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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What does God want from us? (Micah 6:8) Part 2

Part 2- “What does the Lord require of you?"

Micah had a deep sensitivity to the social ills of his day. He spoke with courage about the sins of his day and called for the people and the leaders to return the principles of God. We don't know much about him beyond chapter 1 of his book.

Micah preached during a period in the history of the Hebrew people when things were really going pretty well, both economically and politically. This is a period when they had forgotten, or at least neglected, their covenant with the One who had delivered them from slavery. Micah condemns the leaders of his people for injustices perpetrated against the poor and powerless. The leaders were complacent and wanted to pretend that nothing is wrong. When Micah confronted the leaders of the nation with these injustices, their response was to change the subject.

They said, “Hey we are good Jews. We go to the temple every Sabbath. We offer sacrifices and we give generously to the temple’s coffers. What does God expect from us anyway?”

And this is where Micah comes in. “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

So our first issue is justice. What did “justice” mean in that context?

The word “justice” means fairness, fair play and evenhandedness within the human family. In the mindset of the Old Testament, to do justice involved the basic needs, requirements, or even the rights of people living together in community. Justice, then, was and is decidedly social in nature. The practice of justice, means to set things right or to fix the imbalances of a society that allows some people to be oppressed to the point that they were deprived of their basic human needs, requirements, and rights. They were deprived of the things that would have allowed them to function as part of the community.

God’s covenant required that the people whom God had delivered from slavery, should never treat others the same way they had been treated in Egypt. To do so would be to violate the very promise that God made to the Hebrew people. Doing justice then, would involve both personal and social responsibilities. It would mean that they (we) never act in ways that might produce injustice.

There are nine words that are most often associated with the word, “justice,” in the Bible. "Widow," "fatherless," "orphans," "poor," "hungry," "stranger," "needy," "weak" and "oppressed."

In this list of words, you do not find the word, “rich.” Indeed, rich is frequently associated with injustice. You don’t have to worry about the rich, because the rich will be able to afford to "buy" justice. We need to worry about the widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the weak and the oppressed. They are still with us!

God requires that we work for fairness for the "little" people of our world. God requires a commitment to the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless in a society where the "little " people have no voice of their own by which they can remedy the injustices that marginalize them as human beings.

Second.....What does “loving kindness” mean in the context of Micah’s message?

This is from a Hebrew term “hesed,” which is roughly translated as “kindness,” and “mercy.”

"Covenant faithfulness," "compassion," "loyal love," "loving devotion," and "steadfast love" are all attempts to translate this term into English. It is often used to describe God’s faithful actions throughout history on behalf of His people. It also means that the people were expected to respond to God with a unwavering loyalty and love that reflected the compassion and grace that God had demonstrated to them.

This word, "hesed," then, is a relationship term. It is not a warm-fuzzy-feeling kind of love, but the commitment and unfaltering dependability that arises from mutual respectful relationship. To love "hesed" was to be committed not only to God who had demonstrated "hesed" to the people, but was also to live in community in such a way that "hesed" marked life together as God’s people.

To love "hesed" was to be committed to a quality of life that was governed by the principles of mutual respect, helpfulness, and loving concern.

Third.....What did Micah mean when he said “walk humbly with your God?”

"Walking a path" is a common biblical metaphor for living a certain kind of life. "Walking humbly with God" is a call to do more than to come to God with offerings thinking that we can buy His favor. It is a call to live our lives with God in ways that would work out in every aspect of life. It implies a sensitivity to the things of God. To allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

It is a deep desire to see the world through the eyes of God and to act in the world as God would act. When this final requirement is placed alongside the first two, "walking with God" becomes synonymous with having a heart for justice and compassion. In this sequence, "walking with God" is actually the overarching category for doing justice and loving "hesed." They cannot be separated, because walking humbly with God, living all of life under God and in relationship to God, will result in both.

How can we walk humbly with God?

I often find it helpful when I’m trying to figure out a biblical metaphor, to look at other places in Scripture which use the same metaphor.

Here are a few:

“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 119:1).

“We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1st John 1:7).

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

“Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2).

If we want to walk with God, then let us walk in these things.

“To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” The God who led the Hebrews out of slavery and into the Promise land requires the people who have been blessed to be a blessing to others.

We are blessed so that we can be a blessing. To walk with that God means to live a life of steadfast love for others, especially those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

[more later...]

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