This should have been posted on Saturday - I'm behind already! - which means you might get another one this afternoon. Click 'full post' for text.
6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Why is this a favourite passage?
I see this short passage as summarising the prophetic critique in the Old Testament. Roughly speaking (very roughly!) there is an ongoing dialogue in the OT between the voices of the established temple cult and the prophets who criticise the cult. There are some analogies with the arguments of the Reformation era, I see the prophets as being people who God raises up to say to the religious establishment 'You've missed the point!' This passage expresses the critique in a nutshell.
Verses 6 & 7a: simply remarking on what is laid down as requirements for a sin offering, setting the context for what follows.
Verse 7b: this is a text worth pondering (not least by those atheists who go on about the Abraham and Isaac story as evidence for God's abominability (if that's a usable word!)). The God revealed in the Old Testament is, so far as I can see, resolutely rejecting of child sacrifice - much more rejecting of it than the people themselves (eg Jephthah). All the present-day atheists are doing, here as so often elsewhere, is repeating, unacknowledged, the prophetic critique. I've often felt that the Bible is an anti-religious text; certainly Jesus is one of the most anti-religious characters ever known.
Verse 8: One of the best verses in Scripture: no complications, no distractions with doctrine - we have been shown the right way to live. That right way is active, it is about establishing a righteous environment (which always, in Scripture, means a bias to the poor, ensuring that the rich are not oppressive), later called 'the Kingdom' by Jesus. It also, necessarily, involves spiritual humility - we are called to cooperate in the process, not to try and achieve it in our own strength.
So here is another manifesto: don't think that following the religious cult is what God is seeking; it can become an end in itself and distorting of God's true intentions. What God is seeking is righteousness, and our principal spiritual task is to pursue it.
NB there is a good song using this text on this album.