Are any of you fans of courtroom dramas? Remember Street Legal on CBC—I’m dating myself? Or the original Law and Order? Or what about the current series Bull; I also know there’s another CBC courtroom drama on at the moment but haven’t seen it. And then, there was a British produced series called Garrow’s Law, a drama about the development of defending criminals in the 18th century. We enjoyed this series, but it never seemed to take off; Andrew Buchan and Alun Armstrong were both very busy actors in those days.
What we have in the little passage from Micah is actually a courtroom drama fit for the stage or TV; the end of this passage is one that is beloved by many in the church. The whole of chapter 6 would be a dramatic and fun episode.
Part of the fun of this little courtroom drama is the segue in the middle when God reminds people of what God has done for the Jewish people regarding blessing. Especially the bit about Balaam and Balaam’s donkey.
Just as the Jews were ready to enter the Promised Land after years of toil in the desert, the nations around them were terrified and plotted to curse the Jewish people. Balak, the appointed king, sought a way to curse the Jews, getting his henchman, Balaam, a sorcerer and prophet, to do the deed. Because the Jews were noted for their strong words, Balaam would convey the curse by mouth with even stronger words.
As an enticement to do the deed, Balaam was given all kinds of riches from Balak; but God appeared to Balaam and told him not to go to curse the Jews. To defer a confrontation, Balaam told Balak’s emissaries that they were too-low ranking for him to deal with them. If Balak were really serious in conveying honours and riches on Balaam, he would have to send more important people. Balak complied and sent his distinguished officers. Balaam then told these distinguished individuals that God had forbade him from going to curse the Jews. The distinguished personages stayed the night and God spoke to Balaam in the night and said that he should go with them but only say what God wants him to say.
As a contrary quirk in the story, it turned out that God was angered that Balaam was actually going to go. As punishment, God sent an angel with a sword to block his path. Balaam, entirely oblivious, didn’t see the angel; the donkey did, though, and turned to run into a field. Balaam was cross with the donkey and returned to the road. The donkey saw the angry angel again, but Balaam was oblivious, thinking he had an obstreperous donkey. And then, God opened the mouth of the donkey and said to Balaam, “What have I done that you have struck me 3 times?” There’s a little back and forth in which God speaks more words. Humiliated by his donkey and by God’s words, Balaam finally arrives before Balak;
Balak, thinking that Balaam was going to curse the Jews, set everything up, complete with altars and all kinds of religious paraphernalia. However, instead of supporting Balak, Balaam spoke God’s words of blessing to the Jews. Balaam blessed Israel 3 times and talked of a star rising from Jacob. It’s a delightful story replete with betrayals and a talking donkey!
Back to the court case. Who’s the plaintiff or the complainant in question? Well, it’s God. And who’s the defendant? Israel. The judges? Here’s the best part—the mountains, hills and foundations of the earth!
The whole passage is a mini-court drama: Micah the prophet introduces proceedings in verses 1 and 2: “Hear what Yahweh says…” The injured plaintiff or complainant, God, says, “How have I wearied you? I brought you out of slavery in Egypt after all. You had Moses and Miriam to guide you. I thwarted the plans of Balak of Moab through Balaam and delivered a great blessing for the people. And what happened from Shittim to Gilgal?”
Shittim was the last station before crossing the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Gilgal was where they landed on the “other side.” They were to remember the sin committed at Shittim and God’s compassion in not punishing, and they were to remember the celebration of the covenant at Gilgal. God reminded them of these important national occasions as examples of God’s compassion and love.
The Israelites, the defendants, respond with a series of questions. They talk about bowing before God, coming with burnt offerings, thousands of rams, rivers of oil and even their firstborn, which was not a Middle East practice—clearly hyperbole to make clear their contrition and hoping that it would appease God, whom they clearly did not understand.
In the end, the mountain, hills and foundations of the earth don’t render a judgement; maybe that’s still pending. Micah simply speaks, “O Mortal! God has told you what is good! Do Justice! Love Kindness! And Walk Humbly with your God!” Micah ignored the hyperbolic pleading of the people. Micah, contrary to what people expected, ignored the talk of sacrifice and said simply what’s required; but it’s couched in terms that make people listen. Mortal! Using this word means that people should sit up and take notice; here’s a universal truth coming! And the truth given?… The good given to the world for all humanity to note?… Simply: justice, kindness and humility!
What is required in order to live fully in the world still today, some 4000 plus years later? A reciprocal relationship of mutuality—not privilege as a result of gender, nor so-called superiority through ancestry, wealth, status, or any other artificial measure of success our society uses still. A mutual reciprocal relationship in the world of what is just and fair, what is kind, all borne out of humility. Kindness is a keyword meaning more than just simply being kind. The original Hebrew means love, mercy, steadfast love, compassion, maintaining solidarity. And all is done with humility—namely that we don’t exalt ourselves as God.
What would the mountains, the hills and the foundations of the earth say to us in judgement today? Have we lived the requirements of justice, steadfast love and humility? Have we affirmed the blessing of all life?
For us all to ponder. Amen.