Leading Question: What kind of messiah would one expect if one only had the book of Micah?
Introductory note: Micah’s ministry spanned some four eventful decades, years that witnessed the end of the Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel and Sennacherib’s failed attack against Jerusalem. Micah and Isaiah were contemporaries, ministering in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Micah addressed some of his messages to Samaria and the people of the north:
Sins against God or against humanity? Read through the book of Micah and note the primary accusations against the people. Was Micah more concerned about sins against God or sins against humanity? In our day, is it still possible to be religious while violating our fellow human beings? In our day, is it possible for people to minister to the needs of people without being consciously committed to God? The OT prophets don’t seem to address this issue directly, but it is an issue suggested in the New Testament by the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. In Ellen White’s commentary on this parable in The Desire of Ages, chapter 70, are these two striking quotations:
Christ on the Mount of Olives pictured to His disciples the scene of the great judgment day. And He represented its decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and suffering. (Desire of Ages, 637)
Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. (Desire of Ages, 638)
A Messianic hope: Micah 5:2. Four verses in Micah 5, speak of the coming Deliverer (5:2-6). The most memorable verse for Christians is 5:2 for it mentions the birthplace of the Messiah as Bethlehem in Judah. In Matthew 2, it is the Jewish priests and teachers who quoted this passage to Herod when he asked where the new king would be born. One could read the Micah passage as promising deliverance from earthly enemies, and Christ would eventually do that. Yet the keynote for Christ’s own ministry would be the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. In other words, if one wants to know the true nature of the Messiah, one may have to look past some of the more traditional “deliverance” passages to the deeper spiritual mission which Christ came to fulfill. It is worth noting that when Jesus said that he would suffer and die, no one believed him – until after the resurrection.
An important conditional prophecy: Micah 3:12. “Jerusalem shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets” (NIV11). This verse was actually instrumental in saving Jeremiah’s life, for when Jeremiah said that Jerusalem would be destroyed if the people would not repent (Jeremiah 26:4-6), the people accused him of treason for preaching against the city and state. Yet Jeremiah was not speaking an absolute message, but a conditional one! Finally, as the debate over Jeremiah continued, some of the leaders remembered Micah 3:12, an “absolute” prophecy against Jerusalem which turned out to be “conditional.” The dialogue in Jeremiah 26:17-19 is revealing. In the end, the memory of Micah’s prophecy won a reprieve for Jeremiah and he was not killed. Is this a another biblical illustration of Ellen White’s statement that “the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional?” (Ms 4, 1883; =1SM 67) See the commentary on Jonah (Lesson #6) for further discussion of the issue of conditionality.
Paying for our sins: Micah 6:6-8. One of the most famous verses in the prophets is found in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV11). But that verse takes on a larger significance when it is seen in its context. And perhaps for somewhat different reasons is very important for modern believers, too.
Chapter 6 opens with God’s court case against Israel, a method often used by the prophets to call Israel to account. “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.” – Micah 6:2 – 3. After reminding the people of the many good acts of the LORD, the court case shifts to the response of the people, given here in the words of the Good News Bible:
6 What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? 7 Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? 8 No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
In the Old Testament context, this is a resounding rejection of anything that would savor of salvation by works. The respondent in Micah goes a step higher with each phrase: Will calves suffice? Thousands of sheep? Endless streams of olive oil? Or even one’s first-born child? The GNB inserts an emphatic “no.” And then the famous verse 6 follows. In short: humans cannot buy their way into the kingdom with any kind of offering.
The modern application for Christians sheds an important light on the psychology of sacrifice and the Christian understanding of the sacrifice of Christ. Some of the more strident versions of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement portray God as demanding a price for sin, a price which God himself pays through the gift of his son. But Micah 6:6-8 gives reason for grounding the sacrifice of Christ in the human perception of what salvation might demand. It is the twisted human mind that thinks a price must be paid for sin. Fully recognizing that human impulse, God came in human flesh to forever answer that question. If anyone thinks that a price must be paid for sin, it is God himself who paid the price once for all and believers are forever free to revel in God’s grace. Thus the substitutionary atonement is a necessity grounded in human need. It is not an absolute necessity demanded by God, but a psychological and governmental necessity required by the catastrophic effects of sin on the human mind.