Meeting God’s Requirements

Micah and Amos

February 15, 2009 | Brian Bill

One of my friends has had a lifelong ambition to play one hole at Pebble Beach, California the way the pros do.  This is a challenge because this green is on a small section of land that juts out into the water.  It was something Tim had tried hundreds of times without success.  His ball always fell short and plopped into the ocean.  Because of this he never used a new ball on this particular hole but always picked out one that had a cut or a nick on it.

Recently Tim went to Pebble Beach to try again.  When he came to the hard hole, he teed up an old cut ball and said a silent prayer.  Before he hit it however, a powerful voice came from above: “WAIT…REPLACE THAT OLD BALL WITH A BRAND-NEW BALL.” Tim complied but was a bit reluctant.  As he stepped up to the tee once more, the voice came down again: “WAIT…STEP BACK…TAKE A PRACTICE SWING.”  So he stepped back and took a practice swing.  The voice boomed out again, “TAKE ANOTHER PRACTICE SWING.”  Tim swung away.  Silence followed.  Then the voice spoke one last time: “PUT BACK THE OLD BALL.”

What we’ve been learning in our current series called, “Profiting from the Prophets” is that none of us can hit a holy hole-in-one.  We all fall short and the prophets are charged with reminding us of that fact.  We’re turning a corner today as we move from the Major Prophets to the Minor Prophets.  That doesn’t mean that the minor guys sing in a different key or that their message isn’t as important.  It simply means that their messages are much shorter than Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel.  

I should also point out that this series is a survey and is not intended to be a comprehensive study.  I trust that you’re fleshing out some additional truths in your small group each week. 

But first, here’s a brief bio on both of these guys.  Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and focused his message on the southern kingdom of Judah.  Amos ministered in the same time frame but spoke primarily to the northern kingdom of Israel.  We don’t know a lot about these men but we do know that Micah was a country preacher and Amos was a shepherd and they were both called into service by the Lord to deliver messages that dealt with worship, justice, graft, corruption, and oppression of the poor.  It would be fair to say that they were prophets to the downtrodden.  Both books speak of justice and joy, as well as retribution and restoration.

Taking God to Court

With that very brief background, please turn to Micah 6.  Have you ever been really angry with the Almighty and wanted to plead your case before Him?  Look at verse 1: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains, let the hills hear what you have to say.”  God is giving His people a chance to bring their grievances before Him in a courtroom setting.  But they remain silent.  In verse 2, God speaks in His own defense and levels some charges against them: “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.”

Let me pause here to say that the sooner we discover that we have no case against God the better because He’s the one who has grievances against us.  Check out how He defends Himself in verses 3-4: “My people, what have I done to you?  How have I burdened you?  Answer me.  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.”  Like us, the people had short memories and so God is reminding them of how He redeemed them from bondage, gave them good leaders and brought them to the land of promise.  With all that God has done for them, how could they accuse Him?  How can we?

Notice that while this is a courtroom setting, God’s indictment is tender.  He calls them “my people” and asks them what He has done wrong and how He has burdened them. What unreasonable requirement has He placed on them?

In verse 6, the people respond to God but do so defensively and even sarcastically.  While God treats them with warmth and unconditional love, they respond with abrasiveness: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?”  Their focus is not on their hearts but on things; instead of inward surrender they’re just thinking of an outward show.  What they’re really wondering is how they can please God while still living according to their own pleasures.  They then ask four questions related to offerings, with the size of the sacrifices increasing in value and even in absurdity in verses 6-7:

  • Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Is that what you want, God?  Will that make you happy if I give that which is most valuable to me?  This question seems to be rather ordinary because this is what Leviticus 9:2-3 teaches.
  • Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams?  God, if I give as many rams as Solomon did, will you be pleased with me then?  You can begin to sense the sarcasm here.  This question and the one to follow moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
  • With ten thousand rivers of oil?  Oil was always used when meal offerings were made so this question wonders if God would be pleased with thousands of rivers cascading with olive oil.  Again, the implication is that God is unfair and impossible to please.
  • Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  God, you might as well take everything from me!  Does God really want child sacrifice?  This is absurd because God specifically forbids this in Jeremiah 32:35.
God longs to be in relationship with us, not for us to lean on rituals

Sometimes we fall into this same trap, thinking that God is unreasonable and that there is nothing we can do to please Him.  Other times we jump on our religious treadmills and run and run and run, hoping that God sees all of our sacrifices and be pleased with them.  There is no “pay to play” with the Almighty.  At the heart, these questions reveal a huge misunderstanding about how to relate to God.  The people thought they needed to change their worship; God counters by saying that they needed to change their ways.  We could say it like this: God longs to be in relationship with us, not for us to lean on rituals.  Are you wrapped up in religious rituals?  What God wants is repentance that leads to a relationship of obedience.

Let’s illustrate this point from a very powerful passage in Amos 5:21-23: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, 

I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.”  God does not want us to just relate to Him through rituals or simply with songs and instruments; He longs for a relationship with us so that He can change our character and conduct.

What God Requires

In Micah 6:8, God responds but He doesn’t answer any of the four questions.  Instead, the answer is directed to the questioner himself.  Notice the word, “O man.”  This suddenly becomes very personal and reminds us that God is more interested in the giver than in the gifts that might be given.  What God is about to say is not really new: “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”  God had already spelled out what He requires in Deuteronomy 10:12-13: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”  

This is a good word for us because we tend to place high value on that which is “new and improved.”  We want the latest technology, new clothes, and a new word from God.  Friends, the longer I’m a believer, the more I realize that I shouldn’t just focus on hearing something new from God, but to work on that which I already know.  These people already knew what God had said but they wanted something new anyway.  I love the simplicity of the next phrase because it captures God’s core requirements: “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  The word “require” means “to follow, seek or pursue.”  The Hebrew word was also used for avenging an offense against God.  Here then is what God wants us to pursue; these three items are expectations the Almighty has for us.

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus quotes from Micah when He accused the religious leaders of focusing on the externals of religion and missing what really matters: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.”  Let’s look at these three expectations from the Almighty.  If you’ve ever wanted to know what it is that God really wants from us, here it is.

1. To act justly. 

The call here is to not just be supportive of just causes but to actually act justly in our relationships with others.  It literally means to do the right thing.  We can’t just sit by and feel bad for people, nor can we just feel better by watching what others do to help.  Micah got mad when he saw injustice happen, and so should we.  Zechariah 7:8-14 tells us that one of the reasons Israel was sent into captivity was because they did not act with justice.

To act justly is to first of all be a person of integrity, fairness and honesty.  Wouldn’t you agree that there is an erosion of integrity all around us today?  Here are some recent headlines: Bernie Madoff has pulled off the largest Ponzi scheme in history, presidential appointees have had to step down because of tax problems, pop star Chris Brown was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend this week, all-star baseball player A-Rod has admitted using steroids, and 14-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps has been suspended by USA Swimming for three months because of his marijuana misdeeds.  I’m reminded of Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” 

Before we get too smug about the sins of others, do you keep your promises?  Are you keeping your commitment to your spouse and to your children?  Are you honoring your parents?  Are you honest on your income taxes?  Are you trying to cheat anyone?  Do you stretch the truth?  Do you act in a fair and just way toward others, treating them as you would want to be treated?  The challenge for me and for you is to live our lives with integrity.

To act justly is to have God’s heart for justice – and that involves reaching out to foreigners, to slaves, the battered, the poor, orphans, the preborn, the weak, the needy, the hungry, widows, anyone who is vulnerable.  We are to be people who act, not just talk about it.  Proverbs 21:3: “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” After telling the people that He didn’t want their worship music, we read what God really wants in Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

2. To love mercy. 

Closely related to acting justly is to love mercy.  Notice that we’re not just supposed to live with some mercy on occasion, we’re to fall in love with mercy and become saturated with it.  The Hebrew word for mercy is very rich.  It’s translated as tender mercies, loving-kindness, loyalty and steadfast love.  It’s the idea of showing compassionate warm-heartedness.  When used of God, it often refers to his loyal love and unexpected kindness toward those who don’t deserve it.  We’re called to this kind of loyal love as well in Luke 6:36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Matthew 5:7 pronounces a blessing on the believer who ministers mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  Notice that the way to obtain mercy is to be merciful, not just once-in-awhile.  Let’s consult Amos again.  Here’s what he has to say in Amos 6:1: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion…” For the most part our American culture is a complacent culture but as Christians we’re called to live counter-culturally.  When we took the Reveal Survey last year, one of the areas in which we need to improve is our compassion quotient.  I sense that we’re making some progress in this way – I was very moved with the response you all gave Steve Salvator two weeks ago after he told his story of how God has set him free from an addiction to drugs.

Early this week I was in a situation and because I was meditating on this passage, I chose to be merciful when I might not otherwise had been had I not been thinking about this verse.  How are you doing in this area?  Do you default to harshness and judgmentalism or does mercy flow through you?  Do I really care about people like Christ does?  Am I irritated when I see a need or am I moved to be merciful?  Am I showing loyal love in all my relationships?  

3. To walk humbly with your God. 

The first two requirements have to deal with our relationships with people; this last one is how we relate to God.  I like what one pastor said about humility: “It’s being precisely the person we actually are before God.”  My mind goes to Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” According to Micah 2:3, the people were walking haughtily, not humbly.  Amos 6:8 underlines how much God despises pride: “The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself – the Lord God Almighty declares: ‘I abhor the pride of Jacob…’”

King Uzziah illustrates what God thinks of pride.  When he experienced great success militarily, he became so puffed up that he marched into the temple, into the section where only priests were to go, and offered incense before God.  Because of his haughtiness, God struck him with leprosy (see 2 Chronicles 26).  Or how about what Nebuchadnezzar said in Daniel 4:30 when he was walking on the roof of his royal palace: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  While these words were still on his lips God declared that he would lose everything and would “live with the wild animals and eat grass like cattle.”

When we think of all God has done for us, we can’t help but be humbled.  We’ve been saved by grace and we live by grace.  It makes no sense for us to be proud, does it?  I’m reminded of James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Amos 3:3 asks a great question: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?”  The only way to walk with God is to do so on His terms and to remember on a daily basis that He is God and we are not.  Here’s a news flash: It’s not about you…and it’s not about me.  It’s all about Him.  When we get that right, we can’t help but be humbled.  I’ve been enjoying the 60/60 challenge because every hour when my PDA chimes I’m reminded that it’s all about God.

I’ve mentioned before that I love to read sermons by Charles Spurgeon.  He ministered some 150 years ago and has been called the “prince of preachers.”  I was greatly helped by his treatment of what it means to “to walk humbly with your God” and I pass along some of his insights.

  • God must be your God in order to walk with Him.
  • If you are going up, God is going down.  Be like John the Baptist who said, “He must increase but I must decrease.”
  • Walking with humility implies constant activity because walking is an active exercise.
  • This also implies progress for walking means you are moving forward.
  • When we complain when going through trials, we’re really showing our pride.
  • Be humble when with other believers.  There should be no competition between Christ-followers.  When Spurgeon was asked about standing up for his dignity, he responded: “I lost mine a long time ago, and I never thought it was worthwhile to look for it.”
  • Be humble in dealing with people who don’t know Christ.  Don’t stand far off and don’t look down on them.  Related to this, how are you doing at meeting a new person every day during our 60/60 challenge?

Concluding Thoughts

As I read through both Micah and Amos, I realized that there is nothing minor about them.  As we conclude I’d like to draw out some timeless truths from these bold books.

1. Admit your emptiness. 

God often brings us through tough times so that we’ll realize how empty we are on our own

God often brings us through tough times so that we’ll realize how empty we are on our own.  Check out Amos 4:6: “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me…” and Amos 4:9: “‘Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew.  Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord.”  I have prayed this passage for people who are drifting spiritually not in order for God to punish them, but so that they will realize that sin is never satisfying.  I’ve even said something like this: “God, make this person miserable until they return to you.”  Is that your case right now?  No matter what you do, do you feel empty?  Are you going through tough times?  Could it be that God is trying to get your attention?

2. Receive the One born in Bethlehem. 

In the midst of all the mess that’s going on, Micah 5:2 holds out hope of One who is to be born 700 years later: “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.” Friends, listen. What God requires, He Himself has provided through the birth of His Son in Bethlehem and His death on the Cross.  God has acted with justice by demanding payment for our sins.  He has shown mercy by accepting what Jesus has done by taking our punishment.  And now He waits for us to receive Him with humility.  

Ultimately, we cannot meet God’s requirements, no matter how many practice swings we take.  God’s requirements are simple to state but it is impossible to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God unless we are filled with His Spirit.  Look back at Micah 6:7: “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”   We don’t have to do that because God has offered His firstborn for our transgressions and for the sins of our souls.

3. Experience God’s mercy and pardon. 

I talked to someone this week who told me that she is unworthy of God’s forgiveness because she’s done so many bad things.  I think I surprised her when I said something like this: “That’s true.  You are unworthy…and so am I.  That’s why forgiveness is so amazing!”  Savor these words from Micah 7:18-19: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” 

How are you doing in meeting God’s requirements?  Are you acting justly?  Are you in love with mercy?  Are you walking humbly with your God?  Sometimes this all seems so overwhelming and we wonder if we’re making a difference.  When you look at all the injustice in the world, do you ever wonder why?  Do you ever ask what you can do about it?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?