As we have seen, then, God is our Creator and sovereign Lord, and thus we are obligated to give Him our obedience. But what exactly does He expect from us? What exactly does He want from us?
About this too the Bible has a great deal to say, but there is one verse of Scripture that neatly sums up man’s duty toward God – Micah 6:8:
“He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
There are, then, three basic things that God requires: 1) “to do justly,” 2) “to love mercy,” and 3) “to walk humbly with your God.”
First of all it says that we are “to do justly,” or, as it might more literally be translated, “to do justice.” Strictly speaking justice is something that is administered by a judge, and the prophet Micah had strong words for the judges of his day who were often corrupt and took bribes (cf. Micah 7:3). But there is also a broad, general sense in which all of us are responsible for maintaining justice in our relationships with our fellow human beings. In this context justice means to treat others fairly and honestly, giving each person his due, and not doing anything to harm him or take from him something that is not rightfully ours.
“Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? . . .
He who does not backbite with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend . . .
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.”
We must be careful to respect each other’s family, property and reputation; and that means that we do not attempt to manipulate or defraud him with lying, cheating or stealing, by stretching the truth or concealing information, by telling “little white lies.” We are careful to give each person his or her due.
In business relationships in particular we should be completely honest with our customers, employees and vendors. We should be careful not to misrepresent our products and services, but honestly represent what we have to offer so that the customer knows exactly what he is getting for what he is paying. Employers should treat their employees fairly, give them honest evaluations, and reward them for their work. Employees should give their employers a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.
But then the text goes on to say that we should “love mercy.” The word translated “mercy” basically means kindness shown to others, especially to those in need. Job could say,
“. . . I delivered the poor who cried out,
The fatherless and the one who had no helper . . .
I was eyes to the blind,
And I was feet to the lame.
I was a father to the poor . . .”
What God requires of us is that we genuinely care about our fellow human beings and help them out in times of need to the extent of our ability.
What this may mean in actual practice is the expenditure of our time and money. We must take the time to listen and make the effort to find solutions to the other person’s problem. What we may not do is to go through life pursuing our own narrow self-interest and ignore the needs of others. God is a God of compassion, and He expects us to show compassion as well.
But God also expects us to have a relationship with Him as well. We are “to walk humbly with your God.” To “walk with” Him means to commune with Him on a regular basis and to live our lives in accordance with His will. And we are to do this “humbly” – in full recognition of the fact that He is infinitely greater than ourselves, that He is our Creator and that we are entirely dependent upon Him.
It is significant that in the immediate context the prophet poses the question, “With what shall I come before the Lord, / And bow myself before the High God?/ Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, / With calves a year old?” (6:6). Israel at that time still had a functioning priesthood, and all of these sacrifices were prescribed in the Old Testament law. Yet while Israel maintained the external, formal religious observances, the land was filled with corruption, injustice and oppression. Was God, then, impressed with the “thousands of rams” and the “ten thousand rivers of oil” that they offered? No! What matters most to God is not empty ritual, but a life marked by honesty, compassion and a genuine devotion to God. Morality is a matter of relationships, our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellow human beings. And therefore the prophet says “He has shown you, O man, what is good; / And what does the Lord require of you / But to do justly . . .”