Justice, Mercy, and Walking Humbly With God
In the last two messages, we considered two things God wants His people to do. Two things He expects us to do.
He expects us to put Him first, not only individually, but teaching others to do the same, and He wants us to choose life. Abundant life. The kind of life that comes from obeying Him, loving Him, and walking in His ways, all those things possible using His strength and His discipline.
In the last two messages, two things God wants and expects His people to do. In this message, three more things God wants. What He teaches are some more of His expectations of His people.
Those three things are listed in the Old Testament Book of Micah in chapter 6. Specifically they are in verse 8, but the stage is set before that, specifically in verses 6 and 7. But even before that, there is more background information that needs to be mentioned, which is this.
God, speaking through the prophet Micah, doing so earlier in the Book of Micah, explained two things He had against His people. What God had against them was their injustice in their dealings with each other and their ingratitude toward God.
Two examples were the coveting of other people’s fields or houses, hoping and sometimes accomplishing the taking of them, and bribery to get officials, including priests, to say what the people wanted them to say, rather than speaking the word of God.
The people of God were not treating God or others the way they should have been treated. Ways they knew about because of all the Old Testament writings before the Book of Micah. Mistreatment of God and others is what had God against His people, which Micah announced to them.
That could have caused the people to attack Micah. That often happens when a messenger gives bad news. However, in this case, apparently the people believed what Micah said. That God’s anger was their fault. They realized the validity of God’s anger. They also realized and dreaded the consequences of God’s anger.
Apparently they asked Micah what they needed to do to make things right, which is what Micah answers in verses 6 through 8 of chapter 6.
Micah begins with a number of questions he might have been asked.
First, “With what shall I come before the LORD?”
It was important for someone approaching the LORD back then to have a gift of some kind. As we will be reminded a couple questions later, gifts came in the form of sacrifices the people were instructed to present to God.
The system of Old Testament sacrifices had been set up by God Himself. That system was important. So it was the people of God wanted to know what sacrifices they should present to God to make up for what they had done wrong.
But notice the word “I.” With what shall I come before the LORD. Isn’t that an interesting question? Apparently Micah had that question asked by individuals. What that means to me is that yes, all the people to whom Micah spoke might have done wrong, but each one was interested in what he needed to do to make things right. Each one did not care so much what anyone else did. Each one wanted to know what he could do to soothe God’s anger.
How true that is even today. It makes no difference what others do, whether they repent or not. That is their business. But I am supposed to repent. You are to repent. That is, therefore, very important wording. “With what shall I come before the LORD?”
Second, “With what shall I bow before God on high?”
“Bow.” That is a position of humility, representing an understanding that God is God and they were and we are not. Again, God’s anger was justified. He had every right to take action against His people because of their mistreatment of Him and others.
How true that is even today. Even now we are to be humble in our relationship with God. It is what He wants, not what we want, that is to be the most important thing.
“With what shall I come before the LORD? With what shall I bow before God on high?” Those were the first two questions.
Then questions 3 through 6. “Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings? Shall I come with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams? Will He be pleased with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”
Again, the traditional thought was that a person could not worship God - could not approach Him - unless he or she went with some material offering to present to Him.
And again, a system of sacrifices had been set up by God Himself. Therefore, taking something to Him was accepted. It was important.
Something like year old calves, which was an accepted sacrifice. As were rams and oil. But do we notice the extravagance mentioned? Thousands of rams and 10,000 rivers of oil.
Obviously no one, except maybe the king, would be rich enough to own and then sacrifice that many animals, and I doubt there is enough oil in the world to fill 10,000 rivers.
The exaggeration might have been for effect. Kind of like pledging a girl friend the whole world or the moon, neither of which can be accomplished. It is simply an expression of the extent of love.
Or the exaggeration might have been a signal of humility. Even if they had given everything they had to the LORD, they still could not have earned His favor. They still would not have been worthy of His forgiveness.
That was also true concerning the seventh question. “Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
What a silly question that seems to be. Why would God want anyone to kill any child? That is simply murder.
The explanation for the question is probably that the heathens - those who did not belong to God - did that very thing. Their custom was to sacrifice the first-born, the thought being that whatever god they believed in would give the couple more children and grant the family prosperity.
But that is not what God wanted. It is not what He wants now.
God was upset with His people because of their injustice and their ingratitude. When Micah shared with those people that God was upset, they wanted to know what to do to ease that anger. The people asked what they could present to God - calves, rams, oil, their first born - all that was important and dear to them. They truly were interested in soothing God’s anger. They wanted to know what to present to Him.
Micah’s answer is in verse 8. “He [God] has shown you what is good.” We will think of some examples of that in just a bit, but “God has shown you what is good,” which has nothing to do with sacrifices, as important as they were, but with three things - “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.” What does the LORD require of you? Those three things.
Doing justice. That means to give others what they are owed.
That includes help when it is needed, encouragement when it is needed, honesty when dealing with others.
In a business sense, I am thinking of something in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 35 and 36. When measuring lengths of cloth or weights of food, whether buying or selling, “use accurate balances.” Do not cheat.
I am also thinking of being honest in what is said about others, as in saying nice, good things that are deserved, and maybe, as mama used to tell me, if you cannot say anything nice about someone, do not say anything at all. At least do not, without cause, intentionally hurt someone else’s reputation.
Do justice. Do wrong to no one physically, economically, or to their good name.
Loving mercy. Be kind. Delight in being kind. Be glad for opportunities to be kind. Do it cheerfully.
Walking humbly with God. Take Him as your God. Adhere to His teachings. Make it your business - your constant business - to please Him. In all you do, conform yourself to the will of God, keeping communion with Him. Even your thoughts are to be obedient to Him.
Notice that the first two - doing justice and loving mercy - have to do with others. Only the third - walking humbly with God - deals with God. But listen. We prove our love for God in how we treat others. And we are not likely to love God, whom we have not seen, unless we first come to love others, whom we can see.
“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” That question is rhetorical. It does not need to be answered because the answer is already known. The answer? Nothing. Nothing is needed except justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God.
By the way, that is taught, not only in the Old Testament by Micah. The teaching is also found in the New Testament.
For instance, listen to Hebrews 10:4. Te writer of Hebrews words it this way. “For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” It is at least implied that something else is needed. According to Micah, the something else is justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God. In our New Testament times, all three are possible only by accepting Jesus as Savior. Do that, and you will be able to follow the challenge in Micah. That is how to please God.
And let’s think about what Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount.
Just a few of the things that relate to treating others well are these teachings. Do not be angry with or insult a brother or sister - a fellow Christian. Do not look at another person with lust. Do not take revenge. Love even your enemies.
In treating God well, here is some of what Jesus taught. Pray humbly, speaking to God rather than trying to impress others. Rely on God for forgiveness and for the daily needs of life. Lay up treasures, not on earth, but in Heaven.
The teaching found in Micah is also found in the New Testament. But not only was that teaching taught by word. Did we catch it? God “showed” how we are to live.
For that, I have two Old Testament and two New Testament examples.
One Old Testament example concerns the people of the city of Nineveh. A people known and feared for the evil they did against anyone and everyone not of their city.
Remember Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh to preach against the people in that city and call on them to repent. What mercy that displayed on God’s part, but that is what he told Jonah to do.
Remember Jonah refused to go, instead boarding a boat going the opposite direction.
Jonah’s fleeing was caused by personal fear. It may have also been caused by spiritual revulsion. In fact, Jonah expressed to God his spiritual fear that if God gave them an opportunity to change, the Ninevites might do that. Jonah did not think they deserved redemption.
Eventually Jonah did go to Nineveh. He did preach. The Ninevites did respond. They repented of their sins and were saved from destruction. At least for a couple generations, they walked humbly with God. What a good result of the mercy God showed.
Before that, I am impressed by the mercy God showed His people as they wandered in the wilderness between the time of their release from captivity in Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land.
Over and over and over again, the people of God whined and complained. That happened when they ran low on food. It happened when they ran low on water. It must have happened other times when they grew tired of walking and walking and walking.
I know God was disgusted with those people from time to time, but He did not turn His back on them. Instead, He mercifully took care of them by providing them manna to eat and, at least one time, providing quail. He did that when the people complained that all they ever got to eat was manna. By providing water and seeing to it their clothes and shoes never wore out, despite the walking they did year after year after year.
God also, in the form of Jesus, showed His mercy in New Testament times.
One example has to do with a woman caught in adultery. Remember? The woman had been caught in that sin. She had been dragged before Jesus. She had been condemned by the religious leaders who had seized her. It was up to Jesus to decide what to do with her.
The decision could have been - it should have been, according to Jewish law - to stone her to death. But remember? Jesus showed mercy. He did that by allowing her accusers to throw stones at her, but the first one to throw had to be the one among them who had not himself committed a sin. Since no one in the crowd - since no one anywhere at any time - is free of sin, no one was able to execute the woman.
Also remember Jesus did not condone what the woman had done, but He did save her and He challenged her, from that time on, to do better. He did that by saying to her, “Go and sin no more.”
The hope is that she did, from that time on, walk humbly with God and treat others with justice. Doing that rather than seducing others. Rather than laughing at her accusers that they had not succeeded. She was to be good from that time on. The hope is that she was good.
And let’s think about one of the things Jesus said when He was on the cross.
In the hours leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus had been treated horribly. Before that, all through His ministry, He had faced many enemies.
He had deserved none of what had happened to Him, but He had suffered.
On the cross, Jesus could have ranted and raved. He could have condemned His accusers and attackers. Instead, one of the things He said was, “Father, forgive them.” Wow. Talk about mercy. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Even with us, God shows mercy. Yes, we have all sinned. Sometimes we still might struggle with being all God wants us to be. But He still offers us salvation and second chances.
Let’s take advantage of what God offers us. Let’s take advantage of His strength and His discipline to do what He requires.
Let’s do justice, treating each other and others honestly, giving help and encouragement, treating others as we want to be treated. Let’s treat God the way He deserves to be treated.
Let’s love mercy. Being kind to others, including our enemies. Delighting in doing so. Being glad for opportunities to be kind. Doing it cheerfully.
Let’s walk humbly with God. Let’s take Him as our God. Let’s adhere to His teachings. Let’s make it our constant business to please Him. In all we do, let’s conform to God’s will. Let’s keep communion with Him. Even in our thoughts let’s be obedient to Him.
Put God first. Choose life. And what does He require? Only these three things - justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God. May those three things describe us.
Today’s closing song will be our prayer that God will give us what we need to do what He teaches. The song is Breathe on Me, Breath of God. We will end with the amen, which means this will also serve as our benediction.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So I shall never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.