We are no longer under the Levitical system of worship which required the bringing of sheep, bulls, goats, oils and grains to the Temple for sacrifice. If we were, I wonder what our "offerings" would be today? Since most of us merely go to the supermarket to obtain these "products" of someone else's labor, we don't connect with them as a "sacrifice" at all. In fact, we probably take it for granted they will be there in the display cases and the aisle shelves when we next venture into the luxury of the market. I think this is where Judah might have been drifting when God spoke these words through the prophet Micah. Perhaps they were just going to the "supermarkets" of their flocks and herds - picking out whatever one looked best and merely carting it to the priests to be offered. If so, they had lost touch with the purpose behind the offering - atonement, forgiveness, thanksgiving.
How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. (Micah 6:6-8 The Message)
It is truly a dangerous place to be when we have nothing to offer but the "products" of another's labor. Yet, as a teenager and young adult, there were times when I have been guilty of simply not being willing to invest the time or energy into having something "uniquely mine" to bring to God. I relied upon the "products" of another's study and time with God to give me a sense of having something "worth" sharing. What a mistake! I missed the opportunity to bring to God what I had right in my hands!
God's greatest joy is not in the impressiveness of the "gift" we bring, but in the expression of the heart behind the gift. Maybe this is what Micah had in mind when he told us God did not want us to take ourselves so seriously! Whenever we think we have to rely upon the "gift" of another to have anything worthy to present to God, we are probably taking ourselves a little too seriously! Our "gift" is simply to come before him in reverence, yielding ourselves to his use.
I think Micah hit it on the head when he started with all the questions about how it was WE could "impress" God. When you look up the word "impress", you find it has a meaning of affecting the mind or feelings of another - it carries the idea of changing or influencing the opinion another holds of you. If we are coming to God to "impress" him, we simply are coming with wrong motive. God's greatest joy is seeing us act fairly - exercising justice and honesty in our dealings with others. This is a sacrifice worthy of his attention. Yet, it is not something we "do" to get his notice, or to influence his opinion of us. It is something we "live" because it is an outflow of his grace in our lives.
Being compassionate and loyal in our love seems to be a thing which is only remotely part of most of our relationships today. In fact, if we were honest, I wonder how many of us could say our relationships even remotely reflect God's compassion. Instead, we bicker, are opinionated, and hold our ground when we feel we have been "wronged". We shift our allegiances to another who sees things our way. It is election season in the good US of A again. That means the TV screens and newspapers are littered with all kinds of he said/she said smear campaigns. Instead of pointing out the strengths of their "competition" for the office, they find the weakest point in the guy's career or character and capitalize on it. Why? It takes the eyes off of weaknesses of the other guy!
Lest I leave us all feeling a little low about ourselves and others, let me bring this around a little. God's greatest gift to us is his grace. The greatest gift we can give back to him is the expression of this grace with others. We find many opportunities each day to live our his love - to be loyal and compassionate in our relationships. In so doing, we are pointing others to Christ's grace, as they see it evident in ours. There is no greater "sacrifice" God could have offered than his gift of grace as evident in his Son's death for our sin. In turn, there is no greater gift we can bring than to allow his grace to be an expression of his love within and through us. In turn, we will judge less and embrace more. We will hold our ground significantly less and find the good in the other more freely. In fact, we might just see ourselves becoming a more loving and compassionate creation when we really begin to understand the greatest gift we bring is the reflection of his grace back to him!