Humans’ Behavior According to Micah 6:8
By Chalsi Eastman
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Defining who the human is can be a difficult challenge, not only when trying to define the human in biological terms but especially when one is trying to define the human beyond biology. I believe what defines humanity is not the physical aspect of a human, but instead, there is much more to it than that. The human is a combination of physical, spiritual, emotional and so on. However, I would argue that one cannot separate these aspects from one another; they equally contribute to who the human is. The Bible offers multiple definitions of who the human is, involving all of these parts of a human. Although Micah 6:8 is one verse, it can and does reveal significant information about who humans are. Micah 6:8 offers a definition of the human based on human behavior; for example, when the human is called “to act justly, love kindness and walk humbly” or when the human challenges and questions God.
Words Reveal Humanity
This passage initially intrigues me when thinking about who the human is for three key terms. The three terms that catch my eye in the NRSV translation are “O mortal,” “Lord requires of you” and “walk humbly with your God.” “Mortal” is a gender neutral term that provokes an idea of a fleeting existence to me.
However, when looking at other translations of this passage, these aspects of the passage are often drastically different. The New International Version (NIV) does not use the phrase “O mortal” but rather it states “O man.” In my opinion, this changes the way one can read the passage. This does not necessarily provoke that sense of gender neutral fleeting existence.
According to the Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the definition of “mortal” is “the weak, fleeting nature of human life, emphasizing human weakness and limitation… ‘one certain to die’” (859). Ironically, the first definition of “man” is as “God’s highest creation, made in God’s own image” (Nelson’s Bible Dictionary 795). There is a drastic distinction there. The way the human gets addressed does make a difference. One shows God trying to make a connection with God’s people, while the other seems to be showing the differences between God and God’s people. God is not fleeting, therefore this term “mortal” is a harsh reality that although God made humanity in God’s image, humans are not God. This is why I find that term in this passage so intriguing.
In Today’s English Version, the words “man” and “mortal” are completely omitted. This translation states “No, the Lord has told us what is good…” This is interesting because there is neither an emphasis on distinction nor connection between God and God’s people necessarily. The focus is more directed on the requirements God has of humankind.
The fact that the Lord has requirements speaks tremendously to who the human is. Micah 6:8 states that the Lord requires humankind to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” These requirements are important elements of what makes someone human: “Man is most fully human when fulfilling the intention of God for him: worshipping, serving, and loving God. Of all creatures, only man has been given this blessed privilege” (Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, 795).
Once we fulfill the requirements we as humans get the opportunity to “walk humbly with (our) God.” This is a gift that I believe defines who the human is. Being in fellowship with God is something that we as humans get the opportunity to do constantly. Not only do we have the opportunity to do it constantly, but we get called to be in that fellowship at all times. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” God values that fellowship and we as humans should appreciate our ability to do so because it is a gift God has bestowed on humanity.
What does it mean to be in fellowship with our God and do it humbly? Walking in fellowship with God is a common theme throughout the Bible. That is why it is an important aspect of who a human is. 1 John 1:3 states, “and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” This fellowship with God is only possible through fellowship with others. The concept of the being in good fellowship with your neighbors as means to be in fellowship with your God is seen very strong in Micah 6:8. One must live justly and love kindness and then walk humbly with God. Humans have the ability to join in that fellowship with God, and God has called them to do so humbly.
The passage Philippians 2:1-11 discusses being human more in depth. Within this passage Paul goes into what it means for a human to be humble as Christ was humble, even stating in verse 5 “let the same mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus.” This verse itself speaks to who the human is because it states that the human has the capability to be like-minded with Jesus Christ. This means to live humbly as Christ was humble. There is no need to boast of one’s good qualities because God made humanity in God’s image, so God knows all of humanity’s good qualities.
Humanity Revealed through Context
When putting Micah 6:8 into context, another valuable argument towards explaining who the human is arises. God is “taking his people to court to accuse them of ingratitude” (Williamson 598). This concept seems out of the ordinary, but when examined further, the fact that the people receiving judgment in this story try to ask what God needs of them in order to mend their relationship with God is important. Micah 6:6-7 reads:
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give me firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Ronald T. Hyman states that by doing these things “man acknowledges that the Lord is right, that the Lord is not at fault in His dispute with Israel… neither does man make any explicit admissions of wrong doing” (159). This shows a distinct quality of the human; the human is willing to challenge the Lord. By admitting that God is right is one step in the right direction, but the human is not willing to admit her or his own faults while doing so. This is a small example of the human’s capability to challenge and test God. Bowley states that Micah 6:1-16 is the section of Micah that talks about Israel’s “condemnation of injustice, religious priority and cheating” (293).
One large example of humanity challenging God’s authority is the story of the Israelites’ refusal to enter into the promise land in Deuteronomy 1:19-43. God has just freed them from slavery in Egypt and given them a home in the promise land, but the Israelites choose not to enter into the promise land. They do not respect God’s authority, and God is not pleased with them. However, they choose to make this decision. The people of Israel have the capability to challenge God. God gives human that ability because God loves God’s people. Unfortunately humans often fail due to this capability.
What Micah 6:8 shows is that humans also have the ability to overcome their downfalls, because there will be downfalls. God does not ask the people to give any of those things, God simply states the people “should act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with (their) God” (Hyman, 160). Hyman states that Micah 6:8 forces the human to “flesh out the full reply in order to understand how it qualifies as a meaningful and acceptable response to the questions about sacrifices that will atone for breaching the covenant with the Lord” (160-161). It is not a simple act that one does that makes God happy but, rather, a lifestyle. It does not state “what” the human should do to come before the Lord but, rather, “how (the human) should approach the Lord” (Hyman 161).
The requirements listed in this passage are very interesting. The questions being asked in Micah 6:6 are about what sacrifices are acceptable before the Lord. The answer God gives has nothing to do with offerings. God gives an answer that reflects a lifestyle. The human is not required to do any specific acts of sacrifice, but instead, the human is required to live justly and love mercy and kindness. W. Eugene March states that “doing justice involves the faithful honoring of the God-established relationships” (663). Humans are in a relationship with God and, this is one thing that makes a human. Some people embrace that relationship and, others do not.
Humanity in Micah 6:8
After studying Micah 6:8, there are many conclusions that could be made about what Micah 6:8 says about humanity and human behavior. First, humans are both similar and dissimilar from God. Although there are two different translations that address the human, one can use each translation to determine who the human is. The human is both mortal, one with a fleeting existence, and made in the image of God; therefore, one is connected to God.
This also reveals itself in the call for one to walk humbly with God. This shows that the human can and should be in fellowship with God. This theme is common throughout the Bible. The way one lives determines who reaches that relationship with God.
Next, the human is one who has requirements from God. God calls all humans to live a certain lifestyle. This is one thing that I argue defines the human. The human has free will, but there are also certain things that God wants all humans to participate in here on earth in order to participate with God after death.
Finally, the fact that humans ask questions of God and even challenge God is something that defines who the human is. It is this ability to challenge God that makes the relationship with God difficult. Humans must choose the relationship with God. The human is difficult to define because all humans are so different. According to Micah 6:8, these are some of the things that can be said about who the human is.
Bowley, James E. “Micah”, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel’s Sacred Library. New Jersey; Pearson Education, 2008. 292-299.
Dreisbach, Daniel. “Micah 6:8 In the Letter of the American Founding Era: A Note on Religion and Rhetoric”, Rhetoric and Public Affairs. Spring 2009, vol. 12, issue 1. EbscoHost. 9/14/11. 91-105.
Hyman, Ronald T. “Questions and Response in Micah 6:8”, Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 33, no. 3. EbscoHost. 9/15/11. 157-165.
March, W. Eugene, “Micah”, HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Ed. James L. Mays. New York; HarperOne, 1988.
Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Ed. Ronald F. Youngblood, Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Revised Edition: The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRVS). Ed. Harold W. Attridge, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1984.
The Rainbow Catholic Study Bible: Today’s English Version: Second Edition. Nashville; Rainbow Studies, Inc. 2000.
Williamson, H. G. M. “Micah”, The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2001.