God and Iniquity, Part 5

Iniquity, as we have learned, is not at all a good thing. It’s a sin. In fact, it’s the worst possible sin anybody can commit. God has a special relationship to your iniquities: More than hating them, God reveals them, they are always before Him, and if you have the misfortune of being involved in iniquities, when God looks at you, He sees the stain of the guilt of your iniquities.

That’s the bad news. When it comes to God and the mystery of iniquity, there is actually some good news. Very good news! It’s found in the Old Testament book of Micah.

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 | TNIV)

That sounds like good news, doesn’t it? God will “hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Other translations speak of “the sea of forgetfulness.” Reading a verse like that gives us hope. It reassures us that God cares; that He will do something for us; that we won’t be stained by our iniquities forever. This verse in Micah sounds very much like another, more well-known verse concerning sin.

…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12 | TNIV)

That’s about as close as the Bible comes to saying that once God has forgiven our sins, transgressions, and iniquities, He forgets them. God, being as perfect as He is, is unable to actually forget anything. Let’s just say that He “purposes not to remember” certain things, like our iniquities.

Let’s examine Micah’s book and see what led him to make such a profound, comforting statement.

Micah the man and his times

Micah was a native of Moresheth, a small town located in the foothills some twenty miles west of Jerusalem. It was a very fertile area; well watered being close to the maritime plain between the Judean hills and Philistia by the sea. There was an abundance of grainfields, olive groves, and grasslands, but the farmers Micah grew up with were almost always in dire economic straights. Many of them in debt up to their ears, were forced to mortgage their farms to rich men of Samaria and Jerusalem, who more often than not just took their land out from under them, turning them into tenant farmers, oppressed by greedy absentee overlords. This exploitation of the poor was in the eyes of Micah one of the most heinous crimes of his day, and he fiercely denounced the exploiters.

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance. (Micah 2:2 | TNIV)

It’s not that Micah had an axe to grind against rich people. He didn’t. It was how some wealthy people were treating the poor. He saw their shabby treatment as a slight against God.

While the poor where being mistreated by the rich, the rich had it pretty good. In fact, both Israel and Judah were enjoying a period of great economic prosperity during Micah’s lifetime. The prophet Amos, writing during the same time period, made this observation:

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. (Amos 6:4 – 6 | TNIV)

And Micah’s people were a very religious people. At least from casual observation. In spite of their adherence to the feasts and observances of their faith, the people of Judah were constantly flirting with idolatry, often mixing paganism with their Judaism. The situation in Israel to the north was far worse.

But the people of both kingdoms had deluded themselves into thinking everything was OK because they were prospering economically. There had been no wars for years. And in spite of some social injustice, Micah’s years were golden for both kingdoms.

It wouldn’t be long, though, before those halcyon years would come to an end. Assyria was becoming a world power and it wouldn’t be long before it would occupy Israel for a time before destroying Samaria and taking the Israelites into a permanent exile. Judah was faring a little better, but time was running out for the southern kingdom, too. They saw the destruction of Israel but failed to learn anything from their fate, and a century later, Judah would fall to the Babylonians.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is found in Micah. People concerned with what we call today, “social justice,” love this verse, but as usual it means much more than most people think it does. The Bible isn’t nearly as shallow as people are.

He has shown all you people 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. (Micah 6:8 | TNIV)

There were many prophets in the land, like Micah, warning the people that they’d better “shape up or ship out,” and their audiences responded with either blank stares – thinking they were doing OK – or outright anger – offended that a so-called prophet would dare question their lifestyle. But the fact was, God had shown His people what was good. The Mosaic law spelled out in no uncertain terms exactly what God required of His people.

It’s too bad that this verse has been hijacked by social liberals, because it doesn’t have anything to do with what we call, today, “tolerance” or “diversity” or “welfare,” but rather everything to do with faith. The phrase, “act justly” carries with it a religious component. In other words, people are to treat each other well out of a sense of moral obligation to God. God has blessed you, therefore out of gratitude to Him, you should treat others the same way. In that sense, Judaism was a supposed to be a truly God-centered religion. Christianity should be that way, as well. That’s what James had in his mind when he said things like this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:26, 27 | TNIV)

That’s what large chunks of Micah’s writings are all about. But he also wanted his people to treat each other with mercy. As the word is used here, it means to treat others kindly. Is that too much to ask of people? Apparently a great many people in Micah’s day weren’t doing that. God wants all people to be kind to each other kindly, but especially His people!

Finally, God’s people should have been living in a state of constant humility before God. It’s not that Micah was telling his people to just “be humble,” but to “be humble before God all the time.” There weren’t any Pharisees during the days of Micah; that sect of Judaism wouldn’t be formed until sometime after the second Temple was built. But it seemed like a majority of the population of Israel and Judah were a acting like them! Jesus didn’t have much use for Pharisaic hypocrisy.

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. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23, 24 | TNIV)

From the outside, all looked well. But things were not good at all. Micah knew it, and he tried to get that message across to the people.

Judgement passed

Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit a person with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? (Micah 6:10, 11 | TNIV)

Ah yes, the all-seeing Eye of God doesn’t miss a thing! Micah’s culture was a violent one. It’s interesting to note that the root for that word, “violence,” is “violate,” which means, “to treat something (usually sacred) with irreverence and disrespect.” It doesn’t mean physical action. Being mistreated or treated badly by a person is to be violated! Israel and Judah at this time were rife with violence – criminality from dawn to dusk, as shoppers and tradesmen were ripped off and taken advantage of. God saw all of this dishonesty and, as we know, you reap what you sow. Israel and Judah were going to reap an ill harvest because they allowed false religions to thrive, hypocrisy in the priesthood to flourish, and dishonest business practices encouraged.

Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins. You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. (Micah 6:13 – 15 | TNIV)

To me, those are horrifying verses to think about. Before an Assyrian or a Babylonian soldier picked up arms against Israel or Judah, the citizens of both of those kingdoms were literally starving to death in the midst of plenty. In these verses we see God’s unchanging principles that gain gotten by wickedness is loss, that prosperity built by injustice cannot endure, that comforts obtained through oppression cannot be long enjoyed. The greatest truth of life is that happiness and power sought at the expense of others will never be found. Every human being reaps what he sows. It’s an unalterable law of the universe that nobody can avoid.

A word of hope

So, is all lost, then? Micah was describing the citizens of Israel and Judah, but he could have been describing America! Is there any hope? We’re about to get the good news, but let’s do a quick recap. God’s people were neck-deep in idolatry, secularism, and all manner of bad behavior, but they kept on going to their temple services and giving God His due. God declared to them that their “sacrifices” were not enough. Sacrifices and religious observances are wonderful things, by the way, when they are accompanied by an appropriate lifestyle. God was just disgusted with the lot of them. There was nothing they could do to get in good with God.

So, in a sense, there was no hope from their end. But, as always, God has the final word. And it’s a welcome one. The child of God will always realize this, and this will be his attitude:

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 | TNIV)

Of course God heard Micah praying, as He hears all of His people, and He sees their hope and faith. And God has a way of making things right, if we are patient enough.

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. (Micah 7:18, 19 | TNIV)

Micah asks a very good question because it forces us to focus on the incomparable greatness of God. Can anybody be compared to Him? Of course, the answer is nobody – no person or no god – can come even close to measuring up to who our God is and what He has done. That conclusion begs some other questions that you might not like. If our God is so great, why are you so fascinated with the alluring sins of our times? Why are you so anxious about anything happening in your life or even in the world around you? Instead of wasting our time fearful, fretting, and forsaking our relationship with God, we ought to encouraged by what God has done and by all of His promises!

No other entity can pardon your sins and forgive your transgressions. Just as the Pharoah’s chariots were “hurled into the sea” and sank into the depths like dead weight, so God will do that with our iniquities. This whole passage reminds us of what the Lord told Moses:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7 | TNIV)

God can and does pardon our sins and forgive (literally “pass over”) our transgressions because He became the Passover Lamb and substitute for our sins. Only our God is able to release us from being enslaved by our sinful desires and passions. And God throws our iniquities in the the sea of forgetfulness. What a wonderful Savior! Nobody can do those things for us. Except our God. The prophet Jeremiah marveled at God just as Micah did:

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 | TNIV)

Let’s celebrate our God, who alone can remove our sin and guilt and replaces them with joy and satisfaction, in spite of all the grief we have given Him. There’s nobody like our God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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