Often quoted among Christians of various types, it is deliberately written as a Prophetic summary of the practice of true faith in this world. And it clearly fits Jesus’ teaching quite well. It is, sadly, often ignored outright or quoted approvingly and then ignored.
As if the quoting of brilliant spiritual insight counts as practicing it.
The setting simulates a courtroom confrontation.
God is bringing charges against “his people”. And they actually listen; they don’t claim innocence!
They’re worried. They wonder, under the pressure of this Divine confrontation, what to DO? If God is angry, what should we DO? “What does God REQUIRE?” So they turn to the religious options that are available to them.
6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Micah 6:6-7
But Micah brushes that aside – not least by pointing out the contrast between physical payoff and moral obligation: “Shall I offer … the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Further, the wild exaggerations (“thousands of rams,” which no one could afford … ten thousand rivers of olive oil,” which it would not be physically possible to acquire, regardless of one’s wealth) – show the irrelevance, uselessness, of such physical offerings. Physical offerings may be religious, but are not spiritually effective.
God is totally uninterested in the physical buy-offs, which are entirely unfitting to the moral obligation and thus are in fact insulting to this Being-of-Ultimate-Goodness.
Micah does not even respond to those options.
He moves right on. And this is crucial.
He ignores the religious prescriptions (and presumably any other standard traditions) for dealing with God because in fact God has neither need for nor interest in such things. They are indeed insulting. No wonder Micah’s contemporary Isaiah said as much:
“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats …
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.” – Isaiah 1:11,13
But if God is angry – what then? Well, moral diagnoses require moral treatments.
That’s the crucial question. It may sound quite religious, but judging by Micah’s answer it’s apparently not. He goes charging right past all those religious cop-outs. Moral crisis requires moral resolution. The past cannot be erased, but the RELATIONSHIPS can be much more healthily cared for going forward. That is, one’s (or one’s nation’s) life-trajectory can be marvelously changed.
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
Jesus, quoting rabbis and our “Old Testament” centuries later, taught explicitly that THE requirements are not religious or financial. They are MORAL.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40
Act Justly, Love Mercy
Micah emhasizes throughout that there were serious issues of exploitation ripping people, and thus society, apart. And injustice always runs on rails of lack of mercy. Don’t try to separate these sins – or their awesome humane and morally lovely rectifications: justice and mercy.
If we practice honest and informed mercy, we are moving toward justice. If we seek justice it always involves mercy – toward those who are being or have been treated unjustly.
So our verse – 6:8 – is well placed, near the end. After a number of blunt complaints against the vicious manipulations of the elites of Judah, especially in the capital Jerusalem (and Samaria, the capital of the “Northern Kingdom”) he gives this simple but very costly corrective. It’s a summary of all the highest values and virtues!
In conclusion, my bloody-handed leaders and wealthy co-religionists, God is not asking for a payoff of some sort.
That often works in your ‘good-old-boy’ cliques, your power centers of politics, courts, and religion.
It does NOT work with God.
God wants only – to draw on Moses – actual love for God, and actual love for God’s precious creation – your neighbors of all kinds.
That’s what God seeks. God will not accept substitutes, not even nice religious ones.
Be humble, with God – that includes a life habit of seeking complete honesty before God.
When we practice humility with God, truth and love follow toward humans. Humility enables and strengthens justice and mercy.
But doesn’t there have to be confession? Well, I can’t imagine any walking humbly with God that would not include life-exposure to God – specific confessions and general increasing self-awareness. Also, you see, clearly forgiveness is already present here though not mentioned. Good! Eh?
God is satisfied with these priorities. God is satisfied with people who love and pursue these things. That’s forgiveness. That is, no doubt, salvation.
(See more from Micah and Isaiah.)