In times of wanton injustice, people often turn to Micah 6:8 to point out what God expects. Certainly, it is a fitting text for recent history, but if we wish to understand it as fully as we ought, we first must consider the passage in its context.
God wants His people to know and understand themselves as recipients of His unrelenting grace and mercy.
In the book of Micah, God indicts His people through His prophet. They have degenerated to the point that they “devise wickedness and work evil on their beds.” They can’t wait to get up in the morning to “perform it” (2:1). Clearly, Israel is in rough shape. In the third chapter, Micah even likens Israel’s rulers to cannibals who “chop [others] up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron” (3:3).
Nevertheless, by the time the reader arrives at chapter 6, the Lord’s tone is one of entreaty. Twice in verses 3–5 we read the opening phrase “O my people.” Perhaps there is even a hint of tenderness. God then calls His people to remember and know “the righteous acts of the LORD” (v. 5), giving them a little reminder of history: their redemption from Egypt and the righteous leaders He raised up (v. 4), how He providentially turned curses to blessing with Balak and Balaam at Shittim, and how He led the nation through the Jordan River to Gilgal (v. 5). This isn’t merely a history lesson; God wants His people to know and understand themselves as recipients of His unrelenting grace and mercy.
Verses 6–7 then describe an array of sacrifices from the would-be worshipper. But these sacrifices don’t cut it with God. We see this in parallel in 1 Samuel 15:22, when Samuel confronts Saul: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” God is not saying that sacrifices or other expressions of devotion are irrelevant; rather, He is looking for genuine obedience from the heart.
This article has been adapted from the sermon “What God Requires” by Alistair Begg