6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
I learned Micah 6:8 in elementary school. I remember it so well because it was put to music. Since we used the King James Version of the Bible back then, I always remember, “He has shewn thee, Oh man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Right before this section, God is asking Israel to remember the things he has done for her. In verses 6 and 7, Micah says that God is not primarily interested in offerings; in verse 8, we see that God wants us to “act justly”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly” with God.
Micah was writing/speaking to Israel and Judah, that is, to God’s chosen people. Moses had already given the people God’s instructions for life in the Torah. When Israel followed God’s commands, it was showing that they were God’s chosen people and it was to be an example to other nations. But, people being people, God’s chosen people had turned to idols (yet once again). In the beginning of chapter 6, God reminds the people of His goodness in bringing them out of Egypt and having Moses lead them.
You might think that Micah would be exhorting the Israelites to get back to obeying the details of the Torah. But he doesn’t. Instead, he rhetorically asks about the value of sacrifice to atone for “the sin of my soul”.
In verse 8, Micah tells us what God really wants from us – “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah isn’t saying to forget the Torah (the Law), but summarizing the Law. The Law specified how the Israelites were to “act justly”. The first couple of commandments in the Ten Commandments teach us to be humble before God.
The details of how we behave as believers are not unimportant. God expects us to live out our faith (see the book of James). But, showing love and mercy to others, worshiping God, and working for justice are more critical than the more obvious sacrifice. Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to do our good deeds to be seen by men. Micah is saying something similar here; God didn’t want Israel to get all the sacrifices (that were visible to others) done correctly but not love one another.
So, Micah 6:8 is a summary of what God expects. Sometimes it’s easier to do the “flashy” or “obvious” good deeds, like participating in church activities. Yet, God wants our hearts turned toward Him and to overflow with love.
How do we “act justly”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly” with God? This is, I think, the hard part. It involves a minute by minute walk with Jesus. Every interaction with every person gives us the chance to do these things. It’s more difficult, but we can’t do it without God’s constant presence anyway. When I allow my relationship with Jesus to inform every action of my day, I have done “what is good”. This means that my Christian walk is going to look different than everyone else’s – which is good.
Micah 6:8 doesn’t tell me to work harder at being a better person. Rather, it says to walk with God. I don’t have it all figured out, but I hope that each day brings me closer and closer.