6:6-8 Micah’s Command to the Chastised People
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 year-old calves?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
or with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I give him my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
What does the LORD require of you?
To do justice,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
These verses and particularly vs. 8 are considered by many scholars and religious leaders to be the most noted summary of the law and greatest reminder of true religion in the O.T. if not the entire Scriptures.8 Micah here responds to the stated covenant faithfulness of God and His call for His unfaithful covenant people to plead their case before the natural elements (mountains) of the earth. Micah speaks on behalf all of God’s covenant breaking and unfaithful people. Micah’s first response in vss. 6-7 is very typical of those who try to appease God with “things” as if the laying before Him of multiplied sacrifices, even forbidden ones such as child sacrifices, would be pleasing to God and somehow atone for their sinfulness. Micah in vs. 8 reminds his audience that such things are profane to God and useless for a right relationship with Him by reminding them of what God had already stated in the law, that the practice of justice, faithfulness and walking rightly (in humility) before God is what God requires.
What God’s people Think God Requires (vss. 6-7)
Micah 6:6-7 can be understood as a response speech by Micah on behalf of God’s people to God’s indictment against them, vss. 1-5. In this speech, Micah implies his people’s guilt of breaking the covenant between them and the LORD. In an attempt to appease God’s righteous wrath because of their unfaithfulness to Him, the people suggest several things which escalate from a burnt offering to the extreme and obscene. All of these things are an attempt to gain God’s favor by offering something to Him. God, they think can be “bought off” by costly gifts. They totally missed the point of what God requires of them.
Micah, speaking for the people in vs. 6a, asks a rhetorically “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow myself before God on high?” God’s unfaithful people recognized that something must be done as they likely looked back to the law but completely misunderstood its meaning regarding prescribed sacrifices. Their priests, demanding money, only taught what the people wanted to hear and their prophets also for money gave them false prophecies, Micah 3:11. The people had no righteous teachers to instruct them in what God required of them. So the decision God’s people would naturally arrive at would be “with what and how much.” Some of them may actually have read and misunderstood God’s requirements not to come to Him ”empty handed,” Exodus 23:15 and 34:20 which was a requirement specifically in reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They surmised that it was necessary to bring their decided offering and bow before God, whom Micah describes as “God on high.” In this descriptive phrase for God, Micah used the Hebrew word mârôm, (Psalm 92:8; 93:4; Isaiah 33:5) signifying great height and exaltation. It is an ironic picture of a covenant keeping, righteous, holy and exalted God in juxtaposition with a covenant breaking, unrighteous, wicked and debased people.
The catalog of suggested gifts to buy God’s favor begins in vs. 6b. The first suggestion is “burnt offerings.” This practice actually pre-dated the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, Genesis 8:20 and chapter 22; Exodus 10:25; and 18:12, but it was the under the stipulations of the law where its regulations for usage were clearly defined. These regulations stated in Leviticus 1:1-17 and 6:8-13 should be read together with the later revelation in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Does the LORD delight as much in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Look, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” David in contrition for his sins stated, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, else would I give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17. David, also wrote, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is in my heart.” Psalm 40:8. Isaiah, at a time contemporary to Micah proclaimed, “What do your many sacrifices mean to me? says the LORD. I have had enough of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of well fed cattle; I delight not in the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats.” Isaiah 1:11.
The second suggested gift to buy God’s favor is also stated in vs. 6b as coming before the LORD with year-old calves. This likely refers to the offerings mentioned in Leviticus chapter 9 in which Aaron and his sons participated, with the express purpose of having God’s glory appear to them. The people for whom Micah spoke were in error in thinking that by offering yearling calves to God would result in His favorable disposition to them or would purchase His forgiveness for their sins.
The third suggested gift to buy God’s favor is recorded in vs. 7a in which the people surmise that God may be pleased with “thousands of rams.” The suggested gifts to God in vs. 7 are all extreme and the final one is blatantly abhorrent to God. The idea of buying God’s pleasure with ‘thousands of rams” may have been taken from Solomon’s dedication of the first temple, “Solomon offered for a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the Israelites dedicated the temple of the LORD.” 1 Kings 8:62. Individual covenant breakers of Micah’s day could not afford such extravagance, nor were they making any dedication of any edifice designed for God’s presence. Isaiah spoke of great numbers of burnt offerings by the nations as being, along with the nations themselves, less than nothing and worthless. Isaiah 40:16-17. It is not the amount of animals sacrificed that please God and are acceptable to Him. Micah reveals in vs. 8, the actions from God’s covenant people that He requires.
The fourth suggested gift to buy God’s favor in vs.7a escalates the guesses His unrepentant people made to a most extreme and ridiculous height which would have been a miscalculation of how God wanted His people to respond to Him as vs. 8 reveals. This fourth suggestion, in the DASV “ten thousand rivers of olive oil” described as “or with” but is better translated, “with,” (ESV, NIV) or “in” (NASB). This connects the “rivers of oil” to the suggestion of “thousands of rams.” The descriptive word “olive” in the DASV is not in the Hebrew. The words “rivers of oil” are literally “torrential wadis of oil.” 9 A wadi was a dry stream bed for most of the year in Israel but when storms came they often inundated the stream beds with torrents of water producing an often dangerous flash flood. The word usage in vs. 7 of “thousands” and “ten thousand” are considered as hyperbole similar to the chant of the women regarding David and Saul, “Then the women sang to one another as they celebrated, Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 1 Samuel 18:7. It is obvious that these suggestions could never have been carried out by the people and represent a vain attempt to try and appease God by their feigned self-righteous acts.
The fifth suggested gift to buy God’s favor is in vs. 7b and proves the peoples’ greatest height of ignorance regarding God’s word and their complete distain for God’s covenant with them. In an attempt to satisfy God’s wrath for their transgressions and the sin of their souls they lastly suggest that God somehow may accept the sacrifice of their firstborn children. Child sacrifices were practiced by those who served the pagan god Molech, 2 Kings 23:10. This practice was also practiced by the tribes of Israel and was condemned by God, Jeremiah 7:30-31, 19:4-5; 32:35. See also Ezekiel 16:20-21. Perhaps the people who made this wicked suggestion totally misunderstood the point of the story of Abraham and Isaac on the mountain of Moriah recorded in Genesis chapter 22. However they came to their conclusions about what would appease God, they escalated their suggestions from the misguided to that which would have brought God’s judgment upon them. At this point in the dialogue between God and His people, Micah abruptly reveals in vs. 8 what God actually requires of His people.
What God actually requires (vs. 8)
Following the response speech of the people, vss. 6-7, spoken by Micah, to God’s indictment against them within the setting of a “covenant lawsuit,” Micah abruptly speaks for God revealing what God actually requires of His people. Their response to Go in vss. 6-7 was completely misguided indicating their ignorance of God’s word and His covenant requirements of them. Micah in vs. 8 speaks of what many describe as the finest example of summarizing the law in the O.T. 10
Micah states first that “He (the LORD) has shown you.” The prophet may have been referencing passages in the Torah which his audience should have known, such as “Now, then, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, 13 to keep the command of the LORD, and his statutes, that I am commanding you this day for your good?” Deuteronomy 10:12-13. Also, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you this day, are to be on your heart.” Deuteronomy 6:4-6. The words of this later reference was, known as the “Shema” (to hear), were to be taught to their children and were to be written and bound on their clothing and on their houses and gates as a perpetual remembrance of what God required of them. Deuteronomy 6:7-9.
The prophet Hosea also succinctly summarized this requirement by God, “For I desire loyal love, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6. Micah’s contemporary Isaiah proclaimed this requirement in a longer segment,
11 “What do your many sacrifices mean to me?” says the LORD.
“I have had enough of the burnt offerings of rams,
and the fat of well fed cattle;
I delight not in the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has required this from your hand,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Do not bring any more worthless offerings;
your incense is detestable to me.
New moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies,
— I cannot stand such sinful assemblies.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts I hate;
they have become a burden to me;
I am tired of putting up with them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you.
Yes, when you make many prayers,
I will not listen,
for your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves,
make yourselves clean;
put away the evil deeds from before my eyes;
stop doing evil.
17 Learn to do good.
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:11-17
The requirements of the LORD in Micah 6:8, are addressed to “O man,” instead of “O my people,” as in vs. 3. This may be suggestive of God’s righteous indignation against the suggested ways His people have tried to buy His favor, vss. 6-7. The LORD seems to have had enough of His people’s sinfulness and disregard for His instructions to them as His following words of judgment testify, specifically the concluding words of vs. 16.
The requirements of God in Micah 6:8 are a threefold statement of what He calls “good.” The first requirement is “to do justice.” “Justice” is the English translation of the theologically significant Hebrew word, mišp̱âṭ, which is translated in Micah in the DASV, as “justice” in 3:1, 8, 9; 6:8 and as “judgment in 7:9. See “justice” in the Selected Topics Section and comments in Micah 3:1, for the importance that Micah attributes to justice. As mentioned above the Lord is very concerned with justice as Micah records in 2:1-11; 3:1-12; 6:9-16; and 7:1-6 and as Isaiah reveals in 1:27; 9:7; 16:5; 28:17; 30:18; 32:16; 33:5; 42:1, 3, 4; 51:4 and 61:8. Jesus strongly rebuked the teachers of the law and the Pharisees by quoting from Micah 6:8, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, anise and cummin, and have ignored the more important matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith. But these you ought to have done, and not to have neglected the other.” Matthew 23:23.
To “do justice” is the cornerstone of true religion. It is essentially to do what is right, which is what God requires in all life’s circumstances and specifically in relation to others. It is summed up by Jesus in what is known as the “golden rule;” “Whatever therefore you would that others should do to you, so you should do to them, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12. See also Luke 6:31. Christians demonstrate “doing justice” when they act rightly, as God requires towards others, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Colossians 3:12-17; James 1:26-27. By these acts, Christians reveal that they are living in step with the new Covenant, Hebrews 10:14-17, and with the Holy Spirit, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25. (NIV).
The second requirement the LORD requires is to “love mercy.” The DASV has translated this theologically significant Hebrew word, ḥeseḏ, as “faithfulness.” The KJV, NKJV and NIV translate this word as “mercy;” and the ESV and NASB translate it as “kindness.” This Hebrew word is emphasized repeatedly in Psalm 136 with the refrain, in the DASV, “for his loyal love endures forever.” The DASV’s translation of ḥeseḏ, is an excellent rendering of God’s eternal lovingkindness, mercy and faithfulness to His covenant people including Christians who are bound to Him through the new Covenant. A review of the translation decisions of this refrain in the English translations reveal the richness of meaning attributed to this Hebrew word. For example, the KJV and NKJV translate it “mercy;” the NIV translates it as “love;” the NASB translates it as “lovingkindness;” and the ESV translates it as “steadfast love.” 11
The point however is not just the richness of the translations of ḥeseḏ in the various English versions, but it is that God requires His covenant people to “love” mercy and kindness. God is not pleased with those who would dutifully show mercy and kindness and act justly to others. There is no inherent “love” in compliant duty to God. Those who have a faith relationship with God truly please Him when their actions are grounded (have their foundation) in their love for Him as they love one another. Peter spoke of this in his first Epistle, “You have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love. Love one another fervently from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22.
The third requirement that the LORD requires is to “walk humbly with your God.” The English word “humbly” is a translation of the Hebrew ṣâna‘ occurring only in Micah 6:8. A related word, ṣānûaʽ occurs in Proverbs 11:2. Most English Versions translate ṣâna‘ as “humbly.” However it also has the meaning of walking carefully or attentively 12 with God and would be a parallel with Galatians 5:25 in the N.T., stated as “keeping in step with God.” To walk “humbly” (carefully, attentively) with God requires a close relationship with Him. It would be close in meaning to “fearing the LORD,” Proverbs 1:7, as it is an intimate knowledge of Him that comes from a deep hearted awe, respect and love for Him. It also would include being so delighted in God that to do God’s will would be a great pleasure and one’s soul’s desire. The greatest pleasure of those who are His covenant people would be to know and love Him with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (Mark 12:29-31).
Extreme and erroneous applications of Micah 6:6-8
There are perhaps many who just pick and choose Bible verses to suit their preconceived notions regarding the Scriptures. For example from a cursory look at vss. 6-7, some may surmise that God had no pleasure in the sacrifices prescribed in the Mosaic Covenant and relegated them to systematic ritual. They would suggest that none of the sacrifices were acceptable to God. Along with this erroneous idea they may take from vs. 8 the idea that God is only pleased with acts of social justice and has no requirement for spiritual involvement such as personal (spiritual) faith in Him. These of course are ideas based on ignorance of what the Scriptures teach about what God really desires from those whom He called to be His people.
A proper Scriptural application of Micah 6:6-8 for those who are God’s covenant people is that God desires obedience to His laws and words with hearts that are completely devoted in love to Him. Also God desires that His people love Him with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love and respect their neighbor as they love themselves. See above in paragraph beginning with “To do justice.”
Notes for Micah 6:6-8
- Andrew E. Hill, Micah, pages 336-337.
- JoAnna M. Hoyt, Micah, page 763.
- Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, page 113.
- See TWOT on ḥeseḏ, article 698a, pages 305-307.
- JoAnna M. Hoyt, Micah, page 766.