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Bible Commentaries
Micah 6

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-2


Micah 6:1-16

The Summons (6:1-2)

Whether the sixth chapter of the Book of Micah is composed of fragments compiled by an editor from various sources, or whether it is, as it appears to be, a continuous formal message by the prophet Micah, cannot be determined. The whole passage reminds us of the first chapter of Isaiah and of Samuel’s accusations in 1 Samuel 12:6-18.

The summons invites the people of God to plead their case before the mountains and to hear while the Lord presents his side of the controversy. The "mountains" and "foundations of the earth" present a cosmic setting for the conduct of the case. In a setting as wide as the world itself the Lord appears, like an ancient Hebrew entering the broad place at the city gate with a call for the elders to assemble and hear his complaint against his neighbor.

Verses 3-5

A Review of the Case (6:3-5)

Having called for a hearing, the Lord continues with a review of his case against his people. The review touches only a brief part of the history relating to the period of the Exodus from Egypt, mentioning specifically only the incident when Balak, king of Moab, sought to employ Balaam to curse the Hebrews. (The full story is told in Numbers 22-24.) "What happened from Shittim to Gilgal" refers to experiences at the end of the wilderness wanderings, specifically the indulgence in heathen orgies dedicated to Baal of Peor (Numbers 25) before the rolling away of "the reproach of Egypt" in the circumcising of the Hebrews at Gilgal (Joshua 5:1-9).

The opening question of this section remains pertinent for all time. God has repeatedly and powerfully redeemed his people, not merely bringing them from Egypt, but preserving them in the face of the hostility of the Moabites (as an example); in return the people have perversely and repeatedly turned away to consort with the worshipers of other gods and to indulge in forbidden practices. Has God wearied his people? If so, how? Modern man may well ask if it is not he who has become tired of God. Why else his quest for causes, his exaltation of individual leaders or of all-powerful states or political parties? Why else his continual quest for meaning in life?

Verses 6-8

The Requirements of God (6:6-8)

Speaking now for the people, the prophet asks what sort of approach will meet God’s approval. His language is drawn from the ritual of sacrifice, and, as the succeeding verses show clearly, deals with the basic question: "Under the circumstances, what is the appropriate sacrifice to present that the anger of God may be appeased?" Each question citing a specific sacrifice receives a negative answer. God is not interested in the quality of the sacrificial animal, nor in mere quantity. Nor is the supreme personal sacrifice of a man’s first-born son the sort of thing to please God.

What God requires has been shown to the inquirer. The declaration of verse 8 is addressed to man as a member of the human race under the generic term for man (adam), not under the term which refers to the individual within the group. What is presented as the requirement of God has a wider application than to the Hebrew people, and does not rest for its validity upon the revelation of law at Sinai or elsewhere. Any man who would approach "the Lord" (this is the particular name of God as he was known to the Hebrew people) must come with justice, mercy, and humility. No religion can refuse at least lip service to the qualities suggested by the three terms, once their meaning is grasped. The "good" to be seen in these requirements is bound to have universal appeal.

Each term deserves attention. Justice covers the particular virtue which Micah stresses in chapters 2 and 3, and will again stress in verses 10-11. What God requires is the doing of what is right and fair between men. Justice involves the sense of a standard of right and equitable dealing between men, as simple as the filling of a measure of grain which is the basis of a transaction, the accurate weighing of quantities agreed upon, the punishment of those guilty of agreed-upon misdemeanors. The conception of justice does not rest upon the existence of a published code of laws, but upon the general sense of mankind that all should do what is "right," however this is defined. One who fails with respect to doing justly cannot consider that he is acceptable as a worshiper of the Lord.

The second requirement laid upon the one who would approach the Lord has traditionally been translated "mercy." In many places in the Revised Standard Version it is translated "steadfast love" (avoided here because of the preceding words "to love"). "Kindness" suggests sweet and gentle behavior, the noblesse oblige of the nineteenth-century code of the gentleman. The Hebrew word involves all these qualities and more. It means the fulfillment of the obligations which are inherent in a relationship, even when no laws cover that relationship. Husbands owe certain duties to wives, not because these are defined in a marriage contract, but because they are inherent in the common understanding and practice of the relationship. So also between parents and children, between a man and his domestic animals, between buyer and seller, and — how much more! — between man and God, many obligations are inherent without being defined by legal codes or negotiated agreement.

The final requirement turns from the duties which men owe primarily to one another to that duty men owe entirely to God. Man, if he is to approach God at all, must do so in humility, and having approached in humility, he must continue to walk in this spirit. Thus the Old Testament anticipates Paul’s repeated declaration, "By grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8), and emphasizes the dependence of man upon God. No sacrificial offering will serve to open the way to God; only God himself opens the way, and it is by God’s kindness that man may have any sort of relationship with him — hence the necessity for walking humbly with God.

Verses 9-16

Specific Indictment and Sentence (6:9-16)

The final part of chapter 6 includes two elements, mingled in such a way that division into separate sections is impossible. The principal matter in the section is a continuation of the indictment of chapters 2 and 3, emphasizing the techniques and results of injustice which are found among the people: the "treasures of wickedness," the "wicked scales," the "bag of deceitful weights," and so on. Again the prophet refers to the fact that the same evils have been prevalent in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, under Omri and Ahab, and to the fact that the Southern Kingdom has followed its northern sister in crimes.

The language of the section is still the phraseology of accusation as this was developed in countless legal cases brought before the elders of Judean and Israelite towns at their seats in the gates of their communities. The text is obscure in verses 9 and 10, but the Revised Standard Version has followed conjectures made in the light of the ancient setting of legal cases.

Verses 14 and 15 and the end of verse 16 turn from accusation to the plaintiff’s appeal for a verdict, or perhaps to the declaration of an actual verdict by the assembled court. Again, as in chapters 2 and 3, the punishment to be anticipated for the sins is appropriate. Those who have treasured up their ill-gotten wealth will not be satisfied with what they eat; they shall "put away, but not save," as in a time of monetary inflation; their agricultural pursuits will not bring any increase; worst of all, they will receive scorn and contempt and will be a desolation.

The climactic passage of the Book of Micah has been passed, and the prophet or his editor returns to the unpleasant task of making clear the specific sins of his time and what their punishment is to be. More modern forms of the same sins will no doubt receive modern forms of the same punishments.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Micah 6". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/micah-6.html.
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