No tolerance for corrupt leaders (July 12, 2015)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Micah 3:5-12 

After one of the most scathing indictments of the political leaders of Israel in all of Scripture (Micah 3:1-4), Micah turns his harsh prophetic denunciation toward the false prophets who have used their religious offices to enrich themselves. They did so with the support of kings and corrupt leaders who turned a blind eye on pagan practices.

The reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah are described in 2 Kings 15-20. Jotham’s reign receives mixed reviews for his failure to remove the shrines where citizens of Judah followed Canaanite practices and worshipped pagan gods. Ahaz, however, is completely condemned for disregarding God’s laws and following pagan practices that may have included child sacrifice. Ahaz even bought military protection from the Assyrians by offering them gold and silver articles from the temple and the royal palace. He also modified parts of the temple and his palace to please Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian ruler.

Micah 3:5-7: Severe judgment on false prophets
Micah’s condemnation of corrupt leaders very likely reflects the abominable practices of Ahaz and his cronies. False prophets adjusted their pronouncements depending on who paid them. To those who provided their food, they offered words of peace. They debased the rich Hebrew word for peace, well-being, and integrity (shalom) by fraudulently promising peace without justice. To leaders who did not feed them, they said just the opposite.

Micah prophesied that such false prophets would be completely enshrouded by impenetrable darkness. The seers and diviners, ironic titles designating the false prophets, will be without any legitimate revelation from God. With nothing to say, the false prophets are completely shamed and disgraced.

Micah 3:8: A spirit-filled prophet
As the diametrical opposite of the false prophets, Micah himself claims four gifts from God that strengthen him for his prophetic ministry. God has given him power, the spiritual and physical strength to carry out his mission. Second, Micah invokes the spirit of God, the ruach that creates and sustains life. Third, Micah has justice on his side, which identifies him as the opposite of the false prophets. And finally, Micah feels within himself God’s empowering presence and deep confidence.

Equipped with these gifts, Micah boldly speaks out against the sins of Israel and Judah. Their worship of pagan gods, their greed and social injustice and their willingness to listen to false prophets are grounds for the catastrophic judgment Micah prophesies.

Micah 3:9-12: Corruption brings destruction
Micah characterizes the rulers governing Judah (the “house of Jacob”) and the officials in charge of Israel as leaders who want nothing to do with justice. He says they “pervert all equality,” a phrase that the Jewish Study Bible translates as “make crooked all that is straight.” Jerusalem, the holy city of David that underwent significant development and growth at this time, has been built with blood and crime, Micah asserts.

The sins of the leaders include accepting bribes in return for favorable rulings. The priests of Judah expected payment for their teaching, and the false prophets required money for their prophecies. The implication is that the money purchased what the buyers wanted to hear, not what God’s law required.

Despite their blatant crimes and injustice, the corrupt leaders pretend to be faithful believers in Jahweh. “The Lord is with us,” they shamelessly claim. In their arrogance and pride they seem to think God will ignore their corrupt activities.

Micah concludes this section of his prophecy by drawing a devastating conclusion from the catalog of injustices committed by the corrupt religious and political leaders. “Therefore,” he says, “Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.” Furthermore, “the mountain of the house” (i.e., Mount Zion where the temple of Solomon stands) will become “a wooded height.” Samaria had already suffered a similar fate and been reduced to a heap of ruins (Micah 1:6). This devastating prophecy of Micah is quoted in Jeremiah 26:18 in a rare example of one canonical book being used as a source for another.

Micah reminds us that religion and politics can be a very dangerous combination, especially when the religious and political leaders have lost their moral compass. Rampant corruption on the part of rulers, priests and prophets sealed the fate of Israel and Judah.

For discussion 

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation were very critical of political and religious leaders who abused their offices. When is the last time you heard a sermon that condemned corrupt leaders? Can you identify contemporary figures whom you would consider to be spirit-filled prophets? What do you think Micah would say about the 10.5 million dollar mansion in which televangelist Joel Osteen and his wife live?