Uniform 07.26.2015: The Last Word is “Grace”

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Micah 7:14-20

Most of Micah’s message is about justice and judgment; as God’s prophet, he hammers away at the need for the people of eighth century Israel to acknowledge and repent of their sins. If they don’t, he warns, there will be a terrible price to pay; their nation will be destroyed.

There are, however, passages of hope in the book. Chapters four and five, along with this week’s text, anticipate a time when the nation will be reestablished. Some scholars believe that these hopeful and encouraging passages were added to the prophecy of Micah in order to apply its message to the people of Judah as they returned from exile in Babylon in the late sixth century BC. That may be, but the book that has been passed down to us as Scripture weaves the passages of hope into the passages of judgment.

And the very last passage in the book is a message of grace:

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. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. 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 (vv. 18-20).

Brennan Manning told this story:

In a large city in the far West, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The reports reached the archbishop. He decided to check her out ….

“Is it true, m’am, that you have visions of Jesus?” asked the cleric.

“Yes,” the woman replied simply.

“Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”

The woman was stunned. “Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?”

“Exactly. Please call me if anything happens.”

Ten days later the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition. “Please come,” she said.

Within the hour the archbishop arrived. He trusted eye-to-eye contact. “You just told me that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?”

“Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession.”

The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. His eyes narrowed.

“What did Jesus say?”

She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. “Bishop,” she said, “these are his exact words: ‘I CAN’T REMEMBER.’”
—Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000).

The last word is grace.

Discussion

1. What other Bible passages use the image of a shepherd to talk about the grace of God toward God’s people? How do those passages help us to understand the shepherd imagery in v. 14?
2. Verses 16-17 seem to say that other nations will be motivated by fear to turn to God when they see the “marvelous things” (v. 15) that God will do in reestablishing Israel. How do we as followers of Jesus Christ read and apply such a passage?
3. How have you experienced the forgiveness of God when you have sinned?
4. How can we think about the relationship between the judgment of God and the grace of God?
5. Micah grounds the grace of God in God’s past faithfulness (v. 20). How can we do the same?

Reference Shelf

God’s Faithfulness

Wonderful images of divine forgiveness are expressed: Israel’s sins and their effects will be ground into the dust (an image used for the enemy of the people in 7:10). Israel’s sins will be cast into “the depths of the sea” (see the image in Jonah 2:3) and so will have negative effects on their life no more. God’s promises to Abraham and Jacob, to which God will be unswervingly faithful and give evidence God’s steadfast love (hesed), are recalled. This recollection constitutes a claim that these ancient promises will be continually applicable to this people. Even in the midst of their sins and their evil effects (see Gen 17:5-8; 28:13-15; Jer 30:3; 33:26; Luke 1:55)! The earlier explicit word about Israel’s repentance of sin (7:9) is no doubt in mind here, and that provides an important recognition on Israel’s part of the centrality of this theme (it embraces the section, 7:8-20). God determines to be faithful to God’s ancient promises, come what may!

Terence E. Fretheim, Reading Hosea-Micah: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2013).

Choices Have Consequences

What significance does this message have for today’s community of faith? If one deals with the Old Testament merely as an interpretation of history, then probably very little. If, however, one approaches the biblical text as the church’s faith book, then this passage has much to offer by way of analogy. The world stands continually at crossroads: between war and peace, between economic chaos and health, between abusing our environment or cleaning it up. The choices made by one generation affect the lives of future generations—for good or ill. Texts like Micah 7:8-20 offer both warning and hope for communities of faith. They speak of God’s care as a word of hope. As God has been with us in the past, God will be present in the future. But the presence of God is only one side of the story. God’s compassion is not a license to behave as though we have a “get out of jail free” card that is eternally valid. Choices have consequences.

James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011), 594-95.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.

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