This text is one of those tunes on the radio that gets too much playtime, but nevertheless proves to be a real earworm. How often have you heard “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Lord” (paraphrase, v.8)? The thing about earworms though, is that often you find yourself humming the tune but not engaging with the meaning of the words.
Making sense of this command to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, requires one to closely reflect on the text and context of Micah 6:8. One important point that is often dropped in recitation of Micah 6:8 is that it appears in the midst of a failure. Specifically, a failure on the part of Israel.
For those familiar with the Hebrew bible, the situation of the verse plays close to the main cycle of the anthology: Israel falls short of God’s commands; God punishes or scolds Israel; God reminds them of God’s faithfulness; and then God tells Israel to do better. Usually, Israel does better for a little while, and then again fail to uphold their end of the covenant with God; the cycle then repeats. This pattern is the reason the Hebrew bible, millennia after its composition, still proves useful. God’s church today often falls short, often needs reminding, and often needs to be challenge and encouraged to “do better.”
In the first verses of Micah 6, God speaks to Israel as a passive aggressive parental figure (a tone of which I’ve never experienced personally [love you mom], but that I’ve heard about in books and movies). In short God asks “what have I ever done to you to make you hurt me so? Are you angry with me because I delivered you from bondage? Do you remember that time I did that for you?”
While my prose hear is comical, it is in essence what is happening! And then something curious takes place. The writer of this text breaks character in v.8. “He has told you O mortal what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” No longer is god speaking directly. The writer is reminding the reader of what God commanded us to do. It almost feels as if the writer is co-parenting here. As if to say “Yea! What your mom said!”
I’ll appreciate this. It’s as if the writer is saying that God’s people know what is expected of them and that God shouldn’t have to remind us all of the time what we are to do and who we are to be. In this way the writer steps into the role of pastor or teacher. The beauty of this verse is that it leaves the concepts of doing justice, being kind, and walking humbly open for interpretation. On this Sunday, perhaps one ought to think carefully about what these things meant for Ancient Israel, and what they might mean for us today as inheritors of Israel’s tradition and covenant with God.