Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly: Just Peace in the Middle East

Article excerpt

"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

When I think of the concept of a just peace, my thoughts always turn to these beautiful words from the prophet Micah. They are so short and concise, but they say so much to our current situation in Israel-Palestine, just as they did some 2600 years ago, when the prophet walked these same hills, when he longed in his heart for a true and enduring peace, and when he courageously stood up among the people and spoke out a word from the Lord that would reach the hearts of the people, especially those rulers who often acted from self-interest rather than from what was good for all, let alone what the Lord required.

Micah, of course, was a contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah, whose words are quoted in the New Testament almost more than any other Old Testament writer's. The context was the occupation of the Assyrian army, which had already destroyed the Northern Kingdom and exiled all its surviving inhabitants. The words of Micah are set in the form of a courtyard drama where God calls witnesses to testify the case for Israel. The people are advised that showy acts of religiosity ate not the answer, nor are sacrifices or burning incense of loud recitations of prayer. There are simply three things that the people must do:

* do justice;

* love kindness;

* walk humbly with their God.

Surprisingly, the one term that is missing from Micah's list is that of peace.

The New Testament, however, is filled with images of peace: Jesus, the Prince of Peace; Peace on earth among those whom God favours; Blessed are the peacemakers; Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

Yet when it comes to the Old Testament, the number of verses speaking about war far exceeds the references to peace. (According to one concordance, the term "war" occurs 227 times, while "peace" occurs 192 times. Many other verses describe the acts of war.)

Interestingly, the prophet Micah himself appears wary of talk of peace. Those prophets who cry "Peace" will be left in the dark, completely without vision. The assumption is that these all-too-ready declarations of peace occur because it puts bread on their tables (Micah 3:5-6). How similar this is to Jeremiah and Ezekiel's warnings about those who go around proclaiming, "Peace, Peace," when there is no peace (Ezek. 13:10). The implication is clear: efforts for peace for the sake of peace are doomed to failure. But when the people do what the Lord requires--namely, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God--then a real and lasting peace can occur. This is how we understand a just peace.

It has been estimated that in the 20th century, no fewer than 50 different peace proposals were offered to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They all failed. There has been no easy peace. The reason? They all failed to begin with the principle of justice. A case in point is found in the Oslo peace agreements of the 1990s. This approach began with confidence-building measures--opportunities for the two parties to meet together around less controversial issues and to develop relationships. The difficult issues were put off for a later date. These final issues were what we might call justice issues, and while relationship building was taking place, injustices continued day after day and undercut any benefits from these relationship-building meetings and the small steps that seemed to be taking place. The Oslo agreements did provide a start--and we ate thankful for that--but now it is time to begin with the approach of Micah: to begin by doing justice.

There is another important implication in Micah's approach. Peace is not merely a matter of words or concepts. Think tanks have arisen in all the major cities of the world to discuss how to solve all the problems of the world. …