By Roger S. Nam 1-23-2017

The prophet Micah lived during a time of political turmoil and transition. Sound familiar?

For a large portion of the eighth century B.C., the Assyrian Empire conducted a massive military conquest of Israel and Judah. During the time of Micah, Samaria had already fallen, and King Hezekiah was in the midst of fervent preparations of protecting Jerusalem for an inevitable Assyrian invasion. The Assyrian Empire was then the largest empire the world had ever known. It had created a formidable army with advanced weaponry and military tactics, including psychological warfare. Its military supported the empire’s ambitions for political and economic expansion through exploitation. Much of this exploitation resulted in massive deportations and unprecedented scales of economic stratification.

Drawing direct parallels from the Assyrian Empire to the newly inaugurated presidential administration may not be particularly helpful. Such analogies muddle the distinctiveness of both the eighth-century context of Micah and our present political era.

At the same time, the sense of despair in Micah’s Judah may resemble the despair of many of today’s religious people. In this sense, this passage can help us reflect on our present political era: In Micah 6:1-8, God and the people are involved in a dispute, one scholars have classified as a type of court case, with testimony between God and the people, and the earth serving as a witness.

The prophet begins by commanding the people to “rise up!”

This command evokes at least two images. The term to “rise up” is used throughout Torah, as God “rises up/establishes a covenant” for Abraham. Consequently, we are reminded of the lasting covenantal relationship with God and his people.

The call to “rise up” also calls forth military action such as God’s call to “rise up” against the Canaanite city of Ai. A military command is a natural response to the Assyrian encroachment. But rather than ordering a heroic defense of Jerusalem to “rise up and fight,” the prophetic call is to “rise up and plead!”

Pleading is not a decisive military action. Micah does not silence the complaining people, but rather affirms their right to rise up and voice their complaint and lament. God calls the people to “remember.” Although the Assyrian threat is immanent, God wants the people to recall the past events, when God faithfully provided for the people despite enormous opposition.

In verse 3, God rhetorically asks, “What have I done for you? How have I wearied you?”

Then God responds in verse 4:

“I brought you from the land of Egypt.
I ransomed you from the house of slavery.
I sent before you Moses, Aaron, Miriam.”

The repetition creates a powerful cumulative message of God’s faithfulness. The reminder from God is not harsh, but reflects a thoughtful plea from God to the people. The command to “remember” depicts the desire of God to re-establish the covenantal relationship, using the intimate label of “my people.” They can look past the terror of the Assyrians “in order to know the righteous acts of YHWH.”

So how do the people respond to a God who is so powerful, and wondrous, yet also so caring, with a covenantal commitment to the people?

It is the covenantal relationship with God that calls what one must do: Do justice, love mercy-kindness, and walk humbly with your God

This tremendous love from God compels us to act similarly to our fellow humans. God has loved us and will continue to love us. Accordingly, we must love one another, regardless of any governmental system, whether Moabite or Assyrian — or anything modern.

During Micah’s lifetime, the powerful, dominant Assyrian Empire would eventually be defeated within a hundred years, never to rise again. Whatever your feelings regarding the newly inaugurated presidency, it is set to expire in four years. Whatever your frustrations, God calls you to rise up, plead, and remember as the precursor to our acts of justice and love.

Saturday’s unprecedented participation in the worldwide Women’s March suggests that the spirit of Micah 6:1-8 is alive. But Micah’s view of justice demands that action will continue on behalf of the margins, and that the Women’s March will be much more than a cathartic expression of protest. Justice and love naturally emerge from a covenantal relationship with an unrelenting God. These actions of justice should not depend on any reigning political systems, but despite them.

Via ON Scripture.

Roger S. Nam (Ph.D., UCLA) is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at George Fox University.

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