Rereading Micah 6:8 “What the Lord Requires”

Part 1: The Presentation of the Lord’s Case

Micah 6:8 is a verse very familiar to students of the Bible because it describes what God requires of his followers.

The context of this verse, Micah 6:1-8, contains words that are connected with the court of law in ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, it was common for the elders of a city to come together and hold court in open places near the city gate (Amos 5:10; Ruth 4:1).

At these gatherings, the people came to the elders for legal decisions. In these local courts, legal procedure and language were used and the proceedings would be familiar to most people. When addressing the people of Judah, Micah used the language of the courts and his listeners understood the seriousness of the charges brought against them.

When Micah spoke to the people, he used the word rib. The verbal form of the word rib is used in Micah 6:1 and it is translated plead your case. The noun form of the word occurs twice in Micah 6:2 and it is translated controversy. With these words Micah is acting as Yahweh’s lawyer in a covenantal lawsuit, indicating that Yahweh had a legal case against his people.

The Lawyer Summons the People To Court:

“Now listen to what the LORD is saying: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Listen to the LORD’s lawsuit, you mountains and enduring foundations of the earth, because the LORD has a case against His people, and He will argue it against Israel” (Micah 6:1-2).

Yahweh Presents His Case:

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD” (Micah 6:3-5).

The People Present Their Defense:

“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?” (Micah 6:6-7).

The Lawyer Presents the Verdict:

“He has showed you, O man, 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).

Micah begins the Lord’s case against Israel by calling the mountains to be witnesses in the legal proceedings. In the covenants known in the Ancient Near East, the gods were called as witnesses to verify a violation of the covenant. Since Israel was not allowed to have other gods before Yahweh, the everlasting foundations of the earth served as witnesses of God’s case against Israel.

Yahweh presents his case by reminding the people of how much he had done for them. He delivered them from the oppressive life they lived in Egypt; he delivered them from the house of slavery; he sent them three great leaders to help them on their journey from Egypt to Canaan; and he delivered them from the hands of Balak, king of Moab, and from the curses of Balaam, the false prophet. Yahweh did all these things so that the people might appreciate his mighty work.

After Yahweh presented his case, the people presented their defense.

In their minds the people believed they had already done enough. They had brought sacrifices to the temple and made their offerings to God. Now they asked the prophet what else they needed to do. “What else must I do to show proper respect to God?” The people wondered what else God was requiring of them: more offerings and more yearling calves? Do we need to give to God thousands of rams? Or olive oil in abundance? Or even the sacrifice of our firstborn child?

After both cases were presented, the prophet presented the decision of the court. What the Lord wanted was not more sacrifices nor elaborate rituals. Rather, Micah declared what the Lord required of his people:

He has showed you, O man, 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.

Tomorrow: Part 2 – “What the Lord Requires”

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

This entry was posted in Book of Micah, Hesed and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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