Exegetical Sketches On Micah 6:1-4 (3)

George C. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

We now come to our consideration of Micah 6:6, 7. We wish to state at the very outset that these two verses are worthy of our careful consideration. The Word of God is worthy of being studied. Such study yields rich rewards.

The verses here read as follows: “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 first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

When we take an overview of these questions, which are asked in these verses, we notice that they are really rhetorical questions. To ask these questions is really to answer them. Implied in these questions, in the light of all the Scriptures, is a strong: God forbid!

The following elements call for our specific attention:

First, that just who the questioner is, is not clearly indicated in the text. Either they are questions which are asked by an individual “I,” a definite Israelite, who responds with a pricked heart to the divine controversy of God with his people, or the i prophet, by rhetorical device, places these questions in the mouth of someone, who then in that capacity asks the questions, so that the divine answer may be heard.

Secondly, we should also notice that there is one leading question in the text, which is then amplified by other more detailed questions. The leading question is: “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD?” The other questions which follow are elucidations upon the first question.

Thirdly, we ought to notice, that the question which suggests the answers to all these questions is: “Will the LORD be pleased with” many and various sacrifices, or with very few oblations for that matter? What sacrifice can mere man place of his own choosing which would please the LORD? For, mark you well, the sacrifices which are brought into God’s holy temple and upon the altar must be a pleasing odor and scent in God’s holy nostrils. The verb “be pleased” in the Hebrew text is a tense which expresses that all sacrifices must in very deed be pleasing, that unto all eternity God loves to receive them as a perpetual odor in His holy temple. It must be the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the fruit of the lips (Hebrews 13:15, 16).

Meanwhile we must not -forget that the LORD has a controversy exactly on this point with his people. We are certain that the clear-cut word of Jesus to the Samaritan woman is here fitting, which reads, “God is a spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, 24).

Let us now consider these various questions in the text briefly.

First, as we have earlier indicated, these questions all imply a “God forbid!” And this response must be elicited from the heart and mouth of every believer. For in a sense this is a question after the well-known revealed will of God. Already in paradise God killed the lamb, clothed Adam and Eve with the skins thereof, and proclaimed that the Seed of the woman will triumph in the blood of the Lamb, which is without spot or wrinkle. Away then with all human sacrifice and merely human ordinances! Adam and Eve needed to have the shame of their nakedness taken away. Thus it is also here in this controversy!

As an aside, we might observe whether these questions might not be right, or at least understandable, from the viewpoint of the Old Testament shadows and types. Had not God Himself prescribed minutely and in great detail the duty of Israel to bring sin offerings and burnt sacrifices inLeviticus 4:10, ff.? And was not God very displeased when Israel failed to bring these sacrifices at their appointed times, or when Israel offered them contrary to the statutes in Israel? Was not God very angry and sorely displeased with all the worship of the golden calf? And was not the institution of this calf worship a basic historical departure from God? Was it not then that God turned and gave them up to worship the hosts of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets, “O ye house of Israel, have ye offered me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?” (Acts 7:41 ff.) Thus was God displeased with all abominations in his temple!

However, there is more to be said concerning sacrifices and burnt offerings. Really God never desired the latter at all. How clearly God speaks concerning His not desiring burnt offerings in Psalm 40:6-8. We read: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering has thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me.” It is for the unprofitableness and weakness of these sacrifices that they all would be annulled at the time of reformation (Heb. 7:18).

Hence, the real answer to these questions is to be found in the thoughts of peace which God has in Christ, His Son, at Calvary. He is the priest which becomes us: holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:26).

Now we are in a position to see the utter folly of any human attempt to bring sacrifices many. Shall the bringing of thousands of rams be of any profit? Thousands of rams are just as unprofitable as the bringing of one more ram. How could thousands of rams bring about the righteousness of God which is the gift of mere grace? Was that not just the sad history of all the priesthood of Aaron? It did not cleanse the conscience from one sin. Nor could rivers of oil change the situation. In themselves these rivers of oil are a stench in the temple of God.

Thirdly, it is obvious that now we see the godless horribleness of the question concerning the offering of the firstborn sons of Israel for transgressions. There is something shocking in the question: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” What a depth of folly! For it is the wisdom of men which would set aside the wisdom of God as manifested in the plain of salvation. For had not God said already to Pharaoh, “Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn?” (Ex. 4:22) All the firstborn sons in Israel belonged to the LORD. They were redeemed on the fortieth day in the temple. A Levite substituted for them in the temple service. Besides, was not the shedding of human blood forbidden? Did God not stay the hand of Abraham from cutting Isaac’s jugular vein? Would God not prepare Himself a sacrifice for sin? Was it not written in the volume of the book of God?

The list is ended of these horrible questions.

I feel thankfully relieved!

Really, the answer to these questions was already given earlier in the prophecy of Micah. It is the same answer which we read in Isaiah 2:1-4. It all awaits the last days, the time of the fullness of time, when Christ shall be manifested to be the “end of the law” for righteousness to every one who believes. Then no one who believes shall seek to establish his own righteousness anymore. The “law that shall go forth from Zion” is the word of the gospel of grace. Jew and Gentile shall then both come to Zion, the city of the living God. Nay, the law then shall not go forth from Sinai’s heights; no more shall it be written upon tables of stone, but it will be written on the tables of the heart. Micah had spoken of the ruler who would go forth out of Bethlehem. His going forth is really from eternity, as proceeding from the counsel of peace. Now this was really written on every page of Scripture by all the prophets. For all the prophets inquired and searched out diligently concerning the salvation of our souls. They all knew that there is not a man living who can give a ransom for his soul, so that he is free from guilt and corruption of sin. In faith the saints of old looked for the One to come. They looked away from all self-righteousness as did Abraham and David. With Abraham they looked in faith unto God Who justifies the ungodly. Such faith is counted for righteousness. And with David they sangPsalm 32:1, 2, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:4-8)

But we must move on.

We will now consider what the Holy Spirit tells us inMicah 6:8. We read here: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good . . . .”

There are some passages in the Bible which legalists and moralists explain in such a way that they wrest them to their own destruction. Such a passage we have here in Micah 6:8.

However, let us bear the following in mind. In the first place, the questioner is here brought to an abrupt halt. “He,” the LORD, had not left Israel in the dark concerning Christian ethics and as to what constitutes what is “good,” as a rule of Christian conduct. This is crystal clear from Moses, the Psalms, and all the prophets. Secondly, the point that is made clear is what is really “good.” Now if the LORD did not desire law-works, He must command something else, which is good and which meets with his approval. Perhaps we can do no better than to remind ourselves of the New Testament phraseology, “and be ye not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2)

We shall do well to take a close and hard look at this brief assertion.

Let it then be seen clearly that the verb “shew” in the Hebrew has a causative force. It really means: the Lord has caused thee to know what is good. It refers to making it so clear to the understanding that there need be no doubt as to what was said or meant. The Lord never desired sacrifices, but would have mercy and a new spiritual obedience of thankfulness. Here in court the high God confronts man. He says to everyone, “O man!” Man has but to listen and give heed and obey the precepts of the Lord as a redeemed people. The key-note is as given in the words of Moses: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Thus spoke Moses in Deut. 6:4, 5. Hear, “O man,” and live!