1 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
6 “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?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, 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? – Micah 6:1-8 ESV
Micah now shifts the focus of his message from the future to the present day, addressing the people of Israel with a personal plea from God Himself. He employs judicial terminology, deliberately speaking his audience as if they were on trial, with God standing before them as their judge.
In the first two verses, Micah uses the Hebrew Word riyb three times, which can be translated “dispute, contend, or plead.” In essence, God is demanding that the Israelites defend themselves and present their case against Him. And He calls the hills and mountains to act as the impartial jury, hearing the evidence from both parties in this epic legal proceeding.
God is going to bring His riyb, or indictment against His chosen people. He will provide evidence in the lawsuit and allow the “enduring foundations of the earth” to settle the case. The mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth are meant to suggest the creative order that has witnessed the unethical and immoral actions of God’s chosen people since the beginning of time. If the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth could speak, they could give damning testimony to support Israel’s guilt and justify God’s judgment.
Now, God turns His attention to the people of Israel, the defendants in this divine court action. He wants to hear their explanation for their treatment of Him.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
What have I done to make you tired of me?
Answer me!” – Micah 6:3 NLT
Like a lawyer cross-examining the defendant, God gives Israel the opportunity to present their case against Him. What evidence do they have that would indict Him as the guilty party and excuse their treatment of Him? This is their chance to provide proof that their behavior was warranted because of something God had done. If the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth could speak up, they would echo the words of the psalmist, defending the integrity of the Almighty.
The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT
This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. – Psalm 18:30 ESV
And if Moses, the great deliverer of Israel, could appear as a witness in this trial, he too would give evidence of God’s undeniable innocence and unwavering righteousness.
“He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT
And Moses would have been intimately familiar with the guilt of Israel, having spent 40 years leading them through the wilderness on their way to the land of promise. He had watched God redeem and rescue them from slavery in Egypt and then listened to their constant complaints as God led them and provided for them. And their dissatisfaction with God had begun just days after they had crossed the Red Sea on dry ground
Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. – Exodus 15:22-24 NLT
And days later, these same ungrateful people would find another excuse to turn their wrath against God’s appointed leader, demanding that he explain why he had brought them into the wilderness to die.
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:2-3 ESV
And Moses would announce God’s intention to graciously provide for their need, but he would also reveal that their grumbling and complaining had been against the Almighty. Their ingratitude had been directed at their redeemer.
“When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” – Exodus 16:8 ESV
The Israelites had an abysmal track record when it came to their relationship with Yahweh. And it lasted long after they got to Canaan and inherited the land promised to them by God. Their dissatisfaction with and disrespect for God continued for generations. It showed up in their failure to keep His commands. It was evident in their constant spiritual infidelity that showed up in their addiction to idolatry.
And God calls on the people of Israel to remember all that He had done for them. He demands that they contemplate and compare His actions to their own.
“I brought you out of Egypt
and redeemed you from slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.” – Micah 6:4 NLT
And God gets specific, providing them with further evidence of His goodness, grace, and mercy.
“Don’t you remember, my people,
how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?
And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
when I, the Lord, did everything I could
to teach you about my faithfulness.” – Micah 6:5 NLT
They had no right to point their finger at God, accusing Him of injustice or ill-treatment. He had done nothing but show them kindness and shower them with His gracious love. When their enemies had tried to curse them, God had intervened, turning the evil-intentions of King Balak into a divine blessing. And when the people had arrived at the Jordan River, God had provided them with yet another miracle, making it possible for them to cross over the rain-swollen river on dry ground.
So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.
Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT
In all of this, God had been teaching Israel about His faithfulness. He could be depended upon. He could be trusted. He was righteous in all His ways. But the same could not be said about the people of Israel. And, at this point in the proceedings, Micah intervenes, addressing his fellow Israelites with a series of rhetorical questions meant to reinforce their guilt and remind them of what was missing in their relationship with Yahweh.
What can we bring to the Lord?
Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins? – Micah 6:6-7 NLT
God had made it perfectly clear what He expected from His people.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.” – Deuteronomy 10:12 NLT
He desired faithfulness on the part of His people. He wasn’t interested in lip-service and some kind of mechanical observance of rituals and rules. And the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s assessment of His peoples’ relationship with Him.
“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT
And Micah, acting as a witness against his fellow Israelites, reminds them of what God had always desired of them.
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT
But they had failed. They had refused to do what is good and right. They had chosen to despise God’s mercy by refusing to extend it to one another. And they had decided to display a prideful and arrogant attitude toward their God, rather than walking humbly in His presence, grateful for His ever-present goodness and grace.
God was innocent, but they stood guilty as charged. He had done nothing to deserve their treatment of Him. And as the evidence continued to pile up, their chances of acquittal dried up. And God would be fully justified when He delivered His guilty verdict and pronounced their fate.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.