by Caroline Scruggs
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show your faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.
Micah means “Who is like Yahweh?” It is not so much a question, but a cry of the heart. A cry of praise. It is a cry we hear often from the lips of God’s people.
Who is like You, O Lord among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? – Exodus 15:11
O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like You, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart… - I Kings 8:23
O Lord, who is like You, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and the needy from hism who robs him? - Psalm 50:21
Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You have done great things, O God, who is like You? – Psalm 71:19
There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides You; there is no rock like our God. – I Samuel 2:2
The Lord is incomparable in His holiness. In the glory of His wondrous deeds. He is incomparable in His steadfast love and His faithfulness to His covenant. He is incomparable in His deliverance and His redemption. He is incomparable in His righteousness. He is incomparable in His strength and surety. In this passage at the end of Micah, it is the incomparable nature of Yahweh’s forgiveness that is celebrated. There is no one who forgives like our God.
Only Yahweh pardons iniquity and passes over transgressions. This would have brought to the minds of the original hearers the image of the Exodus, where God graciously passed over the houses of His people as He poured out His judgment on Egypt. In that same, intentional way, God has graciously passed over their sin.
Only Yahweh will not remain angry because the delight, the joy of His heart is steadfast love. The Hebrew word for steadfast love is hesed, which one scholar describes as connoting “at one and the same time faithfulness, love, mercy and grace.” He has compassion on His people again and again.
Only Yahweh casts all our sins into the depth of the sea, so that they are seen and known no more. They are cast into the depths of the sea, so that, as my pastor once said, “Our sins cannot get to us and we cannot get to them.” They have been fully removed from us.
Only Yahweh remains faithful to His covenant promises even when over and over again His covenant people prove faithless.
I recently had a conversation with some college girls about the nature of forgiveness. One of the things I admire most about college students is the honesty of their questions. Is there ever a reasonable limit to forgiveness? Is there a difference between forgiveness and boundaries? Can you truly love someone and not forgive them? Why does being both a recipient and a giver of forgiveness sometimes just not sit well with us? Does sometimes forgiveness just seem cheap—like we are turning a blind eye, acting like it never happened? Why does it sometimes seem as perfunctory as the reconciling exchange between two toddlers? “I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.” And then mom chimes in, “Now give each other a hug.”
What is echoed in their questions, and what is echoed in our hearts, is that forgiveness is hard because forgiveness costs us something. Tim Keller once wrote, “No one who is seriously wronged can "just forgive" the perpetrator.... But when you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.”
The nature of God’s forgiveness is incomparable because it came at an incomparable cost. The original hearers of Micah’s words saw only dimly what is now fully known to us. God was going to bring down His just judgment upon them for their idolatry, for the rampant injustice among them, for their hollow worship, their hard hearts, the presumption upon the gracious character of God. And yet, He would also show them mercy. He would gather a remnant, He would be their shepherd, He would live in their midst and give them peace. This doxology at the end of the book that shouts the incomparable nature of Yahweh’s forgiveness points forward to the incomparable cost of the cross of Christ. There Yahweh himself would absorb all their sin and all their debt at the cost of His very own Son. At the cost of His own Son, there Yahweh Himself would absorb all of ours, too. He would absorb the debt of our idolatry, of our injustice, of our hollow worship and hard hearts, and of the many times we presume upon the grace of God.
This incomparable forgiveness also brings with it an incomparable freedom. Freedom to confess. Freedom to ask the Lord to search our hearts—to show us how we have made idols of lesser things and given ourselves to them, to show us how we have used our power and strength at the expense of others, to show us where our worship has been empty, and where we have each presumed upon God’s amazing grace. If we are in Christ, He has born the debt of each of these. We have freedom to confess, knowing that God is now for us and that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
This incomparable forgiveness also brings us freedom to forgive. The cross of Christ both enables and empowers us to absorb the debt of others against us even at great cost to ourselves. When these realities seem too far off and to difficult for our hearts, we can hope and pray for and expect incomparable change because through His Spirit, God Himself is at work within us. And who is a God like Him?