Uniform 07.19.2015: What God Requires

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Micah 6:3-8

Without question, the most well-known section of this passage is one of my favorite Scriptures. Over my years as an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys, I have read countless Scripture verses, dozens of Bible commentaries, and thousands of words by people like you and me who are doing their best to follow God’s way.

I have met the “Old Testament God”—angry, vengeful, jealous, and even downright violent at times. I have met the “New Testament God”—human, grieved, compassionate, and steadfast. I’ve encountered characters who teach me what not to do and ones who show me how to walk in the way of the Lord regardless of life’s ups and downs. Like you, perhaps, I have felt confused when people writing about the same God seem to know that God so differently. I have wondered why God doesn’t seem to do the great miracles today, and then the very next moment I’ve been floored by God’s overwhelming presence within me and in everything around me.

Over and over, people I trust have told me to take the Bible as a whole. Look at it as a complete message instead of stories about different versions of God. When I do that, and when I ponder who God is, I always come down to what Jesus said to that rich young ruler who wanted to know the greatest commandment: “Love God with every ounce of your being. And love others as you love yourself” (see Mt 22:34-40).

I used to think this overarching quality of love was unique to God as Jesus. But that’s not true. God exhibits that kind of character in the Old Testament too. We wonder, what can I give to God? What can I do for God? What can I say for or about God? People have asked those questions for centuries: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?” (Mic 6:6).

And what is God’s answer? It is the one that Jesus echoes centuries after Micah’s writing: “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (v. 8). This is a well-known passage for a reason.

When we read the wide variety of God’s stories in the Bible, listen to others who are trying to interpret the word of God, and look around our world for God’s presence, we can remember that the Lord shows up when we recognize our place as created beings, treat others kindly, and take care of more than just ourselves.

Discussion

1. What Scripture passages have lingered in your mind and heart through the years? Why? What do they mean to you?
2. What do you do when faced with varying interpretations of who God is or what God wants from us?
3. Do you feel that you can ask bold questions of the Lord? Why or why not?
4. How is Micah 6:8 like Matthew 22:37-39? What is the main theme of these verses? What other verses can you find with a similar theme?
5. What are some practical ways that you can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

Reference Shelf

Undoubtedly the most famous passage in Micah, this rhetorical unit reflects profoundly on the question of what it means to be a person of faith. The passage contains two interconnected sections as the speaker changes from 6:6-7 (an unidentified individual, addressed as “human”) to 6:8 (the prophetic response). The unnamed speaker asks a series of questions with cultic, literary, theological, and ethical implications. Micah 6:8 then provides the prophet’s response, with a statement that in many ways could be classified as a description of biblical ethics in a nutshell.

The unnamed speaker asks about obedience and right standing before YHWH, wondering how much sacrifice it takes to please this God. To a certain extent, the questions hold the cultic apparatus up to satirical scrutiny. If YHWH wants burnt offerings and year-old calves, why not multiply the offerings by a thousand or ten thousand? If killing an animal as a sacrifice will impress YHWH, then would YHWH not be more impressed with child sacrifice (“give my firstborn for my transgression”; “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul)”? The absurdity of ritual slaughter stands in dramatic relief to the desires of YHWH, who wants people to act with justice. The questions, however, are not posed to complain about the burden of cultic ritual but to caricature the cultic elements in order to make a point about the nature of YHWH’s commands. The point of this unit is that YHWH does not need the blood of animals; YHWH desires behavior that embodies justice ( mispat ) and kindness (hesed) in a life showing deference to YHWH.

While it is often noted that the power of the divine response comes from the way it sums up three crucial aspects of a life of faith (kindness [hesed], justice, and humility before God), seldom do commentators focus on the initial aspect of 6:8. The verse begins with a rejoinder that what follows is nothing new: “He has declared to you, O human . . . .” However, Micah contains no such statement, so what happens if one asks the obvious question, Where has such thinking been declared? The failure to explain this claim reflects too narrow a literary horizon. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there a better candidate for the source of this claim than in Hosea 12:6 (MT 12:7): “But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love (hesed) and justice (mispat) wait continually for your God.” While Hosea 12:6 varies slightly from Micah 6:8, similar formulations connect the two: true believers are to deal positively with others and to wait on God to act.

Reference

James D. Nogalski, Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011), 573–74.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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