What does the Lord require? (A study of the prophet Micah)

The unemployment rate is a political marker of success. Presidents are judged on the rise and fall of the unemployment rates of our country.  The creation of new jobs is essential for the future stability of our country. Over 2 million degrees are awarded annually to college graduates.  Students go to college to they can meet the necessary job requirements of future employment.  In a job opening, an employer lists a number of preferred qualifications for the applicant, but also lists some minimum requirements.  Most jobs require a minimum level of experience and/or education to make candidates viable for effective employment. 

            Minimum requirements are something that we all face every day. Whether it is the requirements necessary to file taxes, change our address or renew our car insurance, we all are very familiar with minimum standards and necessary requirements.  It is fascinating how we are so familiar with requirements in the natural world, but do not understand the requirements in the spiritual world.  What does the Lord require of His people?  Does God have expectations and standards that He wants His people to fulfill? Does He have minimum requirements for effective employment into His Kingdom? 

            We continue through our series of the Minor Prophets with Micah.  Remember these books are not called minor because of their importance, but due to their length.  These books are short, but speak to eternal things.  Micah prophesied for about 20-25 years to the kingdom of Judah in the 8th century B.C. The book begins with the word of the Lord coming to Micah 1:1,

The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. (Micah 1:1).

We should never take for granted that God speaks to His people. God is not impersonal, but intimately personal with people.  He speaks. And because He speaks, we would be wise to listen.  The word of the Lord given to Micah helps us answer that eternal question, “What does the Lord require?”

The Lord Requires the Discipline of Sin

            The book opens with the pronouncement of judgment against Israel and Jerusalem for the sins of the people.  Micah 1:2-7,

Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem? Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards, and I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations. All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. (Micah 1:2-7)

Destruction is coming upon God’s people, because of their spiritual apostasy.  They have not been true to the Lord, but have chased after idols. 

            The reason for such rampant idolatry among the people rests on the shoulders of the leaders. They have disregarded God’s Word and led the people into sin.  Spiritual leadership is crucial to the spiritual health of God’s people. All throughout Scripture, leaders have either encouraged righteousness or wickedness.  This can be clearly seen in the books of 1 and 2 Kings.  As each King is announced, it says that “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “he did  what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.” As leaders go, so goes the people.  And the leaders in Judah committed grievous sins,

And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?— you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron…Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. (Micah 3:1-3, 9-12)

God will bring judgment on nations because of poor leadership.  The key heart of the leaders is exposed in the second verse, “you who hate the good and love the evil.”

This is the opposite of what leaders should do both in the church and in the government. 1 Peter 2:13-14,           

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

Leaders should encourage and praise those who do good and punish those who do evil. The leaders in Judah were punishing those who do  good and praising those who do evil. Can I encourage you to pray for your leaders?  Pray for our government leaders (local and national).  Pray for your church leaders (pastors and deacons).  God requires sin to be punished so pray that God would guide leaders to lead people in the way of righteousness. 

            The Lord brought this judgment against Judah as a discipline.  Discipline is an act of love.  God’s discipline shows how He delights in righteousness and truth. And it shows how He loves His people.  He does not want His people to stay in their sin and face future judgment, but He requires us to be delivered from sin and experience mercy. 

The Lord Requires the Deliverance of Sin

            God’s Word always reveals His character.  After a book full of harsh judgments, Micah closes his book in a way that reveals His tender love and mercy, Micah 7:18-20,

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.

These three verses contain beautiful and precious promises and they remind us of how unique and truly special our God is.  Even the name Micah means, “Who is like you Yahweh?”  He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. His love will be demonstrated in casting all our sins into the depths of the sea. 

            God will show compassion on us.  He will show His compassion to us to fulfill the promise He swore to Abraham that through his offspring He will bless all the nations of the earth.  God has done this ultimately in Christ.  The Lord requires us to be delivered from our sin and repent, but we are unable to bring about our own deliverance. The Bible says we are dead in our trespasses and sin.  Things that are dead have no power to bring life.  They are incapacitated and lifeless.  Our sin must be dealt with. So God in His infinite grace and compassion sent Jesus Christ to deal with our sin.  He dealt with our sin by absorbing our sin on the cross. He suffered for all our grievous sins.  He paid the penalty for our sin in full so that through faith in Christ all our sins are cast into the depths of the sea where we will never bear them again.  This promise is true because after death, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead to the right hand of God placing everything in subjection to Him.  He brings life from death for anyone who would turn from their sin and trust in Christ.

            We see the promise of the Christ in Micah when he speaks of the Messiah coming from Bethlehem, the smallest of clans of Judah, Micah 5:2-5a,

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

God requires deliverance from sin, but the Lord gives the deliverance. Who is like our God? He makes demands of us, and He meets the demands for us.  We have peace with God because of the Christ that comes from Bethlehem to stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. 

            The deliverance the Lord gives through Christ is pictured the gathering of all of God’s people from every tongue, tribe and people on the face of the earth. Hear God’s promise to gather his people, Micah 2:12-13,

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king passes on before them, the LORD at their head. (Micah 2:12-13)

And Micah 4:1-7,

The Mountain of the Lord It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. The Lord Shall Rescue Zion In that day, declares the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore.

The Lord will one day gather all His people around His throne.  The Lord will reign forevermore and we will experience all the pleasures at His right hand through all eternity.

            It is a great promise, so what does the Lord require of us so that we can ensure that we will be part of those assembled to the Lord?

The Lord Requires the Departure of Sin

            We know right from wrong. We all have the moral law written on our hearts pricking our consciences when we sin against God or others.  Many try to insinuate that it is impossible to know God’s will and what He requires of us. They act as if God is unknowable. The Bible paints very different picture. The problem with humanity is not knowing the Lord’s requirements, but desiring to do them.  Micah 6:6-8,

“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?

We are clearly told what God wants us to do and how God wants us to live: to do justice, love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God.

            Do Justice. A believer departs from sin and wants to do justice.  We want to fight for what is right and honorable.  We care for widows and orphans.  We love the poor and the downtrodden.  One of the best ways to show justice is to care for your families as they are aging.  One of the greatest testimonies of justice and godliness is when a child cares for a dying parent.  I have never had to walk that road, but I have witnessed it.  It is a picture of God’s heart for justice to care for those who cannot care for themselves. 

            Love kindness.  Thomas Hobbes wrote in his seminal work, Leviathan, “And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” We so often experience life in that way.  We see pictures of that all over society, but we must be rays of light. We must cherish and treasure kindness. When was the last time your heart rejoiced in seeing kindness? Think on kindness. Think on God’s kindness. Think on God’s kindness expressed in the local church. 

            Walk humbly with your God. When you are walking with God, you are not walking towards sin.  Humility and abiding in God’s Word are weaved together like grace and mercy.  They are intimately connected.  Humility is a disposition of constant need.  We do not try to leave God’s hand because we know we are in ever need of His presence. We never need to look any further for true humility than our Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 2:5-8,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

What does the Lord require of you?  He requires you to die to yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus.  You must die to live.  The Lord requires you walk in the footsteps of Christ.  Walk humbly with God. The key to all of life is walking humbly with God.  God invites you to depart from your sin by walking humbly with God. 

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