heheheheh... this fills in one spot anyway.....
One timeless question that many people have pondered and asked time and again is “What is God’s will?” In the eighth century BCE, the prophet Micah asked a similar question, and the response given remains at the heart of right relationship with God, with humankind, and with all other communities of life on the planet. In eight verses, the poet describes the experience of a long-suffering God who remains faithful to an unfaithful people for whom the prophet makes intercession. The passage consists of a series of speeches that implore rather than accuse, despite initial sentiments of justified divine frustration directed toward a people chosen by God (Deut. 7:7)—a people entrusted with Torah who now are guilty of transgression (see Mic. 1–3).
The setting for Micah 6:1–8 is a courtroom. In verses 1–2 the poet makes clear that God has a “controversy” with the people and intends to “contend” with them. One would expect an expression of righteous anger on the part of God as the case unfolds, but instead, words of heartfelt bewilderment and plea are proclaimed (vv. 3–5).
The relationship between Israel and God is an intimate one, communicated by the double vocative “O my people” (vv. 3, 5). In verses 3–5 the poet depicts God as a conciliatory deity who raises two poignant questions, as if God were at fault. The command, “Answer me,” is a candid expression of divine frustration, followed by a picture of God’s graciousness conveyed through the brief recounting of the exodus event (v. 4), and a plea for the people to remember the Balak-Balaam encounter (v. 5), which resulted in Balaam providing Israel with a great blessing on the eve before the people entered into the promised land (see Num. 22–24). The people seem to have forgotten their “story” and, in doing so, have forgotten their saving God. Thus the people have fallen out of “right” relationship with their God and consequently with one another because of a lack of mindfulness. They no longer seem to be centered on or in their God. Throughout Israel’s history, God has always remembered the people and the covenant made with them (Gen. 8:1; 30:22; Exod. 2:24; 6:5), and the people have been exhorted time and again to remember their God and all God’s wondrous ways and deeds (Deut. 8:18–20). Now God calls on the people to “remember” once again. This remembering will be their starting point back to “right relationship.”
Verses 6–7 are a response to God’s questions, plea, and demand for an answer. Here the poet features the prophet Micah in a humbled, self-reflective, penitential state, representing his people, who have yet to come before the Lord. Micah raises three soul-searching questions aimed at atonement. Each question reflects a willingness to offer some sort of sacrifice, culminating in the offer to sacrifice one’s firstborn for the sake of one’s sin.
The list of sacrifices reflects Israel’s ancient theological tradition. Whole burnt offerings were the typical daily offering at the temple. These offerings maintained the relationship between the Israelites and God. The suggestion of sacrificing one’s own firstborn, though, raises two theological questions: (1) was child sacrifice part of Israel’s religious tradition, and (2) did Israel’s God want child sacrifice as a sign of oblation?
Human sacrifice was forbidden in ancient Israel and Judah (see, e.g., Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10). In times of crisis, however, this type of sacrifice seems, on occasion, to have occurred, especially prior to the seventh century BCE. Human sacrifice did take place in the Canaanite religion, stemming from the god Molech and a human king who had a particular interest in this sort of sacrifice. Elsewhere in the OT, God expresses divine outrage at the practice of sacrificing the firstborn because they were “God’s” children (Deut. 32:16–19; Ezek. 16:21). Hence, the reference to the sacrifice of the firstborn is more hyperbolic and metaphorical than actual. Whether or not such a sacrifice would be pleasing to God and suffice for atonement comes clear in verse 8. What God requires is for one to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. The last is the most important one. Only when one walks humbly with God will one come to learn and understand how to do justice and love kindness.
Theologically, justice is identified with the nature of God (Isa. 30:18) and is an activity of God (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 9:4). Justice is a transformative virtue that seeks to establish or restore community, while aiming to balance personal good with the common good. Three types of justice include (1) commutative justice, which focuses on relationships between members of the community; (2) distributive justice, which functions to ensure the equitable distribution of goods, benefits, and burdens of a community; and (3) social justice, which affects the social order necessary for distributive justice. To love kindness involves both affection and ethical love of neighbor and fidelity to covenant and law. To walk humbly with God implies an attitude of reverence and openness, coupled with a sense of personal integrity, candor, and honesty. God’s people are called to godliness and to live out the fullness of justice and love.
The early church fathers have interpreted Micah 6:1–8 in a variety of ways. Cyril emphasizes God’s compassion. Tertullian states that God expects people to act with the same divine mercy and compassion that have been bestowed upon them. Both Theodore of Mopsuestia and Augustine note that the love of God, the love of neighbor, and the offering of self in loving service to one another are far superior to any other sacrifice or burnt offering.
In sum, the poet has proclaimed a prophetic message that attests to God’s deep and abiding love, while providing God’s people with a proscription for “God’s will,” “right relationship,” and the full flourishing of the common good. Given the scientific fact that all of creation is part of one unified web of life, the practice of justice and love now needs to embrace both human and nonhuman life, and the humble walk with God is a walk of holy reverence and awe across the planet, with people being attuned to and learning from the divine Spirit that pulsates at the heart of all.
CAROL J. DEMPSEY
Carol J. Dempsey, “Theological Perspective on Micah 6:1‒8,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 290–294.