Due to time constraints, we won’t spend a lot of time in the book of Micah, but I’d like to spend a day talking about its most famous passage. Verse 8 is that one I’m referring to, but it’s good to take it in context.
Yes, the Lord required Old Covenant believers to give sacrifices. The book of Leviticus is filled with very precise instructions on this. The blood of animals had to be spilt when sin was committed. And contrary to what you might think, the offering of sacrifices didn’t end with the Old Covenant. The book of Hebrews, one which discusses sacrifices extensively, lists two sacrifices which New Covenant believers are expected to render: The sacrifice of praise, and being generous with others.
But the point of today’s passage was that even under the Old Testament sacrificial system in effect, this wasn’t the most important thing in a believer’s daily life. Someone could offer up all the livestock in Israel and watch it go up in smoke, and God wouldn’t be impressed if it wasn’t accompanied by something else. And that something else is the subject for today.
As believers, our sins are forgiven, and our eternal destiny is secure. That’s not the issue. But what does he require of us right now? What’s really important to him? Verse 8 is widely regarded as the best summary.
The first thing he wants is for us to “act justly.” Literally it says to “do justice,” and the NET Bible study notes say it’s in the sense of “promote.” Justice is what we should be striving for in the public sphere. It means we promote the standard that people are treated with justice on the “macro” level. We should be promoting just laws and a just legal system. Bribery—something which God frequently condemned and outlawed in the Mosaic Law—must be minimized as much as we can accomplish in a fallen world.
Let me get on my pet peeve about this for moment, please. Good Christians can disagree about whether or not gambling should be legalized, whether we want the state to step in and keep people from gambling who want to gamble. But can we agree that it's a travesty, a mockery of everything that's good and right and just and decent, for government to promote the lottery? It preys on the people who can least afford it, encourages them to place their financial hopes on luck or chance instead of hard work and savings, and cultivates some of the darkest urges of fallen humanity.
And then we are to love “mercy,” as the NIV renders it. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might've guessed what word this is. That’s right—it’s chesed, just about my favorite word in Hebrew. In case you're not so familiar with it (and missed my posting on it), It’s variously translated as “unfailing love,” “mercy” [as here], “faithfulness,” and lovingkindness (in older translations). This is what David appealed to when he had grievously sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.” As the Lord’s shown it to us, we’re supposed to show it to others.
This is different from justice. Justice is what we need to promote as a society, in the “macro.” In the “micro” settings of our daily life, we need to show compassion and mercy and forgiveness. This is a really important distinction to make. As a society, the legal system is not there to promote forgiveness. A police officer can't have as his first priority the promotion of love and forgiveness. It’s entirely inappropriate for a judge to “forgive” someone of their crimes; that’s not his place. His job--his God-given responsibility--is to administer justice according to the law and keep the social order.
But most of us don’t have that type of responsibility. In our daily lives, we have to treat others as the Lord’s treated us. And that leads into the last thing the prophet lists as what God expects of us. We're supposed to walk humbly with him. We should have a very low estimation of our own righteousness: “[If] you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” And we should consciously keep to the forefront of our minds that everything good in our lives comes ultimately from our Father, not our own efforts and certainly not because we deserve them.
Promote justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. I think that’s enough for us to work on for right now.
Father, please give me what I need to stand up for what’s right, to treat others as you’ve treated me, and to walk humbly with you. By your grace.