September 21, 2021 Marc Sims

Abusive Authorities Judged (Micah 3)

Abusive Authorities Judged (Micah 3)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/809170--abusive-authorities-judged


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were to take one thing from the sermon and apply it to your life, what would it be?
  2. How would you define justice? Read Job 29:12-17. Do you tend to assume justice is primarily retributive (punishing wrong doing) or restorative (creating a fair society where the weakest are cared for)? How does Job 29:12-17 show both of those?
  3. Read Micah 3:1. What does godly authority look like? (see 2 Sam 23:3-4)
  4. Why does Micah use such alarming and revolting language to describe what the wicked leaders are doing?
  5. Read Micah 3:9-11. What was primarily motivating the judges, prophets, and priests? Read 1 Tim 6:6-10, then read 1 Tim 6:17-19. What are these verses telling us and what does it look like in your life to apply them?
  6. "Jesus did not only come to be an example of social justice, but to satisfy divine justice." What does that mean?


Sermon Manuscript:


Our church has been studying the book of Micah, a book about a prophet who has sought to expose idolatry and injustice. What we are seeing in this book is that God has not designed humanity to take advantage of one another, we are intended to use our power, wealth, status as a means of caring for one another, not as a means of exploitation. 


And yet, isn’t that what we see all the time? Lord Acton tells us that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see this in politicians, celebrities, the wealthy—anyone who has been given an outsized amount of influence and power in society. This can look like these people becoming rude and arrogant, or it can lead them to believe that the normal rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. A few years ago a professor from UC Berkley conducted a study on how power affects the brain. Interestingly, the research indicated that those in positions of power suffered greatly: “Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view…And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy.”


(source: https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/528711/?__twitter_impression=true)


One individual who is at the center of much attention now for her abuse of power is described as such: “Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.” (Bad Blood, John Carreyrou)


How does that happen? How do people get there? In our text in Micah we are going to read of people who have risen to places of power and influence, much like Holmes did, but unlike Holmes they did all of this while claiming to represent God. And this makes their abuse of authority far more wretched, far more sinister, and thus attracts God’s anger in a unique way.


1 And I said:

Hear, you heads of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel!

Is it not for you to know justice?—

2 you who hate the good and love the evil,

who tear the skin from off my people

and their flesh from off their bones,

3 who eat the flesh of my people,

and flay their skin from off them,

and break their bones in pieces

and chop them up like meat in a pot,

like flesh in a cauldron.

4 Then they will cry to the LORD,

but he will not answer them;

he will hide his face from them at that time,

because they have made their deeds evil.

5 Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets

who lead my people astray,

who cry “Peace”

when they have something to eat,

but declare war against him

who puts nothing into their mouths.

6 Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,

and darkness to you, without divination.

The sun shall go down on the prophets,

and the day shall be black over them;

7 the seers shall be disgraced,

and the diviners put to shame;

they shall all cover their lips,

for there is no answer from God.

8 But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the Spirit of the LORD,

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

and to Israel his sin.

9 Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel,

who detest justice

and make crooked all that is straight,

10 who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with iniquity.

11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;

its priests teach for a price;

its prophets practice divination for money;

yet they lean on the LORD and say,

“Is not the LORD in the midst of us?

No disaster shall come upon us.”

12 Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

-       Micah 3:1-2


What Authority is For


Notice who Micah has addressed in this chapter: heads, rulers, prophets, and priests. Micah is primarily aiming his prophetic denouncements at leaders, not at the average person. Why is that? One answer can be found in the first verse:


And I said:

Hear, you heads of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel!

Is it not for you to know justice?

-       Micah 3:1


It was a leader’s responsibility to “know justice.” Which requires us to ask ourselves, what is justice? A simple understanding of justice could be, “Justice is giving to someone what is due them.” Injustice, thus, is depriving someone of what is due them. Thus, a just society is a society where all persons are receiving what is due them and there are no barriers or systems put in place that deprive them of those rights. But this, of course, requires us to ask: “Who determines what each person is due? What is the basis of our rights?” Western people tend to assume that their definition of “human rights” is universal and thus obvious to all. So, when people call for justice or want to expose a human right’s violation, they don’t worry about defining what their basis for justice is. But if you read broadly enough (or read history) you’ll quickly find out that the definition of “what one is due” differs greatly from culture to culture. So it’s obvious to many Western people today that women should have the same access to education as men do, but that isn’t obvious to many cultures in the Middle-East. 


We need a standard that defines for us what justice is, what “good” and “evil” is, what a person is due. Otherwise, we will all be left to our own cultural standards and ignorant of our blind spots. This is why in the Bible we see that justice is given through revelation. God reveals what the standard of justice is. We are not left to speculate, but God sets down explicitly what each person is due, how they should be treated, through His Law given to Israel through Moses. If justice is “giving someone what is their due” then the Bible explains that because all human beings are made in God’s image they are give basic rights of protection, respect, and fairness. Anything that treats another human as if they don’t bear God’s image is then injustice.


Most interestingly, of the 400 occurrences of “justice” in the Old Testament, the overwhelming majority have to do with care for the most vulnerable in society: the widow, the orphan, the physically disabled, the immigrant, and the poor. Here is a short poem from the book of Job, meant to describe Job’s own just and righteous life:


I delivered the poor who cried for help,

and the fatherless who had none to help him.

13 The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,

and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.

14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;

my justice was like a robe and a turban.

15 I was eyes to the blind

and feet to the lame.

16 I was a father to the needy,

and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.

17 I broke the fangs of the unrighteous

and made him drop his prey from his teeth.

-       Job 29:12-17


What happens when Job is clothed in justice and righteousness? He helps the poor and the fatherless, the vulnerable, the widow, the blind, the lame, a father to the needy, even helping those he does not know, and breaks the fangs of the unrighteous so that they would stop preying upon the weak. Why does Job do this? Because this is what God does (see Ps 146:7-9). This is how God has defined justice. This isn’t because God necessarily understands the poor and downtrodden to be inherently more righteous than the wealthy and powerful—rather, it is simply that the poor and downtrodden are more likely to be victimized and taken advantage of. 


And it is the role of the leaders to know God’s standard and to embody it.


Friends, this is one of the purposes of authority. Despite seeing many examples of authority being abused in life, we know that God has designed authority to be a gift for humanity, a way for societies to flourish. King David’s final words recorded in 2 Samuel tell us, “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth,” (2 Sam 23:3-4). When one rules according to justice people flourish. 


What Wrong Authority Looks Like


If one of God’s purposes for putting people into places of authority is to uphold justice, then the leaders Micah calls out in this chapter are the exact photo-negative of that end. Rather than upholding justice these leaders, according to verse 2, “hate the good and love the evil.” These leaders not only fail to do good, they hate it. They don’t stumble into evil, they love it (cf. John 3:19; 2 Thess 2:10-12). Later at verse 9 Micah is going to explain that these leaders “detest justice.” The word for detest comes from the same root word in Hebrew that abomination comes from; these leaders don’t simply disagree with God’s vision of justice, they find it repulsive; God’s standard makes their stomach turn. A close contemporary example of this would have been the posture of ardent segregationists in the American South when swimming pools were forced to be integrated by the civil rights laws. Many communities in the south decided to just fill their public swimming pools in with cement, because the thought of white children swimming in the same pool with black children was unthinkable to them.


Israel’s leaders had gotten to a point where they found God’s law, His vision of justice morally repulsive, so Micah decides to describe what they are doing in an equally repulsive and embarrassing manner. Here is what these leaders do:


you who hate the good and love the evil,

who tear the skin from off my people

and their flesh from off their bones,

3 who eat the flesh of my people,

and flay their skin from off them,

and break their bones in pieces

and chop them up like meat in a pot,

like flesh in a cauldron.

-       Micah 3:2-3


This is one of the most graphic and disturbing sections in all the prophets—the leaders are described like savage animals, feasting on the people. This obviously is intended to be a metaphor—from what we now, Israel wasn’t practicing cannibalism. Rather, Micah is showing that the ways these leaders are exploiting the people is akin to devouring them, treating the people as nothing more than hunks of meat who are there to satiate their appetites. 


This crude image is carried on when Micah turns to the prophets and describes what they do:


Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets

who lead my people astray,

who cry “Peace”

when they have something to eat,

but declare war against him

who puts nothing into their mouths.

-       Micah 3:5


The false prophets and leaders here are described like mafia dons—rapacious and insatiable with no interest in anything other than what will satisfy their cravings. These prophets will prophesy declarations of peace and prosperity over you…so long as you keep them fed. As one commentator writes, “What comes out of these prophet’s mouths depends on what goes into them.” (Wolff)


What God is trying to do here is to puncture pretensions. Sometimes when we look at those in positions of power--those who are railing against God’s Law, who hate what God loves and love what God hates—though we disagree with them, there can still be something that draws us in aesthetically to these people. These are the people on the inner-circle, these are the elites, the sophisticated few who have access to the levers of power. So, while our mind tells us that we know they are wrong, our hearts can still become envious of them. We want influence like they have, comfort like they have, recognition like they have. But here God is trying to pull the curtain back in the glittering façade. Behind the veil of power, we find something repulsive, something shameful. These are cannibalistic monsters who are slaves to their passions. These are not people to envy or to secretly pine after.


Finally, Micah summarizes the whole elite class as follows:


Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel,

who detest justice

and make crooked all that is straight,

10 who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with iniquity.

11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;

its priests teach for a price;

its prophets practice divination for money;

yet they lean on the LORD and say,

“Is not the LORD in the midst of us?

No disaster shall come upon us.”

-       Micah 3:9-11


Finally we get down to the nub of the issue and Micah’s poetic imagery wafts away and the core of what is motivating the rulers, the prophets, and the priests comes into sharp focus. They love money. So judges will take bribes and deprive people of justice; priests will be motivated to teach in such a way to ensure they get the most financial support; and prophets “practice divination”—that isn’t what Israel’s prophets do, that is what pagans do—but the way the prophets have conducted themselves in their work leads God to describe them like crystal ball readers. 


I seriously doubt any of the leaders addressed here when they were younger thought: You know what, I think I want to pervert justice; I think I want to become a false prophet so I can be rich. And I seriously doubt anyone in this room is thinking: I want to become dishonest and cruel so I can have more money. That isn’t how greed works. It works millimeter by millimeter. Maybe a prophet’s family was in a really tight bind, maybe he had a child who was sick, and along came an individual who offered him a generous donation and hinted at how nice it would be if he could show up at his business sometime to share some encouraging words. Maybe he thought just this once. But then it happened again. And again. And again. Now his family relies on this extra source of revenue. 


Money is a powerful thing, friends. Jesus tells us that money is almost like a curse, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” (Mark 10:25). Or consider Paul’s warning to Timothy, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs,” (1 Tim 6:9-10). Do you desire to be rich? That’s what the leaders in Micah’s day desired and it led to their total and complete ruin.


How do we keep ourselves from becoming controlled by money? There are many things we can do, but one simple one is to be very generous with it. But realize that the more money you have, the harder it will be for you to be generous. A survey done in 2018 found that those making 20,000 a year were eight times more likely to be regularly giving to their church than those making 75,000 or more. So, for most churches you have the poorest members of the church caring more of the financial burden than the wealthy members, while the wealthy use their money for their own comforts. That is not just. 


How God Responds


Amazingly, through all of this they still have the audacity to claim: “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” Despite ignoring God, finding His laws to be detestable, and His requirements outdated, these leaders still think: We don’t need to worry about anything, God is on our side! You can be very confident about your spiritual state, and be very wrong.


Micah is here to proclaim the opposite to them. They are not okay, they are not secure. Micah pronounces a series of increasingly dire judgments on the people. 


First, in verse four he explains that God is going to stop answer their prayers. Then in verses six through seven God is going to cast the prophets into darkness and stop speaking with them. Which taken together provide a picture of God simply stepping away from Israel. They have been living like they don’t want God in their life, so God agrees and leaves them to themselves. But that isn’t all God does. God is a just God and He cannot stand back and let the vulnerable be preyed upon without judgment. So He concludes:


Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

-       Micah 3:12


Zion (another name for Jerusalem) is going to become like a plowed field, cut open by the blade of a plowshare. Jerusalem, the sparkling city, shall become nothing but a heap of ruins. And most tragically, the “mountain of the house,” that is the hill which the temple rests on, the place where Jews can go to worship God, is going to become a “wooded height.” It is going to be abandoned and desolate for so long that trees, not weeds, not brambles, but trees are going to grow over everything. That is a picture of total and complete desolation.


Interestingly, one hundred years later when the prophet Jeremiah was alive we get to read about how the people of Israel responded to this message. Jeremiah, also a prophet who spoke a very similar message that Micah prophesied, had been arrested after prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction and was about to be executed for it by the wicked authorities of his day. But someone speaks up to defend Jeremiah and explains”


“Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.” – Jeremiah 26:18-19


Jeremiah is then spared from being put to death. But this gives us a window into how people responded to Micah’s message in chapter 3. They listened to Micah! They heard, they repented and God relented of the disaster. Despite momentarily the people turning a deaf ear to Micah’s words, they eventually turn and repent. Which is an encouraging reminder for us all: we shouldn’t be too quick to judge whether or not God’s Word has been effective.


This was the ministry that God had given Micah, to declare His word to Israel so they might turn and repent. Micah, in contrasting himself with the false prophets of his day explains:


But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the Spirit of the LORD,

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

and to Israel his sin.

-       Micah 3:8


Micah has been filled with the powerful Spirit of the Lord and with justice so that he might declare to Israel his sin. God wants to contrast the injustice of Israel with the justice being embodied by Micah, He wants to expose their sin. But friends, the result we see in Jeremiah should encourage us: God wants to expose our sin—not so that he may shame us, but so that he can lead us to repentance, to heal us. God doesn’t want you to continue to hide in your sin, friend. He wants you to walk in the light. 


This was Micah’s ministry that came from the “Spirit of the Lord”, a phrase used to describe the prophetic activity of other prophets as they gave vent to God’s Word given to them by God’s Spirit (cf. Isa 61:1). Micah’s Spirit empowered ministry fills him with justice and strength. It is this same title that Jesus takes for Himself:


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

-       Luke 4:18-19


Notice how similar this sounds to Job’s description of justice? Jesus has been filled with justice, which is why one need only look at how Jesus lived His life to get a perfect snapshot of what justice looks like. His life, His teachings, His healings, His miracles all showed what a person should do who desires to live justly and uprightly. He held the powerful accountable and rebuked those who used their power and influence to exploit others. He turned a special eye to care for the downtrodden, the outcast, and the weak. There is no greater example of what justice is than Jesus’ life.


But, that being said, Jesus wasn’t merely an example of social justice. If all Jesus was for us was an enlightened example of how to live, how to be just, as helpful as that may be, it ultimately will not solve our biggest problem. Our problem is not that we lack good examples, our problem is that despite having good problems, we still do what is wrong. And this is why Jesus came—not just to provide an example of human justice, but to also satisfy divine justice. All of our sins are not merely against other people, but ultimately against God. We have deprived God of His rights as our Maker and Creator. We have not lived as we ought to and God’s justice demands that wrong be righted. But God’s justice, shot through with mercy and love, is satisfied by God Himself. Jesus dies in order to take our deepest and most terrifying of punishments—our eternal consequence for our sins. 


And surprisingly, when we receive the grace and mercy available in Jesus Christ, when we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins, rather than making us indifferent towards matters of injustice, it makes us more just. Because now as we turn towards the downtrodden, the poor, the vulnerable, we realize that we were weak, downtrodden, vulnerable, poor in the eyes of God, and yet He helped us. So out of the overflow of that love we have received, we give it to others and we do it without a sense of smug self-superiority, but a humble awareness of our own need. And as we interact with wrongdoers, those who are perpetrating acts of injustice, we don’t do so from a sense of self-righteousness (I would never do such a thing!)—that isn’t the basis of why we are outraged. We seek to correct wrongs and bring about just retributions because we have seen that our God cares about justice so much that He was willing to die Himself to uphold justice’s righteous demands. Wrongdoing cannot go unpunished. But because Jesus took our punishment for us, that means that as we correct injustice we always have an open heart towards the wrongdoer, welcoming them in if they will repent of their sins and turn to Jesus.