By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
“He has told you, O man, 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?” Micah 6:8
As our nation grapples with ongoing unrest in response to racial tension and injustice, the best recourse for the Christian is to turn to Scripture. It’s important to not only read it and share it, but to allow the Holy Spirit to use it to challenge and mold us.
During these trying times, one of the most quoted and shared passages, particularly by those desiring to speak to social justice, is Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, 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?”
This has long been one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It is simple in its message and easily quotable. But, it is also one of the most challenging verses, speaking directly to the heart of the issues we are facing today.
Whenever I’m struggling with my faith or knowing what to do, I often come back to this verse; it urges me to set aside my own inclinations and seek after the heart of God.
The Context of the Book of Micah
The prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, lived during the reigns of the kings of Judah: Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. He witnessed good kings and evils and he saw God’s people follow God and stray away from Him. Micah wrote his prophecy to warn Israel and Judah of its impending judgment--because of their disloyalty to God.
The Meaning of Micah 6:8
Micah 6:8 is a great verse to write on an index card and place on your desk or refrigerator. It packs quite a punch; it’s practical and it’s action-oriented. Essentially, Micah is saying that God is more pleased with our actions than our words; He’s more satisfied with our obedience than our worship.
Micah mentions three things God “requires”: doing justice; loving-kindness or mercy; and walking humbly. We’ll take a closer look at the justice part in this article, but it’s important to note that all three of these are actions.
Take mercy or kindness. The Hebrew word used here is hesed, and it’s much richer in many than anything the English language offers. It’s often translated as faithfulness, steadfast love, kindness, lovingkindness or mercy. And, it’s used more of God than it is of people. In reality, hesed is all of those things, rolled into one.
It also involves action: love expressed in activity towards another.
The same is true of walking humbly. For starters, walking with God implies an active faith--one that sees God as a daily guide. It implies that we are seeking Him in all aspects of our lives.
In doing so, we are reminded that as followers of God, we are to be marked by a life of humility. We are encouraged to set aside our selfish desires and align ourselves to God’s will as opposed to our own. In means having a full reliance on God, not ourselves.
What Does it Mean to “Do Justice?”
Justice might seem simple, but there’s a lot here that many of us don’t always grasp about the biblical concept. In unpacking it, it speaks directly to many of our current issues. For a deep dive into this topic, there are a plethora of resources available.
Two I’ve been particularly impacted by while researching is Generous Justice, by Tim Keller; and this video and 3-part podcast series by the Bible Project. I strongly encourage you to check out all of these resources, and I’m sure there are others, to deepen your understanding of the concept.
When we think of justice, many of us conjure images of a courtroom, with a judge, attorneys, witnesses and a jury. I think of Tom Cruise thundering away at Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.” “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!”
Simply put, we usually just think of justice as being a punishment for wrongdoing. Someone has committed a crime, and they receive the punishment they deserve. Justice is served!
The word used for justice throughout the Bible, and in Micah 6:8, is mishpat, and it includes this type of punishment, or retributive justice. But, it’s also more than that; it includes giving people their due or right. This is often referred to as restorative justice. It’s proactively seeking out the vulnerable and helping them.
Mishpat is used more than 200 times in the Old Testament, often to speak to the idea of treating all people fairly and as they deserve, being created in the image of God.
Interestingly, in Deuteronomy 18, we see that the tithe that is to be set aside for the priestly work is called a mishpat. In Proverbs 31:9, we read “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Mishpat here is giving people their due, which can include protection and care.
The Psalmist writes of mishpat in Psalm 146:7-9: “[The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”
This speaks of God breaking down unjust systems and restoring dignity to the downtrodden.
Given this enhanced view of the word for justice in Micah 6:8--mishpat--it’s clear that the meaning is far beyond just making sure bad guys are punished. If we are passively watching the plight of the vulnerable or oppressed, and giving it what amounts to a shoulder shrug, we are guilty in God’s eyes of shirking our responsibilities.
True Biblical mishpat is when the problems of the vulnerable become my problems. True righteousness, in turn, is tied to my posture toward others in my community.
To fully grasp what we can glean from Micah 6:8 and God’s desire for justice and righteousness, there are 4 things we need to recognize--from the full counsel of God’s word--that relate to our current crisis.
1. Recognize the Worth of Every Life in Today’s World
In the beginning, “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). We were never intended to be like animals. We were imprinted with a moral code and an ability to see something injustice.
As we think about this with the backdrop of today’s current events, I want to be clear about one thing. This is not a call to say “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” In fact, it’s the contrary. Of course, all lives matter to God and they should matter to us. But, right now, we need to understand the suffering of specific groups as a first step to helping us all heal.
There’s a powerful image circulating on social media of Jesus going to rescue the one lost sheep while the other 99 are behind him holding “All Sheep Matter” signs. When our Black brothers and sisters are steadily experiencing injustice and inequities, we all need to speak up for them.
When we fully understand the intrinsic value of EACH human life, it’s easier for us to feel pain when they feel pain.
2. Recognize the Need for Justice in Today’s World
I’ve always been amazed when Christians have no problem acknowledging the fact that we live in a fallen world where sin is prevalent, but cannot bring themselves to admit that sin can permeate and become a cancer in our earthly systems. No system is immune to sin’s destruction--the judicial system, criminal justice system, education, politics or even the church.
We live in a broken world. Any system created by man, by nature, will be flawed and rife with injustice. Once we acknowledge that, we need to develop a clear picture of who is suffering the most injustice due to these systemic failures.
One of best breakdowns I’ve seen on this topic is this video from “Veggie Tales” creator Phil Vischer. He uses data to walk through the history of how we ended up where we are today.
For example, how it came to be that the average Black household has 60 percent of the income of the average white household, while having only 1/10 of the wealth. Without wealth, it’s hard to send kids to college, start businesses, stabilize during loss of income and so much more.
Many systems that were put into place following the freeing of the slaves through the Civil Rights Act and beyond have led to the reality of these grim statistics.
“I’m not here to tell you what the right solutions are, because I don’t know,” he says. “I’m just here to ask you to do one thing …care.”
Realizing there is injustice--and caring--is the first step to enacting meaningful change.
3. Recognize the Most Vulnerable to Injustice in Today’s World
Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear that God cares for the vulnerable. “This is what the Lord Almighty said: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor,'"(Zechariah 7:9-10a).
These are the four specific types of people often mentioned in regards to justice: the poor, widow, orphan and immigrant. They are the “Quartet of the Vulnerable,” a term first coined by scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book called Justice.
These four groups of people lacked the capital, influence or power to improve their situations. They were stuck at the lowest rungs of society. They were often mistreated and abused.
Justice for the vulnerable isn’t just an Old Testament concept. We are all familiar with Jesus in the Temple as mentioned in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
He expands on the “quartet of the vulnerable” and includes the prisoner, the blind and the oppressed. It’s clear: God is for the forgotten, the beat-down, the shut-out and the left-behind.
Today, it’s easy to think about other groups who are vulnerable. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been heartbroken hearing the stories coming out of our nursing homes and other senior living facilities. Elderly people would certainly classify as vulnerable. How about the population of people experiencing homelessness? Of course!
In light of everything that has happened in recent weeks, it’s imperative that we carefully examine our response to racial injustice as well. The Black community is crying out for help. They’ve been oppressed for centuries--an oppression that did not end with Juneteenth.
Our country has an ugly history--one that held back many because of their race, while allowing others to benefit with a leg up.
Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote this from a Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups,” Keller writes in Generous Justice. “Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of [these groups] is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity, but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice.’”
4. Recognize Our Own Role in Bringing Justice in Today’s World
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?… Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the final judgment, when the sheep will be separated from the goats. And, it isn’t an internal private faith that He references. It’s the fact that His true followers took action: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
God’s desire for us to have an active faith. It’s clear He is not as interested in our presence in a church pew on Sunday as He is in our presence working in our community the rest of the days of the week.
The verses preceding the famous Micah 6:8 verse hits the nail on the head. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” (Micah 6:7). God doesn’t desire our worship as much as He desires our obedience.
“If you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable,” writes Keller.
A closer walk with Christ necessitates that we care deeply about issues of injustice in our community and in our world. Micah 6:8 makes it clear that we need to place an active role in our community--recognizing injustice and then working actively to correct it.
Today, we are living in a moment begging for that type of response. Lord, break our hearts for what breaks Yours.
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Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart