Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Micah 3

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-4

Sins of Leaders and Their Punishment (3:1-12)

When Leaders Oppress (3:1-4)

Micah’s indictment turns to the leadership of his people, first to the "rulers of the house of Israel." Addressing them directly, Micah points to their special responsibility "to know justice." Not every member of the community can be considered responsible for knowing all the customary legal precedents (the term for "justice" is often translated "judgment," in the sense of a decision handed down in a precedent-making case). But rulers in positions of authority should certainly not "hate the good and love the evil." In vigorous language Micah pictures the rulers of his people as the Near Eastern equivalent of the butcher who prepares a slaughtered animal for cooking and eating, and the people as the animal whose skin is flayed and whose bones are broken and cracked and dropped into the kettle to form the base for a soup.

The rulers, who have made the people cry in vain to God for deliverance, will themselves cry in vain for deliverance (vs. 4). "At that time," when God’s visitation comes, he will not listen to the pleas of those who have done evil.

Verses 5-8

When Prophets Mislead (3:5-8)

In his next indictment Micah turns to the prophets "who lead my people astray." What he says implies that many of the popular prophets continued to be supported by the alms or generosity of the people, as Elijah and Elisha were supported. Others, as we know from Amos (7:14-15), were more independent financially and refused to be identified with the groups of prophets abroad in the land. Micah’s accusation of his contemporaries, perhaps some of the very same men repudiated by Amos, is that the tone of their message depended on how well they had been fed. When they were well received in a particular village, the message was one of "Peace." When not so well received in another village, these uninspired prophets would announce the coming of a holy war against its inhabitants, and thus attempt to "put the fear of God" into the people. Either way, the false and misleading prophets ignored the real problems of their times and paid no attention to the true word from God.

The punishment designed for such men is appropriate: a complete eclipse of vision will come upon these prophets, seers, and diviners, so that they will be disgraced and put to shame before the people; they will then have "no answer from God." Micah’s word need not imply that they formerly had a message from God. Rather, as they have been vocal in his name, in the day of their disgrace they will be left without anything to say. The appropriateness of this fate is obvious.

On the other hand, Micah knows himself to be a true prophet, filled with the power of the Spirit of God himself. In a rare autobiographical declaration he contrasts his own ministry with that of the false prophets. The mark of validity in his preaching is the "justice and might" with which he declares the sins and transgressions of Jacob and Israel. What God directed him to preach made sense to a sensitive and right-thinking mind such as Micah’s; his declarations were as consistent from town to town (if he actually preached throughout Judah) as legal decisions should have been. The message came to him with power from the Spirit of the Lord, and he expressed it before the people with vigor and assurance. To Micah, the man of sensitive conscience, the preaching of the false prophets lacked this power of consistent honesty. But his own preaching was faithful to the nature of God and to the consistency inherent in that nature.

Verses 9-12

When Only Money Talks (3:9-12)

In a third indictment Micah turns his attention to both religious and political leaders of his people, summing up his two previous indictments and emphasizing the basic evils of which all the leaders were guilty. Perversion of justice had been accomplished in part by violence and in part by bribery. Micah accuses the responsible leaders of both evils: they "build Zion with blood" and "its heads give judgment for a bribe." There is actual bribery of those responsible for judging — that is, the elders who meet in the city gate rather than formally appointed judges — and to these Micah adds the priests and the prophets. He has already charged the prophets with divining for money; now he accuses the priests of teaching "for hire."

Verse 11 links together the three directions in which an ancient Israelite might turn when he found himself in difficulty. If his difficulty was a wrong done him by a known member of the community, he might take his case before the elders ("heads") who sat regularly in the city gate; there presumably he might expect justice and award of damages from the guilty party. If the difficulty concerned his personal health or an injury in which the guilty person was not known, he might take his problem to the priest of the local shrine, who would solve it by referring to the ritual law or by the use of the sacred lot; or he could consult a seer or diviner, who would seek a direct answer from God.

Micah’s indictment declares that a man without money would not be helped in any of these three ways. Only by bribing the judges or by paying the priest or prophet would he find any satisfaction. The prophet’s concern is not simply that professional help should be available to the poorest people of the land, but that those members of the community with power and influence and knowledge of God’s ways should put the proper exercise of their divinely given prerogatives above prices. In a day when almost every service has come to have a price tag, there is a real danger that qualities such as justice and truth and the nobility of disinterested public service may be lost to the community altogether.

The leaders of Micah’s time were saying piously, "Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us." On the contrary, says Micah, "because of you . . . Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height." When the leaders of a people have turned so far from dependence upon the Lord as to consider the size of the reward they may expect instead of the rightness of a case, they are not in fact leaning upon the Lord, no matter how loudly they protest their trust in him. God, in turn, does not obligate himself to protect such leaders or the community of which they are a part. Micah foresaw the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in particular. Of what sacred institutions and monuments would a modern prophet speak?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Micah 3". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/micah-3.html.
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