James Nisbet Commentary - Micah 6:8 - 6:8

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James Nisbet Commentary - Micah 6:8 - 6:8

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.’


It is not right to say that this inspired summary of wherein true worship, true ritual, true religion consists was a wholly new thing when Micah spoke.

The law had been all along a schoolmaster to bring the people unto Christ. Before Abraham was Christ’s Spirit was at work.

It was, however, given to a man of the soil, a simple vine-dresser, to whom ‘life was real, life was earnest,’ to put into words that burn and shine for ever the noblest views as to the reality of religion ever delivered by a prophet of Old Testament times to the world, the briefest and most appropriate definition of wherein the essence of true worship consists. As we read these words, ‘He hath showed 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 are obliged to confess that ‘Christ,’ as has been well said, ‘added nothing to Micah’s summary of human duty except the power to act on it.’

Micah, the man of the country, in contrast to Isaiah, the city man, was a lover of the woods and of the fields.

I. It was the crofter trouble of those old times which in part caused Micah to speak burning words.—As Isaiah had cried woe to the plutocrats who joined house to house and laid field to field till there was no room, who did away with the small holdings, so Micah cries woe upon them also. And the worst of it all was that the rich tyrant class felt itself so respectable that it could not think the judgment of God was possible, and while the heads of Jacob and the princes of the house of Israel had forgotten the elements of justice, were ‘spurning justice and twisting all that is straight,’ were plucking the very flesh from the bones of the poor by exaction, and by their extortions were devouring the people, the hireling prophets, who were living upon the gains of the great, cried peace so long as they could have a good dinner, and hounded on destruction against those who would not satisfy their demands. ‘While they have aught between their teeth they proclaim peace; and against him who will not lay food to their mouths they sanctify war.’ Meanwhile, the great palaces at Jerusalem were rising upon the ruin of the people. ‘They all laid in wait for blood. They hunted every man his brother with a net.’ And that was not the worst of it, for all the while they went about their religious duties with assiduity. ‘They leaned on Jehovah and said, Is not the Lord among us? no evil can happen to us.’ It was at such a crisis of sham religion divorced from righteousness and justice, sham worship divorced from the walk of godliness, that the patriot Micah perceives that the sin of Jerusalem is not want of zeal in worship, nor rebellion against God, but a real lack of understanding that religion, to be anything, must mean conduct and character, and that Jehovah, if He is God, is a God Who demands that men shall give Him their reason and thought, as well as their emotions and their desire, to fulfil the minutest regulations of ritual or religious ceremonial.

II. An appeal to history.—He urges them to believe that like as a father pitieth his children, so as a father will God reason with their reasonable minds. He introduces the idea of a debate or argument between the God of Israel and His people upon the stage of the vast amphitheatre of nature and the silent, listening hills. It is an appeal to history that he makes in every direction. To the south, he tells them, is the wilderness of Egypt, from whence God redeemed His people; there are the clover fields through which Abraham aforetime led his flocks. Here to the north is Adullam, that saved David from the sword of Saul; there the plain of Elah and the brook that runneth like a white ribbon through the plain, where David sought and found the pebbles for his sling. Away over the hills to the north-east is little Bethlehem Ephratah and the tower of the flock that shall one day humble the pride of Jerusalem, when the true Shepherd-Lord shall be born there—Bethlehem where Jesse dwelt, and Jesse’s son first proved himself a man after Jehovah’s heart. If men are silent, these historic scenes will find a voice to proclaim the purpose, the patience, and the lovingkindness of the Lord Who redeemed them. Surely these hills and vales will proclaim the righteous deeds of Jehovah, the Deliverer mighty to save; of Jehovah, the covenant God Who keepeth His promise for ever. Now, as one gazes back upon the Old Testament heroes, one sees that, with all their faults, their righteousness lay in conduct. Righteousness was for them not holiness so much as right dealing and kindly dealing between man and man as members of a nation. It was not till later times that righteousness became identified with worship and almsgiving, or, rather, that worship and almsgiving superseded conduct. Not purity of heart so much as right doing—this was what the prophets demanded: justice between class and class, kindness between rich and poor, and humbleness of heart for all the elect of Jehovah. They lifted up their voice in protest against the mistaken importance given to outward forms of religion; they demonstrated its worthlessness as a substitute for the moral service of God as manifested in civic rectitude and social well-doing. They did not denounce sacrifices, for the idea of sacrifice was as much a matter of course as our idea of going to church on Sunday. But they did denounce the hypocrisy of all this outside show of worship when the heart refused to humble itself upon the altar of self-sacrifice by deeds of mercy and justice.

III. The eternal antagonism of letter and spirit, which Christ, in His words to the woman of Samaria, so clearly declared, was as clearly made manifest by the prophets of the Lord eight centuries before.—And as long as the world standeth we shall honour the fig-gatherer of Tekoa for his brave saying, ‘I despise your feast days.… Though ye offer me burnt offerings and meat offerings, I will not accept them.… But let judgment run down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’; yea, and we shall feel the splendid note of accord ring like a trumpet in men’s ears that Micah, the vine-dresser, sounded, when to the perplexed people who had begun to realise the hollowness of their religious services, and the need of some more consistent union between conduct and worship, and who asked, ‘Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?’ he answered in the words of my text, ‘He hath showed 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?’ Micah’s voice has never been silenced. It may sound paradoxical, but the very fact that men are forsaking the ordinances of religion in all the churches in this money-seeking age of commerce and competition and unreality in religion, is a sign that they feel that till our ways are more just and kind, and full of reverence in our dealings between man and man, it is mockery to attend church services, and for a pretence make long prayers. Micah’s voice has never been silenced. I see the results of it in Toynbee Hall, in the University Settlement movement in East London, in the Sweated Industries Exhibition, in the Garden City and the City-Planning Conference, in the anti-smoke crusade, in the demand for medical inspection of schools, in the League of Mercy and Pity, in the care of our crippled children, in the Food Reform League work, in the movement for homes for consumptives, in Temperance work, in the Trades Union rally, in the legislation for small holdings, yes, even in the cry for labour churches without creeds, for undenominationalism without catechisms in our schools, and the passionate preaching of a socialistic gospel. But though, if one reads church papers, one would believe that justice and mercy and a humble heart before God and man were of less import to national well-being and the glory of God than the objection to a church catechism on the part of the Free Churches, or the colour and shape of a sacramental vestment on the part of the Anglican communion, there is surely going on in this matter-of-fact and grossly material age a recall to first principles and spiritual truth. Conduct and creed, and not creed alone, is the message, not only of Micah, but of Christ the Lord, that is more and more entering into our ears. The Lord’s controversy with this people is not being held in vain.

Canon Rawnsley.


‘ “Do justly.” That is the foundation virtue, without which you can rear no superstructure of noble character. A man who has no sense of justice is utterly lost to all good influences, and, labour as you may, nothing can be made out of him. One’s sense of justice may be perverted. and needs to be rightly educated; but it must be there, else there can be only vileness and corruption. Justice is the one foundation on which all character must rest. Jesus gives justice this first place also. “Justice, mercy, and truth” are His words. Not that justice is more important than her sister virtues, but that it is the first—the one upon which the others rest, and without which they deteriorate into vices, as mercy without justice becomes weak and indifferent to wrong.’