No rest for the wicked (July 5, 2015)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Micah 2:1-11

Not much is known about the author of the book from which this passage comes. His name was Micah, which means “Who is like Yahweh?” His hometown was Moresheth, a town approximately 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. We have one other source of information about him — a surprising source. Jeremiah 26:18 says that Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah. It is one of the very few times that a canonical book makes an historical reference to the activity of another biblical author. Jeremiah confirms the superscription that opens the book of Micah: “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of … Hezekiah of Judah.” That places Micah’s prophetic activity near the end of the 8th century B.C.

The book of Micah is especially difficult to translate and interpret. It consists of several short prophetic sayings, many of which reflect situations in Israel’s history much later than the perilous times of King Hezekiah. Most scholars believe that a loosely organized collection of Micah’s prophecies are found in the first three chapters of this book and they have been supplemented by later comments and additions over more than a century. Moreover, the Hebrew text appears to have been corrupted in several places. The translators frequently acknowledge that their translation is little more than a conjecture or that the meaning of a particular Hebrew word is uncertain.

Micah 2:1-5: God punishes social injustice
Like Amos a generation or two earlier, Micah delivers a harsh message of God’s immanent judgment on the leaders of the chosen people because of their hypocritical piety and their exploitation of the poor.

Chapter 2 begins with a saying of woe to the rich and powerful leaders in Jerusalem. They lie in bed at night, Micah states, planning their wicked ways. In the morning they have the power to carry out their oppressive plans. They seize the fields and houses of the poor who do not have the power to resist them. Commentator James Mays says, “The rich and ruling classes were assembling estates in the country by skillfully managed loans and corrupt courts.”

However, God also has a plan to punish these wicked oppressors. God through Micah announces that there will soon come a time of judgment. It will be an evil time. They will not be able to escape.

The evildoers decry the disaster about to befall them by singing a mournful lament like the songs of professional mourners at funerals. They blame God for taking their land away from them and giving it to their enemy. This quite likely reflects what actually did happen when Judah was carried off into exile later.

Micah 2:6-11: False prophets challenge Micah
Micah’s harsh prophesies annoyed his hearers. “Don’t preach like that to us,” they preach, indicating that the speakers are themselves prophets — and false ones at that! They deny that there will be disastrous consequences for the evil ways of the leaders.

Micah responds with a series of rhetorical questions. Are such denials appropriate? (No!) Is God’s patience exhausted? (Yes!) Are God’s words delivered by Micah beneficial for those who do God’s will? (Yes!)

Micah continues by enumerating the offenses of the leaders. They act like enemies of the people. They take necessities from peaceful people who do not want to fight. They force widows from their houses and cause children to dishonor God. Such wickedness renders the land unclean and unfit as a dwelling place for God’s faithful people. Although the Hebrew text has been corrupted, the best reconstruction seems to promise certain and severe destruction to the wicked leaders.

This section concludes with a very ironic and sarcastic assessment of the leaders of Judah. Micah sarcastically says that a prophet telling lies and preaching about wine and intoxicating drink would be just the right prophet for the people of Judah. The false prophets pander to the leaders by saying what the leaders want to hear. An equally derogatory description of the false prophets is found in Micah 3:5.

For discussion 

Micah carried on an angry debate with the false prophets he encountered. In your opinion, what distinguishes false prophets from true prophets? Are there false prophets who are active today? Do you hear too many sermons based on the words of prophets like Micah or not enough? Micah singles out women and children and peace-loving people as the victims of the powerful oppressors. Can you identify contemporary situations in our world where that harmful pattern is continued?