Justice Review: The Prophet Micah

Sometimes we need to review the basics. With that in mind, let’s look at one of the straight-up justice passages from the Hebrew prophet, Micah.

With what shall I enter Yahweh’s presence and bow down before God All-high? Shall I enter with burnt offerings, with calves one year old?

Will he be pleased with rams by the thousand, with ten thousand streams of oil? Shall I offer my eldest son for my wrong-doing, the child of my own body for my sin?

You have already been told what is right and what Yahweh wants of you, only this: to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Notice that Micah is in direct conflict with the religious hierarchy of Israel, the priesthood. The priesthood made its living from the sacrifices the laypeople brought to them. Micah 6:6 is directed to ordinary worshipers bringing in their single sacrificial animals, letting them know that this is not what God requires of them.

Shall I enter with burnt offerings, with calves one year old?

Notice that Micah refutes the institutional avarice of the priesthood: sacrifices of thousands of rams and massive amounts of oil. The prophet said that entering into “Yahweh’s presence” and humbling themselves had nothing to do with supporting institutional religion. Verse 7 is directed to at the priests, letting them know that what is wanted from the People of God has nothing to do with what would please their organizational ambitions.

Will he be pleased with rams by the thousand, with ten thousand streams of oil?

Notice that Micah is in direct conflict with one of the most objectionable practices of the surrounding peoples: child sacrifice.

Shall I offer my eldest son for my wrong-doing, the child of my own body for my sin?

Lesson: Following the prophetic examples of Micah and Jesus, we will often find ourselves in direct conflict with our own religious hierarchies and the practices of the peoples around us.

Micah says that we, that you and I, already know the three priorities God has for us.

Do justice.

Proceeding logically, ethically, and spiritually, we need to look at our own Christian communities before we start meddling in the affairs of others. This is the arena where we have specific responsibility.

Do we behave justly toward one another, or do we show the favoritism that James so roundly condemned? Do we show special deference toward the wealthy on our congregations? Do our denominations pay homage to the intelligent and the bright? Do the leaders in our denominations lord it over one another the way Jesus said the “gentiles” do?

While the prophets had a lot to say about other religions, their main focus were the leadership of their own religious tradition. They spoke truth to power. If you are going to speak truth to power, the place to begin is in your own institution. If your “prophetic stance” is always directed toward the secular government, then you’re probably deluding yourself about being prophetic, unless you’re a Central American nun, or your name is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Archbishop Romero. The Hebrew prophets didn’t get into trouble for prophesying against the Ammonites or the Babylonians. They got into trouble for prophesying against their own leaders.

Love mercy. 

(from The Free Dictionary)

Synonyms: mercy, leniency, lenity, clemency, charity
These nouns mean humane and kind, sympathetic, or forgiving treatment of or disposition toward others.

  • Mercy is compassionate forbearance: “We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves” (George Eliot).
  • Leniency and lenity imply mildness, gentleness, and often a tendency to reduce punishment: “When you have gone too far to recede, do not sue [appeal] to me for leniency” (Charles Dickens). “His Majesty gave many marks of his great lenity, often . . . endeavoring to extenuate your crimes” (Jonathan Swift).
  • Clemency is mercy shown by someone with judicial authority: The judge believed in clemency for youthful offenders.
  • Charity is goodwill and benevolence in judging others: “But how shall we expect charity towards others, when we are uncharitable to ourselves?” (Thomas Browne).

Walk humbly with your God.

In my experience, the people who are the most incensed about intolerance, bigotry, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy have this or that quality in great measure. For me, nothing quite sets me off like arrogance and rigidity. Yup. You got me.

Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you also be judged. For the measure you use against someone else is the measure that will be used against you.”  Paul wrote, “Even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

These few thoughts barely scratch the surface of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Institutional Religion, Justice, Mercy, Prophetic Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Justice Review: The Prophet Micah

  1. thayes9217 says:

    What a different world we would dwell in if only its inhabitants practiced those three things: do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God!


  2. Denise Smith says:

    Thanks Ron for another article pointing out what the Bible has been sharing with all its readers for a very long time now. Jesus taught judge not, because there is no reason to judge when one is to be known by their fruits, for the fruit is what will reveal or make known what is within itself…..not words.

    Most don’t seem to realize or consider that when we have the words of the Bible and what it states that is the duty of man, and what Jesus Christ, the only one recorded within its pages to have been identified by God as His only begotten Son in whom God was well pleased, and the ONLY one that God is shown commanding man to “HEAR HIM”….. the refusal to live accordingly, to follow Him and Keep His commandments exposes oneself, therefore no reason to have to be judged by another.

    What we are seeing today is the world that claims/worships with their lips, having their heart far from Him, that are not willing to see how far from His words and the keeping of His commandments that they have been drawn away from through following another who was not God nor His Christ. That has once again followed the way of Adam, refusing to do the whole duty of man…..

    Ecc 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.


  3. Brian says:

    in other words, Keep It Simple Stupid! Thanks for the reminder. Onward and upward today!


  4. Jim Harris says:

    I find that “doing justice” while also “loving mercy” is very challenging. If I take it seriously when dealing with a specific situation, I find myself dropping to my knees and humbly seeking God’s wisdom and guidance. Knowing what is just is not always easy or obvious, and showing mercy can sometimes be an avoidance technique. I’m not always honest enough with myself to know, and I certainly am not wise enough to be certain of what to do in every situation. Now I know why Lady Justice is holding the scales! Thank you for an insightful and challenging article, Ron. You have gotten my brain in gear this morning.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      I guess there are at least two kinds of justice. One could be called “intervention justice,” where people with influence of any kind intervene in situations where injustice is occurring. In these situations justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin.

      The personal justice you’re talking about I think are situations where we are confronted by our own complicity, where to act justly will cost us something. Since injustice rules in such situations, to act justly will appear as kindness, since it is unexpected and requires some thought. Kindness, by definition, is not habitual. J.B. Phillips rendered “Love is kind” as “Love looks for a way to be constructive.”


  5. Pingback: Justice Review: The Prophet Micah | God Does It Real Good

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