Today’s passages: Micah, chapters 5-7; Hebrews, chapter 7
Scripture: Micah 7:18-20 (NRSV) – Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.
Observations: There are two passages in Micah which are probably most familiar to Christians, and both of them are in our passage from Micah for today. In chapter 5, there is the prophecy about the ruler who will come out of Bethlehem to rule over God’s people. Micah 6:8 is the other familiar verse: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [or mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?”
For me, the verses from chapter 7 which I’ve quoted above link those two familiar passages together, and summarize the “good news” out of Micah’s prophecy. After all, the reason that there are promises about a new ruler who will arise and about God’s blessing and faithfulness to “the remnant” is because there is a prophecy about the coming destruction of Judah and Samaria. The first chapters of Micah focus on the sins of God’s people, and the judgment that is to come. God’s compassion and forgiveness does not automatically remove the consequences of sin. That was true for the people of the covenants with Israel, and it is true for God’s people today.
In many cases, the consequences of sinful choices are the very vehicle which “bring us to our senses” (as in the parable of the Prodigal) and cause us to turn back to God. Repentance is not simply regret over the consequences of our sin; it is an acknowledgment that we were wrong. Without an acceptance of our responsibility and our culpability, there is no real repentance. Rather than trying to blame someone else for our misdeeds, we need to “wear the hat” – own up to the fact that we are to blame, and ask God to forgive us.
The good news is that he is a God who pardons iniquity, who delights in showing clemency. I love the phrase that he will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. I’m reminded of one description of God’s forgiveness: he casts all of our sins into the depths of the sea, and then puts up a sign that says, “No fishing!” When he forgives our sins, “he remembers them no more” (see Hebrews 8:12).
What a wonderful promise to those who struggle with understanding God’s forgiveness! But we have to do our part: we have to acknowledge our sin. God doesn’t just issue a blanket forgiveness of all of the sins in the world; we have to confess our sins. When we do, “he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Applications: There are a lot of people who were raised in the church in a time of legalism and judgment. I remember ministering to one “seasoned saint” many years ago. She was a wonderful lady, but she was wracked with guilt over the fact that she wore pants to church! I helped her to understand that there is a difference between our cultural interpretations and practices and God’s commands, but it took her a while to work through the guilt that she had been carrying! God longs for people to experience the freedom and joy of his forgiveness! We need to accept his forgiveness, and stop letting Satan keep us oppressed by the memories of sins that God has forgiven; and we need to extend God’s forgiveness and mercy to others. We do that by being willing to forgive, and by living as examples of the joy and peace that God offers.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for the reminder today of the scope and the depth of your forgiveness. Help me to display the joy and the peace that comes from knowing your mercy, and help me to share that message with others. May my life and my words point people toward the freedom and forgiveness that can only be found in you. Amen.