“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)
When pressed by someone looking to test Him, Jesus confirmed that the whole of the Law could be summed up in love God and love your neighbour. When pressured to explain who was one’s neighbour, Jesus tells one of the most famous parables in the Bible – one that has led to the word “Samaritan” being associated with compassion and mercy, instead of the socially unacceptable ethnic class that it referred to in Jesus’ day. The parable shows that “your neighbour” is anyone in need of mercy and compassion. Studying Deuteronomy, for example, will reveal that the Law really can be summed up in the commandments of love God and love neighbour. The loving your neighbour statutes might look a little different than we would expect today, but at the time they moved the people of God into a place of better understanding of how to have compassion and mercy on those around them.
Micah is one of my favourite prophetic books because it does such a great job of showing God’s sorrow when we do not love our neighbour as we should. Many of the prophets speak of the wrath of God that is coming because His people did not love Him well, but in books like Amos, Isaiah and Micah, we see God explain the reason for His impending judgement as coming because of the social injustices committed by the people of God. Micah shows his readers that God takes seriously how we treat those who bear His image. Most of the judgements described in Micah are coming against Judah and Jerusalem because the leaders are breaking the covenant laws that were to protect the disadvantaged from those who had the power to oppress them for their own gain.
Even though it can sound like two commandments, loving God and loving people are closely connected. To show love to others, you are acknowledging the image of God in them. Thus, acting unjustly towards someone is to ignore the image of God in them. Really no matter how you are taking advantage of another, it is only possible to treat another human being unjustly if, at the very least, you see them as less than yourself, or at the extreme, you see them as not human. To kidnap 200+ girls to sell them to men is only possible if you see those girls as property to be bought and sold, and not as people who bear the image of God. When we look at social injustice in this way, it can be easy to see why God would get as angry over it as He did, when His people rejected and rebelled against His love.
Micah’s solution for social injustice is not centered around a social program or polite agenda, but around God. Throughout the book, God is described as both the source of true justice and of true restoration and peace. In the past I (Michael) have been overwhelmed by the effort it takes to live a “just life.” As I look even in the last month at the injustices in the world that need addressing, even as close as my own backyard, I can become apathetic because it is all too big for me to help. If I approach justice as instead trusting that God will bring justice in this age and the age to come, I can move from apathy to asking God what part He desires me to play in His work of justice in the world. Then instead of becoming overwhelmed, I simply walk in obedience to the role God has called me to play. For some that piece is going to be leading organizations that incarnate the justice of God. For others it may be something that seems smaller, but if done in obedience to God’s call, will have eternal impact. This is why Micah 6:8 is such an encouragement to me,
“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?”
If I walk humbly with God, He will show me how to do the justice He wants to see in this world.