In this verse, Micah teaches us the basic requirements of what God demands from each and every one of us; justice, kindness, and humility. If we read carefully, we can see a number of interesting word choices in this verse which contain important lessons about these preeminent Biblical values.
Why does the verse say “Man”?
The most glaring anomaly here is the word “man.” It seems that this word does not add much to whatever the prophet is teaching us. To illustrate the point, here is the verse again without the word “man.”
He told you what is good, and what the Lord demands from you: only to execute justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Any time that a word can be deleted from the Bible without changing the meaning of the verse, we must realize that our original understanding of the verse was incorrect. After all, every single word in the Bible is critical. If a word had no purpose, it would not be there. So, what is the purpose of the word man in our verse? What does it add to the lesson that Micah is teaching us?
Human vs. man
There are two words in Biblical Hebrew that translate as “man”: Adam and ish. The word used in this verse in Micah is adam. Adam is, of course, also the name of the first human being in the Bible. The word adam describes a person as a human being, rather than the more specific ish meaning an adult male.
The seemingly superfluous addition of the word adam in this verse contains an important lesson. Micah is addressing us as human beings. Human beings are not animals. Animals do not have a concept of justice. They do not feel love in the human sense and do not understand the concept of kindness. They certainly do not experience humility. All the traits in this verse are unique to the human species. Micah is teaching us that God demands that we live with concern for others, for society, and for God because we are human. We are not animals who live merely by our instincts, seeking comfort, sustenance, and self-preservation. It is as though Micah was saying, “You are a human being. Unlike the animals, you are created in the image of God. As a human being, you are expected to live by higher, more selfless values. You must live a life of justice, kindness, and humility with the Lord.”
Why must I LOVE Kindness?
It is interesting to note that the verse does not say that we should act kindly or be kind; rather, it states that we must love kindness. This is a powerful point. It is certainly important that we act with kindness. But this verse teaches us that we must love kindness. In other words, kindness must become something that we pursue instinctively because it is a value that we hold dear.
Everyone prioritizes what they love. The people and activities that we love have our attention not only when they happen to present themselves to us. We pursue them. We think about them. We look for opportunities to engage them. This must be our relationship with kindness.
Being humble with God
Finally, I would like to draw our attention to the final phrase of the verse, “and to walk humbly with your God.” Why does the verse need to say “with your God?” The verse is addressed to people who have faith in God. This is obvious from the fact that the verse says that these are values and behaviors that the Lord demands from you. It then lists the values of justice, kindness, and humility. The verse could have said:
He told you, man, what is good, and what the Lord demands from you: only to execute justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly.
Once again, had the verse left out the words “with your God,” it is difficult to see what would have been missing from the lesson Micah is teaching us.
I believe that this last phrase in the verse not telling us simply that we must be humble. It tells us that we must be humble in our walk with God. Unfortunately, many people of faith develop feelings of arrogance because they live according to the will of God. People who perform acts of kindness, who do good deeds, and who live moral lives in line with God’s will often feel quite proud of their accomplishments. This “holier than thou” pride easily leads people of strong faith to look down on people whom they perceive as less righteous than themselves. This arrogance of the faithful is a tragic byproduct that all too often results directly from the good choices that people make. Such arrogance is the opposite of a proper relationship with God.
Anyone haughty of heart is an abomination to the Lord. – Proverbs 16:5
Our verse does not simply say, walk humbly. The verse says walk humbly with your God. In other words, walk humbly in your life of faith. Your relationship with God and your obedience to His word must never lead to arrogance and “holier than thou” feelings toward others.
God demands of us that we live up to our status as human beings created in His image. We must behave with justice, love, and kindness. At the same time, we must guard against the creeping arrogance that often leads directly from excess pride in the good work that we are doing. We must walk humbly with God.
This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for Zion. Verses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, and he is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast