The Lord Demands Justice, not Ritual
1 Listen to what the Lord says:
“Get up! Defend yourself before the mountains!
Present your case before the hills!”
2 Hear the Lord’s accusation, you mountains,
you enduring foundations of the earth!
For the Lord has a case against his people;
he has a dispute with Israel!
3 “My people, how have I wronged you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 In fact, I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I delivered you from that place of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.
5 My people, recall how King Balak of Moab planned to harm you,
how Balaam son of Beor responded to him.
Recall how you journeyed from Shittim to Gilgal,
so you might acknowledge that the Lord has treated you fairly.”
6 With what should I enter the Lord’s presence?
With what should I bow before the sovereign God?
Should I enter his presence with burnt offerings,
with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord accept a thousand rams,
or ten thousand streams of olive oil?
Should I give him my firstborn child as payment for my rebellion,
my offspring – my own flesh and blood – for my sin?
8 He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the Lord really wants from you:
He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful,
and to live obediently before your God.
9 Listen! The Lord is calling to the city!
It is wise to respect your authority, O Lord!
Listen, O nation, and those assembled in the city!
10 “I will not overlook, O sinful house, the dishonest gain you have hoarded away,
or the smaller-than-standard measure I hate so much.
11 I do not condone the use of rigged scales,
or a bag of deceptive weights.
12 The city’s rich men think nothing of resorting to violence;
her inhabitants lie,
their tongues speak deceptive words.
13 I will strike you brutally
and destroy you because of your sin.
14 You will eat, but not be satisfied.
Even if you have the strength to overtake some prey,
you will not be able to carry it away;
if you do happen to carry away something,
I will deliver it over to the sword.
15 You will plant crops, but will not harvest them;
you will squeeze oil from the olives, but you will have no oil to rub on your bodies;
you will squeeze juice from the grapes, but you will have no wine to drink.
16 You implement the regulations of Omri,
and all the practices of Ahab’s dynasty;
you follow their policies.
Therefore I will make you an appalling sight,
the city’s inhabitants will be taunted derisively,
and nations will mock all of you.”
C H Spurgeon
Micah 6:1. Hear ye now what the LORD saith;
And yet some doubt the infallible inspiration of Scripture. I would commence every reading of the Scripture with such a word of admonition as this: “Hear ye now what the Lord saith.” That is what the prophet said; but God spake by the prophet: “Hear ye now what the Lord saith.”
Micah 6:1. Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.
As men were hardened, and turned away their ears, the prophet was bidden to speak to the mountains, those mountains which had been disfigured with the shrines of idols, with altars on every high hill, or, perhaps, those higher hills that were never cultivated, and that remained untouched by the defiling hand of men. God makes an appeal to these ancient things.
Micah 6:2. Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD’S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath, a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.
It was wonderful condescension on God’s part that he should deign to come as a defendant before the august court of the mountains, and in the presence of the deep foundations of the earth. It is a noble conception, in poetry most excellent; in grandeur, worthy of God. He made his appeal to the ancient hills to hear his pleading while he condescended to argue and ask his people why they had rejected their God, and turned aside to idols. Then he pleaded with Israel.
Micah 6:3. O my people, what have I done unto thee?
“What but good, what but mercy, have I done unto thee?”
Micah 6:3. And wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.
He asks them to give any reason whatever why they had turned away from him. Beloved friends, have any of you, who are the people of God, grown cold in your love to him? Are you neglecting the service of the Most High? Are you beginning to trust in an arm of flesh? Are you seeking your pleasures in the world? Have you lost the love of your espousal, your first love to your blessed Lord? Then hear him plead with you. Be not as Israel was, but let the Lord speak to you rather than to the hills: “What have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.” O Lord, we have nothing to testify against thee! We have very much to testify for thee; and we blush to think that we have not done so oftener. Oh, that we had felt more love to thee, and had borne a bolder and more consistent testimony to thy love, thy grace, thy faithfulness!
Micah 6:4. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
God constantly refers to Israel’s coming out of Egypt; on every great occasion he begins, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” And to his people the Lord still says, “I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of slavery.” Is it not so? Do we not still delight in his redeeming work, in the sprinkling of the blood of the Paschal Lamb, and in the high hand and outstretched arm with which the Lord delivered us from the bondage of our sin? Remember that thou also wast a bond-man; forget not who bought thee, and with what price; remember who delivered thee, and led thee out, and with what mighty power. Remember this, and let thy cold love burn up again, and let thine indifference turn to enthusiasm. O Lord, revive thy people! The Lord further says to his people, “I sent before thee Moses (the lawgiver), Aaron (the priest), and Miriam (the prophetess);” one to teach thee, another to plead for thee, and to sacrifice for thee, and the third to sing for thee, to sing thy song of gladness at the Red Sea. God has given to his people many ministries in divers forms; and they are all concentrated in his Son, who is everything to us. Oh, by the greatness of his gifts to us, let us come back to our former love to him, and to something more than that!
Micah 6:5. O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD.
Balak endeavoured to get Balaam to curse the people of God; but they could not be overcome by human power. He sought to destroy them by superhuman agency; but Balaam’s curses turned to blessings. God would not permit the false prophet to curse Israel; and he has in our case turned the curse of the great adversary into a blessing. He has delivered us, and our trials have strengthened us, and taught us more of God. Will we not remember this? Shittim was the last encampment on the further side of Jordan, Gilgal the first in the promised land; therefore they are united here with God’s righteousness to his people, for the word is in the plural. It is a remarkable idiom: “That ye may know the righteousness of the Lord.” He is righteous always, in every way, towards everything, and under every aspect. I wish we knew this, for sometimes we begin to think that he deals harshly with us. When we are severely tried, we begin to doubt the righteousness of the Lord. Remember all that he has done to you from the first day to the last, “that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord.” Now the plaintiff takes up the case, but he, too, turns defendant, and asks what he can do to bring about a reconciliation.
Micah 6:6-7. Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or 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?
The people will give God everything but what be wants. They begin, you see, by saying that they will bring burnt offerings; they are ready to do that. The axe shall fall upon the head of numberless young bullocks, such as God demanded under the law. The people are ready enough for that sacrifice; and as for rams, they will shed their blood by thousands. If oil is wanted for the meat offering, rivers of it shall flow. When they have offered what God would have, they offer what he would not have, what God abhorred and loathed, for they offered to give their firstborn for their transgressions. They insulted Jehovah with the sacrifices of Moloch, with human slaughter, offering their children to obtain atonement for their sins. They were willing to go even that length, and to do anything but what God wants; and men will still give to God anything but what he asks for; majestic edifices, gorgeous services, ecstatic music, gold and silver; anything but what the Lord demands. Here is God’s answer:
Micah 6:8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
It was a spiritual worship that the Lord required; not externals, not outward gifts, but the heart. If thou wilt bring an offering, bring thyself; there is no other gift that the Lord so much desires. The prophet mentions three things that the Lord required of his people: “To do justly:” here are the equities of life. “To love mercy here are the kindnesses of life, which are to be rendered cheerfully. The prophet does not say, “to do mercy,” but to “love” it, to take a delight in it, to find great pleasure in the forgiveness of injuries, in the helping of the poor, in the cheering of the sick, in the teaching of the ignorant, in the winning back of sinners to the ways of God. “And to walk humbly with thy God.” These are the things which please him; and when we are in Christ, and be becomes our righteousness, these are the sacrifices with which God is well pleased; they make an offering of a sweet smell, a holy incense which we may present before him. Talk no more of your outward ordinances, your will-worship, with abundance of music, or human eloquence and learning, and what not. These things delight not the Lord; no offering is acceptable unless the outward conduct shows that the heart is right with him.
Micah 6:9. The LORD’S voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.
God’s voice to his people is often uttered by means of their affliction Hear ye the rod.” He wishes us to understand that judgments and calamities are his voice crying to the city. Oh, that we were men of wisdom, that we would hear what God has to say! Alas! Israel did not hear, and Judah would not listen, even to God’s own voice!
Micah 6:10. Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?
Here he comes to practical details. In Micah’s day, men had grown rich by oppression, by a want of justice; they had wronged their fellow men, and God asked them whether they expected to be pleasing to him when their houses were full of treasure which they had virtually stolen by giving scant measure and short weight. God condescends even to point out these minute particulars of moral conduct, and so should his servants do. It is not for us, his ministers, to be soaring into the clouds, to astonish you with the grandeur of our thoughts and words; but to come to your shops, to look at your bushel-measures and your pecks, your yard-sticks and your weights.
Micah 6:11-12. Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
They were, I suppose, very much what Orientals are still; you cannot trade with them without having need of more than two eyes. Their price has to be beaten down; their quantities must be counted. God would not have his people like this. He says nothing about the Moabites or the Babylonians doing this, but for his people to do it was very grievous to him.
Micah 6:13. Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins.
They lied, and they cheated; so God would give them a sorry tongue, betokening their ill-health. He would make their present distress to get worse and worse, till they should be sick through their wounds.
Micah 6:14. Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied;
The satisfaction that comes to us through eating is of his mercy, and when he wills, he can say, “Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied.”
Micah 6:14. And thy casting down shall he in the midst of thee;
“Thou shalt feel an inward sinking; even when thou hast eaten, thou shalt be faint, as a man who has eaten nothing.”
Micah 6:14. And thou shalt take hold, but shalt not deliver; and that which thou deliverest will I give up to the sword.
So that in every project they would be disappointed; in every design they would be frustrated, because God would be against them.
Micah 6:15. Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine.
God can let men have every form of outward prosperity, and yet make nothing of it. I fear that some, perhaps some present, have every outward religious blessing; yet nothing comes of it. You hear sermons, you come to meetings, you tread the olives, but you are not anointed with the oil. The grapes are in the wine-vat; but you drink not the wine. God save us from that sad condition!
Micah 6:16. For the statutes of Omri are kept,
They would not keep the statutes of God; but they could keep the foul statutes of Omri, which appear to have been specially objectionable to God.
Micah 6:16. And all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels;
He was an arch rebel against God. Remember his murder of Naboth to get his vineyard; and these people followed his evil example.
Micah 6:16. That I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof an hissing: therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people.
Very hard was it to bear that reproach, when there would be none of the comforts of the Spirit to go with it. There are some professors who bear the reproach of Christ, but will never share his crown; that is a fearful state of things. Gladly enough would we take up that reproach that we may be truly his; but if we profess to be God’s people, and act inconsistently, we shall bear all the reproach, but have nothing to sustain us under it. O Lord, of thy mercy, save us from this!