Micah was an Old Testament prophet who lived around 720 BC. Little is known about Micah, but he left us with his prophecies about God’s coming judgment on Israel and Judah because of the multitude of their sins. But in the midst of his prophecies about judgment there is a brief pause as if the prophet is contemplating the terrifying consequences of his own sin and is wondering if there is any way that he himself can escape God’s righteous judgment.
With what shall I come to the LORD
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? – Micah 6:6-7
As he is confronted with the reality of his sin, the prophet looks for an escape or a rescue. He knows that he must stand before the LORD (“Yahweh” in the Hebrew) to be judged, and he knows that in that moment he will fall before the LORD in terror. The holiness and the majesty of God will overwhelm him.
Then he thinks of something that he could offer to the LORD that would satisfy His righteous demands and would turn away His wrath. “Would burnt offerings work? Would the blood of calves satisfy the LORD?” He realizes that these sacrifices are pathetically inadequate to atone for his sin, so he radically increases the number of the sacrifices. “Maybe a few slaughtered calves would not be enough, but what if I poured out the blood of thousands of rams or gushed out ten thousand rivers of oil? What if I gave up my first-born for my rebellious acts and for the sin of my soul?” The prophet thinks of the most precious and costly sacrifice he can imagine in order to relieve himself of the guilt of his soul, and yet he knows that these will not erase his sin. The offense of even one sin surpasses the atonement provided by all the sacrifices any human being could ever offer.
No offering I could ever make will atone for even one of my smallest sins. How, then, can atonement ever be made? Where is the price of forgiveness to be found? How can I ever be righteous before the LORD?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with our God. – Micah 6:8
The answer offered in verse 8 to the dilemma presented in verses 6-7 is so gentle and so simple that it almost seems as if we must have skipped a verse or two. How can it be that all the LORD requires is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”? How can this be enough to pay for my sin?
Micah has indeed left out an important piece of the puzzle, because at this point in the biblical revelation it is not yet time to tell of the Savior who will be the bridge between the sinner and the living God. Micah is right to see the evil of his sin and he is correct in saying that the price of atonement for his sins is impossibly high. It is also true that there is no price that Micah could ever pay to buy his forgiveness or to appease God’s wrath. But if all of this is true, what happens between verse 7 and verse 8? What is the missing piece?
The missing piece is the death of Jesus Christ and the promise from God that if we believe in Jesus, God by grace considers us righteous and forgives all our sins. What the blood of thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil could not do is accomplished by the blood of Jesus Christ for the repentant sinner.
Guilty, vile and helpless, we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement, Can it be?!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
What happened, then, between verses 7 and 8 was that Micah the guilty sinner became Micah the forgiven saint, and as a forgiven man who has been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus, Micah now does justice, loves kindness and walks with his God with joy. Here in the prophecy of this minor prophet is concealed the gospel, that any sinner can be forgiven if they will place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.