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Chapter 6, verse 8 of Micah’s prophecy is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. I think you’ll recognize the well-known words: “He has shown you, O man, what is good;/ And what does the LORD require of you/ But to do justly,/ To love mercy,/ And to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6: 8 NKJV). That gender specific is mere convention, and we shouldn’t just skim the lines, as if thinking, I already know that. Time to stop and look more closely.
That first he refers to God. In the opening statement, God is essentially saying, “You know what I want. I’ve made it known to you.” Can this be disputed? The assertion is no doubt based on what God has showed us about goodness in the Bible. In fact, evidence of goodness fills its pages. God didn’t take Cain’s life when Cain murdered his brother Abel. He merely banished Cain and told him the ground would be cursed for Abel’s sake. When Cain complained that as a wanderer and vagrant he himself would be killed, God put a mark on him (Gen 4: 15). This provision would alert everyone that if Cain were harmed the perpetrator would be answerable to God–sevenfold. God was protecting even this murderer.
When humanity became so evil that God regretted creating every one of them, he destroyed the world’s entire population–with the exception of one man, Noah, and his family. Who wants to suffer the evils of utterly unprincipled people? To a holy God, the offenses of a wicked population were intolerable and he wiped the slate clean. But even a universal flood wasn’t the bottom line though. God also made sure that animal life would be replenished after the flood waters subsided. Life would go on, human and animal. Harsh perhaps but just and the final effect was good.When the family of Jacob, now called Israel, was bitterly oppressed by those whose favor they had previously enjoyed, God delivered them from Egypt, at the same time exposing as bogus all the false gods of this oppressive country.
God’s goodness to Israel is clear in the record. Again and again, the Almighty saved his people–from Egyptians, Philistines, Caananites, their own bad actors, and natural disasters like droughts or plagues. The mere mention of Samson, Elijah, Samuel, Boaz, and King David suggests deliverance, all by the hand of God and a leader whose life God directed. Micah knew these things, and though he was intent on warning the people, especially Jerusalem, against the sins of idolatry and widespread dishonesty, his bottom line was God’s willingness to forgive and forget if the people confessed and repented. Micah’s message includes the goodness of God. Surely, there is no better model of goodness than God himself.
Micah also lists God’s requirements–to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. In our time, newspaper headlines scream of injustice in many forms. Self-serving individuals commit fraud, obscure their own criminal acts, and lead those under them into disastrous wars and the effects of other detrimental decisions. Foolish policies turn into public suffering, and intentional wickedness makes the hard times worse. But God commands that we do justly–in our personal lives and when we find occasion to affect the public good.
We’re also to love mercy. Mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm,” the dictionary says. Mercy is what God wants us to love. We’re to be passionate about mercy; it’s to be the default position. Cruelty, lack of concern, and selfish insensitivity must have no place in our lives. This is God’s command. We are to be merciful by choice, by intention, by habit.
God also has a word about our relationship with him. He tells us to “walk humbly with your God.” This says to me that we’re to be realistic about who we are and who God is. To walk humbly with God means that we know we’re his creatures and we know who he is. We recognize God’s inexpressible greatness, his goodness, his benevolent intention toward his creation–i.e., toward each of us individually. None of this should be too hard. We have his Spirit.