Micah 6:6-8 - Walking With Him — With Your Eyes Wide Open
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8
In Micah 6, someone is speaking who is prepared to make huge sacrifices to the LORD. It seems that the LORD is not pleased with this. Yet he himself has prescribed sacrifices in the books of Moses, as a means of atoning for sins (among other things). In Micah 6, God seems to reject such sacrifices. If it has to be without sacrifices, why did he want the sacrifice of his own only-begotten Son?
Nothing to Complain About
More than once, Micah has addressed the Israelites critically on behalf of the LORD. In Micah 6, he again calls upon his fellow Israelites to listen to him. First he seems to be going to tell them that his God has given him the task of indicting the mountains and hills. Perhaps an Israelite who heard this would think, “Great, for then I’m exempt and won’t be harmed”. Micah quickly robs such an Israelite of this illusion. The LORD has a dispute with his people. He is suing Israel (Mic. 6:1-2).
In verses 3-5, God himself takes the floor. You might expect him to start formulating his accusation. Instead, he asks his people two questions. Apparently the Israelites felt that God was not treating them well. They complained that serving the LORD was very hard and made them bone-tired.
The LORD invites them to put the evidence for their complaints on the table: “Now tell me: what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” (Mic. 6:3). The LORD does not wait long for a reply. That would not have accomplished anything either. His people have nothing to answer. Their complaints are unfounded. They cannot blame him for anything. Justice is entirely on the LORD’s side. In order to demonstrate this, God points out to his people what he has done in the past (Mic. 6:4-5). He has not wearied or oppressed Israel at all. Rather, he delivered it from repression in Egypt. During the journey through the wilderness, he provided people who led his people on the right path: Moses as leader and prophet, Aaron as high priest and Miriam as prophetess and director of praise ( Ex. 15:20-21). He foiled king Balak’s plan to strike Israel with the curse. He brought the feared soothsayer Balaam to the point that he could only speak the words of blessing that God put in his mouth. At Shittim Israel betrayed God by whoring with the idol, the Baal of Peor (Num. 25:1-3). Yet the LORD led Israel away from there, across the Jordan, to Gilgal, the first stopping place in the Promised Land. There he renewed his bond with his people. There they celebrated together and from there he gave Israel the conquest of all the land (Josh. 5; 10:15, 43; 14:6).
Yet in verses 6 and 7 there is a response from God’s people. Someone takes the floor on behalf of all the others. Possibly this is Micah himself who here formulates the reaction — whether imaginary or not — of his fellow people.
The speaker seems to be touched. He acknowledges that he has done something wrong. He speaks of his own sinful life (v. 7b). He wants to go to God and bow down deeply before him. He wonders what he should take with him to make amends for what he left out. As a first possibility he mentions burnt offerings. These were costly sacrifices. With peace offerings, the sacrificing person would receive some of the sacrificial meat back so he could eat it with his family. Burnt offerings, on the other hand, went up completely in smoke. The speaker then goes on to say, “Should I perhaps take one-year-old bulls as sacrificial animals?” A bull calf was allowed to serve as a sacrificial animal as soon as it was eight days old (Lev. 22:27). A year-old bull calf cost the owner much more. After all, he had fed the animal for a whole year without earning anything from it.
In case that is still not enough, the speaker looks for an increase in numbers. Would the LORD perhaps be appeased with thousands of rams? That represents an enormous quantity, but not quite unimaginable. At the dedication of the temple, King Solomon offered 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats (1 Kings 8:63; see also 1 Chron. 29:21; 2 Chron. 1:6; 15:11; 29:33; 30:24; 35:7-9). Or should it be even more: not just a few measurements — as was usual in the sacrificial service in the temple — but tens of thousands of rivers of olive oil? This would really push the limit of the imaginable. But even that might be too little. So, in the end, the speaker mentions something that you were not allowed to sacrifice at all: his oldest son (see Ex. 34:20; 2 Kings 3:27; Isa. 57:5). Would the LORD perhaps accept this sacrifice as atonement for his sins? Or should it be even more?
The speaker seems at a loss for words. What is behind this? Is he so convinced of the extent of his own sin that he realizes that not any sacrifice will suffice? Or does he maybe want to express: “Even if I give God a hundred times more than I am able to give, with him it is never enough?”
Straight From the Heart
In verse 8, the prophet gives his reaction to what the speaker in verses 6 and 7 had said on behalf of Israel. It is clearly a response with critical overtones. The spokesman had to know better! He has long been told what God requires of him. He knows what is good, for God’s own people and especially for dealing with the LORD. That good thing involves something very different from what he has just brought up.
The good that God desires is first and foremost that justice would be done in Israelite society. This was precisely what was lacking in Micah’s time. Power-hungry Israelites robbed their own people. They made their lives impossible (Mic. 2:1-2, 8-9; 3:3:1-3; 6:10-12). Political leadership and justice were corrupt (Mic. 3:9-11; 7:3). The first thing God wants is for this to end. Especially the weaker members of his people Israel should be able to live carefree under the protection of justice. The Israelites are to deal with one another in a loyal fashion. Cold-hearted devotion to duty is not enough. Mutual solidarity and care for one another must go beyond what others consider to be normal. And it has to be a matter of love, straight from the heart (“steadfast love”).
That is the life God intended for his people. It is the attitude to life that he himself has shown them. What he desires from his people is that they walk along with him on the route that he himself has pointed out to them.
According to most translations, this walking with God must be done in a humble way (“to walk humbly with your God”). It is abundantly clear that God desires an attitude of humility from his people. Micah’s contemporary Isaiah emphasizes it more than once (see esp. Isa. 2:10-17; 57:15). And Jesus Christ promises exaltation only to those who humble themselves (Luke 18:14).
Yet it is questionable whether Micah says this at the conclusion of verse 8. He uses a rare Hebrew word here: mišpāṭ. Its meaning has become clearer with the rediscovery of the original Hebrew text of the apocryphal book of Jesus Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus; there the same word is found in Sir. 16:25 and 32:3). Most likely, it is not so much about humility as it is about thoughtfulness or prudence. To be circumspect or prudent with God means that you know your place in relation to him.
That indeed comes down to an attitude of modesty and humility. But it includes more. It also implies that you keep your eyes open to see what he is doing. For the Israelites to whom Micah was speaking this meant that they realized what the LORD had done for them in the past. In verses 4 and 5, God reminded them of that. They need to keep this clearly in mind: how wonderfully he saved them and how much he privileged them as his own people. They must allow this to sink in. Then they also have to use their intellect, by choosing the way that he has shown them in all this: to move through life at the hand of your Redeemer; to follow him in his heartfelt love and faithfulness.
Not a New Revelation
All this had long been known. Moses had already told the Israelites in his parting speech: “Israel, remember that the LORD your God asks nothing of you but that you fear him, that you walk in all his ways, that you love him and serve him with all your heart and soul, and to keep his commandments and his statutes, which I am presenting to you today; for then it will go well for you” (Deut. 10:12-13).
In that context Moses said nothing about sacrifices. He did, however, speak of the love with which God had chosen his people. He called upon his fellow Israelites to follow their God by doing justice to strangers, widows and orphans (Deut. 10:14-19).
Shortly before Micah, the prophet Amos had again emphasized this point: the LORD is not pleased with your sacrifices and songs; “rather let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). In Micah’s day, this was still not happening in Judah and Jerusalem. The temple mount Zion was built on blood and Jerusalem on iniquity (Mic. 3:10). Therefore, God would have Zion plowed up like a field. He would make Jerusalem a heap of ruins and the temple mount an overgrown hill (Mic. 3:12).
Because of all the injustice the sacrificial service and everything else that went on in the temple no longer had any value for God. He would put an end to it for a long time. Later, the temple mount would rise again, but not primarily as a place of animal sacrifice. The nations would flock to it to be shown the ways of the LORD. He would judge there himself and put an end to war and violence (Mic. 4:1-3).
No Pay-Off But Love
So the Israelites knew who God was for them and what he wanted most. He had just reminded them of their special relationship with him. Twice he had addressed them as “my people” (Mic. 6:3, 5). But their spokesman ignored this. He does in fact mention the name of the LORD in verses 6 and 7, but otherwise he refers to him only as “the God on high”. That is indeed who the LORD is. Israel’s spokesman is really nothing more than a small person before him (“He has told you, O man...”). Yet that high God has become Israel’s own God (“to walk humbly with your God”; v. 8).
For the man who is speaking in verses 6 and 7 the LORD is not the God who has come to him and to his people. He is the God on high to whom he himself must go and before whom he must deeply humble himself. In doing so, the spokesman in verse 7 does mention his sin, but he does not mention a word about breaking with injustice. God had asked: “What have I done to you that you no longer see the love I have shown you?” The spokesman answers with the counter-question of what he all should be bringing to satisfy this God. That is not a response that reveals a readiness to surrender to the love of the LORD. What he wants to offer is nothing more than a costly pay-off or some ransom. But the sacrifices were never intended for that purpose.
How different was the sacrifice that Jesus Christ brought. It was the payment for our sin, our debt. At the same time, it had nothing to do with a pay-off presented to a God who always wants more. Christ brought his sacrifice out of perfect love for God and his people. It was the culmination of a life in which he always had his God in mind, used his reason and devoted himself to love and justice. This was the sacrifice that God had always wanted.
Keep your eyes open for what God has done through him. Follow him in love, in justice and in faithfulness. Walk with him at the hand of his Father.