“He has shown thee oh man what is good, and what does the Lord require of Thee, but to do justly and to love Mercy and to walk humbly with Thy God…” Micah 6:8
I was 18 years old when I first heard that song. I guess you could say I was ‘taking a gap year’ right after high school, although no one in my life called it that at the time. I was young and I was searching. Not necessarily searching for religion, or God - I already knew Him.
I’d grown up in church, and by age 18 I had a head FULL of random Bible knowledge and a heart eager to serve. But I was still developing both as a Christian, and as a freshly minted young adult. I was searching for my path. The fundamental question was WHAT. What does God want me to do, what is His call on my life? What does it mean to Love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind? WHAT? And in search of the answer to that question, ‘WHAT,’ I ran headlong into adulthood with all the wide-eyed optimism of a foolhardy teenager.
During that ‘gap year’ I took a job working for a church-operated homeless shelter in the city of Chicago. In the morning I would care for infants and toddlers whose parent or parents were homeless, so that those parents could get to their various appointments or find work. I would sing to those infants and toddlers about the love of Jesus. And in the afternoon, I would tutor Kindergarten through 5th graders when they came ‘home’ to the shelter after school. That’s actually how I met Jedediah, my husband, we tutored homeless children together, 5 days a week, and all the while, we were slowly falling in love.
And in the evening hours of that gap year, my friends and I often found ourselves having spontaneous Bible studies, and worship circles as they were called - usually with just a hand drum, an old acoustic guitar, a lava lamp... and of course our voices. THIS is the context in which that Micah 6:8 song was first presented to me. And if all this sounds sort of hippie-esque, it’s because it was! It was the springtime of my youth - a magical carefree time in my life. I truly believed that I was finding the answer to that fundamental question of ‘WHAT.’ I believed I was finding God’s call on my life, - what I was called to do. And I was learning WHAT it meant to live as a disciple of Jesus out in the ‘real’ world?
Everything was new, and everything was possible.
Micah 6:8, the scripture turned song, fit that season of my life so perfectly. The message was just so simple! 9 Words to live by: DO JUSTLY, LOVE MERCY, WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.
At 18, it all seemed so straightforward. This was going to be easy. I got this!
Just Do Justly - I’m a just person. Or at the very least - I’m not an unjust person.
Love Mercy… ok, I can see how that one might be a little harder, but… I get it, I get it... Got to show love and mercy to people, especially if I want love and mercy to be shown to me - The Golden Rule, right? I learned that in Kindergarten! Piece of cake.
And Walk Humbly… well, that one I’ve got in the bag! Look at me… Look at my life. I. I serve homeless children as my full-time job… I’m a portrait of humility! So selfless… In fact, I’m probably the humblest person in this worship circle right now!
There I was, with all the self-absorbed piety of a foolhardy, starry-eyed teenager.
And we all know where this story goes from here. Life shows up! It gets harder, and more complicated. Trials come. Friends move on. Seasons of life change, and then they change all over again. People change. Disappointments are inevitable. And often with those disappointments come wounds that fester into bitterness and contempt - disillusionment can turn into anger, even anger toward God. And the heart can grow cold.
Time passed and I wasn’t 18 anymore. Gone were the spontaneous Bible studies and free spirited worship circles of my youth. They were replaced with even more fundamental questions of WHAT. Questions like:
WHAT is this all for?!
WHAT is going on?!
WHAT do I do now?
Life didn’t seem so magical anymore. I was weary, perhaps even to the point of being wearied with God.
And yet through the years, Micah 6:8, still haunting in its simplicity, stayed burned into my memory and etched into my heart. A constant exhortation to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.
And now, I’m here. We’re all here, together, in the 4th and final week of our Micah series. All month long we’ve been studying the words of the Prophet Micah.
Micah, a name that means “Who is like God?” And that’s important. We’ll come back to that later, so hold on to that. Micah means ‘Who is like God.”
And as we have seen over the last 3 weeks, Micah spoke a prophetic message that would both afflict the ‘comfortable’ and comfort the ‘afflicted.’ His words were meant to afflict those who were living comfortably by unjust means - the corrupt leaders who were abusing their power. To those who were cheating and stealing from the poor, the widowed, and the “strangers” - the foreigners among them - to those who would abuse their power and spread death, injustice, and brokenness throughout Israel - Micah had a harsh message for them: God’s judgement was coming! Catastrophe was imminent!
But to those who were the cheated ones, the abused - to those who were afflicted - Micah spoke of a coming restoration. There was hope on the horizon. He prophesied a time when wars would cease. There would be no more need for swords. Instead, those swords would be beaten into plowshares. Weapons of death would be re-forged and transformed into instruments of life. Peace would return to Israel, as the nation would once again be ruled by Yahweh, the compassionate and powerful shepherd-king.
But God wasn’t finished speaking through Micah.
Because Israel had become desperately corrupt. They’d forgotten the very essence of the law.
Remember when Moses gave the people of Israel the 10 commandments in Deut. chapter 10?
Right after that he said:
12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?
There it is! That age-old fundamental question of ‘What?’ What does God require? And here’s His answer:
He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. 13 And you must always obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.
And then Moses goes on to say:
17 “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. 18 He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. 19 So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
This short summary of God’s law gets to the heart of that fundamental question of what. What does God want from us? What does He require? Here he tells us, in so many words, that
The greatest offering we can make to God is a life lived in line with His intentions for the world.
But by the time we get to Micah’s day, it seems the nation of Israel had all but completely forgotten this! They were not living in a way that pleased God at all! They were abusing the foreigners and stealing from the widows and the orphans. The powerful were living comfortably alright, but it was at the expense of the downtrodden and the oppressed.
God had had enough of this gross injustice, and blatant disregard for His law. It was time to settle the matter! And what better setting to illustrate all of this, than in a court of law! What follows in Micah 6 takes on the form of a courtroom drama, and I love a good courtroom drama! All the major players are represented: there are witnesses, and plaintiffs, and God Himself will take on the role of both prosecutor and defendant.
So let's turn there together, to Micah chapter 6, that’s page _________ in the house Bibles, or you can read along on the Grace Church app. And while we turn there I want to say welcome and thank you to those of you who are here in this room AND to those of you who are joining us online. I know some of you tune in regularly from other states or even other countries! So welcome! We’re so glad to have you as part of our global church family!
So here we go! Micah chapter six. In verse 1 we see the prophet Micah set the stage for what appears to be an ongoing litigation. He says
Listen to what the Lord is saying:
“Stand up and state your case against me.
The people of Israel are pictured here as one large body of like-minded litigants - with a complaint against God. They’ve brought God into this courtroom to accuse Him of wearing them out! But we don’t hear the specifics of how or why they are feeling this way. The best we can surmise is that they are tired of God’s rules and regulations - tired of tithing and sacrificing. Tired of the 10 commandments. Just tired of living under God’s authority.
We continue reading in verse 1
Let the mountains and hills be called to witness your complaints. Micah 1:1
The mountains and the hills were to serve here as ancient expert witnesses! I love the drama of this scene so much! “The defense would like to call the mountains to the stand.” And the courtroom gasps! “Not the mountains! They’ve seen everything!” They have stood since the beginning of time, silently observing the whole history of Israel, generation after generation. They knew the entire story from the beginning… God’s faithfulness, and Israel’s infidelity.
Micah turns to address these ancient mountain witnesses:
And now, O mountains,
listen to the Lord’s complaint!
He has a case against his people.
He will bring charges against Israel.
God flips the script with this stunning countersuit! Yes, the people of Israel have filed a complaint, but Yahweh has a grievance of HIs own!
What follows in verses 3-5 is an example of a distinctive speech-form in the Bible called a covenant lawsuit. There are examples of this kind of speech elsewhere in the Bible, like this example from the Prophet Hosea. He says:
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land. Hosea 4:1
That’s the tone we’re used to hearing in these ‘covenant lawsuit speeches.’ God brings charges against his chosen people, Israel, and then lists off the ways in which they can be found in breach of contract. You’ve broken the covenant! You’ve worshipped other gods. You’ve been unfaithful to the Lord your God.
But His tone here in Micah 6 is different. He indicts Israel, but then, rather than launching into a list of critiques, He speaks with a voice of tenderness, directly to His people. He pleads with them:
“O my people, what have I done to you?
What have I done to make you tired of me?
And the list that He gives is not a list of how many ways the people have failed Him. Not this time. This time He cites a list of His loving interventions. He names FOUR TIMES where He Himself stepped in and miraculously delivered His people Israel.
For I brought you out of Egypt
and redeemed you from slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.
Don’t you remember, my people,
how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?
And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
when I, the Lord, did everything I could
to teach you about my faithfulness.”
He starts with the story of the Exodus, Israel’s most famous rescue story. He recalls how He rescued His people from slavery. How He gave them brave leaders, in Moses, Aaron, and the Prophetess Miriam who would lead them to freedom. God, Yahweh, exhorts His people to remember! Remember His goodness! He calls them “my people '' to remind them that He is the very reason they exist at all!
He gave Israel her existence and her history.
Remember!! King Balak wanted to curse you! He wanted to annihilate you. But instead, I used my prophet Balaam to bless you! I took you from Acacia Grove to Gilgal - from one side of the Jordan to the other. Acacia Grove where you were humiliating yourselves and destroying yourselves from within by worshipping worthless idols. I took you from there to Gilgal, Gilgal, a word that means to roll. I brought you - across the Jordan - to the place where “I rolled away your shame.” I did everything I could to teach you about My faithfulness.
Which leads us back to that fundamental question of WHAT. Now it’s the people’s turn to respond in this courtroom proceeding. And they respond with a question: What do you want us to do now, Lord? WHAT does the sinner have to do to turn away your anger, and restore your favor upon us?
Look at what they say in verse 6:
What can we bring to the Lord?
Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins? Micah 6:6-7
What a list!!! It just escalates! It’s as if the people of Israel were saying “What do you want from us, Lord? Should we bring you the usual burnt offering? Or maybe a more expensive one this time, like a couple of yearling calves? Will that make you happy?”
For some reason, they had it in their minds that they could appease God by just buying Him off!! Their proposed offerings just get more and more ridiculous and outrageous: thousands of rams! Ten thousand rivers of expensive oil! And then they go so far as to reach beyond what was even acceptable as a sacrifice. “Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?” This gross exaggeration only served to prove the point that God was in no way interested in their religious ritual offerings. Remember,
He CAN NOT BE BRIBED!
There was no material offering so grand that could purchase God’s mercy and forgiveness, or force Him to act on their behalf. This is how the pagans worshipped their gods, with things that would appease them. But Yaweh is not interested in ‘things.” NO. He desires something much more precious. Because:
The greatest offering we can give God is a life lived in line with His intentions for the world.
He showed us through the words of His Prophet Hosea:
I want you to show love,
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me,
more than I want burnt offerings Hosea 6:6
Through the words of His Prophet Amos:
“I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living. Amos 5:22-24
And through the now famous words of His Prophet Micah:
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
There is a thread here - this is some ‘World of the text’ wordplay that I don’t want you to miss.
The Lord asked in Micah 6:3:
6:3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
What have I done to make you tired of me?
And in response the people asked:
6:6 What can we bring to the Lord?
Should we bring him burnt offerings?
And the Prophet Micah gives the answer:
6:8 the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you…
The answer to that fundamental question of what:
What does it mean to live as a disciple of Jesus?
What is God’s call on my life?
What does it mean to love Him with all my heart, soul and mind?
Do justly, is what it means. Or as our house Bibles put it “do what is right.”
And walk humbly with your God.
The greatest offering we can give God is a life lived in line with His intentions for the world.
Go back and look over that list of outrageous offerings to God. Each item on that list is essentially the sacrifice of a living thing. The Israelites were foolishly and arrogantly focusing on the external objects they had at their disposal - calves, and rams, and even olives - rather than repenting of their sin and abandoning their wickedness and injustice. They were completely focused on their religious rituals, their religiosity… but they neglected to acknowledge that Yahweh was Lord over their entire lives, NOT just the part they had labeled their “religion.” God doesn’t want the life of just some ‘thing.’ He wants the life of the person standing before him. HE WANTS MY LIFE. HE WANTS YOUR LIFE. ALL OF IT.
God desires to be Lord over our entire lives! Over our innermost parts, our hearts. Over our decisions and desires. He wants to be Lord over our behavior and our actions. Because nothing is hidden from Him. Not even our motivations. Psalm 40 says:
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand —
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings...
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your instructions are written on my heart.” Psalm 40:
When I was 18, God forever wrote His instructions on my heart with Micah 6:8!
• He is a just God, and therefore, I should act justly. Or to put it a different way, He is a righteous God, and I should do what is right.
• He is an abundantly merciful God, and therefore, I am to love mercy. The word used here for mercy is checed. It means kindness (especially as extended to the lowly, needy and miserable). As we remember the mercy and kindness he showed us when we were lowly, needy, and miserable - we can’t help but be humbled.
• The word for ‘humbly’ is tsana - which means to show or to demonstrate humility. We live out our gratitude for the forgiveness and loving-kindness God has shown us, by living lives that reflect and demonstrate who He is to the broken world around us.
Again, it sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just be more like God! And it is that simple! Until it isn’t.
When conflict arises, and hurt compounds, loving mercy takes guts.
When you witness an abuse of power, speaking up for the cause of God’s justice, protecting the vulnerable among you, requires bravery. You might lose some folks. Just like Israel in Micah’s day, our world is full of injustices, and greed. The call to act justly is urgent. But doing what is right might make you unpopular. It could require great sacrifice.
And showing humility in this me-first social media age of self-promotion, cancel culture, and offense - actually demonstrating humility is one of the most countercultural things we can do - and it takes a strong measure of self control that can only come from the Holy Spirit. But it is exactly the kind of life we are called to live as followers of Jesus! Walk humbly. Walk humbly with your God.
What if we were to spend more time praying for, and encouraging those around us than we do on promoting ourselves? What if we used our social media presence to lift up others, or to pray for others, instead of exalting ourselves, or tearing down people who think differently than we do?
And what if we actively looked for opportunities to show mercy to those in need. Yes, I mean actively looking for ways to serve those who are in need of food, clothing or financial assistance. Things that are care center does so well.
But what if we also were to actively look for opportunities to forgive - to show mercy that way - even when it isn’t deserved. That would definitely make our walk humble.
Now, will we get it right all the time? No. We’ll mess up. We’ll make mistakes.
• There will be moments where we forget to act justly.
• Or circumstances where we find it hard to love mercy, or kindness.
• And there will be times where our lack of humility is embarrassingly apparent to everyone around us.
But there’s hope. Remember how I told you that Micah’s name had an important meaning? It’s a name that means “Who is like God?” Watch how Micah brings his book to a close in the last 3 verses of chapter 7:
Who is a God like You,
Did you catch that? Who is a God like you? Micah puts his own name in there. He knows and has known all his life, that there is no other God like Yaweh! No other God like Yaweh:
who pardons wrongdoing
And passes over a rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in mercy.
He will again take pity on us;
He will trample on our wrongdoings.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob
And favor to Abraham,
Which You swore to our forefathers
From the days of old. Micah 7:18-20 nasb
Micah ends his dire prophecy with a promise of hope. He’s saying “Look. Ya done messed up Israel. You messed up real bad. But God desires to restore you. He promises to give you truth, and favor. He will again take pity on you. He won’t stay angry forever, because He is a God who delights in mercy. As He was faithful to your forefathers, he’ll be faithful to you as well.”
Think about everything we’ve read in this book over the last 4 weeks.
All the abusive acts of injustice as the greedy and the powerful took advantage of the poor and the weak.
God is a God of justice. And blatant injustice makes God angry. But he will not stay angry forever. Yes, he will execute His judgement, but his ultimate aim is to restore! Because He is a God who loves mercy! He delights in mercy!
About 4 years ago, my friend and co-worker, Tyler Bender, asked me if I would co-host a new podcast for Grace Church called Between Sundays. To be honest, at the time I wasn’t even 100% sure what a podcast was! But I went along with it anyway. We got to the end of our first episode, and Tyler turned to me and Barry and said ‘We need a sign-off…’
Now, you wouldn’t think that this arbitrary moment in time would become for me a watershed moment in my life… but it did, because I remember:
As if involuntarily, the ancient words of Micah the Prophet,
the lyrics to that hauntingly simple song from my youth that had become such an integral part of me;
the distilled essence of the law,
poured from my heart as if I had been waiting my entire life to speak the words: ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.’
And for the past 4 years I’ve quoted that scripture, once a week, every week. On good weeks. And terribly difficult weeks. Some days it rolled off my tongue with ease. And other days I wrestled with every word. But I say it out loud to remind myself, to remind all of us that
The greatest offering we can make to God is a life lived in line with HIS INTENTIONS for the world.
His intentions. That means it's not about me. It means that I must surrender and put my life on the altar before the Lord, and present myself as a living sacrifice.
It’s not about me! Say it with me, it’s not about me! It’s not about me! It’s not about my religious offerings. It’s not about my material comfort. It’s not about my need to have the last word in every situation, it’s not about my desire to be right all the time. It’s not about my pride, or my ‘reputation.’
It all comes down to this: The Greatest commandment. I will love You, my God, above all things! Because it’s all about You!
And I will love my neighbor as myself, because it’s not about me.
You love my neighbor.
You love the foreigner.
You love the widow and the orphan.
You love the sinner… Even those who sinned against you! And therefore, so should I.
I should delight in showing mercy, because I am a reflection of Your love to this broken world.
Are we ready to live like this? Are we ready to live a life that is in line with His intentions for the world?
Maybe you’re still asking that fundamental question of ‘what?’ What do you want from me, Lord? What do you want me to do with my life?
If that’s you, open your heart. Hear the enduring word of the Lord. Let Him, by the power of His Holy Spirit forever write His instructions on your heart:
For He has shown you, O human, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you?
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God.