God’s plan for us is plain, clear and simple. God challenges us to love, do justice, be kind and be humble. We are to love God and love our neighbor. Our goal is to take what God wants seriously.
AS MICAH BEGINS to deliver this sermon in verse 1, based on the characteristics of a lawsuit in a nation’s courts, his audience undoubtedly quickly realizes the significance of the analogy he is using. But it is probably a surprising concept to many.
- Why does God bring charges against his own covenant people?
- What is the basis for his accusations against them?
- Have they done something so wrong that God is turning against them?
- Will God actually take his own chosen people to court because they are not faithful in keeping some minor part of the covenant relationship?
- Will he destroy Judah as he destroyed the northern nation of Israel a few years back?
Micah summarizes what God wants.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does YHWH [the Lord] require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
English Standard Version. (2016). (Micah 6:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Why this is important: The answer to the audience’s question is based on past traditions revealed earlier to the people (“he has showed you,” or “he has told you”). Micah is not trying to reveal some new standard of conduct or give an expanded or secret list of requirements previously unknown.
God’s goal: God has already communicated what he requires. He wants from “man”—that is, from the creatures he created on the earth—three basic things. By explaining these three principles Micah hopes to correct the misunderstanding of his audience and to explain the basis for God’s verdict of this lawsuit.
Earlier in the scriptures, God required that his people love him with all their heart; obey rather than sacrifice; fear, serve, obey, and not rebel; and return to God, keep loyalty and justice, and trust in him. These past examples and Micah’s present admonition do not really answer the question concerning what sacrifices one is to bring to the temple. God is more interested in the person than any gift one might bring. One’s character and behavior are what matter to God.
- Micah’s list of core requirements first focuses on “acting justly” toward others. Since the people are covenant partners with God, they must prove mutual respect within the community. “Justice” describes right social relationships between people based on God’s view of what is proper. These behavior patterns were described in covenant documents, covering both legal and normal social relationships in and outside the courts. Such instructions included protection for foreigners, the poor, slaves, orphans, and widows, who could easily be wronged or taken advantage of by others.
- This characteristic of justice prohibits violent acts of physical abuse or any kind of behavior that tries to take something that rightfully belongs to another. When people in Micah’s audience forcibly confiscate other people’s land or possessions, treat people inhumanely, and selfishly cheat others so that their financial position will be enhanced, these are unjust social relationships. Since the entire nation is a united covenant partner with God, it is important that people within that group not mistreat others who are essential members of this partnership with God.
- The second principle is to love “mercy” (חֶסֶד cheçed, kheh’-sed, i.e., “steadfast covenant loyalty”). The semantic range and usage of this term makes its interpretation unclear. Is this word used as a near synonym of “justice,” pointing to the need for people to relate to other people in a merciful manner with loving affection rather than with injustice? Waltke sees covenant loyalty being done when “anyone who is in a weaker position due to some misfortune or other should be delivered not reluctantly, but with a spirit of generosity, grace and loyalty. Acts of justice and succor motivated by a spirit of mercy guarantee the solidarity of the righteous covenant.” [Waltke, “Micah,” Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, 195.]
- If the word is not taken just as a parallel to justice, an even broader scope may be in view. חֶסֶד describes the nature of a relationship characterized by loyalty to covenant obligations as well as acts of mercy that are not obligatory. In God’s own steadfast covenant loyalty, he constantly is attentive and faithful to his covenant relationship. Like God, his people are also to relate to him in a spirit of steadfast covenant loyalty. When God’s people exhibit a deep love for this kind of relationship with him, its power impacts one’s commitment to deeply love those aspects of covenant life that relate to interpersonal human relationships as well.
- Thus, the heart of חֶסֶד as steadfast covenant loyalty is not just being merciful to people in need. That response is only one outworking of a deep commitment to covenant life within God’s community. On a day when one does not have to be merciful to any unfortunate person, one is still involved with maintaining a faithful covenant relationship with God and other people within the covenant.
- In other words, loving to maintain steadfast covenant loyalty will impact a person’s attitude to worshiping God on the Sabbath, leaving the land fallow every seven years, releasing slaves according to Mosaic instructions, caring for the poor, and giving a tithe each year. If there is no commitment to remain faithful to this divine covenant relationship, then covenant life will cease to exist. Understood in this way, חֶסֶד is a broad term that encompasses much more than merely acting mercifully toward others.
- The final requirement is related to a person’s humble walk with God. The Hebrew root word describes a life walk that is not proud but is attentive, careful, and prudent to follow God’s will. This suggests that Micah is warning against carelessly or presumptuously doing things your own way, instead of being attentive to do God’s will. Such a walk with God is humble in that it puts a person’s will in a secondary position and gives prudent attention to doing his will. In some sense this requirement is the broadest of the three, for if one does this, one will certainly treat others justly and faithfully maintain all the covenant responsibilities.
Micah’s delineation of God’s requirements is noteworthy as far as it includes no negative statements about what is forbidden to the Israelites.
- It presents a positive case of what God thinks is best for humankind.
- It is the key to a full life within the covenant.
- It draws attention to the main things that matter and so ignores the petty attitudes of trying to please God by bribery through more or bigger sacrifices.
God’s radical requirements are more comprehensive and more penetrating than the casual deed of just bringing an animal to sacrifice at the temple. His covenant relationship lays a claim on every human relationship, calls every act into loyal submission to the covenant agreement, and desires that every attitude of selfishness be prudently given over to God’s will. This high calling requires discipline and full commitment on the part of anyone who wants to be part of God’s holy nation.