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. God who cannot be bribed

THE GOD WHO CANNOT BE BRIBED

Micah 6:1-8 (ESV) 1 Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3 “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.” 6 “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? 7 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?” 8 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?”

Introduction:

I feel constrained in my heart to share this Old Testament section with you today and to apply it shortly in the end, and to trust the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps as far as our lives are concerned. I believe we all can identify with Israel to some extent.

The context:

The first verse of this book tells us that the word of God came to Micah “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” This was in the eighth century B.C. when Assyria was the reigning superpower. Assyria was located in Mesopotamia, far to the east and north of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom), but Assyria’s power was such that it dominated Syria (directly to the north of Israel) as well as Israel.

Jotham inherited the throne of Judah from his father, Uzziah, about 750 B.C. and reigned for about 20 years. While 2 Kings notes that Jotham “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:34), it also notes that he failed to remove the high places, which were centers of idol worship.

Ahaz succeeded his father, Jotham, about 730 B.C. and reigned over Judah for 16 years (2 Kings 16:2). He is portrayed as one of Judah’s worst kings (2 Kings 16:3-4). During the reign of Ahaz, Tiglath-Pileser attacked the Northern Kingdom (Israel), killed many of its inhabitants, and deported most of the rest to Assyria, thus ending the existence of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom once and for all time.

Hezekiah succeeded his father, Ahaz, about 715 B.C., and reigned until about 687 B.C. While a much better king than his father, Hezekiah led a coalition in a failed attempt to rebel against Assyria. Surprisingly, Assyria did not destroy him, but it did force him to pay tribute.

The prophet Micah carried on his work in this turbulent period. In the first chapter of the book of Micah, he foretold the coming of God against Israel, the Northern Kingdom (vv. 3-7) and Judah, the Southern Kingdom (vv. 8-16). In the second chapter, he denounced the social evils prevalent in Israel/Judah. In the third chapter, he spoke of rulers “who hate the good, and love the evil; who tear off their skin, and their flesh from off their bones” (3:2) and “prophets who lead my people astray” (3:5)—and foretold their punishment.

Nevertheless, during all these troubles, Micah also foretold days to come when faithfulness and peace would be restored in Judah (4:1-5; see also Isaiah 2:2-4). He promised restoration after exile (4:6-13).

In 5:2-5a, Micah speaks of the ruler who will come forth from Bethlehem—a passage quoted in Matthew’s Gospel as applicable to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-6). He also relates the future role of the remnant (5:7-15).

Point 1. GOD has a case with His people. Micah 6:1-2 (ESV)

Hear what the Lord says: (v. 1a). Micah is speaking, but his words are not his invention. God has called him to speak and has given him the words to speak.

“Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice” (v. 1b). This is the language of a court of law. God (speaking through the prophet) orders the people of Judah to rise and present their case against God. In the scenario that God presents, the people are the plaintiffs (the ones bringing the lawsuit—the ones who claim to have been injured) and God is the defendant (the accused—the one who allegedly injured the plaintiff). This lawsuit motif continues through to verse 5.

God invites the people to address their complaints to the mountains and the hills, which have been standing from ancient times. The mountains and hills are well suited to serve as eyewitnesses, because they have seen what God and the people have done. They have watched the history of Israel unfold. They know that God brought these people into the Promised Land and gave them the victory over their enemies. They have seen the people build altars to pagan gods on the high places. The mountains and hills know who is right and who is wrong.

2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth,” (v. 2a). Again, it is the prophet speaking—delivering the Lord’s message. God invites the mountains and the “foundations of the earth” to serve as the jury—to determine who has broken the covenant relationship that has existed for centuries between God and Israel. From the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains, God’s creation has witnessed the relationship between God and these people. God’s creation is well-suited to reach a just verdict in this case.

2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, God has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel” (v. 2b). God has invited the people of Judah to present their case before the mountains and the foundations of the earth. If so, this will pose quite a challenge. How will the people convince the mountains and hills of the equity of their case when the mountains and hills know otherwise?

Now the Lord makes it known that he is prepared to defend himself against whatever accusations that the people of Judah might make. “he will contend with Israel”. But despite the controversy, these people are nevertheless “His people”—God’s people. The covenant relationship has been damaged by the unfaithfulness of the people to the covenant, but the covenant relationship still stands.

Point 2. GOD places His evidence of innocence on the table. Micah 6:3-5 (ESV)

“My people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied (burdened) (la∙ah) you? Answer me” (v. 3). Once again, God commands the people to state their case—to tell him how he has wronged them—to present their evidence against him.

Has God wearied them—failed them—caused them frustration—given them reason to become impatient? Or is the shoe on the other foot? Have the people wearied God—failed him—caused him frustration—given him reason to become impatient? See this in the context of today. For so many people to worship and honour the Lord today is wearisome. It is as if God is an unnecessary irritation in our lives.

Now listen what God says: “For I brought you up (al-ah) from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery (v. 4a). God begins to present the evidence in his favour. His first exhibit is a part of their history with which they are all familiar—the Exodus.

Note the play on words. God asked if he had wearied (la∙ah) the people. Now he answers that he has not wearied them, but has instead brought them up (al-ah) from the land of Egypt and redeemed them from slavery. He has not brought them down, but has brought them up. He has not hindered them, but has helped them.

God brought them up out of Egypt and redeemed (padah) them from slavery. This word, padah, has to do with deliverance. God delivered Israel from a land of bondage and led them to the Promised Land—a land of milk and honey. They went into Egypt as an undistinguished family (except for Joseph) and emerged from Egypt as a nation.

God parted the waters so the Israelites could pass through the sea and escape the pursuing soldiers. God had given them water to drink and manna to eat in the arid wilderness. God had parted the waters of the River Jordan so they could enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3). Every Jewish child knew these stories. God is reiterating stories well-known to every Jew.

Then God says: “I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (v. 4b). Now God presents his second exhibit—Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—the emancipator, the priest, and the prophetess. God had favoured Israel greatly with these leaders—and many more who are not mentioned here—Joshua, David, the list is long.

5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, (v. 5a). God’s third exhibit seems a bit odd. He could have spoken of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. He could have mentioned David and Goliath. The story of Balak and Balaam seems minor by comparison—but perhaps that is the intent. The mention of Balak and Balaam illustrates the depth of God’s involvement with Israel’s history. For every great story, such as David and Goliath, there are dozens of smaller stories such as Balak and Balaam.

You might remember the story: Balak, king of Moab, was afraid of the Israelites, so he summoned Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel, “for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6). But the Lord intervened so that Balaam blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them (Numbers 23-24).

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord (v. 5b). Shittim was the Israelites last campsite prior to crossing the Jordan River, and Gilgal was their first campsite inside the Promised Land. In other words, what happened “from Shittim to Gilgal” was that God stopped the waters of the Jordan River so that the people of Israel could cross into the Promised Land. “Shittim to Gilgal” serves as shorthand for the miraculous entry into the Promised Land.

Point 3. How shall convicted people pay their dues. Micah 6:6-7.

“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?” (v. 6). Micah 6:6-8 is in the form of a question and answer, with a worshiper speaking in verses 6-7 and another voice responding in verse 8.

The central question is what must we do to please God?

The first proposal is that the worshiper should bring God burnt offerings, with “year-old calves.” There is much to commend this proposition. The first seven chapters of Leviticus give detailed instructions regarding a variety of offerings that God requires Israelites to make. The burnt offering is the first offering mentioned (Leviticus 1), which suggests that it has special importance. The requirement was for a male without blemish. A calf could be offered as a sacrifice once it was seven days old (Leviticus 22:27), but a truly devoted worshiper would feed and care for the calf until it was a year old and then offer the sacrifice. A year-old calf was the best offering that a worshiper could make.

The second proposal escalates the requirements substantially. 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,” (v. 7a). A ram is a male sheep that constitutes an acceptable offering (Leviticus 5:15; 6:6). When Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord provided a ram to sacrifice in Isaac’s place (Genesis 22:13). If one ram is an acceptable sacrifice, thousands of rams must be super-acceptable.

Olive oil was one of Israel’s primary agricultural products. It was made by crushing ripe olives to extract the oil. Lesser grades of oil could be extracted by various processes, but the oil that resulted from the first pressing was considered to be the best. Oil was used for cooking, lamps, and a variety of religious purposes (to fuel lamps in the tabernacle and temple, to accompany various sacrifices, and for anointing). Only the best oil—virgin oil from the first pressing—was acceptable for religious purposes. If the Lord would be pleased with the offering of a small quantity of oil, he must be especially pleased with the offering of a river of oil—or, even better, "ten thousand rivers of oil".

The mention of thousands of rams or tens of thousands of rivers of oil constitute hyperbole, (exaggeration for effect) because no one could afford such lavish offerings.

The third proposal escalates the requirements beyond acceptable limits. “Shall I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (v. 7b).  The Israelites are familiar with child sacrifice, because it is a common practice among some of their neighbours. The question posed here is whether a person would have to go so far as offering his own firstborn child as a human sacrifice.

Jewish law says, “You shall give the firstborn of your sons to me. You shall do likewise with your cattle and with your sheep. Seven days it shall be with its mother, then on the eighth day you shall give it to me” (Exodus 22:29b-30; see also Exodus 13:12-13; 34:20).

HOWEVER (and this is a big however), the Lord did not require the Israelites to offer their firstborn as sacrifices on the altar. Instead, they were to redeem their firstborn children by the payment of five shekels to the priest (Exodus 13:11-15; 34:19-20; Numbers 3:44-51; 18:15-17). When Israelites practiced child sacrifice, they typically did so to Molech or other gods—not to God—and God condemned such practices. (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Kings 11:5; Psalm 106:37-38; Ezekiel 16:20-21; 23:37-39).

We must conclude, then, that the offering of a firstborn as a sacrifice would not please the Lord. Such an offering would constitute a grave sin. It is a bribe that will not work. God is not looking for physical payments for their disobedience.

Point 4: What God really requires. Micah 6:8 (ESV)

“He has told you, O man, what is good” (v. 8a). Verse 6a asks what the worshiper must do to please the Lord. Verses 6b-7 suggests various possibilities, all of which involve some sort of sacrificial offering, but to God that is a bribe and not what He wants.

The prophet takes the idea of pleasing the Lord in an entirely different direction. The focus of this verse is not on external acts, such as the offering of sacrifices, which simply ends up as a bribe, but on attitudes that come from the deepest part of a person’s life—from the heart—and manifest themselves in positive actions toward God and fellow humans.

“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice (mis∙pat), and to love kindness or mercy (he∙sed), and to walk humbly with your God?” (v. 8b). This verse is an excellent summary of true discipleship, because each of these three actions has many ramifications. This is a verse we all should memorise.

To please God one must act in positive ways toward other humans and toward God. The prophet spells out three of those positive actions. Very much the thoughts of Christ namely the greatest commandment being to love God and then our neighbour as ourselves.

“to do justice or act justly (mis∙pat) (v. 8b1). Justice (mis·pat) and righteousness (seda·qa) are related. Justice involves bringing people into a right relationship with God and each other, and these right relationships produce righteous lives. God’s law provides extremely specific guidance with regard to just behaviour. Justice requires witnesses to be honest and impartial (Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8). It requires fair treatment in the courts for all people, but especially for people who have limited resources to defend themselves. It requires special consideration for widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people (Deuteronomy 24:17), and so the list goes on.

“to love kindness or mercy (hesed)” (v. 8b2). The word he·sed has a rich variety of meanings—kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. When applied to God, hesed is fundamentally the expression of his loyalty and devotion to the solemn promises attached to the covenant”. Like the Greek word, agape, in the New Testament, he·sed is a word that involves action—kindness or love as expressed through kind or loving actions rather than just feelings.

“and to walk humbly with your God?” (v. 8b3). There are two components to walking humbly with our God:

• First, if we are to please God, we must walk with God. God must be a significant part of our everyday lives—a constant companion, guide, and stay. We must allow God to lead us.

• Second, if we are to please God, we must walk humbly with God. A person who is humble is not arrogant or boastful. A person who walks humbly with God understands that everything that he or she possesses is a gift of God. A person who walks humbly with God will try to determine where God would have him or her to go rather than trying to set his or her own direction based on own wisdom. Walking in the Spirit will require such humility.

To be truly humble, we must give up all pretence to self-sufficiency and must instead rely on God as “our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).

Summary.

I can spend hours applying this. But can I ask you this morning. Does God have a case against you? Have you grown weary of serving the Lord? Is the worship of God a joy to you or do you yawn at that privilege? Do you still love God, His church, His people, and His Word? Where does God rate in your estimate of things. Is He still number 1 when it comes to priorities? Are you faithful to your Christian task in giving, sharing, reaching out to others? Are you guilty as charged? How do you make right? You will not buy God’s favour, no matter how much you raise the ante. What does God want from us? Simply to act justly, to love mercy or kindness and to walk humbly before Him. Are you willing? Well, our devotion series is helping us to do just that. May God bless His Words to our hearts, and may the Holy Spirit expand on this Word with practical thoughts related to your life.

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: 13 June 2020