1, 2. Why is it heartening to note how Jehovah reacted to the moral decay of his ancient people?
PICTURE this scene: A girl is startled by violent pounding on the door. She fears that it is the corrupt merchant who is demanding the money her family owes him. He has exploited many by using false weights and charging illegal interest. To get away with that, he bribes town leaders, who ignore the victims’ outcries. The girl feels defenseless; her father has abandoned her family for a younger woman. She and her mother may be sold as slaves.
2 That scenario is a composite of some of the practices that the 12 prophets decried. (Amos 5:12; 8:4-6; Micah 6:10-12; Zephaniah 3:3; Malachi 2:13-16; 3:5) If you had been living then, how would you have reacted? As negative as the picture seems, you can be heartened by positive features of Jehovah’s dealings with his people during the days of those prophets. Yes, you can see from those 12 books that God stressed lofty qualities and attitudes. His encouragement can fortify your morals, motivate you to do good, and move you to praise him. Because Jehovah’s day of judgment is fast approaching, your noting the positive message in those books can give you insight into what God is asking of you. Start by looking at Micah’s day, in the eighth century B.C.E.
WHAT IS JEHOVAH ASKING FROM YOU?
3, 4. (a) What appealing entreaty is included in the book of Micah? (b) How are you personally affected by the question at Micah 6:8?
3 Reading Micah’s book, you might at first feel that it is a litany of accusations against the wayward Israelites. Granted, Jehovah was not blind to the moral decay of his dedicated people, including those he described as “haters of what is good and lovers of badness.” (Micah 3:2; 6:12) Still, along with the denunciation, there is one of the Bible’s most appealing and motivating admonitions. Micah focuses on the Source of righteous standards and asks this thought-provoking question: “What is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?”—Micah 6:8.
4 Do you discern here an entreaty from our Creator? We are lovingly reminded of positive attitudes that we are in a position to adopt rather than letting ourselves get sidetracked by prevailing wickedness. Jehovah knows that as loyal humans we want to cultivate godly qualities, and he does not lose faith in us. How would you respond if you were personally asked: ‘What is Jehovah asking from you?’ Can you pinpoint areas in your life where God’s moral standards are making—or should be making—a difference? Your relationship with God and the quality of your life will greatly improve as you keep measuring up to those standards. With a global paradise just before you, take encouragement from this exhortation: “Sow seed for yourselves in righteousness; reap in accord with loving-kindness. Till for yourselves arable land, when there is time for searching for Jehovah until he comes and gives instruction in righteousness to you.” (Hosea 10:12) Now let us examine some key points in the fine advice of Micah 6:8.
5. Why is it important to “be modest” in walking with God?
5 Significantly, Micah states that Jehovah is asking us to “be modest in walking with” Him. Being modest can only benefit us because “wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2) Being modest includes being aware of the limitations Adamic sin imposes on us. Our admitting that we are born in sin is a vital first step in striving to avoid any willful sin.—Romans 7:24, 25.
6. How can we benefit if we modestly recognize sin’s consequences?
6 Why is modesty coupled with lowliness of mind so important in avoiding willful sin? Well, a modest person recognizes the power that sin can exert. (Psalm 51:3) Hosea helps us to understand that sin can be seductive and that it always proves devastating in the end. For example, Jehovah promised to “hold an accounting” for the disobedience of his ancient people. Does that sound as if those immodest sinners could escape all consequences? They may have hoped to, since sin often deludes and enslaves. More important, sin separates sinners from God, possibly causing them to reach this extreme: “Their dealings do not permit of a returning to their God.” Willful sin will erode the moral fiber of the wrongdoer’s life, transforming him into a ‘practicer of what is harmful.’ In addition, sin makes the sinner’s life fruitless. Granted, for a while he may seem successful, but the unrepentant sinner cannot expect to have God’s approval.—Hosea 1:4; 4:11-13; 5:4; 6:8.
7. How do modest people respond to Jehovah’s direction?
7 Modest people also admit that they need God’s direction to avoid the sad consequences of sin. Micah foresaw a time—our day—when multitudes would eagerly seek to be ‘instructed about Jehovah’s ways’ and to “walk in his paths.” Such meek ones look for the “law” and “the word of Jehovah.” You are probably finding your happy place among those who desire to “walk in the name of Jehovah” by responding to his requirements. Even so, like Micah, you might be interested in additional ways to remain “morally clean.” (Micah 4:1-5; 6:11) Modestly seeking to do what Jehovah is asking from you will greatly assist you.
CULTIVATE ELEVATED MORALS
8. What have you noted about the morals of the world today?
8 In promoting our spiritual and physical welfare, Jehovah asks us to be morally chaste despite the degradation in the world around us. (Malachi 2:15) We are inundated by sexually charged messages. Many people feel that viewing pornographic pictures and films, reading about lewd sexual activities, and listening to songs with suggestive lyrics are a normal part of life. Beyond that, there are people who show disrespect for women, considering them little more than sexual objects. Or youths in school may pepper their talk with obscene jokes and sexual innuendos. How can you resist such corrupting influences?
9. How did many fail to uphold Jehovah’s standards during the time of the 12 prophets?
9 The 12 prophets that we are considering offer precious admonition. They lived before the era of the multiscreen theater and the video store, yet in their time there were phallic symbols, so-called sacred prostitution, and shameless promiscuity. (1 Kings 14:24; Isaiah 57:3, 4; Habakkuk 2:15) You can see evidence of that in what the prophets wrote: “As to the men, it is with the harlots that they get off to themselves, and with the female temple prostitutes that they sacrifice.” “A man and his own father have gone to the same girl, for the purpose of profaning my holy name.” Some regularly made “payment for prostitutes” at fertility rites.* Adultery was rampant, with unfaithful spouses “going after [their] passionate lovers.”—Hosea 2:13; 4:2, 13, 14; Amos 2:7; Micah 1:7, Contemporary English Version.
10. (a) What is mainly behind immoral conduct? (b) How did God’s ancient people become guilty of spiritual fornication?
10 You probably realize that sexual immorality reflects a person’s attitude and motives. (Mark 7:20-22) Jehovah said about his immoral people that “the very spirit of fornication [“lusting for sex,” CEV] has caused them to wander off” and that “they have carried on nothing but loose conduct.” (Hosea 4:12; 6:9)* Zechariah mentioned “the spirit of uncleanness.” (Zechariah 13:2) The people’s course involved a brazen attitude, disregard or even contempt for Jehovah’s standards and authority. Thus, in order to correct his motives, a person would have to change his thinking and his heart condition radically. Realizing this should make Christians even more thankful for the help they receive to avoid immorality and its tragic consequences.
11. What are some consequences of sexual immorality?
11 You may have seen that loose morals often break up families, deprive children of parental guidance, lead to loathsome diseases, and give rise to life-destroying abortions. Those who disregard the Creator in matters of sexuality frequently experience physical and emotional harm. Micah wrote: “Because of the fact that [a person] has become unclean, there is a wrecking; and the wrecking work is painful.” (Micah 2:10) Knowing this strengthens the resolve of godly people. They avoid defiling their heart and mind by dwelling on impure thoughts.—Matthew 12:34; 15:18.
12. How do we benefit by accepting Jehovah’s view of sex?
12 Christians do not react merely out of fear of disease or illegitimacy. They see the value of cultivating love for God’s law and adopting his view of sexual morals. Jehovah set in humans a normal desire for sexual relations as an expression of marital love. That was part of God’s creative purpose. When kept in its proper context—marriage—sex works for the good, bringing a husband and wife together as one and sometimes resulting in procreation. Nevertheless, when sex is carried on outside of marriage, it is powerfully destructive, as borne out by what the 12 prophets depicted. Immoral sex practices led to God’s disapproval. That was a very high price to pay back then, and it would be an equally high price for any individual to pay today.
13. How can we, in a sense, ‘put away fornication’ and avoid temptation?
13 Hosea implored his contemporaries to remove, or ‘put away, fornication from before themselves,’ implying that they take concrete action to protect their morals. (Hosea 2:2) In our case, it is the wise course to remove ourselves from any compromising situation. For instance, you may face a recurring temptation at school or in your neighborhood. You may not be able to change schools or residences, yet there may be other ways to distance yourself from the tempting circumstance and consequently to ‘put away fornication from before you.’ Make it known to others that you are a true Christian, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a clear, respectful way, explain your values and your beliefs. Be sure that others are aware that you are resolved to maintain Jehovah’s high standards. (Amos 5:15) Another means of ‘putting away fornication’ is by avoiding pornography and questionable entertainment. That may involve discarding a magazine or finding new companions—those who love Jehovah and who agree that you should do what he is asking from you. (Micah 7:5) Yes, with Jehovah’s help, you can avoid being contaminated by the world’s immorality!
14, 15. (a) What does it mean to “love kindness”? (b) How does love of kindness help us to be above reproach?
14 Micah stressed that Jehovah asks us to “love kindness.” To be kind involves doing good things rather than anything harmful. Kindness is closely associated with goodness and moral excellence. It calls on us to be honest and just in our personal affairs and in our dealings with others. In Chapter 6 of this book, we examined important areas of life, such as business and money matters, in which justice and honesty play a vital role. But those are not the only areas of life in which we should be just, honest, and kind.
15 People who love kindness and who want to do good toward others strive to be above reproach. Jehovah said to the Israelites who were not fulfilling their material obligations toward pure worship: “You are robbing me.” (Malachi 3:8) Can you discern ways that one might be “robbing” God today? What if a Christian has access to funds contributed for the advancement of Kingdom interests in the local congregation or in another setting? Whose money is it? Such funds ultimately belong to Jehovah, since they were offered for the furtherance of his worship. (2 Corinthians 9:7) Should anyone think that he can “borrow” such money to care for a personal emergency or otherwise use dedicated funds without proper authorization? Of course not. That would be tantamount to stealing from God! And it would certainly not be acting kindly or justly toward those who contributed such funds for God’s work.—Proverbs 6:30, 31; Zechariah 5:3.
16, 17. (a) How did some manifest greed in the days of Amos and those of Micah? (b) What is God’s view of covetousness?
16 Kindness and goodness also move Christians to avoid covetousness. During Amos’ time, extreme greed was common. Insatiable predators were willing to ‘sell someone righteous’—their own fellow worshipper—“for mere silver”! (Amos 2:6) It was similar in Micah’s time, when the wealthy of Judah grabbed property from those who were too weak to defend themselves, taking it by force if necessary. (Micah 2:2; 3:10) In seizing the land of their fellowmen, those greedy individuals were violating Jehovah’s Law: including the last of the Ten Words and the regulations against permanent sale of inherited land.—Exodus 20:13, 15, 17; Leviticus 25:23-28.
17 It might not be as common today for humans to be sold or enslaved as it was in the days of the prophets. Yet, what about taking financial advantage of or exploiting others? A Christian who loves kindness will certainly not exploit his fellow worshippers. For example, he realizes that it would be neither proper nor kind to start a business or promote an investment scheme that targets fellow believers as the main customers. It would display greed, which Christians are warned against, to plan on making money hastily by exploiting fellow Christians. (Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; James 4:1-5) Greed can manifest itself in love of money, desire for power or gain, even voraciousness for food and drink, sex, or other things. Micah showed that self-serving, greedy people will “not get satisfied.” That is true today too.—Micah 6:14.
18, 19. (a) What did some of the 12 prophets say about Jehovah’s care for the “alien resident”? (b) How can showing loving interest in others improve relations where you live?
18 Jehovah instructed his people to ‘defraud no alien resident.’ And through Malachi, God declared: ‘I will come near to you people for the judgment, against those turning away the alien resident.’ (Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5) Has the area where you live been undergoing change because of an influx of immigrants or others of a different nationality, race, or background? Perhaps they have moved there in search of security, jobs, or better living conditions. How do you view people whose language and lifestyle differ from yours? Do you find in yourself any tendencies toward prejudice, which would be precisely the opposite of kindness?
19 Think how positively people will react if you show that those who are from other lands or backgrounds are equally deserving of Christian truth. Kindness would also work against any feeling that such newcomers are infringing on the use of the Kingdom Hall or other resources. The apostle Paul reminded some first-century Jewish Christians, who felt a degree of prejudice toward non-Jews, that really no one was deserving; only God’s undeserved kindness made it possible for anyone to attain to salvation. (Romans 3:9-12, 23, 24) Kindness to others will move us to rejoice that God’s love is now reaching many people who previously may have had little opportunity to hear the good news. (1 Timothy 2:4) People from other lands or backgrounds are often disadvantaged, so we ought to show them concern and kindness, welcoming them into our midst, treating each one “like a native” among us.—Leviticus 19:34.
WALK WITH THE TRUE GOD
20. To whom did some Israelites turn for direction?
20 Micah also emphasized walking with God, looking to him as the true God, seeking his guidance. (Proverbs 3:5, 6; Hosea 7:10) After the Jews returned from exile, some turned to diviners, fortune-tellers, and false gods, perhaps for help during a drought. In reality they invoked wicked spirit forces to assist them, despite Jehovah’s having clearly condemned all such practices. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Micah 3:6, 11; 5:12; Haggai 1:10, 11; Zechariah 10:1, 2) Those Jews were getting involved with spirit creatures who are in opposition to the true God!
21, 22. (a) What forms of spiritism are common in your area? (b) Why do true servants of Jehovah not dabble in the occult?
21 Today some think that the wicked spirits mentioned in the Scriptures are merely symbolic of the concept of evil. However, the Bible reveals that the demons are real and are behind astrology, witchcraft, and some types of magic. (Acts 16:16-18; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6) The dangers of spiritism are equally real. People in many cultures look to shamans, or medicine men who claim mysterious powers, and to sorcerers. Others seek direction from the horoscope or employ tarot cards, divining rods, Ouija boards, or special crystals. Even attempts to communicate with spirits of the dead are quite common. Reportedly, certain statesmen have turned to astrology and spiritistic mediums for help in decision making. All of that is clearly contrary to Micah’s advice that we walk with the true God, following his guidance.
22 Certainly you—a true servant of Jehovah—must shun such practices. You can be sure that God never uses magic or the occult to reveal his will or to exercise his power. Instead, as Amos 3:7 assures us, Jehovah ‘reveals his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.’ Moreover, dabbling in the occult can bring one under the influence and control of the leader of the demons, Satan, who is a liar and whose strategy is to deceive people. He and his minions are out to harm, having always been cruel, even killing people. (Job 1:7-19; 2:7; Mark 5:5) Understandably, Micah condemned divination and sorceries when he urged us to walk with the true God.
23. Who only can satisfy our proper requests?
23 True spirituality is found only with Jehovah and his pure worship. (John 4:24) “Make your requests of Jehovah,” the prophet Zechariah wrote. (Zechariah 10:1) Even if you experience attacks or temptations caused by wicked spirit forces, remember that “everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe.” (Joel 2:32) This reassurance is significant as we keep close in mind his great day.
24. What lessons did you take away from Micah 6:8?
24 Clearly, the words at Micah 6:8 provide us with much food for thought. To build strong morality, we need proper motives and godly qualities. Hosea offered encouragement for those of us living in “the final part of the days.” He said that during our time, God-fearing people would seek Jehovah’s goodness. (Hosea 3:5) Amos confirmed God’s invitation for us to do exactly that: “Search for what is good, . . . to the end that you people may keep living.” We are also urged: “Love what is good.” (Amos 5:14, 15) If we do so, we will be refreshed by doing what Jehovah is asking of us.
Bible translator Joseph Rotherham says of the nations of Canaan, whose conduct the Israelites copied: “Their very worship was grossly sensual and revoltingly cruel. In honour of their deities women surrendered their virtue. Their sacred places were brothels. The generative organs were openly represented by disgusting symbols. The peoples had holy (!) prostitutes, male and female.”
God’s people were also guilty of spiritual fornication. They sought illicit relationships with pagan nations and mixed Baal worship with true worship.