By Sam E. Stone
During the first two weeks of our study of Micah, we have considered chapters 2 and 3. Micah soundly condemned those prophets who were leading the people astray (3:5-7). They were much like the nation’s leaders whom he also condemned. The prophets would say to the people, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.”
C. F. Keil pictured the scene as a judicial contest between the Lord and his people. “The prophet holds up before the Israelites their ingratitude for the great blessings which they have received from God (Micah 6:1-5), and teaches them that the Lord does not require outward sacrifices to appease his wrath, but righteousness, love, and humble walk with God (vv. 6-8), and that he must inflict severe punishment, because the people practice violence, lying, and deceit instead (vv. 9-14).”
The Lord Summons
God challenged the people, asking what he had done to cause them to turn their backs on him. “What have I done to you?” he demanded. In contrast then, he reminded them of his providential care of the people of Israel, as shown when he brought them back from Egyptian bondage. All of their deliverers were people whom he selected, prepared, commissioned, and directed. He also reminded them of the time when Balak king of Moab tried to have the people cursed, but Balaam blessed them instead. All of this was accomplished through the Lord’s almighty hand. James E. Smith correctly pointed out that “the Lord’s tone here is not that of an outraged plaintiff, but one of a wounded spouse or parent. Many years later the Lord Jesus would ask his auditors, ‘Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?’ (John 8:46).”
The People Speak
God challenged the people to plead their case before the mountains (v. 1) as he brought his charges against the people of Israel (vv. 2-5). Here the people responded, asking what they needed to do. They spoke of bowing down—literally prostrating themselves before the Lord. Interestingly, even as they inquired they showed that they had missed the Lord’s point. With what shall I come before the Lord? was their question. They were willing to bring things, but not themselves. E. B. Pusey called this “hypocritical eagerness.”
The questions continued. The people suggested that a right relationship with God might come by their making even more expensive offerings. But is God impressed by big numbers? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? They even suggested an obviously pagan idea: Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression? The practice of using human sacrifices was a part of some pagan religions (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 19:5; 32:35). Such practices were strictly forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10).
The people had responded first by asking about those sacrifices actually included in the Mosaic requirements—offerings of animals and oil. Then, in their attempt to sound pious, the people suggested another possibility—sacrificing a firstborn child, a practice specifically condemned in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:21).
Micah summed up the Lord’s answer saying, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. The answer to their question should not have been hard, Micah observed. It is what God had commanded in the law (Deuteronomy 10:12, 13). What God expects from all his children is simply obedient faith. All are to live out his requirements—treating others fairly, showing mercy and grace, and walking in humble obedience with the Father.
The prophet did not introduce some new theology to Israel. Other similar announcements are found in Isaiah 5:7; Hosea 4:1; 6:6; and Amos 5:24. Micah did not replace the altar but emphasized that sacrifice must be accompanied by obedience.
The controversy was closed by the Lord’s declared answer. A. Fraser said, “Ritual offerings, even the Levitical ones, are valueless unless they express a sincere movement of the heart towards God, of which the true outward symbol is an honest character and a humble bearing in the sight of men . . . The value of a ritual offering does not consist in its amount or in its excess, but in the state of mind with which it is accompanied, and which may exist without it.”
Harold Shank concluded, “Against a human race that is self-centered and self-serving, Micah calls for hearts humble enough to submit to the Lord. Micah’s challenge anticipates the ‘Follow me’ of Jesus. Later Paul urges his readers to ‘look carefully then how you walk’ (Ephesians 5:15, Revised Standard Version).”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.