In Part 1 of this study, I discussed how the prophet Micah presented the Lord’s case against Israel. In the present post I will discuss what the Lord requires of his followers. However, before reflecting on what God requires from his people, it becomes necessary to look at God’s case against Israel again.
The issue raised by Micah was that Israel had rejected the good. This was the same accusation brought by Hosea against the people of the Northern Kingdom: “Israel has rejected what is good” (Hosea 8:3). What Hosea and Micah were declaring to the people was that they had abandoned the requirements that Yahweh had imposed on the nation. These requirements involved the people’s social and moral responsibilities toward each other and toward God.
So, Micah rejected the suggestions made by the people that more sacrifices and offerings would please Yahweh. He also rebuked the people for their failure to understand what God demanded from his followers. Micah’s words are similar to Hosea’s exhortation to Israel: “So now, come back to your God! Act on the principles of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God” (Hosea 12:6 NLT).
The first requirement refers to the moral obligation that existed among the members of the covenant community. The expression “O man” has been understood to have a universal application, that is, that it applies to people everywhere. But the prophet was not addressing humanity in general; he was exhorting people who followed God.
Justice was expected of those people who were joined together in a community bound by the bonds of the covenant. To do justice is to do what is right according to the demands stipulated in the covenant between God and Israel.
The third requirement, “To walk humbly with God” refers to a way of life in which an individual does not live independently of God but lives within the will and ways of God. This expression also means to live in a personal relationship with God. Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22) and so did Noah (Genesis 6:9).
It is the second requirement that requires explanation. The Lord requires that his followers “love mercy.” But, what does it mean “to love mercy”? The English dictionary defines “mercy” as “the compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender,” “pity,” benevolence,” and “an act of kindness or compassion.” However, here Micah is not saying that the Lord is requiring”kindness” or “pity.” The Lord requires these things from his followers, but not in Micah 6:8.
The word “mercy” is a translation of the Hebrew hesed. The word hesed is used in the Old Testament to describe God’s faithful commitment to Israel even when the nation was unfaithful to God. The word is also used to describe the conduct God expected from each Israelite: “For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).
In previous studies of the word hesed in the Old Testament (see below), I have shown that the word should be translated “commitment,” “faithfulness,” “loyalty.”
So, what God requires of his followers is not sacrifice or something material that can be quantified and understood as a way of bribing God. What God requires of his people is faithfulness and commitment to the relationship established by the covenant. He requires the giving of one’s life to him and to his way of life and that one rejoice in living that kind of life.
What God requires is not doing good for good’s sake. What God requires of his followers is that they be committed and love being committed to God.
If we take the word hesed in Micah 6:8 and translate it as “commitment” or “loyalty,” then Micah 6:8 would read as follow:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love commitment [or “love being committed”] and to walk humbly with your God.
Loving being committed to God is what God requires of his followers.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary