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This chapter is composed of three brief sections exposing the sins of the rulers of the people, the princes and judges (Micah 3:1-4), the sins of the false prophets (Micah 3:5-8), and the sins of the establishment, actually including those already mentioned (Micah 3:9-12). The highlight of the chapter is Micah 3:12 in which the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple mountain itself are specifically predicted, events that occurred some 125 years, at least, after the times of Micah, being fulfilled in the devastation of the city by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.
"And I said, Hear, I pray you, ye heads of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel: is it not for you to know justice?"
We fully agree with Harley that this chapter is not a continuation of the denunciations already given in the first two chapters, but an introductory passage preparatory "to the great Messianic messages of Micah 4-5."
The message of Micah here is directed squarely against Judah, the southern kingdom; and although both terms "Israel" and "Jacob" are used, "The terms are used of the southern kingdom, as in Micah 1:13f."
"Is it not for you to know justice ...?" This is a sarcastic and uncomplimentary question with the implication that, "You guardians of justice do not even know what justice is!"
"Ye who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones."
In this and the next two verses, the false rulers of the people are accused in a metaphor of cannibalism. "You cannibals are eating the people up!" "We must not give any special meaning to the particular features, such as taking off the skin, and the boiling portions that are put into the pot." The metaphor stands for robbing the people, defrauding them, oppressing them, denying them justice, etc., through such means as biased courts, political preference, bribery, and actual murder, as in the case of Ahab's violent dispossession of Naboth (1 Kings 21). Those whose duty it was to guard the public interest, that is, the rulers and judges of the people, were the leaders in such gross wickedness, totally perverting and corrupting the entire state.
"Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the cauldron."
In the protests against violent injustice and wickedness, throughout all history, where is there anything else that compares with the shocking and dramatic words of this passage? The impact of this verse is witnessed even today throughout the world by such idiomatic expressions as, "he skinned me," describing a crooked deal. Micah gave mankind a metaphor here which they found it impossible to forget. There are some intimations that the actual practice of cannibalism was found among the ancient Canaanites, as in the book of Wisdom; and Micah's denunciation could therefore have the effect of charging Israel with complete reversion to that status of unqualified paganism for which God had dispossessed the Canaanites in order to make room for Israel. Hailey summarized this whole passage through Micah 3:4 thus:
"In this highly exaggerated figure, Micah expresses the white heat of his indignation at the treatment dealt the common people by the rulers. Therefore when judgment falls on these heartless rulers and they cry to Jehovah His face will be hid from them. Have they sown, so will they reap. They have destroyed the people without mercy, and so without mercy shall their destruction come."
"Of my people ..." It should not be overlooked that the extreme provocation against the Almighty in such uninhibited wickedness of the princes and judges of Israel lay in the fact of the very people of God being the objects of their rapacious evil. Sins against the covenant people were certain to incur the avenging wrath of God Himself.
Instead of protecting and shepherding the people whom it was their sworn duty to honor and guard against every encroachment upon their rights and liberties, those very nobles and justices were themselves their most savage exploiters. Their attitude reminded Ironside of a statement by Pope Leo X, who said to his companion princes in the church, "What a profitable thing this myth about Jesus Christ has been to us!"
"Then shall they cry unto Jehovah, but he will not answer them; yea, he will hide his face from them at that time, according as they have wrought evil in their doings."
No one squeals for mercy like the violent criminal whose bloody and heartless wickedness results at last in his arraignment before the bar of justice, the tragedy of our own times being that instead of receiving prompt and adequate punishment, the criminal is often the beneficiary of a sob-sister coddling and leniency that take no account whatever of what the crimes deserved. The ultimate justice of God will not be thwarted by any such foolish leniency. Yes, of course, the false rulers would scream to God for mercy, but at a time long past any opportunity for repentance. "He will hide his face from them." Proverbs 1:24-28, in great detail, describes the unavailing prayers of the wicked who waited too long to repent. "I will laugh in the day of your calamity: and I will mock when your fear cometh." When the promised punishment came to Israel, there were prayers and screams to God, old hyprocrites praying in public to high heaven, sudden and enthusiastic revivals of old forms and services of holy religion; but the time for all that had passed. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou hadst known the things that belong unto thy peace; but now are they hidden from thine eyes" (Luke 19:42). That heart-breaking story was unfolded in Israel when the Babylonians came (586 B.C); but it happened a second time, as prophesied by the Saviour himself, when the Romans came in 70 A.D.
"Thus saith Jehovah concerning the prophets that make my people to err: that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and whoso putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him."
These verses (Micah 3:5-8) were directed principally against the reprobate priesthood and the false prophets associated with them. In later centuries, after the captivity and prior to the coming of Christ, there were indeed, here and there, a few righteous men to be found in such positions of trust, such as Zachariah and others; but on the whole, the unqualified apostasy of the whole establishment of the priestly system had occurred by the times of Micah; and even in the times of Christ, the temple itself was "a den of thieves and robbers." True prophecy from God perished from the earth throughout the long intertestamental period. Gomer did indeed "sit still" for God throughout centuries of time. Nothing ever proved any more conclusively than the experience of Israel that the very conception of sacerdotal man does not work. In vain do men bestow upon any of their fellows a special education, a special dress, and special emoluments, and then invest them with the business of procuring forgiveness from God and then bestowing it upon others! Five thousand years of recorded history, plus the universal experience of our own times, prove that it will not work. The genius of Christianity lies in the endowment of every Christian with the right and privilege of priesthood and in the elevation of one High Priest, only, Jesus Christ the righteous.
"Bite with their teeth ..." Two diverse meanings are found by expositors in this. Some hold that these words are merely a reference to eating, with the implication that the false priests received favorably only those who fed them. While that was no doubt true, we do not believe this passage says that. Both Harley and Deane agree that. "Wherever this word occurs in the scriptures, it means `to bite like a serpent,' or `to wound.'" Surely this is what Micah said. Those false prophets were like a den of poison snakes to God's people. In conjunction with the metaphor of cannibalism, used of the rulers, this is most appropriate for the false prophets, The majority of commentators prefer the view expressed by Mays thus:
"Two scornful and derisive lines uncover the true source of the (false) prophet's words. What comes out of their mouths depends on whether anything goes in. Feed them, and you hear good words. Slight them, and you hear of your doom."
Affluent clients were no doubt catered to by the false prophets, and what numerous commentators say about that is undoubtedly true; but, somehow it appears impossible to find that particular meaning in the expression, "they bite with their teeth." The implication of such an expression seems to be more in line with the words of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7), and especially those of Jesus our Lord who said of the false priests of his earthly ministry:
"Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell (Matthew 23:33). These words could also be appropriately applied to the false prophets addressed by Micah here, and we believe that such is implied by this verse."
The existence of false prophets concurrently with the lives of the true prophets had come about, almost from the beginning of Israel's existence as a nation. Following the consecration of the Israelites to the Baalim at Baal-peor, the pagan priests found ready access to the populations of the chosen people; and following the days of Jezebel, the false priests and prophets proliferated. They certainly made up the vast majority of spiritual advisors to Ahab and Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22), a full century earlier. As time went on, the true prophets were more and more a hated and persecuted minority in both kingdoms of Israel.
"They even prepare war against them ..." This is no mere metaphor. Jezebel had slain all of the Lord's prophets except Elijah, and she was hunting him (1 Kings 18). The war against the true prophets went on a long as Israel remained.
The terrible warnings against the corrupt judiciary and prophetic establishments of the chosen people had their impact. "Of course, it could not prevent the nation's ultimate tragedy, but it did succeed in postponing it." That Israel (the southern kingdom) still existed a century later (Jeremiah 26:18) is a mute but eloquent testimony to the effectiveness of Micah's fearless proclamation of divine truth.
"Therefore it shall be night unto you, that ye shall have no vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them."
Allen and Johnson thought they found here an admission on the part of Micah of some kind of prophetic gift within the false prophets. "Micah apparently does not deny that his opponents are endowed with God-given talents." We do not think there is any such admission here. When Jesus asked the Pharisees, "By whom then do your sons cast them (demons) out?" (Matthew 12:27), there was certainly not any admission on Jesus' part that the Pharisees actually did any such thing. Similarly, here, Micah was not affirming anything with reference to prophecies of the false prophets except the night of total oblivion that was to fall upon them. The sun will go down upon their prosperity; the night shall fall upon their day of glory. Deane pointed out that the imagery here suggests that of Amos 8:9, where it was prophesied that the "sun would be darkened in a clear day" for the whole nation. The fate here predicted to fall upon the false prophets would likewise extend to the whole people.
"And the seers shall be put to shame, and the diviners confounded; yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God."
"They shall all cover their lips ..." This means, "they are spiritual lepers," the covering of the lip being required of all who were afflicted with that dreadful malady (Leviticus 13:45). The notion that any of that fraternity were actually "true" prophets is contradicted by this and also by the last clause.
"There is no answer of God ..." Here is the resolution of that question postulated by such commentators as Allen and Johnson regarding God's actually using, or not, any of those false prophets. "There is no answer of God."
"But as for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of Jehovah, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin."
The parallelism in the last two phrases, where Israel and Jacob are used synonymously, is similar to that in Micah 3:1.
Micah dared to make in this verse a declaration that is unsurpassed, even in the Bible, for sheer confidence and boldness. The validity of his words for millenniums has vindicated what he said. "The particular form of the declaration is without parallel in the Old Testament. There is no other first-person claim like it. The nearest parallel in time and language is Jeremiah 6:11." The three precious God-given gifts in Micah's endowment were power, judgment, and might. He spake through the influence of God's Holy Spirit, contrasting with the speech of the false prophets who were liars, declaring evil to be good, and good evil. If one supposes that the old satanic device of speaking religious lies and reversing the divine value-judgments of what is good or evil has perished from the earth, such a person is most tragically mistaken and deceived.
"Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel that abhor justice, and pervert all equity."
"The general picture of a corrupt society given here by Micah agrees well with that presented by Isaiah for the south and by Amos and Hosea for the north." There was a conscious widening of Micah's indictment in this verse. "In the first section (Micah 3:1-4), he had the courts in mind; here he includes them, but only as a part of a wider indictment." Drawing upon Isaiah 3, Allen included the following as composing, "the Judean establishment that held in their hands the reins of society.:
"Generals and professional soldiers, judges, prophets, elders, army captains, aristocrats, counselors, sorcerers, priests, and soothsayers."
"They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity."
The charge here is that the whole capital of the southern Israel was founded upon injustice, violence, trickery, fraud and blood. "Cases like Ahab's judicial murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21) may have become a pattern for building up estates." In the light of the character of Israel's kings, it must be accounted as certain that that is so; as a matter of fact, that is exactly what Micah was saying here.
"Their whole society was built on blood and wrong. Zion and Jerusalem in this verse are synonymous and stand not only for the great and revered capital city but for all of Judea."
"The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet they lean upon Jehovah, and say, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? no evil shall come upon us."
There is no more glaring and sensational example in history of religious confidence predicated upon something apart from doing God's will, than is found in this. The only thing comparable to it is the arrogant conceit of modern Protestantism to the effect that, if one truly believes in Christ, his conduct simply makes no difference at all. Salvation by faith only is the present-day equivalent of the condition described here in ancient Israel. They had "faith in God"; they accepted his promises apart from all conditions; they preempted to themselves the protection and blessing of God without any regard whatever to keeping the solemn covenant he had made with his people. That such an attitude on the part of those people should be thought of as strange and incomprehensible by those present-day commentators who are claiming both for themselves and for their followers that they are "saved by faith alone" is to this writer the truly Incomprehensible Phenomenon!
Those people still claimed to know God, although they had contradicted practically everything in his word and were continuing to do so. They knew God's name, ostensibly invoking his blessings upon all that they did. God's temple which had been given to them, not by their God, but by their kings, stood in their midst; and they supposed that with such visible evidences of God's protection, absolutely no evil could befall them. They were adoring idols; they had accepted Baalism; they were murdering, lying, stealing, committing fornication, defrauding, bribing, perverting, and corrupting all that they touched. Yet these "believers!" claimed all the blessings!
Today, if one truly wishes to know about his status in the eyes of the God of heaven and earth, let him read and understand the New Testament; he will never hear it over the radio or see it on TV.
The inevitable end of that tragic corruption of ancient Israel was bluntly thundered by the prophet Micah in the next verse.
"Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest."
Here the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is unequivocally prophesied. Let those who will not believe in predictive prophecy explain this. They would, of course, remove the prophecy to some period after the event if they could; but that is impossible. A hundred years after Micah said this, Jeremiah quoted him by name, like God's writers always do when they are quoting another sacred author, and appealed to his (Jeremiah's) own tormentors for the same kind of leniency that Hezekiah had shown to Micah. These prophetic lines were most circumstantially fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar and his generals demolished the city in 586 B.C. Micah lived and wrote in the eighth century B.C.
Since, therefore, it must be allowed as a genuine prophecy, literally fulfilled more than a century afterward, what can the critics do? The answer, of course, is nothing! However, we shall note a few of the things they have tried to do:
(1) They have tried to limit the prophecy to a "surprisingly accurate" discernment of political conditions by Micah, not allowing, at all, that God had anything to do with it. However, as Allen pointed out, although Micah uttered this prophecy as his own words, using the first person and speaking from himself, he had already ascribed the whole prophecy to the Spirit of Jehovah, and to God's message, which "he saw." Furthermore, a century after Micah, and at a time yet significantly prior to the fulfillment of it, Jeremiah proclaimed the very words of this Micah 3:12 as the word of God. "Thus saith Jehovah" (Jeremiah 26:18). Thus, what the prophet said, all of it, whether he so designated a certain line of it or not, was from Jehovah, God's Word, a "thus saith Jehovah," not the simple word of Micah.
(2) Others insinuate that Micah really expected Jerusalem to be overthrown during his lifetime, but that "it did not occur till a century afterward!" Such a view is false, not appearing anywhere in the passage, and merely seeking to get a contradiction between what Micah allegedly thought and what actually happened. As a matter of fact, Jerusalem probably would have fallen much sooner than it did, except for Micah's warnings and the reform under Hezekiah which led to intervention of God upon behalf of the city in the days of the siege by Sennacherib.
(3) The most incredible of all the critical objections is the complaint that, "Jerusalem has never become a deserted ruin to this day." Well, well. That is the best that anybody can come up with; but that is no contradiction, and such a statement has no place in the exegesis of this text. Micah nowhere said that Jerusalem would become a deserted ruin. He said that it "would become heaps." Did it occur? Yes.
"The Babylonian king overthrew the city to the very foundations and removed all of the people. Jeremiah testified to the desolation of the city, stating that, `foxes walked in it.'"
Jerusalem has been rebuilt, of course; but that Jerusalem against which Micah prophesied was never rebuilt. As MacLeod wrote, "The original city extended considerably south of the present southeast wall of Jerusalem." "Fields now cover that ancient site of Zion. Porter, Thompson, and other writers have spoken of seeing "the plow at work on the whole of the hill which is now under cultivation."
That hill which is today called Mount Zion is the southwest hill in Jerusalem and definitely is not the southeast hill where the ancient temple was built. Christians should not be deceived by old dictionaries and last-century opinions on this. As MacLeod said, the ancient Jewish historians as well as many of the present century scholars were deceived and inaccurate on this point. The ancient Jerusalem is a plowed field to this day. This has been determined by excavations, as MacLeod said, by excavations which have fully established that:
The original city, the "Jebus" captured by David, and afterward called "The City of David" was the southeast hill, not the southwest hill.
What a commentary on Micah's prophecy is this! For millenniums the human race did not even know where that Jerusalem had been located!
"For your sake ..." This is the most pitiful phrase in the whole prophecy. "The bitterest words of all for Judah's rulers were these, for they mean because of you (for your sake, on your account)."
Micah was the first prophet of the Lord to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple; but his prophecy was embellished with additional details and repeated again by Jeremiah over a century later.
The impact of this prophecy upon the Judah of Micah's day must have been profound indeed. It was the most unheard-of, impossible thing that could have been imagined in Jewish thought. That the God Jehovah who had brought them up out of slavery in Egypt and shepherded them through their wilderness wanderings, driving out the whole land, that that God would countenance the utter destruction of their capital, even the "City of David," and that he would allow the sacred temple dedicated to God's name to be destroyed, NONSENSE! But it was not nonsense. God's covenant blessings, then, as now, were predicated upon the keeping of the covenant by his people; and failure to keep the covenant meant the inevitable forfeiture of every blessing. How blind are those who think they have found some "short-cut" to God's favor, lifting from them any blame whatever for the violation of his sacred Word.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Micah 3". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30