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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

Act Justly, Love Mercy

Many U.S. evangelicals engage Scripture from a hermeneutic of privilege today, which at best fosters a vague comprehension of Christianity.

This privileged reading of Scripture allows believers to envision themselves as the biblical protagonists despite how much more our lives and lifestyles actually resemble the scriptural antagonists. Accordingly, U.S. believers are enabled to exclusively contextualize ourselves as the prophets delivering the words of the Lord as opposed to the people rebuked by the Lord’s prophet due to covenantal unfaithfulness to both God and neighbor.

Historically, Micah 6:8 has served as one of the most celebrated verses within Scripture. This passage has served as the basis for numerous songs, sermons, and conferences. Within the last ten years, this verse has enjoyed a renaissance due to the ever-growing emphasis younger believers are placing on doing justice. Micah 6:8 has become the core text deployed by the Church as a rallying cry for justice and advocacy. However, the Church, due to succumbing to this hermeneutic of privilege, has concurrently taken this passage out of its scriptural context. This abstraction of verse 8 from the broader context of chapter 6 has detrimentally affected our interpretation of this text. In taking verse 8 out of the broader confines of chapter 6, we have concomitantly allowed ourselves to pacify the implications of Micah 6:8 both individually and socially as the body. The effects of this have essentially rendered this passage inept concerning its ability to speak prophetically into the U.S. Church and the Spirit’s ability to use this passage as a challenge that calls us into a place of self-reflection and repentance, indicting us and the lifestyles we lead.

Therefore, in the midst of this passage’s resurgence, it is critically important for us to take the time to make sure that we are reading this passage within its scriptural context in order to ensure that we are gleaning all that we can from it. However, in order to do this, the U.S. Church has to be willing to adjust its approach to this text. We have to be willing to see ourselves not as the prophet, Micah, but as the Israelites. When we are willing to humble ourselves in this manner, we will be afforded the opportunity to see how verses 1-7 provide the proper context for 6:8 to be heard and understood. Then we will also understand how verses 9-16 actually illustrate in great detail how we are much more likely to be cast as the Israelites in this passage than to play the role of the Lord’s prophet due to our own covenantal unfaithfulness to God and neighbor.

Theologically, the purpose of Micah 6 is to illustrate that Israel does not know the only authentic way to come before the Lord, which is total personal conversion. Israel, because of its sin, is separated from God and is therefore unable to see and recognize God’s true character. God did not want blood sacrifices.

Yahweh did not and does not need our material sacrifices, regardless of their extravagance. There is only one sacrifice that the Lord truly desires from us, and that is what the ever–popular verse 6:8 encapsulates. Without understanding the attempted sacrifices of Israel in verses 6 and 7 of chapter 6, and the Lord’s refusal of these prideful, selfish attempts to atone for sin, the requirements of the Lord given to us within verse 8 of the chapter are incomplete and are prone to be misapplied and misunderstood. The Godhead requires a change of heart, a change of lifestyle, and of disposition toward both God and neighbor.

God requires us to be faithful stewards of the resources we are entrusted with, including our money, possessions, and the earth on which we live. God wants our hearts, our lives, and despite the good deeds we might do or the evangelist efforts we partake in, any offering that falls short of this is simply insufficient. This is what Micah tried to convey to the masses in 6:8. In 6:8 Micah aggregates the essence of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah through connecting the proper atonement for human sin, authentic worship, and the covenantal requirements of God. Amos professed that God desires justice rather than sacrifices; Hosea depicts what it means to love compassionately, with mercy; and Isaiah stresses faithfulness and obedience to God, which leads to the social activism that procures liberation as well as justice for the oppressed in what is deemed true worship.

Furthermore, the verses following verse 8 are words of indictment spoken by Micah on behalf of the Lord to the people of Israel because of their unfaithfulness and inability to live out 6:8.

These are words of conviction God sent Micah to deliver to God’s people, the Israelites. These words were spoken through Micah first as a caution to the people, imploring them to turn away from their sins and to then return to the Lord. However, the words of the prophet ultimately went unheeded and thus proved to give voice to the Lord’s burning anger toward Israel because of their sinful ways. This is critically important for U.S. believers because we have seemingly forgotten that we too are heirs to the covenantal promises of God. We too have a responsibility to remember the deliverance from slavery which God granted us.[1] Living in remembrance of this mandates our covenantal faithfulness and fidelity to God. However, many within the church are just as stiff-necked as the Israelites were–willing to give God everything but our hearts, our lives in totality, yet this is exactly what God desires of us.

Most believers today acquiesce to societal injustice because we do not feel convicted when we see or learn about them. We act apathetically because we know how radically different our lives would look if we were to intentionally step outside of our comfort zones into the faithfulness to which Scripture calls us. Within this society that is predicated upon comfort and the avoidance of suffering at all cost, we must cultivate countercultural disciples willing and able to bear their crosses, individuals who will intentionally choose discomfort and suffering for the sake of the kingdom over worldly satiation. This is the basis of Micah 6; the prophet was imploring the Israelites to understand that believers have to be willing to live lives that are radically different from the rest of the world. The church is to serve as God’s prophetic witness in the world today, but we cannot do this when we are more loyal to the norms and laws of our nation than the mandates of our God.

[1] Liberation from slavery to sin and death made manifest on the cross of Christ, ultimately realized in the resurrection where God triumphed over the powers and principalities of this world.

—- Dominique DuBois Gilliard is a pastor, theologian, educator, and practitioner. Dominique currently serves as a pastor at Convergence Covenant Church in West Oakland, California. Prior to pastoring, Dominique served as an adjunct professor at both North Park Theological Seminary and East Tennessee State University. Additionally, Dominique is an active member of the Christian Community Development Association, serving on both the association’s national theology task-force and its faith and public education council.

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