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Micah 6:1-8

The vast majority of the ink that’s been spilt covering Micah has focused on Micah 6:8. But before we get there, I think we should first spend much of our time looking into the first paragraph.

The chapter opens up with what you might call a ‘cosmic courtroom’. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), whenever a dispute arose between two parties who had no shared authority such as two kings, or families from two different nations, they would instead appeal to the authority of the gods. In their legends, when the gods came into dispute with one another, they’d call upon the council of gods for witness.

Israel had one God (or at least, they were supposed to only have one), so when God came into conflict with Israel, there was no council of gods to appeal to as witnesses; no shared authority to which both parties owed allegiance. Instead, God appeals not to a shared authority, but a shared responsibility; the land. Both God and Israel share responsibility for the land under the covenant, so as witness to His dispute, God calls the hills, the mountains, and the foundations of the earth. But rather than raising a challenge about Israel’s sin, the case God brings begins with an appeal to their covenant history. He more or less says, “I’ve been faithful to my end, and here are the receipts”. Israel was enslaved in Egypt, God ransomed them, and raised up leaders for them. When they came to the land that was promised to their fathers, they were met with ancient relatives, peoples who should have been their allies, who instead attacked and tried to curse them. Balak hires the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, but God keeps forcing Balaam to bless Israel instead. Balak freaks out and says “hey man, that ain’t the deal”, and Balaam replies, “I can’t predict a calamity which YHWH refuses to allow. He’s decided to bless them, I can’t stop Him.”

When that doesn’t work, B&B switch tactics, and instead try to trick the Israelites into getting themselves cursed. Balaam advises his own king back in Midian to send the priestesses of the Baal of Peor to get the Israelites to engage in a sacred orgy in the plain of Shittim in Moab. It works until it doesn’t, and after taking care of the apostates in their ranks, Israel wipes out Midian. Shortly afterwards, Moses is succeeded by Joshua, and Israel marches from Shittim to Jordan; God parts the Jordan river, and they march through it to Gilgal where they set up an altar commemorating their entrance into the land.

In other words, not only is God reminding Israel that they only exist because He freed, guided, and protected them; He’s reminding them that He kept doing all of that even though Israel has been bad at reciprocating since the get go.

Micah’s response implies that there’s no arguing with God’s case. He's obviously right; but what is Israel to do about it? Offer a bunch of sacrifices? Y’know Balak offered 7 bulls and 7 rams on 7 alters three separate times trying to get YHWH to curse Israel; it didn’t work. Should we give up our firstborn for our rebellious acts? Oh wait, we’ve already owed YHWH our firstborn ever since the first Passover, the night we were freed from slavery. So what can we possibly offer God, how are we to turn back from our apostasy? Well He’s already done told you; do mishpat, love hesed, and walk with hatzne before your God.

Mishpat mostly gets translated as ‘justice’, but especially here in America the lexical range of the word ‘justice’ is so broad that I find it unhelpful as a standalone word. In scripture, mishpat occasionally is used the way our judicial system might use ‘justice’; that is, to refer to the punishment for the perpetrator, and/or restitution for the victim of a particular crime. But far more often, ‘mishpat’ refers to the setting right of broken relationships, unjust social structures, or exploitative systems. It’s what we might call ‘restorative justice’; because its goal is less about punishing the wicked, and more about fixing, or ‘restoring’, what’s been broken.

Hesed has no standardized translation per se, because there is no English equivalent. Probably the closest translation I’m aware of to matching its lexical range is ‘covenant faithfulness’, but even that falls a bit short. Hesed is indeed a word arising from Hebrew legal terms surrounding covenant making, and it is about faithfulness to a covenant. However, hesed goes far beyond simply abiding by the terms of a covenant. To have hesed is to be faithful to your covenant partners above and beyond the strictures of your covenant. Faithfulness to your spouse is abiding by the promises in your vows. To have hesed for your spouse, is to view those vows as less than table stakes (can Methodists use gambling terms?); the vows are the basement foundation, but the hesed is the house on top of it. The covenant Israel entered into was between themselves and YHWH, but also between one another and between themselves and the land. Similarly, we as Christians have entered into covenant with Christ, with His church, and with the creation which He came to save. I think it might do the church a whole lot of good to start imagining what hesed would look like in our covenant.

Finally, hatzne; the root word is to entwine or circle something, but in the form it takes in the verse, it’s a manner of carrying oneself with reflective consciousness. Or in more simple terms, walk like someone who remembers where they came from when you walk with God. God just reminded Israel where they came from; they were slaves in Egypt, then rebels in the desert, then pariahs in among their neighbors; and He had protected them the whole way. But in Micah’s time they’d been walking with God as though He owed them allegiance.

Dear Christian, let me ask you this; how cognizant are you of God’s provision not just for you, but for generations of your family, believers and non-believers alike? Is your experience of this world colored by the lens of one whose sins are forgiven? Does the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection, and of the promise of ours influence the choices you make, the way you treat those around you, or the priorities you’ve set? Maybe circle back for a bit, think it over as you walk with God.

Don’t forget who God is; don’t forget who you were, or how you became who you are; do what’s restoratively just, don’t settle for mere faithfulness, and take a minute to appreciate what it means that you are able to walk with God. Be at peace friends.