Mercy Reigns Only Where Justice Is Due

I. Chapter six – God brings evidence against the people and vindicates his action.

A. This is the word of God (1)

1. Again we find that Micah claims that his message is in itself the speaking of the Lord: “Hear now what the Lord is saying.” We find similar claims in 1:1, 2, 6, 7; 2:3, 12-13; 3:5; 4:6; 5:10; 6:1, 9.

2. Also we find Micah’s making a clear distinction between the word and work of the false prophets and the message he delivers from the Lord and his consequent actions: 2:6, 11; 3:5-8.

3. If the books contained in the Bible are not the very revelation of God then it should be cast aside and warned against as the greatest of frauds, an imposition on the freedom and happiness of mankind, a deceitful presentation of laws and threats of the most egregious kind. Its writers should be set aside as examples of the most extreme hypocrisy for their condemnation of lying, fraud, injustice, and deceit in the most threatening terms, all the while engaging in the very things they condemn.

4. They should also be ranked as fools of the most pitiable character or among the most deceived of mortals. The writers of Scripture put their lives at risk for a phantom idea. They set aside their worldly comforts, eschewed any good report among men, and insisted on the truth of their message while being deceived about the things they claimed as provable (1 Corinthians 15). They did this even while in chains, or threatened with burning or execution, or faced with ridicule and rejection from the most potent of those who held worldly authority.

5. Not only did they insist that they had received revelation from God [as in our text multiplied ad infinitum (cf. Numbers 1:1, 2:1, 3:5;, 11, 14, 40, 44; 4:1, 17, 21, 41; 5:1, 5, 11; 6:22], but they contended that God himself vindicated their claims to revelation by certain infallibly secured historical events (Luke 1:1-4; Galatians 1:11-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:8-13; 15:1-11).

6. And these are not mere trivialities for which the text of the Bible contends, but are matters of sin, redemption, eternal punishment, eternal life, the character of God and the nature of his existence, the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and his taking to himself in an inexplicable mystery the nature of man, a substitutionary, penalty-driven death.

7. The claims of the Bible concerning its revelatory status, sealed by inspiration, combined with the infinite excellence of the subject matter and the insistence on exclusivity (John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; Galatians 1:6-9) render ignoring its exhibition of the gospel and call to repentance an act of ultimate self-hatred.

B. The pattern of mercy and judgment show the stubborn irrationality of not learning from the past (6:1-5). 

1. God presents his case against Israel and calls upon strong and indestructible witnesses to verify his truthful expression of the case—“plead your case before the mountains.”

2. The Lord then calls upon the same witnesses to hear his case against “His people.” He has an indictment to issue. He knows all the motions of grace, rescue, protection, and covenantal revelation he has given them and yet finds them preferring their own perverse way of life and henotheistic religious confusion.

3. The Lord summarized his protection and gracious power exhibited toward them. God asked how he had wearied them; on what basis have they grown tired of their being the people of the Living God? Was it rescue of the nation from the oppressive and destructive condition of slavery in Egypt? Did that make them depart from him? Was their rebellion due to his granting them competent and obedient leadership in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam? Was their apostasy due to his reversing the intention of Balaam to curse them and instead issue blessings and prophecies of dominance and prosperity (Number 23:7-11)?

4. The Lord reminded them of their gross violation of his covenantal arrangement that could have resulted in total destruction, and yet they entered the promised land through the Jordan on dry land with reminders of his faithful purpose toward them (Numbers 25:1-9; Joshua 4:19-24). Did this make them slide into unfaithfulness?

C. No ceremonies –Is this a sarcastic complaint of the people or a series of rhetorical questions from the prophet (6:6, 7)? The leading nature of the rhetorical questions seems to indicate that this approach is made to give great contrast between mere ceremonial religion and the true worship of the heart.

1. In 6a the prophet sets the stage for consideration of what constitutes true submission to and transparent worship of God. “With what shall I come?”

2. The questions concern specific sacrifices and the materials used in them that were required in the Mosaic code. These sacrifices were not wrong nor were they simply of human composure, but were given by God himself. Calves, rams, and oil were constituent elements of the way in which the Israelites were to be reminded of their sin and that escape from sin’s consequences required the shedding of blood combined with the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

3. The last proposal—“my first born for my rebellious acts”—is an extravagance designed to show that nothing offered to the Lord by a sinner can suffice for forgiveness. We have nothing valuable enough to cover our sin against the holy and righteous God of heaven. Only God can provide the sacrifice that will suffice for true forgiveness.

D. Radical moral change that conforms the people to the two great commandments (6:8) does not provide right standing before God, but it does give evidence that one is reconciled to God and has embraced the absolute goodness of the law. This is shown in a conformity of life to the two tables of the commandments. It shows a submission to God’s standards that would cure the steady stream of injustice and cruelty present in Israel. To do justice means to obey the law in one’s relation to one’s neighbor and to society in general. Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not allow your desires for possessions rest on things outside your own labors and God’s providence. Also look upon the needy and the downcast with compassion and seek to provide what the need—“love mercy and kindness.”  In doing this one shows his worship of God, his honoring of the name of God, his delight in worshiping God “walk humbly with your God” indicates a sense of utter dependence on his goodness that manifests itself in rescue, redemption, reconciliation, and righteousness. “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we are having fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son is cleansing us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7).

E. God proclaims his justice in punishing sin and in showing the vanity of earthly possessions and labor (9-16).

1. God calls and begins to point to the sins that dominate the cities, that overrun the marketplace. If they were as wise as they pretend to be, if they were as cunning in purity and righteousness as in cheating and oppression, they would fear the Lord and listen to this warning—“It is sound wisdom to fear your name” (9).

2. In verse 10-12 God characterizes the flood of sin, a full quiver of sinful activities and deceitful attitudes reinforced by cruelty to the needy rather than kindness. Their treasures arise from their wicked mentality and conduct-“treasures of wickedness” (10). They increase profits by cheating the consumer with false measures and weights. Their manner of conducting business is so dishonest that they sink to the level of deceit in the speech and they abuse, not only in business, but in ongoing social relations (“the rich men of the city are full of violence”). So it will be with any society when the blindfold slips from the eyes of Lady Justice and she becomes partial.

3. God will bring judgment by destroying their means of production and preservation. Neither wheat nor grapes will be productive, and the treading of olives will produce little oil. They have continued n the way of Omri and his son Ahab. Omri did “worse that all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25, 26). Ahab, his son, provoked by the cruel and idolatrous Jezebel, did worse that Omri. Elijah arose as a prophet at that time to announce coming judgment (1 Kings 17:1). Their refusal to change even under the ministry of Elijah and his sound defeat of the prophets of Baal, the deaths of Ahab and Jezebel in accordance with prophetic pronouncement (1 Kings 22:37-39; 2 Kings 9:35-37).

4. This people will bear scorn and reproach, but the note of hope still lingers; they are called “my people.”

II. Chapter seven – God will bring about the fulfillment of the covenant.

A. The prophet laments injustice and treachery with the loss of natural affection (7:1-6; cf. Luke 12:49-53).

1. Like the person who is supposed to gather figs and grapes and pack them to be sold at a market and find none, Micah sees no fruit of holiness and obedience in the nation. There is nothing there to which he can appeal for God’s relenting his threatened judgment. Like Abraham in his appeal for Sodom, nothing remains. Judgment is sure.

2. “The godly person has perished from the land.” When Elijah complained that he alone was left, God told him to anoint Elisha and that he had reserved 7000 in Israel, “all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). But now! “There is no upright person among men.” All of their strength and resources they use to do evil: “Both hands do it well.” All the people of power and possession conspire to defraud everyone else: “So they weave it together” (3b).

3. So given over to the depravity of their nature are all of them that “the best of them is like a briar” and the upright like a thorn hedge. Such graphic images leave us no room for expectation of anything other than thorough punishment, and, indeed, “your punishment will come” (4). Only omnipotent wisdom and sovereign mercy could devise a way for salvaging a remnant. Even relations that should be amicable—a neighbor, a friend—are not trustworthy (5a). Wives will betray husbands to secure their own safety or course of pleasure. Sons and daughters and their wives and husbands will have forsaken any natural affection and, looking to their own advantage will become enemies. Apart from the restraining and healing power of divine grace, society and culture become a blazing inferno of hate, betrayal, and deceit. Governments cease being instruments of justice and protection and are used to serve the personal interests of those in power.

B. God is a God of salvation: He crushes and convicts, pleads our case, and vindicates us (7:7-10). Micah now begins to narrate how the mercy and the sovereign eternal purpose of God preserves his people—his covenantally secured people.

1. Micah, full of confidence in the faithfulness of God and his promises, in spite of the flood of judgment that comes on an unfaithful people, knows that God will exert his power for salvation. Though the people who have received so many favors from the Lord follow their own way, God is not unfaithful to Himself or his purpose; he will therefore, work in them that which is well-pleasing to himself. Enemies should not rejoice, for the fallen of God’s people will rise, and those who are in darkness, the Lord himself will be their light (7, 8).

2. Presently God’s indignation humbles the people; their sin has driven him to chasten them in order to purify them and bring them back. They recognize that they have sinned against the Lord (9, 10). Then God Himself works righteousness in such a way that he can plead their case (6:1, 2 for God pleading a case against them). Now he finds a way consistent with righteousness to plead a case for them. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One; and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2). Not only the covenant people, the remnant of Abrahams’ seed, but those elect from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people will have a Savior who brings them from darkness to light. The nations and all of those who have rejected the Lord and argued that the hope cherished by God’s people was false, futile, and fabled will find themselves engulfed in shame. They will experience the fierceness of divine wrath on the one hand as the legitimate expression of the “fruit of her deeds” (13), or will come in humility and hope to embrace the one that formerly they had ridiculed (12). Thus we will see both the mercy and the justice of God, and every mouth will be stopped (Romans 3:19, 25-26).

C. He restores his people and humbles the nations before himself and his people (11-17).

1. Micah, in light of this confidence just expressed, asks the Lord to “Shepherd your people” (14) The prophet has boldness to see the richness of life under the powerful hand of the Lord’s guidance and for it to be manifested just as powerfully as it was on the day of rescue from Egypt (15).

2. The vision of God’s justice and his invincible power combined with the intuition of his perfect right to rule and judge will shame the nations. They will “put their hands on their mouth,” acknowledge that their assumed power had been evil (“lick the dust” – 17), and stand before Israel’s covenant God with fear, trembling, and dread. All of those who have opposed the people of God will know that they were wrong, that their opposition to the truth of God was futile, and their coming judgment is just. Perhaps among these defeated enemies will be some who will be included in the remnant of Israel that will receive the pardoning mercies of God.

D. God is a pardoning God; His covenant with Abraham bound him to show his glory through the pardoning of sin (18-20). Only in infinite wisdom, however, can an immutably holy and just God discover a way to pardon sinners. Had there not been an eternal covenant of redemption secured for his people in Christ, the Lord could never have justified Abraham or made a promise to him of the innumerable multitude of those who would be blessed in his faith (Genesis 15:5, 6; Galatians 3:26-29). Only Jehovah, the triune God, is such a God and only he can possibly be such a God. “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious acts of the remnant of his possession? … He delights in unchanging love.” (18) The writer of Hebrews saw this as fundamental to the kind of persevering faith about which he had reasoned in his testimony to the finality of Jesus Christ: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen” (Hebrews 13:20, 21).

III. Application

A. The entire world is justly under the wrath of God, and none can plead his innocence (cf. Romans 3:19 and see the pervasiveness of sin in Micah 7:2, 3).

B. The most fundamental issues in existence are judgment and redemption.

C. Faithful proclamation brings sorrow before it can bring joy.

D. Whether in judgment or forgiveness, sin must be dealt with – “It is sound wisdom to fear your name” 6:9.

E. The saving work of God includes a changed heart as well as a changed status (6:8; 7:18).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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