Let’s talk about the Bible’s Micah. You knew it had to happen sooner or later.
So, what do we know?
Micah was a prophet. His name means “who is like Yahweh or God.” And his story takes place amid utter chaos. Cities are crumbling and warnings have been sent out to even lesser towns. Disaster is on the way.
People are taking advantage of the poor in order to improve their own wealth. Corruption is rampant. Rulers are banking on the idea that God will spare Jerusalem, but with the abuse occurring to the detriment of “the least,” God is taking names.
Judgment Day comes. And the people of Israel are pleading their case to the Lord. God is ticked! Especially after the whole rescue from Egypt and parting the Red Sea thing. So the people are begging God to take whatever they have so their lives can be spared.
“What do you want, Lord? You name it and we will make it happen,” the people cry. “We’ll make the biggest bonfire you’ve ever seen!”
“We can throw in baby calves, entire herds of rams. We’ll empty out the city of oil. You can have it all,” they say. “And if that’s not enough, Lord, we’ll give you our firstborn. Right into the fire pit. Is that what you want?”
Micah is so tired of all this. The people just don’t get it. Gifts to God might be their way of saying “I’m sorry,” but that didn’t mean squat if they were going to turn around and keep doing what they were doing to the poor.
So, Micah loses it.
“ I told you!” he screams. “I told you what is good.”
How many more times does he have to say it? OK, one more time.
“What does the Lord require of you?” he asks. “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly what the people of Israel were hoping to hear, nor were they prepared to do anything about it. And, well, we know what happens to Jerusalem next.
As a leader of an organization that bears the name of the great prophet Micah, I am frequently called on by those who claim a personal mission statement from the eighth verse of his sixth chapter. No doubt, “Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God” has a special ring to it. But do we really know what that means any more than the people of Israel did?
So let’s unpack that.
Do justice: While our modern-day interpretation quickly proclaims this word as the separation of right and wrong, biblical text suggests otherwise. Hear Amos (5:21–24) call justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. Righteousness: the act of making right or whole again. The idea of putting something back together rather than seeking retribution is a far more faithful way to approach the concept of justice.
Love kindness: Perhaps intentionally, in various interpretations of the Bible, kindness is interchanged with “mercy.” Let us not forget that very definition of mercy requires a pardon or forgiveness of sorts. Yet, we tend to lean on the “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12) to tell us when someone is deserving of our kindness or not.
I’d suggest, however, that our full interpretation of God’s definition of kindness must be balanced with a later verse of Matthew (18:21–35) when we learn the number of times we are expected to forgive. After all, if we truly love something, don’t we want everyone to experience it?
Walk humbly with God: Here’s where it gets radical. I like to think that if we work so hard to bring about wholeness in the world—and if we are truly open to loving others, particularly the ones who don’t deserve it or earn it—we will humble ourselves in such a way that that the treasures God has stored for us in heaven will finally become realities for us here on Earth. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.
But there’s one more thing.
You cannot get the message here if I talk only about justice; discuss only kindness; or dissect only the idea of walking humbly with God. Doing justice includes kindness and humility. Humbly loving kindness achieves justice. And we walk humbly with God because that is what is just and kind.
Yes, it’s easier to sacrifice cattle, rams, oil and even your firstborn than to care for others in this way. But He has told us what is good, and that is what the Lord requires of us.