TWO CORRUPT KINGDOMS Micah 1–2
“They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance” (Micah 2:2).Corruption in any society is a prelude to disaster. The people of Micah’s day did not want to hear that message. But it is vital for any people to hear, and heed.
Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah and Amos, ministered near the end of the critical eighth centuryB.C Both Israel and Judah then experienced a resurgence of power and great material prosperity. For a few brief decades the great powers, Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south, were weak and indecisive. Under the aggressive leadership of Jeroboam II in Israel, and Hezekiah in Judah, the Hebrews extended their territory to include most of the land area held in the golden age of David and Solomon. But prosperity was not universal. The newly rich in both kingdoms used their wealth to exploit the poor, and a time of great social dislocation resulted. Many families lost the land given their forefathers by God, and intended to be a family holding forever. The wealthy also controlled the courts, and fraud as well as bribery were tools used to perpetrate injustice. Many of the poor were forced to sell themselves and their families into slavery, and the rich disregarded the ancient Mosaic Law that required the release of a Hebrew slave after just seven years of service. This aristocracy of wealth, which included the royal house and the leading priests, corrupted even the prophets, who proclaimed what their benefactors wanted to hear, rather than any uncomfortable words from God. Religion too had suffered corruption. In Israel a non-Aaronic priesthood ministered at worship centers where bull-idols were supposed to represent God’s throne. In both countries pagan rites and practices had become elements in what was thought to be worship of God. In neither nation was moral purity or social justice viewed as essential to religion, which for most people was simply a matter of ritual observance. Each of the great eighth-century-B.C prophets strongly condemned the sins of their society. Together they warned of impending doom, and urged God’s people to repent. Yet each was aware that Israel and Judah were too caught up in materialism and selfishness to give a serious thought to God. Each spoke of a judgment day about to dawn. The warnings of the great prophets went unheeded, and the catastrophe they predicted did come. During the lifetime of Micah and Isaiah a resurgent Assyria invaded the Holy Land. The kingdom of Israel was crushed, and its population dragged away into captivity, along with some 200,000 of the people of Judah. Judah, saved temporarily through the revival stimulated by godly King Hezekiah, survived for another 136 years. But there was no real change of heart in the Southern Kingdom, and Judah suffered the fate of Israel when crushed by the Babylonians in 586B.C Despite constant grim reminders of the sins that caused the destruction of the two corrupt kingdoms, each of the eighth-century prophets gave God’s people reason to hope. A remnant would survive exile, and would return to the ancient Jewish homeland. Isaiah draws our attention to a Servant of the Lord who, by His suffering, would redeem God’s people. Micah envisioned a coming King, a Descendant of David. Born in Bethlehem, this royal Person would rule a United Kingdom, and extend God’s glory to the ends of the earth. The tale of the two corrupt kingdoms is not a total tragedy. It is a tale that affirms the sovereignty of the God who will judge sin, but who then will establish His own kingdom on earth. A kingdom of justice, peace, and joy. A kingdom incorruptible, that will endure forever.
God would soon judge Samaria and Jerusalem for their sins (1:1–7). Micah wept and mourned at the prospect (vv. 8–9a), but only the day of judgment would humble God’s people (vv. 9b-16). The oppressing classes would know ruin (2:1–5) despite the empty promises of false prophets (vv. 6–11). Yet one day God will regather His people (vv. 12–13).
Understanding the Text
“Samaria and Jerusalem” Micah 1:1.
Capital cities named in the Bible often represent nations. Thus Nineveh represents Assyria, Damascus represents Syria, and here Samaria represents all of Israel, and Jerusalem the whole land of Judah. There is, however, more implied in this simple literary device. The capital city was the residence of the royal family and the aristocracy: the ruling class that established policy and set the moral as well as political tone of the nation. In a real sense the capital city sums up the character of the nation it heads. This is why in biblical prophecy so many of the prophet’s condemning words are directed against capital cities and their inhabitants. Today we often hear doubts about whether the “private life” of a candidate for political office should be examined in his or her campaign. What a foolish question. Of course it should! The personal and social morality of the individuals who lead any government will have a dramatic impact, not only by the examples they set, but also on the legislation passed. Micah’s focus of his prophecy on Samaria and Jerusalem reminds us that we must examine the private lives and personal convictions of candidates for office. And must vote accordingly. “The Lord from His Holy temple” Micah 1:2–7. Whenever the Old Testament pictures God speaking in or from His “holy temple,” the image implies divine judgment. Holiness is one of the most important of all biblical concepts. In the Old Testament the holy is that which is set apart to God, separated from everything that is common or profane. Holy objects such as the golden vessels used in the temple, holy ground, and especially holy people, were considered God’s own and were to be for His use and service only. God Himself is intrinsically holy. That holiness is displayed in two primary ways: in His own faithful commitment to what is good, and in His judgment of those who desert the way of holiness and turn away from their “set apart” condition. Micah began his prophecy by showing Israel and Judah the God who is holy, and who stands in His holy temple. This God was about to exhibit His holiness by judging His wicked people. In the punishment for sin that Israel and Judah would experience, the holiness of God would be again displayed. And so God said through Micah, “I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. All her idols will be broken to pieces” (vv. 6–7). What a reminder to you and me. We have been set apart to God too. We are to serve Him and to reveal His goodness through lives marked by this very quality. But if we turn away, and follow the path taken by Judah and Israel, God will still display His holiness in us. God will judge us, and in that judgment reveal His own holiness to all. “Because of this I will weep and wail” Micah 1:8–9a. In biblical times individuals showed their humility before God, their grief over and confession of sins, by loud weeping, wailing, howling, and moaning. They also stripped off their finer clothing, and wore only the oldest and most threadbare of garments. Here Micah expressed his own reaction to his vision of coming judgment. He realized how wicked his nation was, and responded immediately by actions which showed his own sense of guilt and grief. What a lesson. This man who uttered God’s message of judgment identified with his sinning people. It’s all too easy for us to be judgmental in our relationship with those who fall short of God’s standards of right and wrong. Yet Micah, rather than adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, was crushed by the enormity of the sins prevalent in his society. He was a member of that society, and therefore not guiltless himself. And so Micah, crushed by the realization that he in some way participated in the sins of his age, wept and moaned in grief and sorrow. As godly persons, you and I are also to weep over the sins in our society. We are not guiltless, but bear some responsibility for all that happens in our nation and community. If we are to have an impact on our world, we must recognize that fact, humble ourselves as Micah humbled himself, and then set out to do all we can to effect change. “Pass on in nakedness and shame” Micah 1:9b-16. Micah humbled himself at the vision of impending judgment. The people of Judah and Israel ignored the vision and rejected Micah’s preaching. Yet soon they would be humbled—by events. Israel would be humbled as her survivors, their heads bowed in shame, stumbled in chains along the road to Assyria (v. 11). Judah would be humbled as the last fortress city protecting the route to Jerusalem, Lachish, fell to Sennacherib (v. 12). People always have a choice. It is not a choice between arrogance and humility, between proud independence and submission to God. Oh, no. The choice is to submit to God when He speaks to us through His Word, or to submit bent over in shame as circumstances crush our pride. How wise to submit to God willingly, and let Him lift us up. How foolish to arrogantly resist God, and make Him crush us. “Woe to those who plan iniquity” Micah 2:1–5. Micah here gave a clear picture of the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Good businessmen, the wealthy lay out their projects carefully. They were able to get the fields they coveted because they were willing to defraud, and “it is in their power to do it.” What the oppressors of the poor did not know was that even as they planned, God was making plans to overthrow them! And He most surely had the “power to do it”! It’s a healthy reminder. Those who seem to have power to oppress and work injustice in our society are blind to the plans God is even now laying against them. We may suffer injury now. But we know that God’s day is coming, when the exploiters will say, “We are utterly ruined!” “I will bring them together” Micah 2:12–13. Micah ended this first oracle on a positive note. The immediate future was dark with the gathering clouds of divine judgment. Yet those clouds would clear away, and God’s scattered people would be brought back together again, to live in a kingdom that was no longer corrupt. Then their king, the Lord, will be “at their head.”
Do Not My Words Do Good?(Micah 2)
I suspect that many a preacher has lost his pulpit because the congregation didn’t like what he said to them. It was something like this with Micah. And I can understand why. After all, Micah publicly lit into the well-to-do, who paid the bills then as now (vv. 1–5). You can’t say “God is going to get you!” to the community elite and expect to be urged to keep preaching. Even Micah’s fellow prophets tried to rein him in. “Do not prophesy about these things,” they told him (vv. 6–7). Let’s have sermons that comfort, not confront. Let’s have positive preaching, not negative. Micah was incensed. You could hear him mutter, “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ he would be just the prophet for this people!” They wanted someone who would just tell them what they wanted to hear, not what God wanted to say. I’ve been impressed as I’ve worked with the prophets in preparing this book, that often God doesn’t have comforting words to say. Often He confronts. Often He demands. Often He forces us to look at our lives, and to look at our society, with unclouded eyes. We don’t want to hear that sinful societies cry out for judgment, and we don’t want to face the injustice, the crime, the moral corruption, that mark our own nation today. And yet, God says to us through Micah, “Do not My words do good to him whose ways are upright?” If we are committed to God and to His ways, won’t His words do us good? They did not do good to the people of the kingdoms to which Micah preached so long ago. They did no good, beause the people of Israel and Judah were unwilling to walk uprightly. They were unwilling to take God’s words to heart, and to act on them. But if you and I do take God’s uncomfortable words to heart, and act on them, those words will surely do us good. And do good to our nation.
Let God’s uncomfortable words do you good. Listen to them carefully, and obey.