Welcome, friends! Micah 6:1-8 lets us know exactly what God desires for us as God’s people: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Click on the videos below, and we will consider the Word of the Lord together.
Blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fill the hearts of your people with the fire of your love and mercy, and with the desire to ensure justice is done for the common good of all persons. Amen.
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
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? He has shown you, O mortal, 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. (New International Version)
We are the people of God, the Church, the Body of Christ, the army of God, a holy temple. Those biblical labels are a picture of who we are and what we are to do. These metaphors all describe a people set apart for service, working in concert together toward a shared purpose.
In the prophet Micah’s day, the Israelites lost sight of the purpose and meaning of being God’s people. They needed to remember that the Lord acts in and through them for the redemption of the world. The kind of sacrifice and service which God wants is not so much a largess of tangible offerings we give. Rather, it is neatly summarized this way: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.
This Old Testament passage has the feel of a courtroom scene. The defense lawyer is Micah, representing God. The people of Israel are the plaintiffs. The world is the judge. All of creation is the jury.
Israel was complaining about God. It’s an age old complaint from many people through the millennia: Blame God for anything that goes sideways in my life. The reasoning goes something like this: After all, God is powerful and in control. God should fix everything.
In their small-minded and short-sighted ways, the people seem unable to discern that easy fixes rarely help anyone. Like yanking up a big weed next to a small plant, it destroys both of them.
The defendant, Micah, speaks on behalf of God. What have I done to you? How have I burdened you? In fact, God has done just the opposite of failing to act or wronging the people in some way. The Lord actively delivered the Israelites:
When the people groaned and grumbled under Egyptian slavery, God delivered them with a series of miraculous deeds.
When the Israelites were heading to the Promised Land and vulnerable to their enemies, God protected them from the Moabites. The Lord even used a talking donkey to work on their behalf. God miraculously turned the efforts of Balak to curse the people into a blessing.
When the people entered the land, they did so by the powerful act of God to stop the Jordan River from flowing so the Israelites could cross over.
These saving acts of God are the motivation for living a life pleasing to God. Micah sarcastically pressed his argument, essentially asking if there’s anything that can be done to keep the people happy? What extremes need to happen to meet such excessive demands? The response by God is this: Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.
Walk Humbly with God
Faith and action are meant to work seamlessly together. Doing justice and loving mercy are possible as we walk with God. Walking everyday with Jesus gives us the power and passion to invest in the healing of the world. God desires that we journey with Jesus and follow his words and ways. Throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is described as a road or a way we walk. In fact, the earliest believers were known as “The Way.” (Acts 9:1-19)
Jesus is the way (John 14:6). Jesus is the way to deal with our current concerns and anticipated anxieties. He himself is the way. The way is not through a program of self-improvement. The way is not through a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach. The way is not through an ability to articulate well-crafted words or through being able to answer with certainty every question of faith. The way is not through finding just the right plan or system.
Jesus is our way – he is the way of rescue, the road to a life of harmonious peace and settled rest even when the world is going to hell around us. Jesus is the way for the church everywhere – fellowship, encouragement, acts of loving service, teaching, and strengthening of faith all center around Jesus because he is love incarnate.
Jesus is the way for the world – serving neighbors and nations, advocating for those who are mistreated and facing injustice, tackling the dozens of world problems which oppress humanity – come through the continuing presence of Jesus here on this earth, that is, through the Holy Spirit and God’s people.
This phrase (in the NIV) is translated various ways in other Bible versions:
“Embrace faithful love” (CEB)
“Let mercy be your first concern” (CEV)
“Show constant love” (GNT)
“Be compassionate and loyal in your love” (MSG)
“Love being kind to others” (NCV)
“Love kindness” (NRSV).
The reason for the variations is that the phrase in Hebrew carries a lot of meaning – and it’s difficult to capture that meaning in just one or two English words. It has to do with God’s steadfast loyalty to people based in a committed love and determination to do what is good and kind on their behalf – no matter whether they deserve such a grace, or not.
To love mercy comes from a large heart. The Grinch had a small heart. It caused him to be a nasty green curmudgeon who could steal gifts from a sweet little Who-girl. Only when his heart was enlarged did he mercifully return the gifts and then participate with the Whoville folks in their grand celebration.
God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. (Ephesians 2:4-5, CEV)
Because many people define justice as a punitive act toward a wrongdoer, they struggle with this admonition to “do justice.” Giving people what they deserve doesn’t primarily mean someone is supposed to go to prison. Some people deserve that. Most don’t.
Instead, to act justly means to create a world in which everyone has what they need to live, thrive, and develop the gifts God has placed within them. Everyone deserves their basic human needs met – to have an equal opportunity in realizing the meeting of their needs. And that is what the heart of biblical justice is. Therefore, justice includes practical things like:
Providing tutors so that kids in urban schools have the same opportunities to read and as suburban kids.
Supporting an overwhelmed single parent who is struggling to find the time and resources to give adequate time to his or her children.
Taking in a foster child who needs the environment of a loving family.
Employing a person coming out of prison so that the terrible rates of recidivism don’t keep going.
Advocating for an underprivileged person who needs adequate healthcare or good housing.
Doing justice is more than giving away money or resources. It’s helping people to help themselves. It’s providing others the dignity and respect of putting them in a position so that they can take pride in their own efforts, just like we do. It’s not only giving someone a fish but taking the time and effort in teaching them how to fish.
Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Help people who are in trouble. Stand up for what you know is right and judge all people fairly. Protect the rights of the poor and those who need help. (Proverbs 31:8-9, ERV)
What does the Lord require or desire of you?
What gifts and abilities has God given to you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?
How can you and I step outside our comfort zones to other areas the Lord might be desiring for us?
The answers to those questions will determine whether we sink or swim as the people of God.
Father God, you have made all people in your image. It’s your desire and requirement that they be gathered together as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and the desire to ensure justice for all. By sharing the good things, you give us, may we secure equality for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be a truly human society built on love and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
Long may he live! May gold of Sheba be given to him. May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long. May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field. May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.
The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended. (New Revised Standard Version)
Today’s psalm is a prayer of King David – beseeching the Lord to help him rule with justice and righteousness – because G-d is just and right in all divine dealings with humanity.
“Justice” in the Old Testament is neither fairness nor the good being rewarded and the wicked punished. Rather, justice (Hebrew משפט, pronounced “mish-pot”) in its most basic sense is caring for the poor. A society is “just” to the degree in which every person has enough for the basic necessities of life and is lifted up as persons worthy of care and respect.
So, the way in which David measured his kingly rule was not by how big of an army he had, or how much gold there was in the royal treasury. Rather, a successful rule for David was measured by whether the interests of the poor were defended and provided for.
A similar word to justice, “righteousness,” is neither some sort of smug godliness nor a sense of superior piety. Instead, righteousness (Hebrew צדקה pronounced “zed-a-ka”) is a relational term of being in sync with G-d and G-d’s ways. It works itself out in a philanthropic spirit of giving what is needed – both physically and spiritually – through acts of mercy such as forgiveness, debt relief, friendship, charity, etc.
Together, justice and righteousness are concerned for giving needed resources with a compassionate spirit of relationship. It seeks to meet the holistic needs of underprivileged people.
Psalm 72 is read in this Christian liturgical season of Christmas (December 25-January 5) because the celebration of the Christ child entering humanity gives great hope for the poor, the needy, the indigent, and all those who struggle to daily survive grinding situations of hardship and adversity.
This is why, when Jesus announced his earthly ministry, he made it clear the nature of that work would be upholding and extending justice and righteousness:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)
The least, the lost, the lonely, and the lame have a champion – a Divine Advocate who will take up their cause and ensure they are treated as deserving human beings, with adequate care of both body and soul. Done properly, our living a just and right life requires we share compassion and empathy along with the monetary and physical resources.
Both the hand and the heart are always involved in biblical justice and righteousness. That way both the giver and the recipient benefit. Whereas the poor receive money or other material assistance, the donor receives the merit of sharing in G-d’s work.
So then, righteousness and justice involve giving assistance with the hand as well as encouragement with the mouth so that needs are met with no residual bitterness of heart.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9, NIV)
May you know the joy and celebration of both giving and receiving with a grateful heart, attuned to the blessings of a generous G-d who stands behind it all.
The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, says the Lord.
For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”
On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God. (New Revised Standard Version)
Doom and hope. Judgment and grace. Suffering and glory. These are the movements and rhythms of the Old Testament prophets.
There was injustice aplenty in ancient Israel way back in the eighth-century B.C.E. Not only were the poor and needy in the land trampled upon, but the people in power saw nothing wrong with building their wealth and status by taking advantage of the less fortunate.
Yet, God was not okay with this state of affairs. Thus, the time was imminent when God would deal with the situation by destroying an inequitable and exclusive way of life in which the privileged enjoyed a lifestyle on the backs of the unprivileged.
The Lord clearly communicated that the people will be sent away to a place with no chance to oppress others. Death would come to many. The oppressors shall die by the sword, even though, in their arrogant inebriation of power, they actually believed disaster wouldn’t ever happen to them.
However, it did. And history shows that the prophecy of Amos came to pass. The Assyrians, a powerful people who had their own egregious sins to deal with before the Almighty, were the instruments of divine judgment upon God’s people. Israel was conquered, the people deported, and the proud oppressors became the lowly oppressed.
Even in such a terrible time for Israel as that, judgment doesn’t have the last word – grace does. God would not completely destroy forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come as a result of God’s mercy toward a wayward people.
The Lord spoke a promise that it will not forever be this way. Rebuilding and restoration will eventually happen. God chooses to act with mercy and demonstrate grace because that is what God does.
We may often get the wrongheaded notion in our creaturely pea-brained heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or make a point, like some capricious schoolmaster who wraps kids on the knuckles with a ruler when they act up in class. But God acts out of holiness, justice, and grace. The Lord maintains righteous decrees while showing mercy to the undeserving.
Israel deserved only judgment, not grace. God would have been completely justified to destroy rich and powerful oppressors and never restore or renew them. Yet, be that as it may, this is not how the Lord of the universe operates. God’s grace overwhelms human sin. Grace always has the last word.
Try and understand grace and you will be befuddled. Some things just defy comprehension. Sometimes it’s just best to observe and appreciate. Grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only hell.
God’s grace is downright scandalous. Whereas we might have a stick-it-to-the-man mentality, God is much bigger than petty petulant posturing. The Lord doesn’t sit in heaven and scheme clever ways to irritate sinners and put them in their place, like some belligerent divine bully.
Rather the Lord of all continually conspires within perfect Love how to guide folks mercifully and gently to Truth – utilizing incredibly diverse tools of divine kindness to woo people to the source of amazing grace.
The height of grace, the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel, came through a baby, by a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem.
Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity with free divine love so that there could be new life and fresh hope. Therefore, let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Let worship of the newborn king shape your season and the New Year.
Gracious God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all of my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, your Son, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.