Text: Micah 7:18-20
The meaning of Micah is “who is like Jehovah?” and he plays on that in this last passage. We’re going to read Micah 7:18-20…
“Who is a God like Thee, who pardons iniquity and passes
over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights
in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities underfoot. Yes, Thou wilt cast
all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt give truth
to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which Thou
didst swear to our forefathers from the days of old.”
Who is like Jehovah? Who is a God like unto Thee? Let’s compare Gods and see if there is a God like our God.
One of the most helpful books that I have ever read and I highly recommend it to you…I’ve read it more than once and I keep it in my study because it is a book that I have gone back to time and time again…is a book by the title KNOWING GOD by J. I. Packer. If you have never read that book, let me urge you to read that book. It is one of the best books that I have ever read. If I had to list ten books throughout my whole ministry that have blessed me and influenced me, that book would be one of them and near the top…KNOWING GOD…because there is nothing more important than knowing God.
But it is not only important to know God, but to also know what kind of God we know. And that’s the burden of Micah. What is God like? You see, there is God as He is and then there is God as you and I conceive Him to be. Now, when we come into this place to worship we’re not necessarily worshiping God as He is…we are worshiping God as we conceive Him to be. And if our concept of God is wrong, then our worship of God is going to be wrong, you see. That’s why there have been religions through the ages in which the worshipers would sacrifice the firstborn. Well, what made them worship in that way? That’s the kind of god they had. Their god demanded that kind of sacrifice and that was their concept of God and their concept of God determined how they worshiped.
You see, it is important for us to understand what God is really like. If you don’t, you may be worshiping Him in the wrong way. Augustine said, “Teach me O Lord, which is first…to know Thee or to praise Thee…or to know Thee or ask of Thee…for if I know Thee not I may ask of Thee other than Thou art.” Now, Augustine is saying is “If I don’t have the right conception of God in my praise and in my praying I may be asking God to do something that’s contrary to His nature.” So, it is important for us to have right concept of God.
You remember Jesus talking to the woman at the well in John 4, the conversation drifted around to worship and she revealed her ignorance of true worship…she said, “Oh I know you Jews. You believe you have to worship in a certain place…in a certain mountain.” Her concept of God was that He was a geographical God…limited to a geographical location. But Jesus corrected that when He said, “God is Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth,” you see. God is not a geographical God. He is not limited to one physical location. He is a Spirit and you worship Him according to His nature. Your concept of God will determine how you worship.
It will also determine how you walk. That’s why John says that God is a God of light. “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all and if we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness we lie and have not the truth.” When the Bible describes God as light, it describes Him not only in His moral perfection but also in His high holiness. Now, you know, if I don’t have a high concept of the holiness of God that’s going to affect the way I live…for if I don’t think God is all that concerned about sin and holiness then why should I be concerned about it? That’s why we must take God seriously.
Peter said, “Be ye holy…” WHY? “Because God is holy.” Why should you and I live a life of holiness? Because God is holy. You see, everything in the Christian life…how I pray, how I live, how I respond to tragedy, how I respond to difficulty…everything in the Christian life is going to be determined by my idea, my concept of God, you see.
It’s always been interesting to me that when God said, “Be ye holy,” and if you go back and read then rabbinical health laws, He doesn’t say, “If you eat like this, you’ll live longer.” He never says that! He doesn’t say, “If you’ll not eat this kind of meat and if you’ll not put together this kind of meat and if you’ll live like this, you’re going to be healthier and you won’t have indigestion and you won’t have ulcers and you’ll live longer…” He never says that! The only reason He gives those laws is “because I am the LORD and I am holy.” So, my concept of God…what I believe about Him determines how I live my life.
Now, as Micah comes to the end of this book, he has said a lot of things about God. Most of the things he has said about God have been things concerning judgment and wrath and retribution, but as Micah brings his prophecy to a close, he signifies that he’s coming to a summary of the whole business. When he plays on his own name – “who is like Jehovah?” – he says, “Who is a God like unto Thee?” And then in the next three verses, he describes to us what kind of God we have.
So, let’s just look at these three verses tonight… Verses 18, 19 and 20 give us three different points concerning our God and so they make up the points of the message.
Micah tells us our God is a God of forgiving love…He is a God of pardon.
Look at the 18th verse.
“Who is a God like Thee, who pardons
iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the
remnant of His possession? He does not retain
His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”
Micah’s message has been largely one of judgment…one of condemnation…but the last word is this… “I want you to know something, this is what God is like…He is a God who delights in mercy. He is a God of forgiving love.” What is so incomparable about our God? He said, “Let’s compare Gods.” What is so special about our God? And you know, if you have ever done a study about the gods of history…the gods of Egypt and the gods of the Greeks and the gods of the pagans…all the way through, there is one glaring, one noticeable incomparable difference between pagan gods and the God of the Christian. You know what that is? Our God forgives sin. Ours is a God who delights in mercy. You cannot say that about any pagan god…that he delighted in mercy. This was a whole, new revelation to the people of that day because the only gods they had known were gods of judgment and of wrath, gods of capriciousness and gods who just threw the dice and a person’s fate depended upon a roll of the dice, but Micah said, “I want you to know what makes our God so incomparable is He is a God of forgiving love. He forgives sin.” And that’s the one thing that you and I need more than anything else in all this life…we need to be forgiven of our sin.
I was talking to a person the other day and he said, “You know, I’ve kind of gotten into Zen, and I’m getting more into it and I like it.” And so as we talked, I said, “Let me ask you one question…is there any place in Zen or any other religion like that as a matter of fact, where there is forgiveness of past sin?” You see, the appeal of these false religions, Zen and some of the other Eastern religions and the New Age, which many are into, even Christians are into without knowing it, is that they promise a better life here and now, they promise a healthier life, they promise a richer and fuller life, but one thing they never ever promise is they never promise forgiveness of past sin. They never do!
See, that is the problem. Let’s just suppose that I have a charge account at your grocery store and I’ve run up about a thousand dollar grocery bill, and I haven’t made a payment in six months. I come into your store one day and I say, “Listen, I want to apologize to you because I owe you money and I haven’t paid and I want you to know from now on I’m going to pay everything in cash. I’m not going to charge anything else. From now on, everything will be paid in cash. How about that?” You know what you’d say? You’d say, “Well, that’s all well and good…but what about that old debt? Your simply making a new resolution to charge no more and to pay everything in cash…that’s fine…that’s good…but that doesn’t take care of the past debt that you owe. You’ve got to take of that past debt.”
Now, I might turn over a new leaf and try to live a good life, but friend, what about that past debt of sin that is against God that I must face some day in the Judgment? Only the Christian religion does anything about that. He is a God who pardons our iniquities. The word “pardon” means “to lift up” or “to relieve a burden”. The idea is that this iniquity was basically a word that means “crooked”. It refers to our nature. We have a crooked nature. And that sin is a burden upon us that’s weighing us down. And Micah says, “Our God is the kind of God who in pardoning us lifts an intolerable burden.”
I want you to go over to Psalm 32 for just a moment, and you will see a wonderful description of the burden of sin. Psalm 32 is referring to David’s sin with Bathsheba as does Psalm 51, but Psalm 32 describes the condition before Nathan faced him and he repented of that sin. He begins in Psalm 32 with these words:
“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin in covered! How blessed is the man to whom
the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit
there is no deceit!”
Now, why is David saying that…why is he saying “Blessed is the man whose sin is forgiven”? Well, he tells us in verses 3 and 4…
“When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long. For day and night
Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained
away as with the fever-heat of summer.”
This is very graphic language. He said, “When I kept silent about my sin and before I confessed my sin my bones waxed cold” (NIV) that is they began to turn to dust…they began to crumble and were crushed under the load… “and I was roaring all day long, day and night Your hand was heavy upon me…” (NIV) A burden! An intolerable burden! The guilt! Actually, and some scholars believe this…that David was describing physical maladies…physical illness…because of his un-confessed sin. You don’t need me to tell you that it is a proven fact that anger and bitterness and hatred can make you sick…distress and the tension.
I remember I was in a doctor’s office several years ago…he was a fine Christian doctor and he’s been a friend of mine for a number of years and just one of the finest Christians that I know. I was waiting in one room and he had been counseling a woman and was finished with her and he was out in the hall and I couldn’t help but overhear what he said to her. He said, “You can come to me”…she was having stomach problems… “you can come to me and I can give you medicine, but I want to tell you something…your stomach problems are not going to clear up until you get things right with your sister.” I thought that was interesting. Un-confessed sin creates a burden, a brokenness. It’s like a heavy hand pressing down upon us and he says, “Our God is a God who pardons or lifts that iniquity.” And notice then, he says, “…and He passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession.” This is so descriptive. He is saying that when God delights in mercy and He pardons our sin, He just passes over our transgressions…He doesn’t even stop to deal with them. They’re not worth considering. They’re not worth dealing with. And He passes by those things. He is a God of forgiving love.
Micah tells us God is a God of redeeming power…verse 19
“He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot and will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
Now there are two things there that are noteworthy. First of all, it says that He will tread our iniquities underfoot. That is a very violent picture. It means literally to trample underfoot. You could almost translate it “to stomp”. And it indicates a violent trampling. What does He do when He pardons our iniquities, our transgressions? Well, then He brings them under submission. The word “iniquity” there is chosen for a reason. It doesn’t say that He subdues our transgressions. It says He subdues our iniquities. Why? Because remember the word “iniquity” refers to our old nature…the old nature. In other words, when God does His work of grace in my heart, He brings under submission this old crooked nature of mine.
And God is the only one who can do it. You know, you can make changes in your behavior, but there’s one thing you cannot do and that is you cannot subdue your old nature. You just cannot do it. Remember the Ten Commandments. Well, Paul over in Romans 7 was talking about those commandments. Now, Paul said, “I kept all those commandments…I never murdered anybody…never committed adultery…never stole…never dishonored my mother and dad…but there’s one commandment that slew me,” he says…one commandment…do you remember what it was? The last one…Thou shalt not covet. You see all the others have to do with actions, this has to do with inner attitude.
I’ve never killed anybody. Sometimes I’ve wanted to. I’ve never, oh my, I started to say that I’ve never stolen anything…maybe I need to think about this for a minute. Let’s see, I’m sure when I was a kid…but let’s just for the sake of argument say I didn’t. I’m not a thief! I don’t steal things! But, I sure have coveted other people’s stuff! You say you’ve never committed adultery, but hey, have you ever wanted to? You see, that’s why James said that you can keep the whole law but if you offend in one point you’re guilty of all of them. Why? Because the same covetousness that makes you break one law makes you break all of them.
See, I may be able to honor my father and mother and I may be able to have no other gods before me and not commit adultery and not commit murder, but there’s one thing I cannot subdue…I cannot subdue this old crooked nature that covets, and wants to do some of those things. Paul said, “That’s the commandment that slew me…I was doing alright until I came to number ten.” It’s like the man who fell from a ten story building and as he passed by each story he said, “so far, so good,” but when he came to the last one, that’s what killed him. It’s the last one that kills you.
And what does this say? It says, “He treads under His feet…He brings into submission our old crooked nature.” You know, Christians have the power to act contrary to the old fallen nature. That’s why they’re different from everybody else. Why? Because God has enabled them, has subdued, has brought into submission that old crooked nature.
But, then he says that He casts our sins into the depths of the sea. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? He takes our sin and He casts them into the depths of the sea. Now what does that signify? That signifies that God hides them! Through the Bible, if you want to get rid of something, you cast it into the sea. There are other passages where God says, “I cast their sin behind My back where I can’t see them” and “I will remember their sins against them no more forever” and when it says, “He casts them into the sea” it means God takes our sins and He hides them from His face so that He cannot see them. I’m working on a sermon called “What We Remember That God Forgets.” You know what we remember? We remember our sins. But, God forgets them. And when you confess a sin that God’s already forgiven, I sometimes feel like God says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
You see, that’s what the devil likes to do. Now, let me tell you something. There is such a thing as the conviction of the Spirit and the condemnation of the devil. I’ll tell you what the difference is. A lot of us confuse it and we think we’re being convicted by God when we’re really just being condemned by the devil. The Holy Spirit will never convict you of a sin that you’ve already confessed to God and been forgiven for. He never will! And when there is brought up to you sins of the past that you’ve already dealt with and already confessed and God has already forgiven, that is not the Holy Spirit! That is the condemnation of the devil. But, I want you to think a minute how many of us when we pray or in certain other spiritual exercises, how many of us have those old past sins brought before our eyes, and we feel guilty for them all over again! Anybody here like that? What is that? That’s not God, folks! Why? He’s forgotten about them! He doesn’t know what you’re talking about. That’s the devil! God casts them behind His back!
So, He is a God of forgiving love…a God of pardon. He is a God of redeeming power and finally…
Micah tells us He is a God of perpetual faithfulness…a God of promise…verse 20
“Thou wilt give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which Thou didst swear to our forefathers from the days of old.”
Now, “days of old” is a phrase that depicts eternity. This God’s faithfulness and God’s promise is perpetual. See, Abraham may die, but God’s promise doesn’t die. Moses may die, but God’s promise doesn’t die. Because His promise is perpetual. What he’s saying is “God will keep His word. Everything God promised to the fathers of old concerning their redemption and concerning His grace He is going to keep!
See, this is so important because he’s been talking judgment. He’s been talking about condemnation. He’s been talking about captivity. And so it is easy for the people of God to look at their surroundings and see everything falling apart and wonder, “Has God failed and has God forgotten His promise?” and Micah says, “Listen, regardless of the present situation, even though there is corruption and destruction in the land, I want you to know something…our God is a God who never forgets His promise and He will perform His truth…He’ll keep His word!”
Now, there are two things I want to say about this in closing. Number one…it means the future belongs to God’s people. The future belongs to God, and God’s people! Sometimes it’s hard to believe that, isn’t it? I sometimes get discouraged because we see the world getting worse and worse and even see in many aspects the church getting worse and worse, and you begin to think, “Man, we’ve had it! We’re done for!” “Will the church survive the twentieth century” was one of the common themes a few years ago. Listen, I have news for you…the future belongs to God and to His people.
But, there’s a second thing that Micah says. Not only does the future belong to God, but the last word is a word of grace. I think it is so significant that in this prophecy in which there is so much talk of destruction and judgment Micah comes and the last word that he has to say is a word of grace!
God’s last word to man is not a word of condemnation and judgment and destruction…His last word to man is of love and mercy and grace. Let’s think about that for just a moment. He will perform what He’s promised. Whatever God promises, He will perform. What God promises, He will perform.
It is not what God promises you must perform. Nor is it you must promise and then you must perform. When in Romans 4, Paul is talking about Abraham’s faith in relation to the birth of Isaac, he was saying that even though Abraham examined the impossibility of the birth of a son from him and Sarah, yet looking at the promises of God, he did not waver in unbelief, knowing that what God had promised He was able also to perform.
You see, our trouble is that we make all these promises to God, don’t we? We make all these promises to God… “God, I’m going to do better…God I promise not to this anymore…” I want to tell you something, if you promise it, you’ve got to perform it. But, you see, if God promised it, He will perform it.
See, I never promised God that all my needs will be met according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. God promised that! And what God promised He will perform. I never promised God that sin shall not reign over my mortal body. I never made that promise to God! God made that promise to me! And what God promises, He Himself will perform! I never promised God that His grace will be sufficient for me during times of trial. God made that promise to me! And what He promises, He will perform! He is a God of promise! He is a God of performance!
Who is a God like our God?
Let me close by asking you to turn to Isaiah 46. Israel is in captivity in Babylon. And God is getting ready to deliver them. In Isaiah 45, God tells how that’s going to be done. Cyrus, a pagan king, had been raised by God and he is going to come and deliver them. Now, in chapter 46, you have a description of what’s going to happen when Cyrus moves in. Let’s look at verse 1…
“Baal has bowed down, Nebo stoops over;”
(now who in the world are Baal and Nebo? They are the gods of Babylon. They are the primary gods of Babylon…Baal and Nebo.)
“Baal has bowed down, Nebo stoops over; their images are
consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things that
you carry are burdensome, a load for the weary beast.
They stooped over, they have bowed down together;
they could not rescue the burden, but have themselves
gone into captivity.”
This is Isaiah almost poking fun at the Babylonian gods. Now, here comes Cyrus invading Babylon and what’s the first thing you have to do? You have to save your gods! We’ve got to save our gods! We don’t want our gods to be captured by the enemy. So, they get Bel and Nebo and they load them on these donkeys. But Bel and Nebo are so heavy, they’re such a burden that the donkeys can’t move! As a matter of fact, they just sort of bend down and stoop and they are captured and taken away into captivity.
See, he’s comparing gods. Look at verse 3…
“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the
remnant of the house of Israel, you who have
been borne by Me from birth, and have been
carried from the womb; even to your old age
I shall be the same, and even to your graying
years I shall bear you ! I have done it, and
I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall
deliver you. To whom would you liken Me, and
make Me equal and compare Me, that we should
be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse
and weigh silver on the scale hire a goldsmith, and
he makes it into a god; they bow down, indeed they
worship it. They lift it upon the shoulder and carry
it; they set it in its place and it stands there. It does
not move from its place. Though one may cry to it,
it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress.”
Now you know the difference between a false god and our God? A false god, you have to carry. The true God carries you. A false god can only go as far as you can carry it…but the true God carries you. You have to save a false god, but the true God saves you. Here’s the picture. He says, “Let’s compare Gods…the gods of Babylon…Baal and Nebo? I mean they made them out of all this gold and silver…they took it to a blacksmith and they turned it into these gods and you set them in their place and wherever you set them that’s where they stay…they can’t move on their own and you cry out to them and they cannot answer and then when the enemy comes in you load them on these donkeys and they’re so heavy the donkeys can’t get out of town and so they’re captured by the enemy…” but he says, “our God carries us…even from the womb to the gray hairs…He carries us.”
When I was pastor of MacArthur Boulevard in Irving, Texas, our church was going through a difficult time. It was a critical time. And it looked like…well, I’d done everything I knew to do…all my seminary training…all my wisdom…I’d try to solve this problem. What it was was we had several families in the church who were causing a great division. And you know, I was so tired of fighting it…and everything I tried just wouldn’t work and I remember, oh my…do I remember it…in my office one day, falling on my knees and burying my head in my chest and here’s what I said to God… “Dear God, if You’re going to solve this problem You’re going to have to do it without any help from me.” Have you ever noticed that things in your mind sound so sensible until you express them and then they sound stupid?
You know when I said those words, I almost heard a sigh from heaven. It was as though God was saying, “Oooh, finally, now I can do something.” Folks, our God performs. He carries us.
Some of you may be weary to the point of exhaustion and maybe because you’ve been trying to carry your God with you. That’s not the way it works. God will carry you and what He has promised, He will perform!
Will you bow your heads with me?
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005