For the week of July 23, 2016 / 17 Tammuz 5776
Torah: Bemidbar/Numbers 22:2 – 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 – 6:8 (English: 5:7 – 6:8)
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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? (Micah 6:7)
We are looking at the Haftarah portion again. As I mentioned last week, the Haftarah is the selection from the Nevi’im (English: the Prophets) section of the Hebrew Scriptures that is read in addition to the weekly Torah portion. Micah asks some rhetorical questions to emphasize a perspective that is foundational to the whole Bible. Even though the Torah devotes much space to the details of the sacrificial system, it was always to be practiced within the wider framework of genuine dedication to God and his ways. Religious ritual whether established by God or by human tradition has always tended to become the focus of attention over and above the more important aspects of God’s truth.
Sacrifice during the days of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and the Temple was mandatory. They were an essential part of Israel’s covenant with God given at Mt. Sinai. But they were never intended as a substitute for humility, justice, and good deeds. This is clearly stated in the verse immediately following the one I quoted at the start:
He has told you, O man, 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? (Micah 6:8)
Without this kind of genuine godliness, all the sacrifices in the world are worthless. But if Israel of old would have pursued the quality of life God desired for them, then the offerings of animals, grain, oil, and so on, would have fulfilled their stated purpose in helping to maintain their covenantal relationship with God.
Micah and the other Hebrew prophets so passionately document for us Israel’s failure to grasp this balance. No wonder. The reality of sin, common to all, prevents us from being the type of fully integrated people we were originally designed to be. All throughout history every human community has lacked a healthy balance, most often overemphasizing the lessor important at the expense of the more important aspects of life. Then when confronted with this imbalance, we strive for what was lacking only to neglect the other secondary, but still essential things.
God’s plan to rescue us from this never-ending pendulum is hidden amidst Micah’s rhetorical questions. As he indicts his people for their futile attempts at finding security in their rituals, he blurts out something to the effect of “Could we ever offer enough sacrifices to actually please God? Should I offer him my firstborn child?” The response he was calling for is obviously “Of course not!” But I doubt that his audience, or himself for that matter, caught the irony of his words.
Nothing Israel could ever offer could make up for their lack of integrity, but there was an offering that would. God would himself enter into our dysfunctional mess by generating himself as part of the human family. The offering of Yeshua, the Son of God, would satisfy Torah’s demands once and for all that all who trust in him would be established in an eternal covenantal relationship with God.
But I wonder how many people still fail to really get Micah’s message. Faith in Yeshua is indeed essential to a right relationship with God, but are we forgetting that trusting in his sacrifice is not the whole picture? How many claim to have faith in the Messiah, but forget that God still wants us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him? May God grant us the balance we need.
All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible