Connections 02.02.2020: Abiding Principles

Micah 6:1-8

A long time ago, in a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary far, far away, I heard a chapel speaker say something like this: “We don’t read a manual on how to operate a vacuum cleaner as poetry, so why would we read Genesis 1 as a manual on how God created the universe?”

The speaker’s point was well taken.

Now, not all of the Bible is poetry. At the same time, not much of the Bible is an instruction manual. What I mean is that it isn’t designed to offer us step-by-step instructions on how to deal with every situation that arises.

I remember hearing preachers from my childhood and youth saying things like, “The Bible contains the answer to any situation you might encounter in life.” This is not accurate. The Bible doesn’t tell us how to answer every theological question or how to handle every ethical dilemma.

On the other hand, it does.

How can both be true? Because while the Bible doesn’t give us step-by-step instructions, it does give us abiding principles that can be applied in any situation. The last verse of this week’s lesson text offers two such principles.

The first abiding principle offered in Micah 6:8 is that we should walk humbly with our God. We can’t walk humbly with God unless we walk with God. Every step we take, we should take with God. This requires our awareness that God walks with us and we with God.

We may walk side-by-side with God, but we don’t walk as equals. God is God, and we are us. To keep that in mind is key to walking humbly with God. Our goal is to follow God’s leadership. We want to walk in the ways God would have us walk. We want to live in the ways God would have us live. To walk humbly with God is to acknowledge that we need God’s help and to accept it.

The second abiding principle offered in Micah 6:8 is that we should practice justice and mercy in our dealings with people. This means that we treat people as they should be treated, that we treat them as we want to be treated, and that we treat them with love, grace, and compassion.

Both of these abiding principles are based on the fact that relationships exist. They assume that we have a relationship with God and relationships with other people. Through these principles, God tells us to live every day intending to treat God as God and people as people.

Christians have a relationship with the God we know in Jesus Christ. When you stop and think about it, the abiding principles in Micah 6:8 are much like those Jesus offered when someone asked him what the greatest commandment is: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt 22:37-39).

So while the Bible doesn’t give us step-by-step instructions for every situation we encounter, it sure does give us the abiding principles that should guide our motivations, perspectives, intentions, thoughts, words, and actions.

Our challenge is to be faithful in our relationships by always remembering and living in light of God’s abiding principles.

Discussion

  • What kinds of controversies might the Lord have with us?
  • What can happen if we fail to remember and be grateful for all God has done for us?
  • Do we ever become misguided in what we think God might require of us? If so, what examples of such misunderstandings can you think of?
  • What are some challenges we face in doing what the Lord requires of us?
  • Read Matthew 5:1-12. How do these teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount help us think about what it means to walk humbly with God and to treat people with justice and mercy?

Reference Shelf

God brings an indictment against Israel. The language of “(covenant) lawsuit” is sometimes used for this segment, but that seems an unlikely designation in that such language tends to reduce these verses to matters of legal import. The fundamental issue at stake between God and Israel has to do with a relationship that has been ruptured and that needs close and sharp attention. Notice the repeated use of the word “what” (6:3, 5, 6, 8), which serves to raise questions and issues that are to be addressed by both people and God in every generation.

The identification of the speakers is disputed. From one point of view, the passage begins with a word from the prophet to the people (“Hear”); he quotes what God has to say to the people (“plead [= state] your case before the mountains”). “If you have an issue with God, then let’s hear it (see 6:3, “Answer me”)!” A less likely interpretation of these opening verses has the prophet asking the people to “hear” the “case” that God has to make, with the balance of 6:1 (“rise . . .”) being addressed to God, whose response follows (6:2-5). In either case, the prophet refers to God in both first and third person in 6:1-5. The text moves to the words of a spokesperson for the people (6:6-7) and then returns to the prophet (6:8). The last-noted verse captures the heart of the issue at stake between God and people not only in Micah but also for the Old Testament more generally (compare Matt 22:36-40).

The mountains (stable foundations of the earth) are asked to enter into the dialogue as witnesses of what has happened to the God-Israel relation- ship. God’s “controversy” with Israel is played out before an audience that consists of all of nonhuman creation (6:1-2), recalling 1:2-4. These creatures are often called on to provide a testimony regarding what either human beings or God have done (e.g., Deut 4:26; 30:19; Pss 69:34; 96:11-12; Isa 1:2; 44:23; Ezek 36:1-7). They can be trusted to tell the truth because they have been present throughout the history of the world and have observed all that has taken place. That such creatures are inarticulate will limit their witness, however.

What the people have done that occasions God’s response is not altogether clear, especially in view of the agonizing and sorrow-filled questions to them (see also “O my people!” in v. 5). This emotion-filled divine language is certainly not your typical courtroom or legal rhetoric (6:3)! The word “accusation” does not seem right for what God has to say. The rhetoric used suggests that the people have been complaining about God’s treatment of them, perhaps especially in view of suffering they have undergone. God’s basic reply is, “Make your case; let’s put the issue on the table: What have I done that you should respond with such charges against me? Answer me!”

The openness of God to engage in such a dialogue with the people is remarkable (cf. Gen 18:25 for Abraham’s questioning of God about Sodom and Gomorrah). Notably, God genuinely interacts with the people about their concerns; God does not dismiss their complaining as inappropriate or bring them into court because they have dared to question God! Quite the contrary, God develops reasons as to why they should be appreciative of God’s activity in their story.

God responds by providing a brief history of all that God has done for them through the years (6:4-5; see Deut 15:15). Given this story of what God has done on behalf of the people, they should be more grateful than their complaining suggests. Those “saving acts of God” on Israel’s behalf include (cf. Pss 78; 105): the exodus from slavery in Egypt (Exod 1–15); the leadership of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (a striking, if rare reference, see Exod 15:20-21); the deliverance from the Moabite king Balak through the agency of Balaam as the people made their way through the wilderness to the promised land (Num 22–24); and the climactic move into the promised land itself, described using an apparently familiar shorthand: from Shittim, east of the Jordan, to Gilgal on the west (see Josh 2:1; 3:1; 4:19; 5:19). Such divine actions are indeed “saving” in that they have directly addressed Israel’s daily walk in a way that has brought life, health, and well-being to both individuals and community.

The purpose of this listing of divine activity is stated clearly: “that you may know the saving acts of the LORD” (v. 5). They are to “remember” in order that they might “know,” that is, come to a fuller realization of what God has done. This divine speaking may suggest that the people have forgotten the importance of God’s saving activity on their behalf through the years. What God has done over the course of Israel’s journey is a crucial centering matter and a renewed focus on God’s saving actions will both (1) ground and (2) give shape to understanding the human activity in the verses that follow (6:6-8).

Terence E. Fretheim, Reading Hosea–Micah: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the Old Testament (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2013), 214-16.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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