“What should I bring before the Lord when I come to bow before God on high? Should I come before him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the offspring of my body for my own sin?”
— Micah 6:6-7 (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the drawbacks of written words is that they don’t always convey the full nuance of the speaker. They can, to be sure, but in order to convey that nuance, you sometimes have to explain it ahead of time which, in some cases, takes a bit of the punch from the intended message just like explaining a joke strips away all its humor. What we see here in Micah is a great example of this drawback in action.
Before we get to the text, though, let me offer an example of this potential weakness of the printed word. Let’s say I asked if you’d ever been sarcastic before, and you responded by saying, “Never.” Now, read as written with no other emotion, someone unaware might be lead to believe that you were being serious. The nuance of tone and facial expression I have a sneaking suspicion were present in your response, though, would have had me spell the word a bit more like this: Neeeeever. The pronunciation would have been a little more dramatically rendered as well.
In its original context, this could have been a humorous exchange. Having to explain everything makes it a little flat. Funny still, perhaps, to the people who already picked up on the joke, but less so to everyone else.
When it comes to the Scriptures, we’re reading a text that was written at least 1,970 years ago. Sometimes the emotional cues of the text are clear…sometimes not. But, if we miss the intended emotional nuance of the author, we run the risk of missing his point. That makes understanding him a little more difficult. I think this is one of those places where nuance helps give a little more body to the text; it makes it more engaging.
In context here, God has just finished making His case against the people. That’s what we talked about yesterday. It was kind of an odd case. He said He was going to make His case against them, but then immediately asked what He had done wrong to them. Here, then, the people respond.
Have you ever felt like someone was putting a set of unreasonable expectations on you and then not giving you credit for even trying to meet them? How did you eventually respond? Perhaps with something like, “What do you want from me?!?” “What is going to make you happy?!?” This often gets followed up by sarcastically raising the level of expectation to wildly unreasonable levels to make the point that the existing set is unreasonable in and of itself. That’s exactly what we see here.
God chastises the people for leaving Him in spite of His faithfulness to them. They respond by essentially asking Him, “What is going to make you happy?!?”
Should I simply bow before you? Do you want a burnt offering? How about a thousand burnt offerings? Rivers of oil to light your lamps? What is it? Do you want my firstborn? Would a child sacrifice suffice for you?
Can you hear the peoples’ frustration? They feel like everything they are doing isn’t good enough for God. All He ever offers is a constantly retreating standard. They’re never really going to be good enough for Him.
Have you ever felt like that with God? Have you ever felt like you were busting your hump to check all of His boxes but could only ever come up just a bit (or even a lot) short? I think that’s something many of us face at one point in our lives or another. The real question is not whether you’ve felt it, but when was the last time you felt it. It could be something in the past, but it could also be something you are dealing with presently; possibly even this morning.
How do we deal with this tension? Well, for starters, we can keep in mind the whole counsel of the Scriptures. God doesn’t want something from us, He wants something for us. He demonstrated that most powerfully on the cross. God’s real complaint about the people was not Israel’s lack of religious devotion. His real complaint was the emptiness of their religious devotion. They were doing it because it was a box to check and that by checking it, they could mark it as completed and move on. That’s not a way to build a relationship with anyone, let alone God. And the thing He wants more than anything with us is a relationship.
From here, we look at what God really does want from us because He’s not shy about telling us. But, that’s something we’ll talk about more tomorrow. See you then.