Joseph was only seven years old when he was sold into slavery. His master, Ibrihim, treated him with contempt simply because he was a Christian. For ten years, Joseph endured Ibrihim’s torture, mocking criticism, and abuse. One day, a local church was singing hymns. Remembering them from his youth, Joseph went to the church to attend the service. While he was there, the camels he was supposed to be watching escaped. Ibrihim flew into a rage and promised Joseph that he too would be crucified.
Ibrihim beat Joseph upon the head until he was too weak to move. Then, the cruel master drove nine inch nails through Joseph’s hands and knees to boards. After that, he poured acid on Joseph’s legs, leaving them severely scarred. For seven days, Joseph lay in the hot Sudan sun. He managed to survive because Ibrihim’s son brought food and water, eventually taking him to the hospital. Ibrihim did not see value in Joseph as a slave any longer because he was crippled from the experience. A Christian group bought Joseph out of slavery and returned him home. Today, he still lives with intense pain and scarring from the violence done to his body.
We can scarcely imagine enduring such an ordeal. Granted, many of us have experienced difficulties or disappointments. Few of us, however, could ever say that we have experienced slavery… much less physical torture. Our sense of indignation is rightly triggered. This young boy had done nothing. He did not deserve such harsh treatment. Can you imagine such torture happening to one of your children?
Such evil that Ibrihim embodies, taking advantage of defenseless and innocent persons, calls for being held accountable! He deserves to be nailed to boards, drug out into the desert, and left to die! What he did is not merely wrong… it’s sickening! We hear Joseph’s plight and think that justice must be served and Ibrihim must be made to pay!
The southern kingdom of Judah during Micah’s day were living like a group of Ibrihims. Micah paints a morbid picture: “Should you not know justice? – you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron” (Micah 3:1b-3). This description of behavior sounds like something out of “Silence of the Lambs.” Were they practicing cannibalism? No, not quite… but not much better!
The fortunate, the rich, and the powerful were living off and taking advantage of the poor and the weak of society. The lowly of the community could not protect themselves from these ravenous wolves. They were forced out of their homes. Justice had been perverted through bribery. And, worst of all, priests merely preached what everyone wanted to hear… “Prosperity Gospel!” The voice of religion was merely a megaphone for propping up a way of life that was totally opposed to God’s way of life.
Remember, God had brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Providing miraculous signs and wonders, God led the people across the Sea, baptizing them as a new people. Not only this, but God gave them the commandments for preserving life within the community. They were to live as a reflection of God’s character and nature in the world. The covenant that was established in Deuteronomy reminded the people that they had indeed been redeemed by God and were called to live in the Land of Promise on God’s terms. Simply put: “Don’t be like Egypt!”
Israel was intended to live justly in the world, not as vicious overlords. They were not to be like other nations that warred against one another, that perverted justice, or that lived in defiant disobedience to God’s design for Creation. It was a high and lofty calling, one that needed to be taken seriously. Living outside of God’s boundaries given in the Law invited calamity and destruction. Nations would rise up against God’s people as a result of the curse of disobedience. The nations would be God’s rod of discipline for their wickedness.
The northern kingdom of Israel had actually already been destroyed by the Assyrians. The prophet Amos had warned Israel, yet they did not listen. The wave of destruction fell upon them, sweeping them away in its wake. Micah warns Judah that what has befallen Israel can also happen to them. Unlike the prosperity preachers’ message, Judah is not beyond the judgment of God for their wickedness. And, it seems like the writing is on the wall.
We almost feel ourselves cheering God on to bring calamity upon these no-good-so-and-so’s. We pump our fists in approval. We love it when the villains get their due. In the movie, Taken, a young, teenage girl is kidnapped. The movie shows us the hunt of Bryan Mills for his daughter. Unbeknownst to the criminals, they have seriously messed with the wrong person. Bryan is an ex-CIA agent, who was one of the most deadly agents they had ever trained. Bryan uses all of his skills to track down the kidnappers and utterly tears them apart without mercy. In the end, he finds his daughter and takes her home.
We get caught up in the action and the thrill of the bad guys getting what they have coming to them. There is a sense of satisfaction that what was wrong has been righted and the world is somehow better for it. We marvel at the hero’s tenacity, ingenuity, and determination. But, even better… the bad guys get their due. Justice, we say, is “served.”
Do we not expect God to do the same to the Ibrihims of life? Isn’t it our hope that those creating such evil might finally get what’s coming to them? I mean, let’s be honest. Child molesters will get their due in prison… and good riddance! Murderers will receive their reward with the poke of a needle injecting poison into their veins. Some have even celebrated a known terrorist leaders’ “anniversary in hell.” We are quite adamant about “justice” being served!
Yet, Micah proclaims, “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” (Micah 7:18). If we expected God to step onto the scene with six-shooters, a poncho, and a cigar hanging from the side of the mouth like Clint Eastwood, we will be sadly and sorely disappointed. Instead, God acts entirely opposite to what we might expect… to what we have been encourage and told to expect.
There is no God that is like YHWH! The gods of this world deal in retribution and spite. They confirm the myth of “redemptive violence.” Yet, YHWH is set apart from the gods of this world because he does not “retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing forgiveness.” What kind of God is this YHWH? God is the only One that “pardons our iniquity and passes over our transgressions.” This is a God of true power!
Not only does God “pass over” or “pardon” our sin. God does not simply turn a blind eye to our plight, to our brokenness! God utterly crushes our iniquity. It is destroyed, cast into the sea, done away with! God conquers and destroys “all our sin.” The words of Leviticus ring in our ears, “Be holy as I am holy.” God does not leave us in our broken, sinful state. Instead, God breaks the power of sin’s hold upon us! God is compassionate!
Micah’s speech then shifts. He stops talking about God and begins to speak to God! “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” (Micah 7:19b-20). Micah reminds God of who God is: Covenant-Maker and Covenant-Keeper. Micah is confident in God’s fidelity to the Covenant and to God’s people!
One of the biggest reasons people list as to why they do not want to follow the God described within the Scriptures is due to the idea of judgment. Sometimes God appears too violent, angry, and harsh. Martin Luther was angry at God for this very reason! Plenty atheists claim that God does not exist, then fume against this God that appears to be overly zealous and ready to punish. Perhaps the problem does not lie with God but with people that are all too ready to exclaim, “Turn or burn!” To many people, it seems that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different than the God revealed in Jesus.
How is a God that judges so harshly really a compassionate and forgiving God? We discover in this passage that God’s judgment is not simply for judgment’s sake. Quite the opposite, in fact, for God loves to give mercy to His people! Judgment is always for the sake of calling God’s people back into covenant-fidelity with Him! Judgment is the means by which God might get our attention and change our direction.
As a child, I used to absolutely hate getting into trouble. Occasionally, if I was particularly disobedient, my mother would say the words that every child dreads to hear: “Wait ‘til you father gets home.” It was said in such calm and resolute assurance; one’s stomach began to turn inside-out and the hairs stood up on the back of the neck. Judgment day was coming. At the time, I could only see the unpleasant reality of that future discipline. My foresight was limited by the predicament I had created. I’m sure I deserved some type of punishment… but perhaps my mom had gotten carried away, her judgment clouded. To be sure, I never was overjoyed at receiving my parents’ discipline… but I sure learned quickly what to do and what not to do. It turns out that their discipline was for my good!
In hindsight, no pun intended, it is easier to see and understand what my parents were doing. They weren’t thrilled to hand out punishment to their children. They didn’t get a kick out of disciplining us. Yet, they did discipline us so that we might grow in wisdom and understanding, so that we might learn to live in healthy ways. Parents intuitively understand that discipline is not to cause pain, but to direct their children in the way they should go!
How much more pure and perfect is God’s discipline than that of our parents? God uses discipline and judgment to direct us in the way we should go. His discipline points us back to the way of living in covenant with Him and with others! Thus, we find that God’s discipline may be painful, but in it we find life! Micah reminds God, and us, that God’s judgment is always intended to fulfill God’s covenant promise to God’s people!
God’s judgment and discipline does not mean that God has abandoned us. In fact, it means quite the opposite! God is not interested in us continuously moving toward our own destruction. Instead, like the loving parent, God steps into our lives and disciplines us to set things back right, to call us to obedience, and to re-establish God’s covenant with us! Praise God for such steadfast love and loyalty!
Back to our story of Joseph and Ibrihim. Joseph still has to deal with the suffering that his crucifixion causes him each day. Physical pain is still present. Yet, Joseph says that he has been able to forgive Ibrihim! It is hard for me to fathom such an action. Joseph has not taken matters into his own hands, but left them to God. How is it possible for him to do such a thing? Quite simply… it is because that is what God has done from the beginning! God has always been quick to forgive, abounding in steadfast love. This is what Joseph has discovered… and as he serves God, he knows that he is called to forgive others in the same extravagant way!
We see the perfect demonstration of this in Christ Jesus! We were the ones like Ibrihim nailing the innocent One to some boards – the Cross. We pierced the hands and feet of Christ with nails. It was our sinfulness and rebellion that placed Jesus there on that Tree. We have all shaken our fist at God, slamming the crown of thorns down upon his brow and mocking him. We have all neglected justice for the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden. In doing so, we have been the people yelling, “Crucify him!” My friends, if we are honest with ourselves, we know ourselves to be little different than Ibrihim.
Yet, in the midst of our brokenness God speaks a word of hope and salvation! God’s judgment does not have to be the final word. Even as Joseph forgave his tormentor, Christ has forgiven us all the more! Christ conquered sin and death through his death and resurrection. He breathed his last words saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Such Love was given to us in that moment… and in this very moment it is available to us again. Christ offers us his forgiveness for the ways we have lived like Ibrihim. He will cast them to the depths of the sea, if we will let him.
He is faithful and loyal to his covenant! We have been given this new covenant in Christ’s body and blood. It is a gift that we can freely and joyously receive from a gracious God that has pardoned our iniquity and passed over our transgressions. God will have compassion on us, treading our iniquity under foot and tossing them to the depths of the sea. In receiving this gift of salvation, God is simply calling us to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8b).
This justice looks like caring for the poor. It means standing up for the weak and helpless, for the orphan and the widow among us. And, if we should find ourselves as the victim of injustice, we too must learn to forgive even as Christ has forgiven us. May justice and mercy be the fragrance of our sacrifice lived before God.
May this be the prayer of our heart as we receive the gift of salvation that God freely offers each of us! “And now He takes me to His heart a son. He asks me not to fill a servant’s place. The “Far-off country” wand’rings all are done. Wide open are His arms of grace. Such Love, such wondrous Love… that God should Love a sinner such as I.” Let us sing praise to God for this wonderful gift of salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord!