He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to seek justice, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
At the center of God’s kingdom is relationship. God created humanity, not for God’s own personal pleasure or gain, but out of love and desire for relationship. God created us for relationship with God and with each other. That is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. It means we are in relationship with God and can extend that relationship to others.
At the most basic level, when Adam and Eve ate that fruit in the garden during what we have come to name The Fall, what was going on was their rejection of God. They rejected God, and they rejected the image of God within themselves and within each other. This rejection of God’s image meant a breaking of the relationship– a breaking of the relationship with God and with each other. Sin is the continual rejection of God’s image. This is what is happening throughout Scripture. Humanity is rejecting God and God is restoring relationship because of God’s desire to dwell with us and maintain relationship with us.
So, when we read Micah, or any of the prophets, we read of God’s people rejecting God. God called a people to restored relationship, and they chose to reject it. They continued to live in broken relationship, while thinking that if they prayed the right prayers and offered the right sacrifices, they were okay. But God does not care about the act of sacrifice or the words of a prayer unless our hearts are in the right place. God wants relationship. It is against this backdrop of rejection that God speaks to God’s people through Micah.
At the beginning of Micah 6, God is putting the people of Israel on trial. God reminds them of all these things they have done which are not in accordance with the covenant God made with them, and which are going against the definition of what it means to be the people of God. God is reminding God’s people that their religion is worthless if they are not actually in relationship with God. In verses 6 and 7 God reminds the people that empty words, hypocritical actions, and hollow sacrifices are worth nothing. The true definition of religion, the true definition of what it means to be a people of God, is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Seek justice. Justice as used in Micah 6:8, is not only a judicial concept. It’s not only about ensuring perpetrators receive the necessary punishment for their crimes or that the victims receive proper reparations. Yes, that’s an important piece. But it’s not the only piece. God’s justice is more than that. It’s about restoring broken relationships. For Micah’s time, this brokenness manifested through violence. The weak were being taken advantage of (Micah 2:2, 2:8-9, 6:16…), businesses were using unethical practices (Micah 6:10-12), innocent lives were being taken (Micah 7:2), and the rich were using their wealth, and the judiciary system, for their own personal gain (any of this sound familiar?). The relationships among God’s people were broken, so God calls them to seek justice. To restore relationship. To treat everyone with equity and prevent the powerful from taking advantage of the weak. To ensure that each and every person, especially the weak and vulnerable, were cared for, protected, and accepted. To ensure that the judicial system was not exploiting poor, weak, or vulnerable people for their own gain. To seek justice.
To love mercy. The phrase which is translated here as love mercy is often used in conjunction with words such as righteousness, truth, and kindness in Biblical contexts, and is hard to translate because of this. Some versions render it mercy, others kindness. It is used most often when referring to an action or character of God. It is not just mercy as we understand it, but it is the mercy of God, sustained through God’s covenant with God’s people. Mercy which comes from God and flows into us because of God’s Spirit, so that we can extend it to each other. It is love given freely through grace, tied to the covenant of God. It seeks out the best in us, and it rings deeper than our human concept of love can define. It’s an active love. A love which serves others, even if they cannot pay us back, it is seeking the well-being of others. It defends, protects, and serves. It is a healing, forgiving, foot-washing, and yes, even table-turning love. We receive this love and as a result pour out this love to others. So, to love mercy is a call to deeper love which comes from the very heart of God. We are to love in such a way that we seek the good in each other and seek good for each other. Love mercy.
To walk humbly. The word used for humility here is used one other time in Scripture, in Proverbs 11:2. “When pride comes, so does shame, but wisdom brings humility.” Therefore, it is best understood according to the its opposite—pride that brings shame. Pride brings shame and humility brings wisdom. As Proverbs reminds us, we are to seek wisdom, which brings us closer to the heart of God. But we can only do that through humility. As pride and shame go hand in hand, so do humility and wisdom. In Micah, it is used in relation to walking with God. Walking is a journey, and it is not one that is taken alone. Life is not taken alone, and if we are to walk humbly with God, we are to recognize that we are not alone. God is the leader. It is not about denying ourselves or being self-deprecating in ways which deny our abilities, as we so often think in the modern contexts. It is less about devaluing our own abilities and more about recognizing the value of the other. In this case, the other is God. If we walk humbly with God, then, we can have wisdom, and this wisdom can help us to better seek justice and love mercy as God does.
God puts Israel on trial, bringing them to justice. Israel is reminded of God’s call to them as they are awaiting the judgment from their lack of obedience. God promises that their injustices will not go unpunished, because, despite God’s love for and covenant with Israel, justice must be given. As with today’s modern judiciary system, justice must be served. And if we know anything about the story of Israel, it was. They were exiled and oppressed by their enemies. God called them to seek justice, and they didn’t. So, they were put on trial and forced to face God’s justice.
So, how do we pursue Biblical justice? How do we ensure our justice and mercy is not empty action or meaningless words? How do we ensure that going to rallies, raising awareness on social media, signing petitions, getting educated, and donating money, is not an act of empty religion? How do we treat others in ways which reflect God’s true justice? How do we restore the broken relationships with people on both sides of the equation and with God? How do we not perpetuate Israel’s mistakes and reject God’s call for us?
First, it starts with repentance rooted in humility. We cannot seek true justice without recognizing our own sin and faults. Beyond that, we must recognize God’s place in all this. We are walking humbly with God, looking to God for guidance, in order for love, mercy, and justice to flow from God’s heart to our own. Ultimately, in God’s kingdom, God must be in control. So, in order to bring about the justice, mercy, and love which permeates God’s kingdom, we must recognize that we co-operate with God, but that we cannot do anything without God.
Second, we must follow the heart of God. In order to know what comes from God’s heart, we must be familiar with God’s heart. Immersing ourselves in Scripture, surrounding ourselves with communities rooted in God, and listening to our brothers and sisters who are made in the image of God allows us to become familiar with God’s heart. God’s heart overflows with justice and love, and each person has met God in different ways. Each way is a unique and valid and we cannot discredit or disagree with a fellow image-bearer’s meeting of God. We cannot devalue a struggle of another because we don’t see the world that way. We cannot deny the realities in which people are living because our reality looks different. In God’s kingdom, each of our stories matters and our reality is one of unity. But we aren’t there yet, and we won’t be until we seek the heart of God through the words of those not like us.
Third, we must be open to correction. Change can and will happen. Israel’s prophets, like Micah, warned God’s people against the coming destruction. They are God’s people, but they are not immune to the influence of the evils of the world nor are they immune to the consequences for following said influences. We, too, as God’s people are not immune. There are people in our day warning us against the influences of sin and evil. There are also false prophets and we must be careful and discern wisely. However, we must realize when we are being corrected and led closer to God and allow our actions to follow our words. Let’s be open to seeking wisdom.
Finally, we must love. Love is at the heart of God’s justice. We have to recognize when we must take a brother or sister by the hand and stand by and encourage them, or when we need to respond with grace. We have to be willing to fight to protect them and serve them even if we cannot receive anything in return. We also must recognize when we need to flip tables. Blasphemy, taking the name of the Lord in vain, turning a house of worship into a den of robbers, following idols, and perverting justice are all reasons to turn tables. Sometimes systems need to be altered, and sometimes they need to be torn down and rebuilt. Sometimes love requires hard conversations and calling people out—it is not always passive support and handholding, but it is always seeking the well-being of everyone around us.
Seek justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. God challenged the Israelites to turn back to God with proper hearts and proper religion, to restore proper relationship with one another, and to walk alongside God. God is calling for us to do the same. In a time when the injustices of our world are obvious, when we are living in a time parallel to that of the prophetic age of Israel, we must read these words with humility and conviction. Our relationship to each other and to God is broken. We have rejected the image of God within us in pursuit of the things which make us comfortable. We have decided that some people don’t have the image of God within them. We take advantage of others so we can have the power, as if having the power will somehow make us like God. But we are already like God. Seeking power, and selfishly holding on to power, is what is keeping us from accepting God’s image within us. This is a systemic problem, and it is rooted in racial injustice. That is not the only way this problem has manifested in history, but it is the primary way in which it has manifested today. So, how will we respond? Will we be like Israel and make our religion just empty words, or will we be like the prophets and become mouthpieces for God’s justice? God is putting us on trial. God told us what is demanded of us. It is now our choice how we respond to that demand.