What does the Lord require of you?
Let’s do a thought experiment.
I want you to imagine you’re a Christian publisher and you’ve been given the task of putting together a wall calendar in which each month includes a lovely photo and an inspiring Bible verse. (I know, hard to imagine, right?)
So what verse are you going to choose for January? As people start a fresh year, what Scripture might you point them to as they ponder how to live for God in the next 12 months?
There are obviously a lot of verses you could choose, but if you did a survey I expect you’d probably get quite a few Christians opting for Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O man, 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?
We all know it, don’t we? Perhaps even as a beloved memory verse. But I wonder if many of us know much about the rest of Micah and how this verse sits in its context?
In the preceding verses of chapter 6, God has spoken and expressed his displeasure—“the Lord has an indictment against his people” (v. 2)—even though he saved them out of Egypt (v. 4). As a result, Micah asks: What can we do? God has found us guilty. What extravagant sacrifices can we bring to set things right? Burnt offerings of one-year-old calves (v. 6)? Thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil (v. 7)? Our firstborn children (v. 7), God forbid?
No, he says. God has already told us what is good and what he requires: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God (v. 8).
Justice was in fact sorely missing among God’s people in Micah’s day. A big theme of the earlier chapters is the corruption of the leadership and the way they have unjustly used their positions to steal from and oppress others. It’s no surprise ‘doing justice’ is on God’s list.
But he wants more than simply doing what is just—giving others what they deserve. He wants his people to “love kindness”—to love hesed, the Hebrew word.
Hesed is a word worth knowing in the Old Testament. It is rich in meaning and usage. It means to do good to someone who is in need, not necessarily based on whether they deserve that good, but instead on a strong personal commitment to that person. It’s no surprise, therefore, that hesed is often used of God and the good he does for his people based on his covenant commitment to them.
Psalm 136 is an excellent example. Read it and you’ll quickly see that in every verse the psalmist lists a characteristic or deed of God, followed by a refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever”, i.e. “for his hesed endures forever”.
God is the one who loves hesed. It is his very nature to abound in it. When he reveals himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, he says: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation” (steadfast love = hesed).
When God’s people are told to “love kindness [hesed]” they are in fact being told to reflect the very character of the God to whom they owe everything.
But it’s a high calling. And not one they were—or we are—particularly likely to live up to.
In the next chapter of Micah, chapter 7, the observation is made that “the godly has perished from the earth, and there is no-one upright among mankind” (v. 2). Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated as “godly” has the same root as hesed. Faithfully kind people can’t be found.
As a consequence, there is nothing they can do but accept the punishment coming to them:
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgement [establishes justice, CSB] for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication. (Micah 7:9)
It is God who can, and will, “do justice”.
Better yet, it is God who can and will do justice whilst at the same time being the one who can go beyond justice and “love hesed”.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger for ever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20; steadfast love = hesed)
The humility we express in walking with our God starts with gratefully recognising that it is his character and his deeds that reflect justice and hesed, not ours. Left to ourselves, justice and hesed would be rare.
Even in Micah there is a clear indication that the time of justice and ultimate hesed is going to be the time when God himself acts as the king and shepherd of his people; when a God-appointed ruler comes forth “from of old, from ancient days” (see 2:12-13, 4:1-8 and 5:2-5).
The incarnate Lord Jesus is that ruler: the man who fulfils the requirements of Micah 6:8 for us. We humbly walk with God by loving his hesed and receiving his grace-filled justice before we seek to reflect and share these traits in and through our own lives. But reflect and share these traits we must, and the more we realize how much we have been shown hesed, the more we will love showing hesed to others (cf. Luke 7:43, 47).
So maybe Micah 6:8 can indeed be the verse for January. But I’d suggest it needs to have a picture of a cross behind it.