November 11, 2021 Marc Sims

Forgetting God (Micah 6:1-8)

Forgetting God (Micah 6:1-8)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/835034--forgetting-god


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. How is God's experience of frustration different than our own? Why is it significant that God experience frustration with His people?
  2. In verses 3-5, what is it that God's people had forgotten? Why is it important for us to remember what God has done for us in the past?
  3. What does this quote from CS Lewis mean to you: "Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, [greed], lust, and ambition look ahead." Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
  4. Read James 2:14-17. What does real faith produce?
  5. At the end of the sermon, Marc made the argument that the "problem beneath our problems" is that we struggle to believe that God can be trusted, so we take things into our own hands. Where are you currently struggling to trust that God is for you?


Sometimes parents get frustrated when children don’t respond the way they hope they do. Parents can go to a great deal of trouble to try to set their children up for what they believe will be the child’s best interest, only to have the child choose an entirely different path. So you pay money for violin lessons or diligently bring them to every soccer practice and send them to camps that will hone their skills, hoping that these will form them into better people, maybe even open opportunities for scholarships down the road. But they grow bored with the violin, or become frustrated with their lack of soccer skills, or resist attending camp. You want them to pursue engineering in college, only to find that they have chosen a philosophy major. Maybe as your children grow older you even hope they may date particular people, knowing that this young man or young woman displays excellent character and ambitions, only to find that they have no interest in your favored suitor, and bring home someone instead that you has a less than stellar track record in your estimation. Parenting can be full of frustrations: Can’t you see I am trying to help you! I am trying to do what is best for you!


But, of course, parents can be wrong. One needs only to think of the overbearing parents who live vicariously through their children’s athletic or educational lives, heaping unrealistic expectations on their children. But, imagine for a moment that you were a perfect parent. Every opportunity you provided for your child you knew with 100% certainty that it would result in their benefit, that they would flourish and thrive. How frustrating then would it be for you to labor to provide these opportunities that were perfectly tailored for the good of your children, only to have them roll their eyes at you and ignore the opportunity?


We find a similar situation to this in our passage in Micah, where we hear the Lord present His case against Israel about how He has labored to provide every good opportunity for His children, only to have them ignore and forget Him.


Hear what the LORD says:

Arise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD,

and you enduring foundations of the earth,

for the LORD has an indictment against his people,

and he will contend with Israel.

“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.”

-       Micah 6:1-5



God experiences frustration


Micah opens chapter six like a prosecutor standing before a court: Yahweh is pleading his case “before the mountains,” bringing His “indictment against his people.” Now, why is the Lord turning to the mountains to testify against His people? It could be that now only inanimate objects are left to listen to God’s words; the people of Israel have grown so hard of hearing that the Lord must now turn to the mountains to find a listening ear. Or it could be that God is testifying to the most enduring objects in Israel’s day (the mountains) to serve as a lasting witnesses who will stand till the end of time as memorials of what Israel has done.


So, what has Israel done? What is God’s indictment? All throughout Micah God has been exposing Israel’s sin. In chapter one God called out Israel for her idolatry. In chapter two it was her greed and exploitation of the poor, and in chapter three it was the perversion of justice by the powerful at the expense of the most vulnerable in society. Obviously, there is a variety in the particularities of the sins, but what have they done here?


They have forgotten the righteous acts of the Lord. 


“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.”

-       Micah 6:3-5


Israel here apparently views God like a burden, a weight holding them back. How, God asks, have I wearied you? What have I done to make your life so difficult? Has my unconditional mercy that I have repeatedly poured out on you, my unmitigated blessings I have bestowed on you been too much of a downer for you? You can sense the frustration of Yahweh with the repeated vocative addresses “O my people” in verses 3 and 5 and the exasperated response to his own question in verse 3, “Answer me!” God experiences frustration. We see something similar in the book of Isaiah:


I spread out my hands all the day

to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,

following their own devices;

a people who provoke me

to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens

and making offerings on bricks;

who sit in tombs,

and spend the night in secret places;

who eat pig's flesh,

and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,

do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”

These are a smoke in my nostrils,

a fire that burns all the day.

-       Isa 65:2-5


So here God is standing with His inviting arms wide open to His people, but they are a rebellious people. Rather than running into God’s arms, they are running towards every evil and wicked thing, “following their own devices,” plunging themselves and their community and children into gross sin. And there God stands, arms open “all the day.” But even after walking down the paths of unrighteousness, they do not come back to the Lord chastened and humbled. No, their response to God is, “Leave me alone—I’m too good for you.” They throw God’s invitation of mercy back in His face. So, God says that these people are like smoke in His face “all the day.” “All the day” God holds His arms out to them, and “all the day” they blow smoke in his eyes. That’s a frustrating scenario to be in, is it not?


We need to be careful here. When we say that God experiences frustration, we do not mean that He experiences frustration the way you or I experience frustration. You and I most often experience frustration because we are sinners. Just yesterday I was waiting to get gas and all the pumps are filled, so I line up behind these two cars and wait. In reality I probably waited maybe 5-6 minutes. But, after waiting maybe 1 minute, the person ahead of us does the thing where they put the nozzle back onto the holder, close the gas cap, and walks back into the car. So I thought, naturally, They must be finished, time to move forward. But they moved nowhere. They just sat there, parked. Maybe they just enjoyed the ambiance of the Costco gas station and wanted to soak it all in, have a little meditative moment; maybe they thought this was a good place to pick up a book and start reading. I don’t know. At that point, I can see that if I had chosen a different lane I would have been finished by now. You know what I did? I just sat there. But, inwardly I was just seething with anger, how dare they make me wait??!


Point is, we get frustrated over things that shouldn’t frustrate us because we are impatient and selfish and touchy. God isn’t like that, so His frustration isn’t like ours. His frustration is a righteous frustration that is angered at what is truly worthy of anger: unrighteousness. 


Further, we shouldn’t imagine God’s frustration isn’t a frustration that is born out of inability. We often get frustrated because we want to do something and are incapable of doing it. God isn’t like that. “Our God is in the heavens, He does all that he pleases,” Ps 115:3. There is no check that God’s will writes that His power cannot cash. He always is capable of doing what He wants. Of course, that leads us into a bit of a quandary—what about all the places where the Bible talks about things happening that are contrary to His will? Doesn’t God say that He does not desire the wicked to perish? And yet, they perish. Theologians reflecting on this have discerned that there are two types of God’s will, His will of command, and His will of desire. So, while there are things that happen in the world that He does not desire, nothing happens apart from His sovereign will. So, God does not delight in the death of the wicked, and yet God will judge the wicked. So, when we say that God experiences frustration we are not saying that He is frustrated the way I was frustrated at the gas pump, where my ability to solve the problem was limited. Rather, it is a frustration that comes when what He desires is flaunted.


Okay, if that tells us what the frustration of God isn’t, then what is it? What does it tell us? Very simply, it shows us God’s affection for His people. He really cares for them. I am not frustrated when a complete stranger fails to take my advice; but if my children refuse to listen to me? If I can push all my sinful frustration aside, there will still be a right frustration there because I care for my child; I want what is best for him, and I know that if he refuses to listen to me, his life is going to be so much more difficult. God’s frustration is a sign of His care, His affection for His people. He is not emotionally inert, He is not an impersonal force indifferent towards you, He is not same faceless, distant deity who created this world long ago, and is now off doing other more important things. He deeply, profoundly, and personally cares for His people. 


What’s most amazing, friends, is that God’s frustration does not overwhelm His affection for His people. There will be a day, to be sure, when the opportunity for salvation will end. If you blow smoke in God’s eyes long enough, eventually He will walk away. But while you still have breath, today, His arms are still open towards you. His affection has not cooled and is available. 


God brings deliverance


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.”

-       Micah 6:4-5


Verses 4-5 serve as a kind of summary of redemptive history of the people of Israel. The people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years when God raised up Moses to deliver His people. God sends plagues on Egypt culminating in the death of the firstborn, which becomes the first ever celebration of the Passover, where the people of Israel slaughter a lamb and cover the doorposts of their home with its blood, identifying them as God’s people and sparing them from the angel of death. God then miraculously delivers His people from their bondage and brings them to through the Red Sea, to Mount Sinai, and there constitutes them as a nation, giving them His Law. God promises that He has a promised land set aside for them on the other side of Jordan River, a land flowing with milk and honey. They wander through the wilderness for forty years, but God provides everything they need—food, water, and shelter. Shittim is the last place that Israel camps before crossing the river and Gilgal is where they set up their first permanent camp after they cross the Jordan. 


This is stunning because God takes Israel when they were at their weakest—in slavery to the world’s most powerful nation—and delivers them and protects them from other warring nations. Israel had no standing army, most of them didn’t even have weapons, and yet as soon as they leave Egypt and begin travelling in the desert, foreign nations begin attacking them and somehow, miraculously, they defeat these other armies that are larger, better equipped, and stronger than they are. Remember: this is warfare taking place in the Bronze Age; if you are not an experienced soldier, you are most certainly going to lose. And yet, this untrained band of slaves are able to displace professionally trained armies over and over again.


The story of Balak and Balaam is a fascinating one—the king of Moab, Balak, hires a pagan soothsayer, Balaam, to curse the people of Israel. Balak has heard how Israel has been defeating all of these other armies and is eager to get a leg-up on them before meeting them in battle. So, he does what any ancient king would have done in his shoes; he attempts to harness the spiritual forces of the gods to curse his enemies, and to bless him. Apparently, Balaam had a reputation for being able to provide these services, because Balak tells Balaam, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed,” (Num 22:6). Unbeknownst to Balak or Balaam, that is the exact phrase that God uses to describe the people of Israel all the way back in Genesis 12: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (Gen 12:3). 


Three times Balaam attempts to curse the people of Israel, but instead of a curse, blessings pour out of his mouth! On his final attempt, he not only speaks a blessing over Israel, but curses Moab—fulfilling the promise of Genesis 12:3. Every time evil works to set itself up against God and His people, God is able to take the evil and turn it into an even greater good. Pharoah refuses to let the people of Israel go, so God displays His power and wonder through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. The nations see that Israel is weak and seek to destroy them, only to find that God Himself fights for them and provides a promised land for them. Here in Micah, the people of Israel are told: “O my people, remember…that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord,” (Mic 6:5).


What was Israel to remember? That they were slaves under the sentence of death who took shelter under the blood of the lamb and were delivered by the miraculous grace of God, who defeated their enemy and brought them into a covenant relationship with Him, receiving His Law, and then sent to the promised land. What do we need to remember? That we were once slaves of sin under the sentence of the death who have taken shelter under the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ. He has miraculously delivered us by grace, not by works, and brought us into a covenant relationship and gave us His law, and we are on our way to the promised land of the New Creation. These are the righteous acts of the Lord we must recount.


God expects obedience


We will look at these passages in greater detail next week, but the next couple of verses show how we are to respond to these righteous acts of the Lord:


“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 thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

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?

-       Micah 6:6-8


Again, we will drill down into the specifics of this passage next week, but here is what is plain to us now: the righteous acts of God, His great works of deliverance are intended to create in us a desire to obey God, to respond to Him. James warns us, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:14-17). We are not saved by our works, but we are saved to work. If our faith has no fruit, if our faith causes us to ignore God’s commands, James tells us that faith is dead—as in, it isn’t real faith. 


The problem with Israel in Micah’s day was that they were paying lip service to believing in God, when in reality they didn’t care about Him. God could be paid off at the temple by giving Him a token offering and then going and doing whatever you want. But Micah says, No, offerings at the temple are pointless if there isn’t also a pursuit of justice, a love of kindness, and a humility before God attendant with them. Micah summons Israel to remember what God has done for her to inspire them to obedience. People apparently had begun to view what God was asking of them as a burden, which is why God sarcastically asks back in verse 3: O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” They are treating God as if He is opposed to them, restricting their joy, so God says, What exactly is it that I have done that is so burdensome to you? How have my righteous acts of saving you been wearying to you? And, of course, when you think about it that way, you realize: Oh yea, God isn’t against me; He has always been for me. Why do I feel like He is against me now?


We need to remember what God has done in the past, to help us face the temptations of tomorrow. As we look ahead to the future and all its uncertainty, we are met with many temptations. “Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, [greed], lust, and ambition look ahead,” Lewis, Screwtape. 


Let me just give one example: I think it’s safe to say that a good majority of us feel like we are living in some uncertain times. When we think ahead of what may happen to our family, our businesses, our country in the next few years. Here is what our heart tells us: What if this happens, or what if this happens…And, depending on who you are, you will generally have one of two responses. You will either think:


-        I need to take charge of this situation, I alone can be trusted, and you will throw yourself into a great deal of work, labor, and frantic energy to guard against what you’re afraid of. You’ll be tempted to become overbearing, and exacting. People who get in the way won’t just frustrate you, they will infuriate you. The uncertainty of the future threatens your sense of control. So, when God tells you to not worry about tomorrow, and to trust Him, it will feel like God is against you. Or you think…


-       I can’t do anything about this, and you will throw yourself into things that take your mind off your fears. You will plunge yourself into entertainment, or distractions so you don’t think about all the things you should be doing. People who challenge you on your laziness don’t motivate you to be more industrious, they make you feel profoundly ashamed and resentful. The uncertainty of the future threatens your sense of comfort, so when God tells you to work diligently and be faithful to what He has called you to, it will feel like God is against you.


In both of those, it is tempting to treat the problem only skin-deep. So the person who is leaning into being controlling will be told that they should be more patient with others and relax a bit, and the person who is leaning into comfort and laziness will be told that they should be more diligent and hard working. And both of those are true, as far as it goes.


But what’s the deeper issue? Neither of these people trust God. At their heart of hearts, the problem beneath the problem is that they ultimately do not believe God can be trusted for their good.