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Almost everyone loves a good courtroom drama.
Whether the lawyer is Perry Mason or Matlock, afficionados look for clues to see if they can figure out who committed the crime before the perpetrator is finally unveiled.
But the greatest courtroom dramas are not on television at all.
They’re in Scripture.
The trials I have in mind are Adam’s trial in the Garden of Eden following his fall, Christ’s trial before Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the final trial of all men before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ.
Micah tells us about yet another trial, one that has all the excitement of the best television shows but without a surprise ending.
It’s the trial of northern kingdom.
God is the plaintiff.
He has a controversy, a complaint or, even more literally, a lawsuit against his people.
Israel is the defendant.
But in spite of the heinousness of the accusation, throughout the proceeding God refers to the Israelites as /his people/ (v.
2; cf.
vv. 3, 5).
This trial even has a jury.
God summons the mountains and hills to hear his case (v. 1).
Here the mountains probably refer to the surrounding nations.
The fact that pagan nations will sit in judgment of God’s people only highlights the depths of Israel’s depravity.
As you read these verses, you’ll probably notice that one thing is still missing — there is no verdict.
This is probably due to the fact that God’s testimony against Israel is so compelling that nothing other than a guilty verdict could possibly be rendered.
The Complaint
The basis of God’s lawsuit is simple: Israel had violated God’s law.
But it’s not just that there were occasional lapses in obedience.
That’s true of all of us.
Even David, the greatest king of the united kingdom, sinned once in a while.
Rather, the people had cast off God’s law completely.
As Micah reports, they preferred idolatry, covetousness, cruelty and false prophecy to the Word of God.
But God’s greatest complaint against the people was something more basic.
The sins that I just mentioned were symptoms of systemic ingratitude.
You see, when Micah prophesied, which was roughly the same time as Isaiah, Hosea and Amos, both the northern and southern kingdoms were experiencing tremendous economic prosperity.
In fact, Uzziah and Jeroboam II helped to create one of the longest periods of prosperity in the Old Testament.
But the prosperity of some led to the abuse of others.
For example, when the poor ran out of money, they were forced to sell their inheritances for a tiny fraction of their value.
Once they sold their property, they had to moved into the cities where the only jobs did not provide them with enough income to stay alive.
A poor man taken to court would surely be punished, but a man of means could buy his freedom.
Even priestly ministrations were bought with money.
It’s no wonder that Paul wrote that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Tim.
Avarice ignores the reason why God blesses men with prosperity, viz., so that we can use his blessing for good.
In the New Testament Paul wrote, /Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth/ (Eph.
But the people of Micah’s day used God’s blessing only to increase their own position and hurt others.
This simply was not acceptable.
Micah had preached against these sins for fifty years.
God had been more than patient with his people.
Although he had given them plenty of opportunity to repent, they chose not to do so.
The time for trial had come.
The Testimony
Our text begins with God calling the courtroom to order and seating the jury.
But then something unexpected happened in verse 3. The Lord exchanged seats with the defendant.
Instead of listing his grievances against the people, he asked them how it was that he had offended them: /O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee?
testify against me/.
If the Lord had abandoned his people, they might be somewhat justified in casting off his law.
But had the Lord forsaken them?
When he brought them out of Egypt, did he fail to provide everything they needed?
Did their shoes and clothing wear out?
Had he promised them something that he had not given them?
Was his law too heavy for them to bear?
The Lord asked the same thing of his people in Jeremiah’s day: /What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?/ (Jer.
These are, of course, rhetorical questions.
Their answers are so obvious that they need not be answered at all.
The fault was not in the Lord, who had shown incredible kindness and patience toward a stiff-necked and rebellious people.
The Lord’s character is unimpeachable, but the character of the people is another story.
Even so, it’s amazing how often men, sometimes even Christians, presume that God is something less than God.
About a year after 9~/11, a PBS program attempted to examine the spiritual impact of the attack on our nation.
One man was convinced that, although God the Son is loving and kind, God the Father is a warmongering “barbarian.”
A woman said that she was not yet ready to forgive God.
Then there’s the poem called “Footprints in the Sand.”
The sand represents a man’s life.
Sometimes he sees two sets of footprints walking together — his and the Lord’s.
Other times he sees only one set of footprints.
His first inclination is to assume that these were made during times of trial, when the Lord apparently left him to face the trial alone.
It never dawned on him that the single set of footprints belonged to God, as the poem said later.
To counteract this sinful tendency, the Lord provided us a record of his faithfulness in verses 4 and 5.
First, God was faithful in providing a great deliverance for his people in the exodus: For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 4).
And not only did he rescue them from fierce oppression, he also gave them leaders.
Moses gave them the law, Aaron prayed for them, and Miriam was an example to the women.
In the Old Testament, the exodus was the one redemptive act that they always looked back to.
It was what believers remembered when they anticipated the greater redemption that would come through the woman’s seed.
It not only typified, but it was itself a contest between the God of the Bible and all the imaginary pagan deities of Egypt (cf.
12:12), in which God manifested the righteousness of his judgment.
By citing the greatest redemptive act, God reminded the people that it was also he who delivered them whenever they were oppressed.
Yes, he sent Gideon, Samson, David and others, but these were not deliverers in the ultimate sense.
They were men through whom God worked to rescue his people.
Micah takes note of this by placing an obvious emphasis on the pronoun /I/ in verse 4. God says, /I brought thee up … and redeemed thee … I sent before thee Moses, Aaron and Miriam/.
Second, God showed himself faithful to his people by preserving them from destruction: O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD (v. 5).
This incident comes from the book of Numbers.
Balak, king of Moab, had hired Balaam, an extremely greedy prophet, to curse the people of God.
Balak was afraid that the Jews would destroy him as they had destroyed other nations.
But when the time came for Balaam to curse the Jews, he could only bless them (Num.
And when he realized that he could do nothing more, Balaam suggested that Balak use the Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel, thus causing them to expose themselves to God’s heavy wrath (Num.
25:1–5; cf.
31:16; Rev. 2:14).
We might say that, when he could not curse them directly, he tried to curse them indirectly.
In any case, two places are connected with this particular incident in our text.
Shittim, the place where the Moabite women seduced the Israelite men, reminds them of what they merited apart from God’s mercy, viz., utter destruction.
The second place, Gilgal, was the first place of Israel’s encampment once they entered the promised land (Josh.
There God renewed the covenant with them by having Joshua circumcise the men who had been born during the forty-year wilderness wandering.
Shittim to Gilgal, then, is the place of Israel’s defiance and the place where God brought them across the Jordan.
In spite of their rebellion, God delivered his people, showing them, as Micah says, /the righteousness of the LORD/.
God had kept his Word.
He had good reason not to, but he chose to do so anyway.
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