The Disposal Of Sin Into The Ocean
June 29, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. We call the disposing of wastes by sinking them into the sea "Ocean Waste Disposal," and the Bible speaks about "The Disposal Of Sin Into The Ocean." It is a phrase read out from today's first reading [of the scriptures]. "The Lord will have mercy upon us again, he will stop our guilt, and throw every sin into the depths of the sea," (verse nineteen). The God, in whom we believe, is a God who has disposed of our every sin by throwing them into the ocean. He is a God who will throw any sin no matter how huge into the depths of the sea; because the scripture says, "every sin." We do not throw [them] away on our own. We say, "Let's forget it and be done with it!," but we do not cast [our sin] away. Since God himself casts [them] away and says, "[Let] your sin [go] to the bottom of the sea!," [therefore then,] the disposal of them is complete. As they are sunk into the depths of the sea, they will never come back. That's what it means [where it says] God has proclaimed forgiveness of sin. This is "the forgiveness of sin" which the church has been teaching.
Is The Lord Among Us?
2. The message about God disposing of sin into the ocean is placed at the last section in the book of Micah. That this is given in the book of Micah is actually quite significant. In order to know what it means, that God is throwing sin into the ocean, we need to go back for a moment to the time of the prophet Micah.
3. The prophet Micah was active in the kingdom of Judah in the eighth century B.C.E. A famous contemporary of his is the prophet Isaiah. The scripture says in chapter one and verse one, "the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." When we ask what kind of time period was it, for one thing, we can state that it was a period of chaos and crisis that had come upon them after [there had been] peace and prosperity.
4. Micah was a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah, but in the northern kingdom of Israel, after the death of king Jeroboam, royal assassinations and one coup had followed after the other, (Second Kings 15:8ff.). Thus, while the monarchy had been showing forth symptoms of decay all along, at last, it did finally succumb to Assyria. When Samaria fell it was the year 722 B.C.E.
5. On the other hand, the southern kingdom of Judah would experience frequent crises at the national level. In the time of Ahaz, the allied forces of Israel had attacked Aram [or Syria]. At this time Judah barely manages to survive by adopting a pro-Assyrian policy. (Isaiah was strongly opposed to this policy.) After that, at the time of Hezekiah, who adopted an anti-Assyrian policy, in the fourteenth year of his reign (701 B.C.E.), the king of Assyria Sennacherib attacked Judah, and completely occupied town after town of Judah. Only Jerusalem remained and it fell into a crisis situation.
6. Well, the prophet Micah gave the word of God with the fall of Israel [in] the north and the crisis of Judah [in] the south at the background. The first half of Micah mainly gives forth a prophecy of judgment against Israel and Judah. For example, the Lord says the following to Samaria. "I will make Samaria into a heap of rubble in a field and a place to plant vineyards. I will throw down its stonewall into the valley, and I will make its foundations bare. All of the statues of Samaria will be crushed, and all of the wages of harlotry will be burned with fire. I will smash all of its idols. Because it is a thing that they collected from the wages of prostitutes, it will be returned to the wages of prostitutes," (1:6-7). What actually happened? As I touched upon earlier, Samaria actually fell; the northern kingdom was destroyed.
7. The northern kingdom was destroyed. Wasn't that a warning from God for the southern kingdom of Judah? Micah's address was not directed to the northern kingdom, it was directed to all Israel including Judah in the south as well. Weren't the Judeans, especially the leadership over the people, as a group, supposed to give heed to the message from Micah? The words that give forth judgment are also a call out for repentance. When God exposes sin, he does it seeking that one would turn [to Him].
8. As a matter of fact, there were some who did give heed to Micah's message. The king named Hezekiah was one of them. And yet many did not give heed to Micah's message, but said, "Don't speak nonsense!" The words of [these] people are recorded in chapter two and beginning in verse six. "Don't speak nonsense about such a thing! Such criticism doesn't fit the case. Has the house of Jacob been cursed? Is the Lord short-tempered? Is this the work which the Lord is doing?," (2:6-7). In summary, they wouldn't pay one heed but said, "We are THE descendants of Jacob. We are THE chosen race. Don't put us with the other accursed race. Haven't you ever heard that 'The Lord is deeply compassionate, he is slow to anger, he is strong in patience?' The Lord is not short-tempered. From of old when one speaks of 'The work of the Lord' it is the work of salvation. You would never expect that the making of decisions for catastrophes to be the work of the Lord. Don't speak such foolishness!"
9. Since the state is in a crisis situation, if asked which statement looked faithful, the one from Micah who states, "This country will be destroyed," or the one from those who say, "Don't speak nonsense!," I would say it is obviously the latter. The contrast between them is plainly evident in chapter three and verse nine and following. "Listen to this! Oh heads of the house of Jacob, oh leaders of the house of Israel! You who abhor justice, who twist straight things, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with unrighteousness! The heads hold trials taking bribes, the priests teach taking a price, the prophets announce oracles taking silver. Worse, they say, trusting in the Lord, 'Isn't the Lord among us? The calamity will never reach us.' In consequence, because of you, Zion will be plowed over and become a field, Jerusalem will change into a rock mound, the mountain of the temple will become a holy high ground in which trees will flourish," (3:9-12).
10. The prophets who "gave oracles for money" had garnered the support of the people. "Isn't the Lord among us? The calamity will never reach us." They sound faithful to a large extent. And in fact, what was the outcome? Jerusalem did survive. When Assyria had attacked, it was miraculously rescued. Micah had said, "Zion will be plowed over and become a field, Jerusalem will change into a rock mound, the mountain of the temple will become a holy high ground in which trees will flourish." But no such thing ever took place while Micah was living.
11. [Everybody] probably could not help but say, "Micah's a big liar! [He's] a false prophet!" Nevertheless, the words of Micah's prophecy still remained. Don't you think that's unusual? Why did the words of Micah's prophecy remain? -- It had probably been just a minority, however though, it does mean that some did truly accept the message of Micah, and they remembered it, and passed it on. "The word of God as spoken through Micah is true. Unless you repent, Israel will be destroyed. Jerusalem will truly become a heap of rubble." There were people thinking that and they had passed it on for more than one hundred years.
Is There Any Other God Like You?
12. Then after Micah's time, after more than one hundred years had passed, in the sixth century B.C.E., Jerusalem was made to collapse, its walls were destroyed, its temple burned up by Babylonia, [so that] what Micah had declared did actually come true. What does it [all] mean then, that the prophecy of God's judgment was spoken, but still the people would not repent, and as a result, calamity had fallen [upon them]? If looked at in a normal way, it would seem "It's all over for them." It would [seem], "At last, they had finally been abandoned by God," wouldn't it?
13. If only the desperate were left behind like that, then the message of Micah's prophecy would probably not have been left behind. That's because even if they had the words of the prophecy it would be meaningless had they come to the conclusion [we've] "been abandoned by God." But the fact is it didn't come to that. There were people there whose eyes had been opened to it. There were people there whose eyes had been opened to the message that had been passed down as traditional words all those [years], a message of faith that had been heard so many times, for example, the message that "God forgives sin" or that "God takes pleasure in mercy." They were enlightened as to how much meaning it had. Through the great suffering of the collapse of the state, they discovered the immensity of their sins, and when they found out that they themselves by all rights a long time ago had deserved to be abandoned by God, their eyes had been opened to the immensity of God's forgiveness.
14. As a result, they stated with amazement, "Is there any other God like you?" Actually this question can be found in one of the songs that had been passed down by Israel from antiquity. It is called "The Song Of The Sea," and it is recorded in Exodus chapter fifteen. It is the song in which they sang of what happened at the Sea of Reeds during Israel's escape from Egypt. You probably know about that story. The people of Israel had escaped from Egypt, [but] the Egyptian army was in pursuit of them. In front of them was the Sea of Reeds, behind them was the Egyptian army. It is the story of right at the moment when there was nothing more that could be done, the Sea of Reeds split into two. The Israelites crossed the way made for them in the sea. When the Egyptian army followed after them and went into the sea, the water came back pouring down upon them and the Egyptian army sank into the sea. They had sung of that time in "The Song Of The Sea" with this, "The Lord has thrown Pharaoh's chariots and troops into the sea, the elite warriors sank into the Sea of Reeds. The depths covered them over, they sank like a rock to the deep bottom," (Exodus 15:4-5).
15. You can make the case that when they used to be slaves in Egypt, the Israelites had certainly been miserable. You can say they were bad off; it was a disaster. But, being a slave of sin, and having turned their backs against God for so long was more miserable and disastrous than that. When the Lord had set the people of Israel free from the rule of Egypt, he had thrown the might of Egypt into the depths of the sea. However, what the Lord had truly thrown into the depths of the sea was the rule of sin. More than wanting to conquer Pharaoh's troops and to cast them into the sea, the Lord had wanted to conquer their guilt and cast [their] sin into the depths of the sea. The people, who had brought the book of Micah into its current form, had come to know that the Lord is this kind of God. Therefore, they had written the concluding section to it as follows. "Is there any other God like you? -- A God who removes guilt and forgives sin. To the remnant of the people of his inheritance God will not always keep his anger, because God takes pleasure in mercy. The Lord will have mercy upon us again, he will stop our guilt, and throw every sin into the depths of the sea."
16. "To stop our guilt" means "to overcome our guilt." There is also a translation as "to trample down our guilt." There are times when we feel as if God often tramples on "us" and throws "us" into the depths of the sea. In fact, I'm sure when Jerusalem was destroyed, the people of Israel probably felt that way. But, the truth be told, it wasn't that way. God tramples down upon our guilt and our unrighteousness, he leads us unto true repentance, and he throws our sins into the depths of the sea.
17. The Lord revealed that he is this kind of God and did so on a day beyond [Micah's] in the most perfect manner, which cannot get more perfect than this: the cross of Jesus Christ -- in the way in which he sent his only son into the world and put him on the cross. We are now assembled together on the basis of the crucified Lord. As a result, we can state with greater confidence and conviction, "The Lord will have mercy upon us again, he will stop (trample down) our guilt, and throw every sin into the depths of the sea."