Background Information

The prophet Micah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom during the time in which they were held in captivity by the Assyrian king, Sargon II, around 730 to 700 BC.[1] During this time King Hezekiah worked very hard to bring revival to Judah although Assyria loomed at the door. Hezekiah was somewhat successful in his attempts to bring revival, but it was mostly superficial. God used Isaiah, Micah, and Hezekiah to keep Judah from judgment. While the Northern Kingdom’s sins were transparent, the Southern Kingdom’s sins were hidden behind religious observances and rituals. Everything looked wonderful and orthodox on the outside, but Micah knew that their hearts were far from their God. He saw past their adherence of the external things of the law and addressed the root of their sins – their hearts.

Micah 6:6-8

In chapter six of Micah, Micah makes a proclamation from God concerning His people Israel. He asks them what he has done unto them and calls for them to respond. He reminds them of His faithfulness to them, protecting them from harm from such people as Balak and Balaam. In verses six and seven, Micah gives the response of the people to God. And in verse eight, Micah then responds giving a direct answer to their questions. He addresses the issues in which they are seemingly so ignorant and foolish to perceive as truths, that some kind of external ritual or sacrifice is good enough to satisfy God. Micah states that God has already shown them what He expects of them, and that they should not have asked the question in the first place.

Literary Style

Micah here is poetic. The speech-form is masterfully composed and is borrowed from the entrance liturgy as evidenced in Psalm 15 and 24, and in another place borrowing from Isaiah 33:14-16.[2] His writing style is defined by questions and answers. Micah represents both parties involved. In the first part of the chapter Micah spoke for God, in verses six and seven he represents the people, and in verse eight he speaks for himself, posing as the priest between the people and God.

Some believe that this speech would have conjured in the minds of his audience a courtroom setting.[3] The judge is God, and Micah speaks on his behalf as his counsel. The witnesses are found in the first part of the chapter: the mountains, hills, and the very foundation of the earth (6:1-2). In chapter six of Micah, God takes Israel to court.

MICAH 6:6

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burn offerings, with calves a year old?”

אֲקַדֵּ֣ם – piel, imperf, 1cs, קָדַם, I come

אִכַּ֖ף  – nifal, imperf, 1cs, כָּפַף, I bow myself

אֲקַדְּמֶ – piel, imperf, 1cs, קָדַם, I come

 

It is unlikely that Balak is the speaker of verses six and seven with Balaam giving his response in verse eight as some have asserted.[4] Micah here most likely speaks for the people of Israel represented as a single, inquisitive worshipper. God’s charge against Israel has been made and this individual now responds.

While most commentators believe that verses six and seven are asked by the people personified, not all agree as to the spirit from which they proceed, some taking the questions to be full of arrogance and self-righteousness; others see the questions acknowledging their sin in some degree and truly desiring means for propitiation.[5] It is probable that the people are most likely truly repentant, but severely ignorant of what their sin actually is.

The people do acknowledge God in his high place מָר֑וֹם)). This unique expression is also seen in Psalm 92:8 (9).[6] They desire to come before the Lord אֲקַדֵּ֣ם)). This word means “to go meet” or “appear in the presence” of the Lord. This signifies humility and gives a glimpse of a repentant heart. They desire to come before the Lord, and they know that they should not appear before him empty-handed. So they ask if they should bring burnt offerings or sacrifice year old calves. Burnt offerings were demanding sacrifices where the whole animal was offered, unlike others where the offering was also eaten by the worshipper in a meal.[7] A year old calf was regarded as the best sacrifice, although they were eligible for sacrifice from the age of seven days (Lev 22:27, Ex 22:30.)[8] Although usually seen as two separate types of sacrifices, the burnt offerings and year old calves could be an example of hendiadys, making the calves to be the burnt offerings.[9]

The question assumes that God is the problem, and that something must be done to change His attitude towards Judah.[10] They desire to please God, but show their dramatic ignorance. They do not realize that sacrifices are not what are lacking, but righteousness. They are eager to obtain God’s approval, but are completely ignorant of the means by which to do so.

MICAH 6:7

“Will the LORD delight in thousands of rams, or in ten thousand rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul.”

יִרְצֶ֤ה – qal, imperf, 3ms, רָצָה, pleased

אֶתֵּ֤ן – piel, imperf, 1cs, נָתַן, give

Here, they, as Leslie Allen puts it, “turn from quality of offering to quantity.”[11] And in doing so they imply that Yahweh is a greedy and bloodthirsty God. The word יִרְצֶ֤ה, typically understood as “delight,” is a technical term of the priest who would examine sacrifices and declare them fit for presentation to God (Lev 1:4; 22:25).[12] These seemingly unfathomable numbers more than likely used as hyperbole. King Solomon and other kings did sacrifice sheep and cattle in numbers far greater than even these mentioned (1 Kings 3:4; 8:63; 2 Chr 30:24; 35:7), but here the numbers are exaggerations.[13] Rams (אֵילִ֔ים) (Lev. 5:15) and olive oil (שָׁ֑מֶן) (Lev 2:1, 4, 15) were common sacrificial substances.

The offerings gradually increase in size and value until they reach a climax at the end of verse seven. Here the speaker seems desperate, realizing that his suggestions up to this point have been futile.[14] Now the speaker asks if God would be pleased with the most valuable sacrifice that a man could give, his own first-born son. But this thought is completely unreasonable because God had explicitly forbidden this as an abomination (Lev 18:21). The people offer sacrifices of flesh, even the fruit of their own flesh. But they should have known that what God desires is not that of the flesh, but the spirit. And Israel should have known this from both the sacrifice of Isaac required by God in Genesis 22, and from the law concerning the consecration of the first-born in Exodus 13:12-13.[15]

It is also here that the people mention their transgression פִּשְׁעִ֔)) and sin (חַטַּ֥את) for the first time. But in the way they ask it, most likely hyperbole, they are mocking the notion that they actually had a sin problem, that God’s claims are unsubstantiated.[16] The two nouns פִּשְׁעִ֔)) and (חַטַּ֥את) grammatically are more likely causal accusatives than appositional terms.[17] The idea that human sacrifice was a common act in Israel is not very reasonable, although it was practiced in neighboring nations. It is undeniable that it did seep into the nation of Israel, and people did sacrifice their children to a god named Molech somewhere on the south side of Jerusalem. This god is the one to whom both Ahaz and Manasseh infamously sacrificed their sons (2 Kings 16:3, 21:7).[18] The Hebrew word (נַפְשִֽׁ) is often understood as soul, as it is here, but it also could have the understanding of talking of the whole person. If that is the case, then it could be translated “my sin” instead of “the sin of my soul.”

Ultimately, the questions raised by the people of Israel showed that they were truly ignorant of God’s will. The questions both showed their ignorance and mocked God Himself. They feel God’s attack in the previous verses was unwarranted, and desired to know what it would take to be back in fellowship with Him. They would do anything, even sacrifice their own children, except do what they should have known that God wanted them to do. This is when Micah speaks up as the priest.

MICAH 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you, except to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

הִגִּ֥יד – hif, perf, 3ms, נָגַד, told

דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ – qal, participle, masc, sing, absolute, דָּרַשׁ, require

עֲשׂ֤וֹת – qal, inf construct, עָשָׂה, to do

אַ֣הֲבַת – qal, inf construct, אָהֵב, love

לֶ֖כֶת – qal, inf construct, הָלַךְ, walk

 

This verse is one of the best summaries of the law in the Old Testament. The rabbis who commented on this verse in the early centuries called it “a one-line summary of the whole Law.”[19] Micah now addresses Israel and tells them what God requires of them. Unfortunately for them, they should have already known what God required of them because He had already told them multiple times in passages such as Deuteronomy 10:12-13.

The personification of the worshipper of verses six and seven is seen here as man (אָדָ֖ם). This word is more often used collectively than of a single person.[20] In addressing Israel this way the contrast of the “God on high” (אלֹהֵ֣י מָר֑וֹם) of verse six is contrasted with simple אָדָ֖ם here.

Micah has nothing new to say to them. God has already told them (הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛) what is good (טּ֑וֹב). Some assume this verb to be passive, and so translate it without a subject (“What is good has been explained to you”). The majority see the verb to be active and subject being the LORD or God.[21] There should have been no mystery or question about what God had required. And it had nothing to do with sacrifice and offering. There were simply three things that God required of His people: to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God. Yet, Israel at this was just the opposite: unjust, oppressive, and in want of affection.

They are first to do justice (מִשְׁפָּט). This word has a broad meaning and involves right and fair relationships in the community, especially in legal and financial affairs.[22] Justice is necessary for people to live amongst each other in the way that God intended. But Israel at this time could even be defined as unjust. Injustice ruled in Israel, and this made temple worship a mockery of Israel’s faith.[23]

They also told to love mercy (חֶ֔סֶד).The second part of the summary, like doing justice, focused on actions toward others. The rich word חֶ֔סֶד is used here. It is described by Leslie Allen as “a word of relationship, expressing an attitude of covenant obligation.”[24] But it is a fairly complex word, and TWOT concludes that “it is by no means clear that  חֶ֔סֶד necessarily involves a covenant or means fidelity to a covenant.” It refers both to an attitude as well as to actions, and the KJV’s rendering of “loving-kindness” is archaic but also quite accurate.[25] It is the covenantal aspect of this word that is best understood here. In verses 3-5 the Lord had accused his people of failing to obey their covenant obligations to Him.[26] Here, ultimately, they were being told to have a heart-filled desire to do good to others and to obey God.

Finally, God tells them to “walk humbly with their God” (לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ) “Walk” here is used in a figurative sense. This requires passive and active obedience towards God.[27] The word (הַצְנֵ֥עַ) is a rare word, occurring only twice, here and in Proverbs 11:2, where it is contrasted with the word “proud.”[28] It most likely means doing what God wants and not insisting on one’s own will. The first two duties are mostly towards others, but this duty is to God. He expected them to “walk” with them, just as Enoch and Noah had done. It is this walk that God truly desires, and not rituals or sacrifices. They are only expressions of that walk.[29] He is their God, shedding light once again on the covenant between them.

CONCLUSION

Even though the three parts of verse six have great meaning separately, it is the whole verse which is most important. These three pillars are what was expected of Israel, not rituals, not sacrifices. God wants the heart. He wants His people to want His will and to serve in love of others and of God. For us today, when we feel that we have fallen short of pleasing God we many times turn to forms of religiosity – going to church more often, spending hours in prayer, giving more money, etc.[30] We tell God “I’ll do anything, just don’t make me change.” But God has told us what he requires of us. We are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.


[1] Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1987), 478.

[2] Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 368.

[3] Peter C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets: Volume 2, The Daily Study Bible Series (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 45.

[4] The Pulpit Commentary: Micah, ed. H.D.M Spence-Jones (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), 87.

[5] Ibid., 87-88

[6] Allen, 369.

[7] Allen, 370.

[8] Ibid., 370.

[9] David J. Clark and Norm Mundhenk, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Micah, Helps for Translators (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1982), 230.

[10] James E. Smith, The Minor Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992), Micah 6:8.

[11] Allen, 370.

[12] Smith, Mic 6:7.

[13] Allen, 370.

[14] Clark and Mundhenk, 230-231.

[15] Carl Friedrich Kiel and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Micah 6:7.

[16] Smith, Micah 6:7.

[17] Allen, 370.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Kenneth L. Barker, vol 20, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2001), 112.

[20] Allen, 371.

[21] Clark and Mundhenk, 232-233.

[22] Ibid, 234.

[23] Cragie, 46.

[24] Allen, 371.

[25] R. Laird Harris, Robert Lair Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 307.

[26] Clark and Mundhenk, 234.

[27] Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fasset, A.R. Fausset et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Micah 6:8.

[28] Clark and Mundhenk, 234.

[29] Cragie, 47.

[30] Ibid.

 

2 thoughts on “A look at Micah 6:6-8

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