It is well that we have the words of Micah 6:8 clearly before our mind. The text reads as follows: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
We should notice that the text contains one positive, strong assertion: “He hath shewed thee what is good.” The text ends with asking three things which show us really what are the particulars of the “good’ which the LORD has showed to Israel.
In our former article we reflected just a bit concerning the term “good.” We saw that it is spiritual grace which has been shown to Israel. We now stand before the important question: what is this good?
Striking it is that the text does not define the term “good’ here at all. However, it evidently refers to that “good’ which we as believers are called from God to perform, since we are washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. It is a word which refers to God’s sanctified people, to whom God says, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44; I Peter 1:16) We are to be holy in all manner of conversation, since we have been powerfully called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light (I Peter 2:6-10). Then we walk in the Spirit, as we live by. the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Truly, we have here no legalistic walking according the law; a mere natural religion of a humanist. Gleason L. Archer makes the very apt observation in his expository notes on Micah 6:8: “It would be a gross misinterpretation of this verse, a violent wrenching of the text out of its context, to construe this as a mere pronouncement that the whole point of religion is a virtuous life, without the need of atonement and of faith in God’s revealed word. On the contrary, it is a reminder to those, who are under the covenant, that God requires a true living faith, which manifests itself in obedience and love.” (New Bible Commentary, page 759)
Well said, methinks!
This is a far cry from the exegesis which I heard in a sermon recently in the Dutch language, which stressed that the covenant was merely promise and commandment. In this sermon the “righteousness” required was simply “justice” in society; there was not one inkling that this righteousness was the new obedience of the reborn children of God.
We hold that the Lord has showed us that there shall be good fruit in our life. They are the good works which we must manifest in our life, that men may see these good works and glorify our Father Who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). This good is the light-life of the children of God, who have been enlightened by the Spirit of grace. Yes, this requirement is truly a precept of the covenant in which there are “two parts.” Nay, here are not two parties, as is so often presupposed and alleged when preaching on this text. Nor do we have here a certain rule of philosophical morality. For this is a word in which Jehovah has a controversy with his people concerning the very nature of this covenant relationship with them, to wit, to be a God unto them and to their seed forever! And Israel must walk in her part. Such is the divine requirement. This good walk is not a prerequisite to enter into the covenant relationship. Here is no promise upon condition of faith. However, here is a requirement to walk in faith, to walk with a joyful heart in the good works which God has before prepared in order that we should walk in them as new creatures. In this walk circumcision avails nothing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Such a walk is the fruit of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 5:15, 16; Eph. 2:10).
I trust that the reader will bear with me if I become a bit technical in interpreting the terms in this text. We need it.
First, we must notice that there are three elements which are well-known to Israel. They are: to do righteousness, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God. We believe that there is a certain climax here in this triad of graces. No doubt the last element, to walk humbly with thy God, is sounding the depths of this mystery of a godly life. Hence, in our interpretation we begin with this element: to walk humbly with thy God.
We notice that this term is very basic. We should notice that the LORD speaks of Himself as “thy God.” We should not overlook the singular “thy.” This makes the admonition very personal. Although the LORD has here in His controversy a word to all “my people,” yet he also singles out the individual believer. None need ask: does God speak here to me? The Lord here employs the same language which he uses in the covenantal prologue of the Decalogue in Exodus 20:1. Says he, “I am the Lord, thy God.” Fact is that this “I am thy God’ is repeated in Exodus 20:5, 7, 10, 12. Let us give heed to this repeated self-identification of the LORD.
With this God we are to walk humbly. We are to humble ourselves before the LORD our Maker. This is not the same as to be humbled by the Lord. That is what God did to David after he had committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba and had murdered Uriah by the hand of the Philistines. However, when David humbled himself lowly as expressed in Psalm 51, then the LORD lifted him up. There is a spiritual axiom in Scripture, which is expressed in James 4:5-7: “Do you think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Therefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.” This basic truth we also read in Job 22:29; Proverbs 3:34; Psalm 138:6, and Matthew 23:12. There Jesus says, “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased. And he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Small wonder that Micah 6:8 asks: and what doth the LORD require of thee but . . . to walk humbly with thy God? The truth is that we are saved by sovereign grace and mercy as the unfolding of the elective love of God. We have profound reasons to humble ourselves before God. Our fathers of the Synod of Dordt expressed this in Head I, Article 13, “The sense and certainty of this election afford the children of God additional matter for daily humiliation before him, for adoring the depths of his mercies, for cleansing themselves, and rendering grateful return of ardent love to him, who first manifested so great love towards them . . . .”
With this electing God we are to walk humbly. We are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. All sinful pride of thinking to be able to contribute something, to do some good work toward ransoming our souls, must forever be gone! Never must we attempt to be a “party” in the covenant of God, but always we must know our place before the high God, to walk humbly with him in fellowship of love. That is the place of the justified sinner, who has learned to confess with the mouth what he believes in his heart: I am righteous before God and an heir of everlasting life by faith only. Yes, then I walk humbly with my God in Jesus Christ; and I have fellowship with the Father and with the Son. We read of both Enoch and Noah that “they walked with God.”
Also our text here speaks of such a “walk.” The Hebrew text employs the present infinitive construct. Ever in the present, each moment, we are to walk humbly with our God. In the book of Genesis we read repeatedly of the saints who walk with God or who are instructed to walk with God, or before his face. The form of the verb is such in all these cases that it refers to habitually going in and out before the face of the LORD. Thus we read that Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years. Thus was his constant and ever increasing walk. The form of this walking with God was in part that he was a preacher, calling the ungodly to repentance, telling them of the coming of the Lord to judge all ungodly men (Jude 14, 15). Noah also walked with God. Such was the basic habit of his life. He too was a preacher of righteousness. He walked in faith. He believed, therefore did he speak. God says to Abraham, when He established His covenant with him and with his seed, “Walk before me and be thou perfect . . .” (Gen. 17:1) Jacob says to Joseph, when he blesses him in the land of Egypt, “God before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac did walk . . . .” (Gen. 48:15) For further instances of this habitual walk with God seePsalm 56:13; Ps. 101:2; Ps. 116:9; Ps. 119:45. We must also notice that the Lord would have us “love mercy.”
This has two aspects to it. First, it is our love for God’s sovereign mercy to us in Christ Jesus, as the free-gift of God. Here we bow humbly; we take the shoes from off our feet. We listen in believing and loving attention to God as he speaks the awe-inspiring words, as recorded in Exodus 33:19, “. . . and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.” Here we hear the “Who art thou, O man, that answereth against God?” This same severe tone we hear in Micah 6:8, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good . . . .” There are many people who purport to believe the Bible, but they do not love mercy. But God’s people, who have been made alive with Christ, love a God who is rich in mercy, for .his great love in which He made us love in Christ. By grace are ye saved, lest any man should boast. These love this mercy and boast and glory alone in the LORD. These never weary of the Lord’s controversy with his people.
Of course, having received mercy, we love to show mercy. Thus Jesus speaks of the blessedness of such, when he says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). No man can show mercy who have not obtained mercy from God. Standing in the mercy of God we love to be merciful to our neighbor. Such mercy boasts against all judgment (James 2:13). God bestows upon us His wisdom, which is from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:17).
Finally, just a word about “to do justly,” as this occurs here in the text. The KJV translates this as an adverb of manner of life. The Dutch translates, “recht te doen.” Luther translates, “Gottes Wort halten.” This means “to keep God’s word.” We can see from all that which we have discussed that this cannot be a work righteousness at all. This falls within the framework of what Paul denominates in I Timothy 1:8: to use the law lawfully. Hence, it is according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.
God’s theodicy stands up in His own court. Such is his controversy with “my people” in endless ages. Amen.