With what should I approach the Lord
and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
with year-old calves?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
Micah was a prophet sent by God who brought both a challenge and an invitation to the kingdom of Israel during a time of national crisis in the 8th century before Christ. In this part of his oracle, an anonymous speaker, perhaps someone who feels brought up a little short by the prophet’s demands that the people live more faithfully with God and more charitably with each other, asks what might be considered a rhetorical question, that is, a question intended for effect and not so much for information. This question, aimed at God, amounts to this: What do you want from us?
That’s not a bad question. In fact, it is a pretty good question. What does God want from us? From me? From you? Indeed, what does God want from any of us?
The anonymous voice in Micah’s oracle does sound exasperated. Not satisfied with the usual palliatives the practice of her faith affords her (sacrificial offerings), she presses her questions on God as she moves from the expected (year-old calves) to the increasingly exaggerated (thousands of rams, torrents of oil) until she arrives at the most extreme example she can imagine (her own child). She wonders if there is anything which will please God, by which she can show she’s changed her life and wants to be in right relationship again. You can hear her voice trail off into a kind of fretful silence. Fortunately, Micah is still there, listening and ready to speak, as prophets do.
Prophets are known for a particular kind of speech because they speak from the heart of God to the heart of God’s people. Micah, true to his calling, speaks from God’s heart to the heart of this exasperated worshipper. His response is as profound as it is unexpected, especially to those who think they can buy God off with one spectacular act of devotion. Do the work of setting right broken relationships, especially with the poor and the marginalized, Micah says, and embrace the other with faithful and self-less love, especially those who are hurt and hurting, and stick close to God who is your companion as you walk through life.