Readings: Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8 Matthew 9:3 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)
There are two things I’d like to share with you today. Nothing complicated. Very simple. But also challenging! You know the saying about preachers – we are tasked to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
We are reading prophets today. Even the New Testament verse refers back to Hosea the prophet (prophesying in the northern kingdom).
Mat 9:13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
(Hos 6:4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.
Hos 6:5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.
Hos 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
You can’t really read the prophets at all without getting a sense of when these words were spoken – context is everything.
I spoke about David, if you recall, who ruled for 40 years, as did Saul before him. Actually Saul reigned for 42 years.
And then Solomon – daughter of David and Bathsheba – reigned 40 years too.
So some 122 years of kingship. Unity ends in 931 BC.
And of course the kingdom divides in two after that. Israel (10 tribes) in the north and Judah (two tribes in the south). Israel – the northern kingdom – has 19 kings through this period ending in 722 with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians.
And in Judah in the south 20 kings through to 586 BC when the Babylonians conquer the southern kingdom.
So Micah is a prophet in the southern kingdom, and a contemporary of Isaiah.
And his prophecy about Bethlehem is profound. Bethlehem is David’s city by birth (an overstatement in the Christmas carol – it’s a village or small town). We get all gooey when we read about Bethlehem as “O little town of Bethlehem” leaps out of our musical memories.
The issue is that Bethlehem is rather insignificant as a town. The Messiah comes from this small place – this little “house of bread!” Listen to verse 2 again:
Mic 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Oh by the way Ephrathah means fruitfulness.
Hold onto this thought – Christmas is just around the corner – and these verses whet our appetites if we have a penchant for Christmas.
Verse 4 is also lovely:
Mic 5:4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
There is a sense of something great – someone great – who will come from this insignificant town.
Small does not mean insignificant in the eyes of God. And the same applies to you – if you think you are insignificant in the greater scheme of things – stick around and see how God can use you as well! To be fruitful.
Just as Bethlehem was chosen to be the place – our small church in this smallish suburb is part of God’s plan to be fruitful.
That’s enough about
The real treat this week is Micah 6:8. It’s one of those famous verses that people love. In fact – apart from the reference to the Messianic ruler coming out of Bethlehem, Micah 6:8 is the only really famous verse in the book. I listened to a discussion of this passage between a New Testament professor and an Old Testament professor. The Old Testament man referred to the book of the prophet Micah, to which the NT guy responded – “Oh yes – that’s a nice yerse!”
What is the context here?
Pretty much the same as today – listen to the first 5 verses of Micah 6:
Mic 6:1 Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
Mic 6:2 Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
Mic 6:3 “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.
Mic 6:4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
In other words – God is reminding them through the prophet – of how he had led them in the past! There is almost a mocking tone:
Mic 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Mic 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
It’s pretty direct really. What’s real worship? What really matters? Is it sacrifices (for us would it mean more offerings?).
Someone quipped that we don’t really have the problem of over-generosity today. It is hyperbole after all. Imagine ten thousand rivers of oil? There’s even an oblique reference to offering of one’s first born. “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Trouble is people did offer their children. Of course we would be aghast at that idea. Mind you – I recall a faithful and generous woman in our church years back who had a lot of kids – who told us once that when they were small she wished she could hang them up on a coat-hanger for a while.
Of course – Jesus is exactly that – if we become squeamish. Micah continues:
Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, 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
What’s it all about? Not whether you exceedingly generous with your sacrifices – as if you could impress God or buy his favour like a politician in many places around the world.
No – it’s simple. Micah 6:8 it is:
- Act justly
- Love mercy
- Walk humbly with your God.
I loved the humility of Frank who spoke last week. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve heard of him before. There is a big world out there of course! You’re not meant to understand the intricacies of South African history and life.
What I liked was his honesty – how he felt that he had ticked all the boxes on God’s list – church, giving etc. and somehow he felt that God owed him something!
Someone penned this thought: “Moral indignation has never led anyone to Christ, but mercy has.” Mixed with acting justly and walking humbly before God.
I want that in my life! At Messy Church Friday we talked about being saintly – which actually means holy. Of course we talked about the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Catholic tradition lists 12 fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. There’s a thought – adding generosity, modesty and chastity.
Micah gives us – Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God. Good start if you are interested in being the light of Christ in this generation. This too is part of God’s plan for us as a church – to be fruitful.