Reading : Micah 3 :1-12
Politics, Preaching and Presumption
During the week in my regular daily devotions I read the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus chapter 20. These commandments were given through Moses to tell God’s people how they were to live their lives now that God had delivered them from their Egyptian slavery and established them as his covenant people. Ten Commandments which are clear and straightforward to understand but a whole lot harder to keep!
Now ten is not a large number is it? Though I think many people in the UK today would prefer to limit the number yet further. Theft, rape, child abuse and murder might warrant being classified as sin but not much else would rank up there in popular opinion.
And of course it’s easy to look at such sins and to pronounce oneself innocent of them and so to draw the conclusion that basically we’re ok.
However the fact that there are just 10 Commandments does not mean that there are just 10 sins. According to one writer I came across there are around 125 sins mentioned in the Bible but I doubt whether that exhausts our capacity for law-breaking – as the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes put it:
Eccle.7:29 "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes."
No, the truth is that there are many sins and these can all be classified under one or other of these Ten Commandments. And all sin causes offence to a Holy God.
Micah had already spoken about the religious sins of idolatry, false worship and of placing one’s trust in anyone other than the One True Living God. He has already spoken about some of the ways in which power could be abused in exploitation and confiscation of property. But he by no means finished with sin which had so disfigured and corrupted the lives of his contemporaries. As he continues to denounce sin his aim is not just to inform the mind but to lead to a change of heart. And as we think about the sins which the leaders of Micah’s day were guilty of we must not be content with adopting a tut-tutting attitude but rather take care to examine ourselves as to whether similar sins are exercising an unhealthy influence in our own lives.
As we look together at Micah ch.3 we’ll do so in three sections:
vv.1-4 the political/secular leaders of the nation are addressed
vv.5-8 the religious categories of prophets/seers and diviners are addressed
vv.9-12 all leaders, both secular and religious, are addressed
Section One: Political/Secular Leaders Called to the Bar vv.1-4
The issue that Micah brings to the fore here is that of justice, or rather the lack of it, in the way in which these leaders exercise their power.
Back in chapter 2 Micah had criticised the abuse of power whereby the strong had seized land and property from the weak now he turns his attention to the way in which the secular leaders perverted the law so as to facilitate such abuses of power.
These leaders should have been protecting the weak and the poor by upholding the principles of justice but this was something these leaders simple weren’t doing. Instead of defending those living under the charge of their responsibility these leaders dealt harshly with them, living off their backs. Such was their behaviour that Micah resorts to the vivid imagery of cannibalism to describe it and to condemn it.
These leaders ought to have known better. They knew and understood the dictates of justice but preferred not to enforce them. Micah doesn’t hesitate to call them out – "you hate what is good", he says, "and you love evil."
Micah has already warned of impending judgment coming upon the nation and now he goes further as he describes how this judgment will impact these repugnant leaders. Projecting ahead Micah foresees how these leaders will react when the harsh realities of judgment begin to touch them. They will cry out to the Lord for help, much as a complainant in court might call out for aid, but all their appeals will go unanswered.
I wonder, do you see the irony in this? These leaders had heard similar appeals for help as they had administered the law but they had refused to pay any attention to those cries for justice and now it is their turn to be on the receiving end as their own cries go unheard.
The Lord pays no attention to their cries because their cries for help are not born out of genuine repentance. Like so many down through the centuries and right up to our own day, they didn’t hate sin they just didn’t like its consequences. And just as they had so frequently refused help to others they now find the Lord refuses help to them.
In the NT Jesus dealt with this sort of attitude when he taught his disciples in the words of the Lord’s Prayer:
Mt.6:12 "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"
This was not a prayer the leaders in Micah’s day could have prayed with honesty and integrity. Having set their sights on doing what was wrong, they would find that the God whose ways they had rejected now rejected them. Well might they cry but they will receive no answer as God hides his face from them – they will not be rescued. They had perverted their responsibility and will be deprived of the Lord’s help.
How disastrous that was for them! Those leaders, belonged to God’s chosen people and had great privileges, but they failed to take advantage of the many opportunities they had. By their actions they demonstrated that they had no real sympathy for the kingdom and kingdom values – they were members of it only in an outward manner, lacking the essential characteristics of a genuine member.
These leaders stand as a warning to us. Are we like them? Or is there any evidence of spiritual reality in our lives? Do we possess a living trust in our lives right now? Will our anchor hold in the day of trouble?
If we are no different to those leaders in our heart attitudes what makes us think that the outcome will for us will be any different from theirs?
We can be sure that our anchor that will hold fast because if we are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ we will indeed be fastened to the Rock that cannot move!
Section Two: Prophets and Perverted Proclamation vv.5-8
Having dealt with the abuse of power of the political classes Micah turns his attention to the misuse of the prophetic office addressing himself now to prophets, seers and diviners – the element that links these together is that of revelation.
Often in the Bible we see the genuine prophet experiencing opposition and hostility as he fearlessly proclaimed the word he had received from the Lord.
What Micah has in view however is not the genuine prophet or seer – seer being simply an older name for a prophet (1Sam.9:9). No, the addition of the word diviner makes it clear that Micah is thinking about all those corrupt efforts at manipulating revelation, for all sorts of divination were forbidden to God’s people. If you like Micah is turning his attention to false prophets and teachers who are really wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing – these people only preached for a financial reward, the truth was not important to them just their own self-interest.
The chief characteristic of the false prophet was that he preached what the people wanted to hear and he fully expected to be well rewarded financially for doing so. The false prophets of Micah’s day were no different. As long as they had food on the table they were ready to announce a comforting word but woe betide those who wouldn’t pay up! There would be a very different message for him.
Now the trouble with such messages of peace was that they were completely divorced from reality. They were deceptive and deceitful messages that would lead astray those who listened to them. A century later Jeremiah castigated the preachers who proclaimed "Peace, peace" when in reality there was no such peace.
As the false prophet was there in the days of Micah and then of Jeremiah so they have been a thorn in the side of God’s people down through the centuries and sadly they are still present today demonstrating the same selfish interest in large pay cheques and financial donations! It remains true today that you cannot serve God and mammon.
The messages the false prophets delivered had never been given to them by the Lord, rather they had made up their own early versions of prosperity preaching – they preached in order to secure wealth for themselves. The love of money was so strong in them! But as Paul was to write to Timothy:
1Tim.6:10 "For the love of money is the root of all evil"
Or as the Message puts it:
"Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble."
If the political leaders were to receive no help from the Lord then neither could these false religious folk expect to receive any light. They would go on walking in the darkness of their own choosing and they would not receive any genuine vision or word from the Lord. When things caught up with them they would be shown to be disgraced perpetrators of error and they would be covered with shame and dishonour. If the leaders would abuse God’s truth they would lose it!
How important it is for preachers and teachers of God’s word to be motivated by faithfulness towards him and not to allow themselves to be unduly influenced by anything else be that money, popularity, influence or power. The Christian church has no need of man-pleasers in the pulpit!
Micah distanced himself from these ministry-moneygrubbers and it took both physical and emotional strength to stand against them. Micah was not only strong enough he also had the guts to do so – though he was quick to point out that any strength or ability to do so came from the Spirit of God. As the prophet Zechariah would later put it:
Zech.4:6 "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts."
I wonder what your relationship with money is like. Watch out in case you find yourself being too enamoured by money whether it be what you have or what you would like to have. Pray too for ministers of the gospel that they don’t give in to the temptation to alter God’s word for financial gain!
Section Three: Further Faults of the Leaders vv.9-12
In the final section of chapter three Micah continues his criticism of the leaders of his nation. He begins by repeating his charges of sinful injustice and the sinful love of money but then adds to them the charge that they are making false and presumptuous claims concerning the well-being of the nation.
What was it that provoked Micah? The answer is to be found in v.11. which follows Micah’s damning indictment of their moral short-comings. There are two parts to what Micah has say:
their misguided claim
"yet they lean on the LORD and say"
Oh yes, they lean on the Lord, or so they would have others believe, but their behaviour is far from the holy behaviour which would accompany a genuine reliance upon him.
their misguided theology
"Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.""
The leaders were convinced that Micah was wrong: didn’t he realise that they were putting their trust in the Lord’s promises? How could they be exposed to such judgment if the Lord was in their midst? No, no, since he had promised safety and security they must be safe – none of the disasters Micah spoke about could ever come their way, could it now? At least that is what they wanted to believe.
But there was a problem with their thought-processes and consequently with their theology. I wonder whether you know what it was. It is important for it is a trap that perhaps you too have fallen into. It is certainly something to avoid.
First let’s agree with them that they were referring to was indeed a Bible promise. In 1Kings 6:13 we read a wonderful promise the God gave to Solomon at the time the Temple was built. This is what he said:
"And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel."
So what was there for Micah to complain about? Wasn’t that clear?
Yes it was clear but it was also very clear from the context that this promise was a conditional one. The leaders of Micah’s day were wrong in their theology because they insisted on cherry-picking as they read the Bible!
There was nothing wrong with the promise as long as the conditions were kept in view too and they were detailed in the preceding verse:
1Kings 6:12 "if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father."
If only these leaders had taken greater care over their Bible reading they might not have led themselves and their nation into such a mess!
Yes, these leaders could look at the city of Jerusalem and they could see that the temple was still standing there but had they paid more careful attention to their Bibles they would have known that the Lord had promised to destroy this temple out of his sight if the people proved to be unfaithful. In fact as soon as the temple was dedicated he warned them about this:
1Kings 9:6-9 "if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the LORD has brought all this disaster on them.’"
How easy and how tempting it can be to cherry-pick as we read our own Bibles and how dangerous this can be! It is one of the ways in which we can mishandle God’s word of truth; it is one of the ways by which we can effectively nullify God’s word. I hope you are more careful than they were.
When you read your Bible, as I urge you all to do, don’t simply light upon some verse that takes your fancy and then treat it as though it automatically declared a stand-alone, absolute truth. You must read a verse in its context – remember the old preacher’s maxim, a text without a context is a pretext! It may well be more appealing to focus upon a promise than upon a verse that outlines what our moral responsibilities are but we need all the truth of the Bible not just some of it. To act otherwise is to pursue a dangerous path as the example here in the book of Micah teaches us so clearly. Cherry-picking their verses led these leaders to a false hope and to believe they were safe when the exact opposite was the case.
Micah has exposed a number more sins in this chapter – a lack of justice, a love of money, a faulty theology due to selective reading of God’s word – is your life spoiled or marred by any of these sins?
We have also seen how a faulty theology can produce a false hope that had consequences that were truly tragic. Because of the unrepentant sin of its leaders the nation’s capital, Jerusalem, was threatened with destruction. All its buildings would be brought crashing down and all its rubble would then be cleared away so that the city might be ploughed up like a field. The temple, that very building in which they placed so much of their confidence, that very building where God had promised to meet with his people, would itself be reduced to ruins.
Micah spoke to sinful people warning them that their sins had consequences, his warnings included sobering words of judgment but the message he proclaimed was also a hopeful one for it was by such preaching that Micah called his contemporaries to repentance. After all it is a wonderful truth that God, in his mercy, forgives repenting sinners.
As we read through the Book of Micah we don’t have much indication as to whether Micah’s message had any effect at all. We know he preached judgment and we know too that he also held out wonderful promises of hope to the same people – if ch.3 appears to end on a downer with the destruction of Jerusalem ch.4 opens on a very different note - but what effect did his preaching have, did it have any? Well the book of Jeremiah, written 100 years later, tells us that Micah’s preaching bore fruit, he was successful! In that book we are told how under the ministry of Micah King Hezekiah led he people in an act of national repentance. And the verse that brought that repentance about seems to have been Micah 3:12 a verse which proclaimed the destruction of Jerusalem because the sin of its leaders:
"Therefore because of you Zion shall be ploughed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height."
Had the leaders stubbornly refused to move on from their false hope the outcome for them would have been tragic.
There are many today who do insist on clinging on to their false hopes and they will hear Jesus speak words that I hope you will never hear for Jesus spoke words of warning every bit as serious as those that Micah spoke. It was Jesus who said to those who those who were proud of what they had done and who had built their hopes upon it:
Mt.7:23 "I never knew you; depart from me,"
It will be tragic for you if you ever hear him say these words to you but he will if you stubbornly cling on to your false hopes. Yes, your false hopes might give you a sense of security for a while but when push comes to shove you’ll find them to be nothing but a deceptive security that brings no help when you need it most.
The Bible speaks of wonderful blessings and the generous benefits of salvation that are offered to us in the gospel but don’t make the mistake of thinking that you may enjoy these blessings and benefits without repentance, without exercising faith in Christ, without calling on his name for salvation, without recognising his lordship in your life and without committing yourself to living a holy life as a disciple.
There is hope, real hope, in the gospel message for it is that message that tells us the truth about ourselves; it also tells us the truth about God and what he has done for people like us in offering us his Son to be our Lord and Saviour. Please don’t hear warnings as if they were threats, they are invitations and calls to repentance, to salvation and to an eternal life of reconciliation with your Creator.
And to God be the Glory