What Does God Want?

 

It is a question that some of us never consider.

It is a question that some of us cannot escape.

Throughout history, some of us have killed each other over different answers to this question.

What does God want?

This week, the Prophet Micah is trying to tell us.

Micah 5:2-5a, 6:6-8

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

 

“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 mortal, 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?

 

This week we encounter a new kind of literature: the prophetic oracle. The Book of Micah collects sayings/speeches/sermons attributed to the prophet of that name. He lived and worked in the southern nation of Judah during the last quarter of the 8th century BCE. Unlike Isaiah—an urban sophisticate and political power player—Micah is a member of the laboring classes and a resident of a small rural village.

What’s more, Micah seems to take little interest in the international crisis unfolding on his doorstep. During this time, the northern nation of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire. And Assyria menaced the southern nation of Judah as well.

But Micah has his own agenda and does not seem driven by the headlines. In this midterm election week, make of that what you will.

Micah’s message can be summed up pretty simply: justice matters! What God cares about is not religious ritual or sacrificial offerings; God wants just and fair dealings.

We see this emphasis on justice in our two selections from Micah. The first (5:2-5a) has been seized upon by Christian interpreters who like to see it as some sort of prediction of the birth of Jesus. For a whole host of reasons, I am not a fan of Christian appropriating Jewish scripture for their own purposes. In this case, doing so means missing the more immediate and obvious meaning: Micah expects the Davidic monarchy to be restored. And in describing that restoration, he paints a picture of the ideal political ruler: a shepherd king, whose first priority is not self-aggrandizement but the well-being of all the people.

Political power, when gained, should be used to promote human flourishing. That is still good advice.

Our second portion contains some of the most famous material in the entire Hebrew Bible:

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,

In context, this is Micah’s answer to the question of what God wants. And it is s disarmingly simple answer to what has been a hotly contested question.

What does God want? Just think of all the different ways the human race has answered that question. What does God want?

  • God wants you to sacrifice an animal.
  • God wants you to build a temple.
  • God wants you to abstain from certain foods.
  • God wants you to believe six impossible things before breakfast
  • God wants you to save sex for marriage.
  • God wants you to avoid saying curse words.
  • God wants you to mind your manners.
  • God wants you to join the church.
  • God wants you to serve on a committee.
  • God wants you to hate people who are not like us.
  • God wants you to kill the infidel.

And so on. But in chapter 6, verse 8 Micah cuts right through to the heart of the thing:

 

What does God?

 

Justice. Kindness. Humble walking with God.

 

It is as simple as that. It is as hard as that.

 

What does God want?

 

See you in church.

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