Drash
Micah 7:18-20

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 5 October 2019

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Full Atonement

18 Who is a God like You taking away iniquity, passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain forever His anger, because He delights in covenant loyalty.

19 He will turn again; He will have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

20 You will give faithfulness to Jacob, loyalty to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20 BR)

 

For a complete exegesis of this passage see my commentary here.

On Shabbat Shuvah it is customary to consider the severity of transgressions against God in order to motivate self-examination and repentance. The Haftarah on Shabbat Shuvah is taken from three minor prophets, Hosea, Joel and Micah. I am reading the Haftarah portion from Micah, Chapter Seven, verses 18-20. This is my translation.

Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and in his short book he rebukes the corrupt leaders of Judah for falling into the sins of Samaria, blasts pervasive injustice in all its forms, pronounces God's wrath on the wicked, and calls for repentance. The book of Micah is also significant for future hope. An eternal ruler would be born in Bethlehem to shepherd the flock of Israel and in the last days there would be restoration of the land and the spread of Torah among the nations. For Micah ADONAI is the Light of salvation. The prophet closes his book with a praise of God's grace and covenant faithfulness.

In verse 18 Micah poses a rhetorical question concerning the reality of his time, but also offers a promise that could only be fulfilled by the Messianic ruler from Bethlehem. Micah speaks of God's response to sin for which he uses two terms. First, iniquity, or avon, is a term with three different meanings: it can refer to wicked conduct, guilt for sinful acts, or the punishment prescribed for sinful conduct. The second term, transgression, or pesha, is used for deliberate disobedience of God's commandments. The great majority of Bible versions present God's response to the sin problem as forgiving or pardoning, which presents a conundrum.

If you examine the Torah instructions for atonement sacrifices, you won't find an avon offering or a pesha offering. A sin offering (chatta'ah), including that of Yom Kippur, could only provide atonement for sins that were unintentional, committed accidentally or from simple negligence. And for every sin for which there was a prescribed punishment, a sin offering could not relieve the sinner of that punishment. Most of the time avon and pesha refer to offenses for which there was no atonement, such as blasphemy, idolatry, immorality and murder.

In fact, there are thirty-six specific transgressions that required the sinner to be cut off from Israel, usually by death. Sha'ul lists several of these capital crimes in 1Corinthians 6:9-10 and says "such were some of you." I daresay that Sha'ul's comment could apply to us. Such were some of us. The implication is that sin should belong in our past, not be a part of our present.

The verb translated "pardon" really means to lift, carry or take. Yom Kippur is a recognition that iniquity had polluted the holy sanctuary and needed to be cleansed (Lev 16:16). Aaron was to offer one goat to purify the holy place and a second goat was sent into the wilderness to carry the iniquities of the nation away from the presence of God (Lev 16:21-22).

Micah uses a dramatic parable in verse 19 to describe this spiritual removal operation, but makes the action future. God will cast both iniquities and sins into the sea. It is very common in the Jerusalem Talmud to say of anything that is abominable, accursed, and utterly rejected, that it is to be cast into the salt sea, which is appropriately called "Dead."

Micah prophesied that the day would come when God would take avon from His people by taking the punishment for avon on Himself. In his sermon in Pisidian Antioch Sha'ul declared that the death of Yeshua provided atonement for sins for which there was no atonement in the Torah (Acts 13:38-39). Thus, there is no sin for which you cannot be forgiven, if there is sincere confession and repentance. From God's point of view sin is a choice and Sha'ul warned "if we keep on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment" (Heb 10:26-27).

In verse 20 Micah gives the reason for the divine removal of iniquity. God made irrevocable covenants with Abraham and Jacob. In those covenants God promised to provide blessing through their Seed (singular) to all the nations of the world and that Jacob would become a company of nations. Sha'ul referred to it as a commonwealth (Eph 2:12). Thus, God would take away iniquity not just from the descendants of Jacob, but all the nations of the world, a once-for-all atonement, so that there would be one flock serving the Great Shepherd from Bethlehem, Yeshua the Messiah.

Barukh Hashem

Copyright 2019 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.