our misery, making himself fat at our expense, demanding 'more, more, more', so far removed from our misery that he doesn't see or feel it at all.
Do you ever feel like telling God to back off and give you some room to breathe?
If you do, just take a deep breathe with me again and think about all the things you owe to God. Those mountains, God made those; those sheep and the oil – and our food and our wealth – God gave those to us; and the children we sarcastically offered to God – they belong to him too. He gave us breathe at the beginning, and he created a world for us to be born into and food to eat and all the rest; and over all that he rescued us out of slavery to sin and death and gave us life and hope… and the one thing he would never ask from us, that very thing he's given for us – he never asked for child sacrifice, but he gave his only son for us.
We get into a muddle when Christianity becomes a moral exercise with a financial side – we start to resent the things God asks of us because we can't see him as the goal and glory of life; But he wants us, not our things, not even our moral uprightness – he wants our hearts to be captured by the great vision of being with him.
All the rest that's wrong with Israel stems from this polluted source – they've lost sight of God as their joy and their reward, so they're full of dreams of other things and they pursue those dreams at each others cost. Their religion is a veneer of respectability that covers a mass of sinful lusts in their hearts, their religion is a tax they pay to get God's protection, nothing more than that.
2) God Reveals Greed and Lusts That Drive our Ingratitute (v. 6:9 - 7:6)
This is hard to read… and tragic to have to live through. What we are seeing is that God is concerned with how we live in every detail – he's not far off so he can't see how we treat others; and he's not sloppy so that he doesn't pay attention to the details; and he's not careless so that he will just overlook things. In fact it's the very opposite – God is prying into the most intimate details, in a good way; because he cares about us deeply. And in particular here we see that God is concerned with justice in our society – not just moral actions, but just society and structure. God cares for the outcast and the poor and the weak and the down trodden, there is no one too small or insignificant for God's attention, he cares for all of us.
And we might want to read ourselves into the downtrodden, the poor and the lowly, and perhaps we are… but we also need to consider ways in which we are the powerful – and so these verses should be sobering reading for us – do our shopping habits injure the poor and defenceless who sow our clothes in dangerous third world sweat shops? Do our iphones and Samsungs endanger employees in factories – they probably do and we can't be unconcerned about these things, can't allow companies to run solely on the profit motive – so consider your pension scheme, consider the government lobbyist etc. etc. think about how your western life style and indulgence systematically hurt others… Remember Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery – it had a whiff of Micah like concern for systematic abuse of power. God sees things that we don't want to face, and God knows exactly to what extent our prosperity is built on others misery and he cares.
And so God acts to strip away the things that his people have lusted after. They turned from God after wealth, but it will slip through their fingers. They lusted after things, but they won't get them. And so chapter 7 details the misery of a society under God's judgment – not his final judgement, but the discipline of punishment that is designed to reveal hearts and strip away false idols and lead to repentance. Woe to the people who fall into the hand of the living God.
Perhaps this is the point to use the passage analogy of the rod and the shepherd – today that rod looks like a sheep dog – to the sheep appears fierce and frightening; but he is always under the supervision of the shepherd and he drives the sheep in to safety and good pasture… there is also a point of comparison here with the wolf which threatens the sheep – to the sheep there doesn't appear to be a great deal of difference between the two, all teeth and fangs… but the one comes to destroy and tear apart for its own benefit; the other comes to discipline for the good of the flock – while in the moment they might not appear all that different, in reality there is all the difference in the world between God's good discipline for our good and the destruction that comes from savage enemies.
3) God Disciplines the Ones He Loves to Draw Us Back to Himself
There is too much in this passage!
Verses 7.7-20. We see something wonderful in these verses. First we see Micah modelling for us a right response to God's discipline – verse 7 he will wait upon the Lord, watching in hope for the Lord to hear him… He has learnt the lesson of the painful discipline: there may be no reason to hope as he looks around him, it may be that the society is entirely given over to injustice and pain and judgement from God; but Micah retains his hope because God is still his God and he remains God's people. There is a remnant (verse18) and God will look kindly on them.
And so Micah is now able to see things in a whole different light – and he is able to minister to the surrounding nations: the point here is that he speaks for God's honour and glory. The nations think they can mock God's people because their gods are stronger (verse 10 they said 'Where is your God?' as if Micah's God were unable to withstand their gods… but Micah sees things clearly now, God is disciplining him, verse 8-9 and when God has done correcting him, God will vindicate him and lift him up.
How can he say this? Because God remains the same – just as God rescued his people out of Egypt so he will rescue again (verse 14-17). And because God has set his love on his people – not because of what they are like, but because he is a God who delights to love.
What we are seeing here is a great truth that we need to understand. God loves us because God chose to love us, not because we are worthy. That means that when God exposes our unworthiness we don't need to panic, we do need to address the sins that God charges us with and seek him whole heartedly, but we don't need to fear that God will renege on his promises now that he knows what we are really like – he's always known what we're really like; our sins are no surprise to God, they dismay and disgust him, he is appalled at us; but he is never surprised by our failures and our petty rebellions and our ingratitude. He's seen it all coming when we were still far off, and he's dealt with it all in Jesus because he loves us. And he loves us not because we're wonderful. So we don't have to worry that God will lose interest in us when we get a bit old and saggy, that he will turn his affections to new lovers when he discovers that all is not sweetness and light with us. In short he is not fickle and shallow like we are… He is faithful always. He has chosen to put his love on us, so we know that he will not stop putting his love on us.
There was a documentary Zoe and I watched a while back about a billionaire in US trying to build the largest house in America… it all got a bit exciting when he lost all his money and had to sell his unfinished house… but what struck me was his contempt for his wife and family. At one point early on before he lost it all he had the contestants for Miss America to his house for dinner… and he was working the room and the documentary maker switched to an interview with his current – third – wife. She said he had told her he would dump her when she got old and upgrade to a younger model. You felt you were watching him 'window shopping', as if he was hoping to find the next wife from the beautiful women in his living room. And somewhere deep inside we're all a bit like that – we are easily moved from our loves by brighter and shinnier new loves – be that the car or house of our dreams, or the latest gadget, even our closest relationships… but God is never like that. His head is not turned by the newer shinier model. In fact there's not much about us to attract him in the first place. No he loves us because it is his delight to set his love on us. He loves us because he loves to love. And he does not change, so we are secure in his love, no matter how shocking we are… but look at Micah again, run the whole book through again in you mind. This emphatically doesn't mean that we can do what ever we like without concern for consequences. God loves us despite what we're like… and his love draws us away from false loves to love him in return.
See we're supposed to sing and dance and celebrate when we think of God. The very mention of Jesus and his heavenly Father and his Holy Spirit – should fill us with joy – like the thought of a new born baby, or a deeply loved grandfather or revered hero. God is immense beyond the universe – but right now he is actively listening to you and your prayers and concerns. If people are trying to hurt you, he knows and he cares. And if you hurt others he notices. See how surprising that is… my kids pray these inconsequential prayers – Dear God thank you for the light and the picture and the door and Jonty and Grandma Wendy and my shoes. Amen. Who has time for that? Only the God who actively governs all things. He delights in us.
So we come to the end of Micah. What should we learn? God is watching us; and he cares about us, he cares enough to discipline, enough to weigh our behaviour and to correct us if he finds us wanting. And he does find us wanting, we fall far, far below his standards. We deserve to be killed and worse… but yet in the midst of our great failings we see again the great extent of God's love. We should be wiped off the face of the earth, but God is merciful, even in judgment – and so we are saved. And it doesn't depend on our attitude or behaviour, but purely flows out of his astonishing love. So we in our turn must respond… we can't ignore a love like this, to do so would be to invite God's judgement. No God calls us to give him our all in service. It can seem a lot, we can grow weary and tired and we might be tempted to resent the demands God makes on us.
But never forget that everything you have comes from him. And he gives and gives and gives, he didn't' even hold back his only son. There are no bounds to his generous favour shown to you. And don't forget that by rights you should be dead and suffering God's judgment. Don't forget what it was like to live in slavery, without hope and without life and without access to God. Don't resent what he asks from you, but rejoice in what he gives to you.