A few years ago, while driving around town with my daughter, she asked me, “Daddy, what do you think of Micah 6:8, “…And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” She informed me that this verse had become the new ‘It’ bible verse, with plaques, coasters, and even t-shirts quoting Micah 6-8. Could it really be that easy?
I had thought about it often, a lot more since that drive. While everyone is quick to quote verse 8, we need to look at the bigger picture to understand why Micah wrote that simple directive. The context, mainly as the result of their disloyalty to God, Israel was pitifully broken into two nations – Judah and Israel. The relationship between these two was not kosher! Let me share with you three points I discovered about Micah 6:8.
First, how did Israel land in such a predicament that the nation had to ultimately separate? Just like anyone else would, living outside of God’s grace. Let’s look at David’s life as an example. At times of adversity and challenge, David always looked up (From whence cometh my help, Psalm 121:1-2). When enemies and neighbouring kings were subdued, challenges eliminated, prosperity abounded, did his upward look shift to looking across from his palace? It is the frailties and imperfections of man. Happens to many, even to “the man after God’s own heart”.
Remember that old hymn “Come thou fount of every blessing” written in the 18th century? “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here is my heart, O take and seal it”.
Second, while God was displeased with Israel’s unfaithfulness, he was mindful, and even pleaded with them. Micah was His mouthpiece. He put it succinctly in the form of a question and answer to exhort: “What does the Lord ask of you? Act justly…love mercy and walk humbly” (Micah 6-8).
Micah, however, was not alone on this. His contemporary Isaiah wrote “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15). David, soon after his adultery, murder and cover-up repented, confessed and wrote: “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17). Isaiah, David, Micah, (and others) were all on the same frequency. While the sacrifices and rituals had their place, the importance was the state or condition of the heart and not just the material or venue or sacrifice or who administered it.
Micah Chapter 6 is an interesting chapter. It is a beautiful chapter that lays out God’s frustration in a somewhat sarcastic question and answer format. What was the cause of Micah’s sarcasm in vs. 6 and7? “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten-thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Why did Micah think God would not be pleased with such an unreasonable amount of sacrifice?
I looked at David again. He wanted to build a temple as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. The Prophet Nathan “okayed” it hastily only to modify it overnight. Wasn’t there a tinge of reservation from above on this building project? (2 Samuel 7). Was David thinking only of the Ark or a multi-purpose approach to unite and strengthen the nation or even a bit of his legacy? Some theologians described the project as “God’s permissive will to David’s obsession”. David began in full swing, extending relations with neighbouring kings including Egypt, amassing materials, timber, horses etc for “this worthy cause”.
I wonder if the pure objective of sacrifice was eroded gradually to routine or mechanical, glorification of sacrifices, its venues and its performers as against a contrite spirit? “Was the concept of an “exalted or exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious temple far from what Moses had in mind for sacrifices”(1 Chron. 22:5)?
King Solomon took it further, built the temple and dedicated it with great “pomp and circumstance”. The priests killed and the blood flowed from two and twenty-thousand oxen and hundred and twenty- thousand sheep (1 Kings 8:63). This trend seems the cause for Micah’s sarcasm. The caution is, as St. Paul wrote that sacrifices are necessary for personal or family worship, self discipline, charity etc, but not for merit from God or kudos from men” (1 Cor. 13).
Did the God of the temple drift to the temple of the God with its ordinances, broad phylacteries, and sacrifices? Ironically, “these permanent resting places”, God allowed to be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC; and the second temple by the Romans in AD 70. God knew it all along! In fact, the state and religious practices in the temple were so pathetic that Jesus had to cleanse the second temple single-handedly from its “den of thieves” (strong words), (Matthew 21:12-13). Sometimes I fearfully muse if this haunts again?
Remember the late popular gospel songwriter and singer Keith Green (1953-1982)? He wrote a beautiful song based on 1 Samuel 15:22. “Has the Lord great delight in burnt offerings as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams”.
Summing up my reflections:
Jesus summed it up best- “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” (Matthew 12:6-7). Jesus was actually reiterating the prophet Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” .
So, “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God”. It is simple but not easy, if not impossible without the good news, the love of God, the grace of Jesus and the constant fellowship of the Holy Spirit, (John 16:7-11).
Remind ourselves frequently “you are the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19)
God bless, Danny Paul
PS: God willing, I will continue on “sacrifice” as Part II