Sadly, almost 100 years later, we still live in a violent, war-ravaged, and divided world. Violent conflict is a significant cause of injustice, poverty, and suffering. Included in the costs of war are the direct victims and shattered lives, the attention and resources devoted to military machinery that would be better diverted to alleviating other human needs, and the continuing suffering of war survivors and veterans, even among the “victors.
“. . . with your God.”
by Nathan Brown
It’s hardly surprising that there are rules about how to read laws. Lawyers both write laws, then work out how to read and interpret them. Rules about how to do these things assist both those processes.
As a first-year law student—some years ago now—I was introduced to these rules in weekly lecturers on Statutory Interpretation. And it was one of the dimly remembered rules that niggled at me as I reflected on the well-known “justice” verse, Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NIV).
What got me thinking about rules of statutory interpretation was the list—“act justly,” “love mercy” and “walk humbly”—and the question about how much of the list is read with the qualifier, “with your God.” Prompted by this question, I went back to my notes and found the applicable legal maxim: Reddendo singula singulis (yes, it’s Latin for the “rule of last antecedent”). Put simply, the presumption is that the qualifier applies only to the last specific item in the list, except where the context suggests otherwise.
So I consulted two Old Testament scholars for their perspectives on the original language of Micah 6:8. My question sparked a couple interesting conversations. While the original language seems an unusual Hebrew construction, we found nothing conclusive in this wording.
But the larger context of Micah 6 gave me something more to work with. As is so often the case when talking about the relationship between God and His people, the chapter begins with a brief recounting of how God had led and cared for His people in the past (verses 1–5), concluding with the declaration that “I, the Lord, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness” (Micah 6:5, NLT).
The prophet’s reflections then turn to the appropriate response from God’s people to this faithfulness: “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give Him?” (Micah 6:6). Echoing the calls of others among the Hebrew prophets, Micah’s suggestions come in the context of worship (compare Isaiah 58 and Amos 5:21–24, for example). He begins modestly, talking about sacrificing calves. But this seems inadequate and his suggestions are quickly inflated. The next step is offering “thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil” (verse 7), before going to the horrific—but not unknown—extreme of suggesting sacrificing his firstborn child.
But the answer is more simple, more profound, and more worshipful: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is about worship, seeking to live in a way that serves as an adequate and appropriate response to the faithfulness and goodness of God. But this is also about reflecting God’s faithfulness and His other attributes—justice, mercy, and humility—back to Him and working with Him to enact His attributes, His presence, and His kingdom in our world.
So we “act justly . . . with our God.” As Psalm 146:5–9 put it so explicitly, God is the primary activist for justice in our world: “He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The Lord frees the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down. The Lord loves the godly. The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked” (NLT). As such, the Bible’s repeated calls to “justice doing” are an invitation to join in with, to enact, and to live out God’s just purposes for our world. When we do justice, we are truly working with our God.
Similarly, His mercy, kindness, and grace are recurring attributes of God. Intriguingly, talking about God and His judgments, the English Standard Version translates James 2:13, in part, with the assertion that “mercy triumphs over judgment.” Jesus said, “God blesses those who are merciful” (Matt. 5:7, NLT). Again, when we show mercy to others and seek mercy on their behalf we are partnering with a God of mercy and demonstrating His goodness to our world.
So rebutting the assumption from my half-remembered rules of statutory interpretation, the broader biblical context offers good reasons to read “with your God” as an important and expansive qualifier of our call “to act justly and to love mercy.” After all, pursuing and practicing justice and mercy are important aspects of the Bible’s definition of worship, and faithful living an appropriate response to God’s faithfulness.
Micah 6:8 might sound simple if we recite it glibly, but living such a practical faith is much more challenging, especially when to do so seems so out of step with much of our world. When others profit from injustice, scoff at mercy, and ride proudly, acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly requires courage and perseverance.
Yet we don’t do this alone. We do not merely “act justly” or “love mercy”—as good as those things are in themselves—but we are working and walking “with our God.” He will lead us like a shepherd (see Micah 7:14) and there is no one like Him (see Micah 7:18).
Nathan Brown is editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, New South Wales, Australia.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
**Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.