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Micah 6:1-8 "What Does God Expect of You? A Pilgrimage of Reconciliation with God and with Our Neighbor", by Jin Yang Kim

The prophet Micah asks a crucial question in the midst of injustice and violence in 8th-century B.C.E. Judean society: “What does God expect of you?” This is also a question that we must ask ourselves today as we are invited to join in the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. The answer is clear: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). The first two commands stand at the centre of Israel’s faith-talk, concerning the love of neighbour (Lev. 19:18) and the love of God (Deut. 6:5). The third command is to walk humbly, which could be misleading. To walk humbly is the opposite of walking proudly or self-righteously, and actually invites us to the faith journey of self-giving, self-sacrifice, and self-emptying. So the question, “What does God expect of you?” leads us to the restoration of God’s image in us and is an invitation to become agents of transformation in the world.

20 January 2018

Bible studies on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace
"What Does God Expect of You? A Pilgrimage of Reconciliation with God and with Our Neighbor" (Micah 6:1-8)
by Jin Yang Kim*

1Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
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 thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

The prophet Micah asks the most crucial question in the midst of injustice and violence in 8th-century B.C.E. Judean society: “What does God expect of you?”

This is the key question for the people of Israel, who must come before God when the relationship with their God has been broken. This is also a question that we must ask ourselves today as we are invited to join in the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. The answer is clear: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). As Micah invites his people, so the World Council of Churches and people of good will everywhere are also inviting others to answer Micah’s question by going on a pilgrimage of reconciliation with God and with our neighbour.

The text in its context

This passage is called a “prophetic covenant lawsuit” in which Micah addresses the broken relationship between God and the people of ancient Israel. The passage can be divided into two main sections: God’s controversy (vv. 1-5) and God’s requirements (vv. 6-8).[1] In the first section, Micah recites the righteous acts of God with four emphases: redemption from Egypt, inspired leadership, deliverance from the schemes of Balak and Balaam, and entrance into the land (vv. 4-5). In the second section, Micah acknowledges a need for reconciliation. The extravagant offer of heightened sacrificial performance by the people is countered by the demand of God that they do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God (vv. 6-8). The repeated word “what” (vv. 3, 5, 6, 8) functions to show the stage of pilgrimage toward reconciliation between God and the people of Israel. The last “what” essentially summarizes the whole passage asking: “What does God expect of you?” (cf. Deut 10:12).

The text presents Micah’s observation of violence and injustice in the 8th-century Judean society. Micah paints a picture of political oppression and economic exploitation by the powerful against the weak and oppressed (6:12), and how they despise justice and distort the right (3:1-3). The structure of the passage, as a result, demonstrates that Micah invites the people of Israel to restore and reconcile the broken relationship with God and with the neighbor.

Notice how the first person subject “I” in verses 6-7 dramatically shifts to the third person “He” or “the Lord” in verse 8:

Micah 6:6-7

Micah 6:8

Shall “I” come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

 

Shall “I” give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

“He” has told you, O mortal,

what is good

 

and what does “the Lord” require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This offers an important aspect of sacrifice or worship that begins with ourselves, with our gifts, and with our goodness, rather than with God.[2] In this way, this passage provides a biblical way of pilgrimage of justice and peace participating in “God’s gift and God’s mission of justice and peace as we respond to not our will, but God’s will.”[3]

What does God expect of you? Instead of “material commodity,”[4] God wants faithful relationships and reliable solidarity. The two commands in verse 8, doing justice and loving kindness, stand at the center of Israel’s faith-talk. The first command concerns the love of neighbor. The second command concerns the love of God. So Micah’s first two commandments summarize the whole message of the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5) and reverberate in the Great Commandment of Jesus in the New Testament (Mark 12:28-31; Matt. 22:37-40).

The third command is to walk humbly. The term “humbly” could be misleading because it may refer to “self-abasement.”[5] Micah actually does not invite the people of Israel to self-abasement. To walk humbly is the opposite of walking proudly or walking self-righteously, including arrogance, self-sufficiency, autonomy, and independence. Walter Bruggemann suggests that the term “walking humbly” is to pay attention to others.[6] In this way, the command to walk humbly is the journey of self-giving, self-sacrificing, and self-emptying. If we walk humbly, then we acknowledge others who will be our companions along the way. As Paulo Freire succinctly put it, “oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights,”[7] and dehumanization is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. In contrast, the command to walk humbly will lead us to the restoration of God’s image, and we all become agents of transformation in the world.

If we walk the path humbly acknowledging others, who will be our companion along the way? Micah answers: “With your God.” This companion is not just God’s closeness to us, but it carries along the way God’s saving activities so that one can walk with the God who saves, reconciles, heals, and transforms. This specific phrase reminds us of one of the three dimensions of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace: Celebrating the Gifts-- together we celebrate God’s great gift of life, the beauty of creation, and the unity of a reconciled diversity.

The text in our context

What does God expect of you today? The passage from Micah challenges us to know what God wants from us. Perhaps our worship is wrong; perhaps we have not been serious enough in our acts of praise. What Micah stresses is that ritual worship alone is not enough; a pilgrimage of justice and peace must be part of our worship today.

When Jesus calls us to love our neighbour, the word “love” is not an emotional feeling but an action verb. God calls us to do justice as part of our worship experience and our acts of justice should be part of our liturgy. In his book, Man Is Not Alone, Abraham Joshua Heschel explained the mutual relationship between worship experience and Micah’s question, “What does God expect of you?” in the following way:

Religion is for God’s sake. The human side of religion, its creeds, rituals and institutions, is a way rather than the goal. The goal is ‘to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.’ When the human side of religion becomes the goal, injustice becomes a way.[8]

Likewise, the purpose of the ecumenical diakonia document[9] is to clarify the understanding of ecumenical service and provide a common platform for acting and reflecting together on the relationship between churches and specialized ministries. It presents ecumenical diakonia as “faith-based and rights-based action,” which is an intentional effort to bridge the secular concept of development with the theological understanding of being a part of God’s mission of healing and transformation. In this way, the document can be a good example of the pilgrimage toward reconciliation with God and with our neighbor.

Questions for discussion

  1. Can you identify any form of violence and injustice in your own context?
  2. Does your mission/ministry reflect Micah’s question, “What does God expect of you?” If so, explain how?

Ideas for action

(1) Pilgrims who practiced Micah’s question: “What does God expect of you?”

  • Prepare index cards with the following names before the session: Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Ask a volunteer to read Micah 6:8 and invite participants to listen for Micah’s firm affirmation: “What does God expect of you?”
  • Distribute the character cards you prepared before the session. Form one or more small groups of five, with each person in the group holding a different character card (Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Martin Luther King Jr.). Ask each person in the group to identify how their character practiced Micah’s question, “What does God expect of you?” for the transformation of the world reflecting their own contexts.
  • On chart paper, draw a picture or write key words and phrases which represent what they’ve identified.
  • Share the observations with the whole group. What are the similarities and differences between the characters?

Resources

A Prayer Based Micah 6:8: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-prayer-based-on-micah-68.  A 21st Century Worship Resource for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A by Carolyn W. Dandridge, Discipleship Ministries.

Video: Walking Humbly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=L5E9XLDQQmM. A lively reflection on Micah 6:8 - Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God' for Lectionary Epiphany 4a. Midi file: Barry Taylor, used by permission. Film and stuff: David J.M. Coleman.


[1] W. Eugene March, “Micah,” in Harper’s Bible Commentary, ed. James L. Mays (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 735.

[2] Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Do Justice: Micah 6:8,” Journal for Preachers 33/4 (2010), pp. 20-25.

[3] The World Council of Churches, “An Invitation to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/central-committee/geneva-2014/an-invitation-to-the-pilgrimage-of-justice-and-peace.

[4] Walter Bruggemann, “Walk Humbly with Your God, Micah 6:8,” Journal for Preachers, 33/4 (2010), p. 14.

[5] Bruggemann, p. 15.

[6] Bruggemann, p. 16.

[7] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), p. 42.

[8] Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979), p. 132.

[9] See “Theological Perspectives on Diakonia in the 21st Century,” 6 June 2012: https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-programmes/unity-mission-evangelism-and-spirituality/just-and-inclusive-communities/theological-perspectives-on-diakonia-in-21st-century

* Jin Yang Kim is an Old Testament scholar and a missionary with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries serving as the coordinator of Korean Peninsula Dialogue and Peacebuilding of the World Council of Churches. As part of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, Dr. Kim coordinates a series of pilgrim teams that visit churches in the region to promote justice and peace.