Imagine a courtroom. See the judge’s bench. Picture the witness stand and the jury box on the side. Visualize the tables on either side of the bench where the plaintiff and the defendant take their respective stances. And finally, see the gallery in the back (one of the few other places where we still see pews).
The courtroom is a common setting in the Old Testament. The ancient places of justice didn’t quite look like our modern examples, but some of the general ideas were the same. In the 6th chapter, the prophet Micah opens with a courtroom scene and immediately begins to populate the room.
- The Plaintiff: God
- The Jury: The Earth (specifically the mountains which have been a witness throughout time)
- The Defendant: The people of God (specifically both Israel in the north and Judah in the south)
The plaintiff dives right in with what we might call, the opening argument.
- I brought you up out of the land of Egypt;
- I redeemed you from the house of slavery.
- I sent you leaders in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before you.
- I protected you from those who sought to harm you and I have even saved you from yourself.
Have you learned nothing about who I am and what I am all about?
At this point the defendant, the people of God speak up saying,
- What do you want from us?
- Do you want better offerings, more offerings?
- What would it take to assuage you?
It’s a tense moment. It is clear that there is a lot of history and that the relationship has suffered strain. Yet, there is honesty. When those in conflict are willing to speak and to hear truth, it often means they are both interested in a form of reconciliation.
Into this moment a voice comes out from the front row of the gallery just behind the defendant. It is prophet Micah who stands both among, and apart from, the people of God. The prophet answers the people’s question with the heart of God saying,
“He has told you, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
For centuries rabbis have considered this verse to the best summation of the law in the Old Testament. It is important to note though that the Hebrew word translated as “requires” has a significant nuance. It does not mean “require” like a teacher requires homework or as a boss requires you to work on a holiday. The word has a tone of affection. It is more akin to the way a child requires a mother’s love or tree requires the rain and the sun. It is important to remember this tenderness. Just as it is important to remember who the judge is in this courtroom scene. In the closing verses of the book, the prophet Micah reminds us of the heart of the judge in his final prayer saying,
“Who is like you God? Who else who pardons sin and forgives transgression from generation to generation. You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful and you will show love.”
For more on the book of Micah check out: https://bibleproject.com/explore/micah/