Micah chapter 6 is very much a chapter in two parts. Whilst the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible make it easier to find specific sentences, sometimes the divisions run counter to the narrative and make it more difficult to understand. The chapter divisions in use today were added in the early 13th century, and versification we use was added in the mid-1500s.
The first three verses are a recap of the indictment of the Lord against His people, Israel. The Lord pleads His case to the mountains and the foundations of the earth - for they were there before Israel had been formed. They are poetic witnesses of what the Lord has done for Israel.
Verses 4 and 5 recount the Lord’s care and concern for His people, and some of the steps He has undertaken to guard and protect them. He begins with bringing them out of Egypt - ‘ransomed you from the house of slavery’, and of Moses, Aaron and Miriam leading them. The Lord reminds His people of what Balaam spoke to Balak king of Moab - that Israel is a blessed people1.
Verses 6 through 8 contain man’s reply - as to how he can atone for his sin against the Lord. It’s worth quoting in full:
With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8 from the NASB®2)
Let’s look at the options here: Burnt offerings (verse 6), thousands of live offerings (7), an unlimited supply of olive oil (7), the firstborn child (7). All of these had been or were offerings being made ether by the people of Israel or of those in surrounding areas at the time this was written. The burnt offering/sacrificial system was in place for the Israelites (but of animals, grain and oil) whereas human sacrifice was practiced by some of the nations surrounding them. Verse 8 contains the right answer - ‘And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?' This verse speaks of both our character and behaviour - of what we do, how we think, and how we do it.
Sounds good, right? But the problem is that I cannot and will not do this consistently on my own. The Spirit Filled Life Bible which I use much of the time contains a note that the Israel teachers codified the Law into 613 precepts which they then summarised into 11 principles (seen in Psalm 15) and also into six commands (see Isaiah 33:15), and then distilled by Micah into three. But regardless of the number - whether 613 or 11 or 6 or 3, I still can’t keep them. I may be able to do, or to think or to walk in a righteous way for a while, but eventually I will look for a way out - to reinterpret a command, or justify breaking one, or to sidestep one here or there for convenience or expedience. And that is why we need Jesus - one who kept and fulfilled the sacrificial system - one who willingly had His blood shed so that my sin, my disease, my infirmity would/could be dealt with.
This second half of Micah 6 contains a list of punishments tat will befall Israel for their continued disobedience.
Verse 9 is a call for the people to take heed and pay attention - ‘The voice of the LORD will call to the city’. Verses 10 and 11 speak of dishonest business practices - short measures and dishonest weights. Verse 12 is an indictment of those who are violent, and who lie and practice deceit. Verses 13 through 16 detail a list of the punishments that the disobedient in Israel will suffer when the city is laid seige to and the people are exiled:
- crop loss - sowing but not reaping
- derision and reproach
It is an ugly litany of punishments that Israel could expect because they had not obeyed the voice of te Lord. And it stads in stark contrast to the positivity of some of the previous verses.