Summary: The prophet Micah calls us to "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God."
This morning I want to invite you to look with me at what the prophet Micah understood to be “God’s requirements.” And I want to help you memorize this verse so that God’s might write those requirements in each of our hearts. So when I ask “What does the Lord require of you?” your response will be “To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Let’s try it. “What does the Lord require of you?” “To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
It really sounds pretty simple doesn’t it. “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” Almost like the scouting oath. Be fair. Be nice. Be humble. But when you study the prophet who spoke those words, when you understand the context in which he spoke them and their impact on those who heard them, you realize that it is much more than a glib motto. Much deeper than a memorized verse of scripture.
If most of us were honest, I would guess that we had not even heard of the prophet Micah. We remember other prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jean Dixon. But Micah?
To understand Micah we must first place him in the context of the history of the Hebrew people. Though Abraham is thought of as the father of the Hebrew people, the one to whom God promised so much, the story really began with Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner. That is with Moses and the Pharaoh. The Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt, making bricks and starving, when God called Moses to the top of a mountain and spoke to him from a burning bush. God sent Moses to the pharaoh with one message: “Let my people go!” And you know the rest of the story. God, through Moses leadership, led the people out of bondage to the promised land.
And God established a covenant with the Hebrew people: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” God’s loving actions of freeing the Hebrew people from slavery and giving them the promised land were only the first ways God held up God’s end of the deal. God promised to continue to provide for them.
But a covenant relationship is a two way street. Both parties to a covenant have responsibilities, required behaviors that sustain and maintain the relationship. It is just like a marriage covenant, where two people promise to love each other, to care for each other. Most of you remember those promises: To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, til death us do part.” We agree to the requirements of a marriage covenant because we love somebody and want to commit our lives to them.
God made such a covenant with the Hebrew people. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” And what were God’s requirements of the Hebrew people? I would summarize them this way: “Love me and yourself and others like I have loved you.” Deuteronomy 6: 5 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.” And Leviticus 19: 18 says, “love your neighbor as yourself.” And God added a few specifics: Don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t steal, be faithful to your husband or wife, don’t be jealous of your neighbors and want what they have. All pretty obvious requirements for good relationships.
And God added a little reminder to this covenant. Leviticus 6: 12 says it this way: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God said once you get to the promised land and begin to enjoy a life of freedom and the abundance of that land, don’t forget me and our relationship and the things you need to do to maintain our relationship. When you are free and safe and fat and happy, remember me. God knew that the Hebrew people would again and again forget their covenant.
Micah preached during one of those periods in the history of the Hebrew people when things were going well. When they had forgotten their covenant with the one who delivered them from slavery. Things were going well for the nation of Israel economically and politically. Here’s the way one scholar described it: “The situation of ordinary citizens was of great concern to Micah. He felt compassion for the poor and dispossessed, and held the leaders responsible for their suffering. We can learn something about the people’s social and economic situation from Micah’s condemnation of their rulers, merchants, and prophets. It was a society where the rich and powerful used their influence to exploit the vulnerable and to create even greater inequalities of wealth and influence. The economic situation of the poor was further aggravated by programs of armament and fortification in efforts to hold off the threat from foreign empires. The wealth needed for such a military build up had to come from someone, and the poor surely paid more than their share.”