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What Is Good

November 08, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this 22nd Sunday after Trinity comes from our Old Testament text where Micah writes, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

YHWH has a case against His people Israel. The mountains and the hills will hear His indictment, and bear witness to the case. For far too long, the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. They acted just as wickedly, perhaps more so, than the nations surrounding them. Their affluence and greed manifested as they stole from the poor and sorely oppressed those who had nothing. The rich got richer, gluttoning themselves on sumptuous morsels while others starved, and they thought nothing of the plight of their brothers and sisters. Oh, yes, YHWH has a case against His people, and Micah, a minor prophet contemporary with Isaiah, bears that message: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

There comes a reply, which we heard in our text: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Whether this is asked in contrition, a terrified placation, or snotty disdain, it belies a greater issue. How shall I please the LORD? What must I do to make things right? What’s the prescription? What will I have to do in order to be back in God’s good graces – presumably so that I can go back to my old ways and get the Old Man off my back?

I can imagine Micah being rather indignant at this response. How … could they not know what is good? How could they not know what was expected of them? Too many times had God sent His servants, the prophets, to deliver to them His Word. Too many times had He delivered them from the hands of their enemies, By the time of Micah’s prophesying during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, He had given them the Torah, His instruction. He had given them His Law and the Levitical code. They’d learned the lessons of faithless Israel during the period of the judges. They had seen the victory and defeat of respective faithful and faithless kings. In short, they knew better. Had they forgotten? Had the years of affluence and subsequent hedonism dulled their sense of what YHWH expected from them? How could they not know what is good?

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” YHWH has told you the way in which you should walk. He gave you all this information in His Word, passed down from generation to generation. In that Word, you learned how you are supposed to live amongst one another. You are to do, make justice. You are to be fair and honest in your dealings with your neighbor, not swindle and bamboozle your way into riches at his expense. You are to love kindness – that is, love loving others. It should be your joy and heart’s desire to show chesed, the Hebrew word roughly translated as “steadfast lovingkindness,” loyalty, mercy, faithfulness, to all those around you. And, you are to walk humbly with YHWH your God. Modest, reverential, always cognizant of your place before Him, conscious of your absolute and utter dependence upon Him, and simply receiving from Him His good and precious gifts.

This is what it is good in the sight of YHWH. This is what He wants, expects, demands of His people … and to be sure, the people Israel during Micah’s time could not be further from these descriptors. YHWH does have a case against His people, as the psalmist writes, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” YHWH has a case against His people for not doing the good they knew they ought to do, and gleefully engaging in the evil they knew they ought not to do. They did not do justice, they despised kindness, they walked haughtily hand-in-hand with other nations, but most egregious of all, the source of their lack of good, came from their whoring themselves out to false gods, abandoning the true God for worthless idols. Because of this, they would know the rod of YHWH’s divine wrath, His just punishment. … But, not all.

Throughout all the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, there is indeed doom and gloom proclaimed over the faithless of the nations, including Israel and Judah, but there are also words of hope and promise given to the faithful remnant. Micah is no different. Indeed, after our text, after he proclaims the destruction of the wicked, Micah follows it up with this message of hope: “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”

The hope for the remnant, even as they were trudged off to the darkness of Assyria and Babylon, was that YHWH’s light would abide with them. He would not abandon them, and more importantly, He would yet keep His promise given to all the generations to send the Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. True to His Word, YHWH rescued the faithful remnant of His people from Babylon, and centuries later, He Himself, the eternal Logos, took on human flesh to die for our sins. The prophets pointed to the Messiah, how He would save His people from their sins, and even though the faithful of Micah’s time didn’t see the Christ, they trusted YHWH’s promises concerning Him.

For us, who live after the life, ministry, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, we likewise trust God’s promises. We trust that His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary satisfied the Father’s fully-justified wrath, and even when we don’t see it, we trust that His promises given in the waters of baptism are more than enough to bestow upon us salvation and life everlasting. Because the truth is, we too know what is good, and we are unable to do it. Though we know the good we ought to do, we do not do it, and the evil that we know we must abstain from is the very thing we keep on doing.

Wretched sinners that we are, by God’s grace, we know His goodness in sending One who was perfectly good for us. Thus, we can sing with Micah, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.” We do know what – better, WHO – is good, and His goodness endures forever!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Micah 6:6-8