Response to the King
Main Idea: In a courtroom scene, God judges Israel and Judah for their sin and calls for justice, mercy, and humility.
- I. God Confronts Israel and Judah Because of Their Sin (6:1-5).
- II. Israel and Judah Make Their Defense before God (6:6-7).
- III. God Answers Israel and Judah (6:8-12).
- A. Act justly.
- B. Love mercy.
- C. Walk humbly with God.
- IV. God Declares the Verdict against Israel and Judah (6:13-16).
There are few things more offensive to God than injustice. Injustice is a scourge of humanity, the byproduct of our depravity. It affects people from every race, culture, and country. The thing that makes injustice so heinous is that it always involves the strong taking advantage of the weak. Injustice occurs when people in authority use their position to benefit themselves or their peers, often leaving people and truth to suffer the consequences.
Micah painted a desperate picture of Israel and Judah in the first three chapters of his book. The people had rejected God’s covenant, commands, and counsel. Yet they loved to boast that they were Jews, the descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people, the recipients of His law. Like many people today, however, the people of Israel and Judah had become very proficient at professing what they believed. They had simply given up any attempt to practice it. I’m sure many of them went through the motions of godly activity, but they were still worshiping idols in pagan temples and ignoring God’s truth in their daily lives. Consequently, they were living exactly like the pagans around them. Because of this, they were facing God’s discipline—discipline that would be more tragic than anything they could even imagine. Despite the preaching of prophets like Micah, however, they refused to heed God’s warnings.
In chapters 4 and 5 Micah changed both the message and its tone. In these chapters he extended to the Jewish people a word of hope. Despite their failings, God wasn’t going to abandon them. In fact, one day He was going to send the Messiah, who would be the fulfillment of God’s prophecies to Abraham and David. In His role as Savior, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And in His role as King, Israel would finally be delivered from her enemies and positioned as the greatest nation on earth.
As Micah wrote the material in chapter 6, his message changed once again. He returned to the theme of judgment that characterized the first three chapters, and he provided God’s rationale for His impending discipline on the people. This chapter is the pinnacle of Micah’s book. It begins with a courtroom scene. I envision in this scene God the Father seated behind the bench as Judge, and God the Son, the preexistent Messiah, standing at the prosecutor’s table. The nations of Israel and Judah are seated at the defendant’s table. The trial is set to begin, and God begins to bring His case against Israel and Judah. God will make His claims against His people and allow them to make a defense for their actions. As we read Micah 6, we will be challenged in our own lives as well. If we were the ones on the witness stand, and God was asking questions about our lives, what would our responses be?
God Confronts Israel and Judah Because of Their Sin
Micah 6 begins with legal language in the first two verses. God said, “I have an indictment against you because of your actions. The mountains are here to be My witnesses. They were present when we made our covenant at Sinai, so they are here at My invitation.”
Then came the statement of the indictment in verses 3-5. When we read these verses, we can hear the pathos in God’s voice as He spoke to His people. “What have I ever done for you except bless you? Why do I deserve to be treated this way? Why would you abandon our relationship to choose the company of pagan people and their gods?”
God began His questioning by mentioning just a few of the many ways He had upheld His part of their covenant relationship. He mentioned the most significant event in their history—the exodus from Egypt. He worked wonders in Egypt to make His name great. He redeemed His people and brought them out of Egypt, rescuing them at the Red Sea and establishing His law and covenant with them at Sinai. He provided them with leaders to guide them to the promised land: Moses, the shepherd, who was used by God to reveal the law to His people; Aaron, the high priest, who was used by God to teach them the principles of a worship system built on substitute sacrifice; Miriam, the songstress, who was used by God to write worship songs for Israel. Yet they had rejected Him.
Then God mentioned the prophet Balaam. Balaam was hired by Balak, king of Moab, and tasked with cursing the nation of Israel. But God intercepted him on his journey and demanded that he bless Israel instead. Despite the people’s rebellion at Kadesh-barnea, God provided for all of their needs during the desert years. He provided them with food and water, and He never let their clothes or sandals wear out. Next, He raised up Joshua to lead them on the conquest of the promised land. Why did God do all of these things? So the people would “acknowledge the Lord’s righteous acts” (v. 5), and in doing so, embrace covenant loyalty and obedience.
Israel and Judah Make Their Defense before God
Next, it’s the defendant’s turn to speak. But in typical human fashion, Israel and Judah refused to answer God’s question! Instead, they asked their own question in response. Of course, we understand why they wouldn’t answer the question: because to do so would be self-incriminating. The correct answer to God’s question is simple: “God, You’ve never done anything to us but bless us.” The people knew that if they answered that question honestly, however, they would have to admit their guilt. So instead, they asked their own question of God in verses 6-7. Here’s my interpretation of their question: “What will make You happy? I mean really, God. What’s it going to take to get You off our backs already? Just tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it!” Isn’t that a great response?
But it gets worse. The people simply recite a list of religious activities that might get them out from under God’s “wearying” demands. Their response went something like this: “So, God, would You be happy if we brought more sacrifices to the temple? How about a year-old calf, would that be good enough for You? Better yet, what if we brought thousands of rams, would that satisfy You? Would that get You off our backs? Hey, we know! Would it really please You if we sacrificed our firstborn sons to You? Would that be enough to buy our forgiveness? Would You leave us alone if we did that?” These questions just drip with arrogance and pride. The people thought they were being really clever here because there’s a clear ascension of value in the list. They began with something relatively inexpensive, a calf, and they ended with what they valued most, their children.
God Answers Israel and Judah
Then we read verse 8. This is one of the most significant and profound verses in the entire Bible. Here God condensed the spirit of the entire Old Testament law down to three simple principles. God challenged the people to abandon all of their religious activity and engage Him with their hearts. God wanted a relationship with Israel and Judah, just as He wants a relationship with us, and a relationship with God is always obtained on the basis of faith. Israel had entered the covenant with God by faith; they had embraced the law by faith; they had offered sacrifices by faith. The law, with its sacrificial system, had never been about works; it was always about faith. The same is true for us. We cannot obtain a relationship with God on the basis of works. We can list our own spiritual achievements, but those things cannot get us to heaven. Only faith in the resurrected Christ will lead to forgiveness, salvation, and a forever relationship with God. Salvation is always on the basis of faith.
Once we have entered into a faith relationship with God, however, He calls us to walk with Him through obedience. This was God’s goal for Israel and Judah, too. He expected them to embrace covenant loyalty and obedience. James would affirm this truth in the New Testament: “Faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17). We can think about it in these terms: A relationship with God begins by faith, but it grows through obedience.
God responded to the people’s question with a simple statement: “Act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly” with God. He didn’t give them this answer to provide a checklist, however. These weren’t additional “to do” items the people could add to their religious activities list. This wasn’t a quick fix to avoid God’s impending judgment.
Micah 6:8 was God saying to His people, “I’m not looking for people who simply practice religious activities; I want people who profess authentic faith in Me. I don’t want people who play at religion, I want people who love Me, and because they love Me, they want to be like Me. Because then their lives, families, and nation will reflect Me to the world.”
When we look at this amazing verse, we notice three distinct commands. First, God told them to “act justly.” This command made sense because the people had abandoned justice in so many ways, both personally and nationally. It is also the concept at the core of the trial scene that we observe in chapter 6. It’s the Hebrew word mishpat, and it occurs more than 400 times in the Old Testament. It is a concept based in God’s character. God is just, so He wants His people to be just. It can be used in both civil and religious contexts. At the personal level, it gets to the heart of one’s ethics. As Micah 2 clearly demonstrates, the majority of the people of Israel and Judah had rejected God’s command to act justly in their dealings with others. When we read this verse, we too affirm the concept of justice. We want to live in a just world, and we want to be the recipients of justice from others. Yet that isn’t what God is saying here. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you’ve already been the recipient of God’s justice, which was satisfied by the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus. You have been declared not guilty for your sin, and you have received the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. In an unjust world, God commands us to be dispensers of justice to those around us.
When we think of the concept of justice, we should keep three other ideas in mind: integrity, honesty, and concern for the weak. These are the heart of justice. Integrity, at its core, is the consistent application of one’s moral code. For believers, this moral code is God’s truth contained in the Bible. Honesty, or the commitment to truth, is a manifestation of integrity. People of integrity embrace truth consistently, especially God’s truth. When people embrace God’s truth, they accept God’s commands to show justice to the weak, the disenfranchised, and people who cannot pursue justice on their own. This is how to “act justly” for the glory of God. If we are not passionate about the things God is passionate about, then all of our “religious activity” means nothing. Does this mean that we’ll never struggle to model God’s justice? Of course not. But it does mean that we must strive every day to treat people justly for the glory of God.
Second, God told His people to “love faithfulness.” In many translations the latter word is translated “mercy.” This command made sense also because the people had abandoned a willingness to show mercy in their personal lives and in their nation. It’s the Hebrew word chesed. This is another significant Old Testament word. It appears nearly 250 times in Scripture. When God’s role in the covenant with Israel is referenced in the Old Testament, the word chesed is often used to describe it. It’s challenging to translate into English, but the best definition is “loyal love that contains mercy.” This, too, is a character trait of God. God’s love is revealed through His unwavering willingness to show mercy to sinful people. God’s love was demonstrated through the substitute sacrifices at the center of Israel’s worship, even as God’s love was demonstrated through the substitute sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross (Rom 5:8). The resulting forgiveness is an expression of God’s loving, merciful kindness toward His people.
When we think about this word in its personal application, it means “to show kindness to others willingly.” When we think about this definition, three other similar terms come to mind: love, grace, and forgiveness. We can know that we love faithfulness when we begin to view the world the way God does. It allows us to see that the people around us need Jesus and that we have the unique privilege to minister and live the gospel before them in such a way that they will come to know Jesus as Savior. That can happen as we show authentic love, practice grace, and extend forgiveness when we are wronged—all of the things that God did for us when He saved us and that He continues to do for us daily. Consider how rare it is to find someone who cares enough about others to be inconvenienced, to meet a need, or to be available to provide help in a time of difficulty. Often people in our culture are so involved in self-preservation and self-service that they never even notice the needs of the people around them. When we embrace the command to love faithfulness, suddenly the people around us matter, and we will look for opportunities to invest in their lives.
As we continue to observe the courtroom drama in chapter 6, God chastises Israel and Judah again for their failure to act justly and love faithfulness (vv. 9-12). God put into evidence the people’s lifestyle choices. Their houses were full of the “treasures of wickedness,” because they stole from countrymen and strangers alike. Business people padded their bank accounts by using “short measures” and “wicked scales” to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. God described the rich people as being “full of violence.” As 2:1 noted, they devised wicked plans, and then they accomplished them. They stole the inheritance of the poor and then lied about it. And they practiced deceit at every opportunity. We read this and can’t help but wonder whether Micah was talking about his era or our own. Our cultures may be different, but the condition of our hearts is exactly the same. What God was telling His people was this: “I don’t want My kids to look like this—I want them to look like Me! I want them to act justly and love faithfulness by loving their neighbors, not looting them. I want business people who are honest and value the hard work and resources of others. I want wealthy people who look to care for the poor, not victimize them. I want citizens who are honest and confess their own hurt. I want politicians who will serve others, not line their own pockets with bribes. I want My people to love mercy because I do and to show mercy toward others because that’s what I’ve shown toward them.” If we want these traits to become a part of our own lives, however, we must understand the final command God gave His people.
Walk Humbly with God
Third, God told them to “walk humbly” with Him. This command spoke to the heart motive of the people. The word translated “humbly” in this text is an interesting word, and it is used only here in the entire Old Testament. It’s the Hebrew word tsana. Like chesed, it’s challenging to translate into English. The best definition of this word is “lowly.” We hear the word lowly, and we immediately have a negative response. We think of someone who is weak, unsuccessful, or insignificant. In reality, it’s a word that describes authentic humility.
When we think about this word in its personal application, we understand that it is the opposite of sinful, selfish pride. Humility is the character trait that will motivate people to obey God and be loyal to Him. When we think about walking humbly with God, two words come to mind: faith and obedience. We must accept this simple truth: We will never act justly or love faithfulness if we’re not walking humbly with God. Pride says, “Life is about me, and the people around me are simply there to make my life better.” The people of Israel and Judah had become filled with pride, and as a result they had reduced their covenant relationship with God to a spiritual “to do” list, which frankly they would just as soon have done without. That is the picture of arrogance.
Humility, however, says this: “I believe God, and so I obey God.” That’s what it means to walk humbly with God. Jesus, who is God in human form, modeled humility for us when He came to earth. He humbled Himself to the will of His Father by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-11). He brought Himself under the authority of God the Father in order to provide a substitute sacrifice that would produce a perfect atonement for our sin. Consequently, He calls us to do the same—to come under the authority of God our Father, to live for His glory, and to have a heart that reflects His Father’s heart. The person with a humble heart will act justly and love faithfulness. For this to happen, however, we must believe and obey God.
The people of Israel and Judah did not believe God’s truth, and so they refused to obey it. They embraced false gods, false prophets, and false ethics. We are capable of the same poor choices. I’ve become convinced that every time we willfully choose to disobey God, what we have really said is, “We don’t believe God.” If we’re dishonest, it’s because we don’t believe what God said about honesty: that truth is the best option for us. If we become angry with someone or something, it’s because we do not believe what God said about unrighteous anger: that it is a sin and should be shunned. If we lace our speech with profanity, it’s because we don’t believe that unwholesome communication is a wickedness that God wants to drive out of our hearts. If we don’t use our spiritual gifts for kingdom mission, it’s because we don’t believe that God gave us gifts or wants us to use them for His glory. If we don’t share the gospel with our unregenerate friends, it’s because we don’t believe that God gave the Great Commission to us. If we don’t give our tithes to God’s church, it’s because we don’t believe that God has any claim on our finances. In every one of these examples, and a hundred others like them, the root of our sin is a proud heart—one that refuses to believe and obey God. Sin is always a result of a lack of faith in some area of our lives.
As you can see, we will never humble ourselves before God until we believe that He “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6) and that we fulfill our life’s purpose best when we live under the lordship of Christ. When we are walking with this mind-set, justice and faithfulness will matter to us. The people in Israel and Judah totally rejected this truth, however, so justice, faithfulness, and humility were foreign concepts to them.
God Declares the Verdict against Israel and Judah
As Micah 6 draws to a close, it’s time for the Judge’s ruling. All the evidence has been shared, and the defense has been mounted. God doesn’t call on the mountains to serve as the jury, however. Instead, He makes a simple, summary judgment: “Guilty!” Then, in the hushed courtroom, He pronounces the sentence in verses 13-16. The people thought their sin would bring them a profit, but God would devour their ill-gotten gains. Food would not satisfy them. They might acquire wealth through dishonest means, but they would not be able to preserve it. They would grow much produce, but others would eat it. The people of Israel and Judah had embraced the sins of Ahab (1 Kgs 16:29-34), and now they would pay for their foolish choices. They would go into captivity as they suffered the harsh judgment of God. God ordained the rod (v. 9), and He was about to strike them severely. Why? Because while they were all too willing to profess their faith, they just didn’t want to practice it.
Why does this matter to us today? It matters because the greatest hindrance to the gospel is the life of the person who professes to be a Christian but doesn’t live a life that reflects Christ. It gives the unregenerate the right to question the authenticity of both our faith and the gospel. Why? There’s no justice or mercy on display. This is the challenge of Micah 6. God wants more from us than occasional religious performance. A real relationship requires more. He wants our hearts to beat with His heartbeat. When we sin, He wants us to own it, confess it, and continue our pursuit of Him. He wants us to live for His glory in our personal lives, marriage, parenting, jobs, hobbies, and community. God wants our hearts to be filled with justice, faithfulness, and humility because He’s never been about religious performance, He’s always been about our hearts (1 Sam 15:22).
Micah 6 is an amazing chapter, and verse 8 is an amazing verse! But let’s be honest—it hurts. It’s hard on us because it challenges our motives. It forces us to answer the question, “Why do we do what we do for God?” Do we follow Him half-heartedly just to try to win His favor or get into heaven? Do we perform religious activities with a prideful, sin-filled heart? Would we rather God just let us live how we want without any commands or constraints?
These were the attitudes that dominated the people of Israel and Judah during Micah’s ministry. Despite their idolatry and rejection of God’s covenant, they were placing their hope in the fact that they maintained some level of religious activity as God’s people. They were convinced that Micah was wrong about his message of judgment. Time would prove the truthfulness of his message, however. We have the same choices to make today. We can live like modern-day Pharisees, or we can live with a heart that acts justly, loves faithfulness, and walks humbly with God.
Reflect and Discuss
- Read the following verses and determine how they relate to demonstrating justice: Deuteronomy 19:14,15-21; 23:19,21-23,24-25. Why did God establish these laws, and how do they demonstrate justice on the part of those who obey them?
- Read the following verses and determine how they relate to demonstrating mercy: Deuteronomy 22:1-4,6-7,8,10; 23:15-16; 24:6-7; 24:10-13,14-15. Why did God establish these laws, and how do they demonstrate mercy on the part of those who obey them?
- Read these verses and contemplate the importance that God places on humility: Proverbs 3:34; 16:19; 29:23; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5-10.
- Jesus modeled humility, even though He was God in human form. Read Philippians 2:5-11. What can we learn from His example?
- Micah 6:8 is not a plan for achieving salvation through works. Rather, it is the evidence that real forgiveness and faith are at work in an individual. James had much to say about this. Read James 2:14-18. What does the presence or absence of works potentially reveal about the authenticity of one’s faith?
- In Jesus’ day the Pharisees were intentional about keeping the law, but they had missed the point of Micah. Read Matthew 23:23. What does it reveal about the importance of authentic faith modeled through works?
- Is it possible to profess the principles of justice, mercy, and humility while practicing something totally different? How can we be guilty of this?
- When the people of Israel and Judah were confronted with their sin, they immediately changed the subject. Why is it so difficult at times to receive the rebuke and instruction of Scripture in our lives?
- Israel and Judah failed to understand the difference between doing “religious” things and being in an authentic relationship with God. God is far more interested in the condition of our hearts than our religious activity. Why must the condition of our hearts be most important to us, and how does it affect our works?
- Scripture is filled with examples of people who in humility acted justly and loved faithfulness. Who are they and what did they accomplish for God as a result?