The Micah 6:6-8 passage is better known than most any Old Testament passage. Do justice, love goodness, walk humbly: this is sage advice from the very core of the Jewish tradition. Read then the verses that precede it:
Hear, then, what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice!
Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s case,
pay attention, O foundations of the earth!
For the Lord has a case against his people;
he enters into trial with Israel.
My people, what have I done to you?
how have I wearied you? Answer me!
I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I ransomed you;
And I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
My people, remember what Moab’s King Balak planned,
and how Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him.
Recall the passage from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the just deeds of the Lord.
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow before God most high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
What does God expect of us? We ask that question a lot. Sometimes we ask because we do not know. Sometimes we ask because we seek the boundaries of payment. God rescued us from slavery and bondage. What is freedom worth? The Son of God saved us from death. What value do we place on everlasting life?
Are we prepared to enter into legal proceedings with God? That’s not going to end well, if we’re talking solely about court procedures. God is asking tough questions of us. If we’re relying on pure justice, then any of us have a lot of explaining to do.
God’s unique offering into this conflict is mercy. Mercy moves beyond justice, beyond the proceedings of judge and jury.
And when we ask God what we should bring to our relationship with him, he suggests not things, but actions. Goodness in Micah 6:8b is sometimes translated as mercy. Goodness or mercy: either will suffice. If we are prepared to plead to God for his judgment, we have our answer.