“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?”
American church history reveals the valley between what was and what might have been. There are testimonies of women and men who faithfully lived out the imago Dei, and these stories are worth remembering with careful joy. Yet the other half of the narrative is dim. It reveals the horizontal cracks that damaged the chapel’s structural integrity and foundation. Today the American Church stands on trial for its racist roots that run deep. Studying the church’s past lets us see its present with open eyes. It reveals how like the generations that came before, we have failed to love our neighbors well. It forces us to ask hard questions about our own lives and ministries. What does the Lord demand from us? Are we relieving burdens or leaving new ones behind?
We turn to Micah for a response.
He brings a message of judgement and deliverance to pre-exilic Israel. Chapter 6 begins with a Job-like indictment. The Lord puts Samaria and Jerusalem on trial. He calls for his people to “plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice” (6:1). Creation would stand as witness to Israel’s unfaithfulness. Earlier we see charges against the religious leaders who devised wickedness (2:1), oppressed the poor (2:2), and turned to idols (1:7). This was Israel’s chance to plead their case in the divine lawsuit. But unlike Job, they were without just cause.
The Lord’s interrogation begins in verse 3, “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” (6:3). With what could Israel bring but an empty scroll? They had no defense. The Lord then urges his people to recount the works he had done. With this comes lament and hope, that Israel may mourn their failure to uphold the covenant while seeing God’s promise of redemption. He calls for his people to “remember…that you may know the saving acts of the Lord” (6:5). Israel fell into sin because they lost sight of the very thing God intended. They failed to live historically.
Then the people respond and ask what is required of them (6:6). This is the question that confronted Israel then and us today. The sacrifices quickly escalate to the point where it’s unreasonable. Rather than a message of eternal grace, sacrifice becomes a means of swift penance. Micah responds, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good” (6:8). What the Lord wants is not burnt flesh but a burning desire to serve him. He calls for a daily sacrifice of the heart, that we may “do justice,” “love kindness” and “walk humbly” (6:8). This is not a quick fix, but a long-enduring way of living. So where do we begin?
Before we can reconcile ourselves to each other, we must first reconcile ourselves to the cross. As we prepare for Good Friday, let us roll in the dust as Beth-leaphrah (1:10). Let us mourn how we have failed to not only love each other but our Lord. The radical offense of the Gospel is that we receive what we do not deserve and deserve what we do not receive. It is only through Christ that we reach true reconciliation. There is no other way.
I cannot tell you what it means for historians to live out Micah 6:8. I am still learning this myself. But what I can offer are the words of someone who came before. Taken from The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien writes that “it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”1 Let us go now and unearth the weeds that choke new life from taking root. Let us pull the briars and plant the barley. There is work to be done.
O God, in this Lenten season, may you prepare our hearts for the before and after. Without the cross there is no salvation, and without the resurrection, there is no hope. May we never lose sight of the redemption story.
Michelle Hodge is a MA candidate in the Department of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.