In good times and in bad, we love goodness in humility: Micah 6

The Lord in Micah 6 demonstrates to the people how he created them, how they are to respond, and how their current suffering comes from their inappropriate response. Our class reiterated the movement in the book of Micah: God brings the people out of captivity, the people sin, God sends the people into captivity, God brings them out of captivity, etc. This chapter features a courtroom scene, followed by a boisterous show of guilt. The people suffer because they choose to reject the correct response to grace, love of neighbor, but instead choose greed. Whether the people are coming out of or going into captivity, they must respond with love of goodness and humility.

I began by describing two points of background. First, we discussed how a court procedure worked and how each role functions: the judge, the plaintiff/accuser, the defendant/accused, the lawyers, the witnesses, and the jury. Second, I narrated an abbreviated version of the story of King Balaq, the Prophet Balaam, and Balaam’s ass. The drama of the court and the comedy of Balaam captured the students’ attention: after the class, the students asked if they could produce a play based on the courtroom and Balaam’s ass. (I would have to play the judge, they said.)

When I read through the chapter, one student was captivated by the irony of God not allowing the people to conceive—but when they conceived (miraculously!) he sent the children to be killed by the sword (verse 14). Again, the apparent cruelty of the Lord comes to the fore. I re-read the whole section, bringing out the emptiness, hunger, and lack of life.

Next, I read through the chapter more slowly and deliberately, and the movement of God’s claim, Israel’s response, and Israel’s present predicament became clear. In verses 1-5 the Lord brought his suit against Israel. Since the Lord is the plaintiff, I asked, who is going to judge the case? The prophet, the students thought. No, I responded, because the prophet isn’t nearly old enough. A judge must be old and wise, so the Lord chose the next oldest thing to him: the mountains and the hills. The Lord, the plaintiff, argued his case against the defendant, Israel, to the judges and jury, the mountains and hills. He even called Israel as witnesses for his case! The Lord recounted the kindness he showed to Israel: bringing them out of Egypt, helping them survive the desert even against King Balaq, and bringing them through the River Jordan into the Promised Land. The case lays out God’s grace to the people, which lies at the foundation of the expected response.

The people respond in one voice, desiring to atone for their ingratitude (verses 6-7). Yet even they see the futility in trying to atone—nothing suffices. The children in class could identify with this despair, the inability, for example, to make up for a wrong committed against their father. What would their father want them to do, then? Probably he would want them to treat their brothers and sisters kindly and to be obedient to their parents. As the Lord said, “Do what is just, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (verse 8). The Lord does not want atonement but a heartfelt response to his gracious acts and a subsequent change in behavior.

The Lord notes the specific sins of greed that the people committed, that is, acting contrary to kindness and humility, and calls on their ruler to end these actions (verses 9-12). First, the people use false measures. The children were surprised when I asked them why the Lord finds fake weights one of the worst sins. They learned, though, that fake weights are a way to cheat your neighbor and take advantage of the hungry for the sake of making money. Second, the rich lie about the poor in order to take advantage of them. It takes a strong king—referred to as the “scepter” or “staff” by metonymy—to get rid of this despicable behavior. Greed and false testimony stand in opposition to justice, goodness, and humility.

Micah ends the chapter with a reminder of the lack of fruit—food and children—that results from following the sinful kings, Omri and the house of Ahab (verses 13-16). All of the people’s work results in pain and suffering, not satiety or rest (verses 13-15). This is not senseless cruelty but pedagogical, as it is to bring the people back to a correct response to God’s grace, that perhaps lack of God’s grace would cause the people to desire it and become grateful. In the end, they will not be able to do the right thing, and the only good that might come of it would be that their punishment might make them an example to teach the other nations (verse 16).

The people suffer because they misunderstand the reason for their suffering. The Lord created them out of his kindness not so they might feel guilty and incapable of repaying him, but so his kindness might motivate them to act kindly and justly. In their guilt, they happily follow wicked kings and act out their greed. Their greed resulted in severe shortage and lack, though, so that they might come back to their senses, recognizing the importance of the Lord’s gracious abundance. Eventually, they would not learn; their suffering caused them to be derided, so the surrounding nations might benefit. In the end, people suffer because we refuse to respond to God’s grace with gratitude, and if we can’t learn from our suffering, hopefully someone can.

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