Message Two: Zion 3:1-5:15 God’s Judgment on the Rulers and the Future Reign of Righteousness
Micah 3:1-5:15 consists of the second of three major messages by the prophet. The first section of this second message, 3:1-12 is a declaration of God’s judgment upon the political/judicial and religious leaders of Judah. This section comprises three messages of four verses each with a similar structure, the identification of the guilty, the indictment against them and the judgment of God upon them.
These leaders of Judah had replaced true justice with injustice resulting in the brutalization of its people and the barrenness of its prized land. However in the second section, 4:1-5:15 the prophet’s message concerns itself with the future blessings of the messianic kingdom where righteous justice and royal law will be dispensed by a divine ruler. The people will live in peace free from enemies, corrupt rulers and worship will center only upon the Messiah.
- 3:1-12 Judgement on the Rulers and Prophets
a. 3:1-4 The Brutality of the Rulers
3:1 Then I said,
“Listen, you heads of Jacob,
and rulers of the house of Israel,
is it not your duty to know justice?
The words “Then I Said” is a phrase linking to what the prophet had declared in his first message and an introduction to his second message. This is emphasized by the next word “listen” (hear), šâma‘ which is the word that occurs at the beginning of each major section of Micah., 1:2-2:13; 3:1-5:15; and 6:1-7:20. šâma‘ also occurs in 3:9 (hear); 5:15 (disobeyed); 6:2 (hear); 6:9 (listen) and 7:7 (hear). Micah calls the leaders of Judah, “heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel,” to heed the words of God, “Is it not your duty to know justice?” Jacob and Israel are descriptive words (a metonymy1) meaning the people (all the tribes) of the nation of Judah. Micah addresses the “heads” and “rulers” of the nation which primarily refer to the political, judicial, civic and religious spheres. However, no segment of society is left out and all people of the nation are included as they come under the rulership of all leaders of society.
The main point of the prophet’s call to listen is that the leaders should know justice and their role in administering justice within the nation. The word “know” is the Hebrew yâḏa‘ which in this context has the meaning of applied knowledge. It is not enough to simply have an understanding, but it is implied that this knowledge leads to rightfully applying this knowledge as God has commanded. The object of their knowledge is “justice,” Hebrew, mišp̱âṭ, which is a major theme of the writings of Micah.2 Other prophets spoke of knowing “justice,” which in the O.T. is often translated as law, judgment, and ordinance, “4 Then I said, “Surely these are just the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of LORD, or the law of their God. 5 I will go to the leaders and will speak to them, for these know the way of the LORD, and the law of their God.” But these, to a person, have broken the yoke of God’s law, and burst the bonds.” Jeremiah 5:4-5. See also Isaiah 1:17, 5:7; Jeremiah 8:7 and Ezekiel 20:11 (selected examples only).
It was a requirement of the law of the Lord for the leaders to know and righteously apply justice to the people, “18 Appoint judges and officers in all your towns, the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes; and they must judge the people fairly. 19 You must not pervert justice. You must not show favoritism or take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and corrupts the words of the righteous.
20 Pursue only what is just, so that you may live, and inherit the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16:18-20. Another passage states, “15 You shall not render an unjust judgment. You must not be partial to the poor or honor the rich. You must judge your neighbor fairly.” Leviticus 19:15. For a pre-law example see Exodus 18:20-21.
The prophets clearly proclaimed the message that the leaders of God’s covenant people did not keep the law as they continually perverted justice. The people were oppressed by corrupt political and judicial rulers and the powerful elite but even worse they were denied righteous justice by their religious instructors who misapplied God’s laws to profit themselves. God of course knew the evil intentions and actions of these leaders and that they would not superintend His people with righteous justice. So He sent a righteous Servant with the mission to establish justice in Zion and on the earth. The mission of the Servant, the Messiah began at His first advent and will be completely fulfilled at His second advent. Jeremiah spoke of the days of His second advent, “14 Look, the days are coming,” says the LORD, that I will perform the good promise that I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah.15 In those days, and at that time, I will cause a righteous Branch to sprout up for David; he will execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety. She will be called by this name: ‘the LORD our righteousness.” Jeremiah 33:14-16. See also Isaiah 9:7; 28:16-17; 42:1-4; and 51:4.
From the beginning God planned to righteously care and protect His people. God gave the task of ruling, teaching, protecting and shepherding His flock to those He entrusted from among His people. Yet, they could not rule with justice, so God sent a just and righteous Ruler, Isaiah 9:7, to accomplish this task. They could not teach without corrupting God’s word, so God sent One with an instructed tongue, Isaiah 50:4, to sustain the weary of His people. There was no one who could protect and save His people, so He sent a Savior to them, Isaiah 59:15-16 and 63:5. They could not faithfully shepherd His people so God sent the true Shepherd to care for them, Ezekiel 34:23. They also broke His covenants, Jeremiah 11:10, so God made His Servant a covenant to the people, Isaiah 42:6; 49:8 to perfectly fulfill the relationship between God and His covenant people. Finally they failed to fulfill God’s mission of exalting Him to the nations, Isaiah 12:4-5, so He sent His Servant to be “a light to the nations, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6. Every role and every task assigned to His people could not be completed due to their wickedness and rebellious hearts, so God sent just one Servant to fulfill everything God intended. This Servant is the Messiah, Jesus Christ who is presently in heaven, advocating on behalf of the people for whom He died, 1 John 2:1, and will soon return to the earth to rule His people with justice and peace.
3:2 But you hate the good,
and love evil;
you who tear the skin off my people,
and their flesh from off their bones;
3:3 who also eat the flesh of my people,
flay their skin off of them,
break their bones
and chop them into pieces,
like flesh for the pot,
and meat for the kettle.
In Micah 3:2-3, the prophet describes in very graphic terms the injustice that was being brought upon the people of Judah by their corrupt leaders. Instead of loving good and hating evil, they did just the opposite. Isaiah declared, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who turn darkness to light, and light to darkness; who swap bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20. However, Amos spoke of the consequences of the righteous actions, “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the city gate. It may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Amos 5:15.
The corrupt leaders of Micah’s day are metaphorically described as those like butchers who tear, (Hebrew g̱âzal: flay, strip, rob, seize) the flesh off of God’s covenant people, (“my people” vs. 3) and eat it and chop their bones into pieces to be put into a pot for cooking. Similar expressions of this kind of evil are described in the O.T. “Do the evildoers really not know? They eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on the LORD.” Psalm 14:4; and “There are those whose teeth are swords, and their fangs are knives, devouring the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among humankind.” Proverbs 30:14.
Instead of being caring shepherds of God’s people, they devoured them. The prophet Ezekiel declared, “This is what the sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds; and will hold them responsible for what happened to my sheep under their care, for they stopped feeding the sheep. No longer will the shepherds feed themselves; but I will deliver my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” Ezekiel 34:10. Only one Shepherd could righteously care for God’s sheep, His covenant people. Ezekiel describes this Shepherd, “I will set up one shepherd over them, and he will feed them, even my servant David; he will feed them, and he will be their shepherd.” Ezekiel 34:23. This One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ is the loyal and caring shepherd is further described in the N.T. See Matthew 2:6; John 10: 14 and 16.
3:4 Then they will cry to the LORD,
but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time
because of the evil they have done.
Those who have brutalized their own people will find themselves in desperate need of the Lord’s help. The Lord will not respond to their cries for He will hide His face from them. King David, much earlier wrote, “They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried out to the LORD, but he did not answer them.” Psalm 18:41. Another prophet later would proclaim, “Therefore, this is what the LORD says, I will bring disaster on them, which they will not be able to escape. They will cry out to me, but I will not listen to them.” Jeremiah 11:11.
The words “at that time” could refer to the coming assault by the Assyrians or later by the Babylonians who will conquer them and take them into exile. This “time” could also refer to the days of the great Tribulation for the reality of God’s judgment upon them will be just as terrifying as in the days of the military campaigns of Assyria and Babylon. At a much earlier time, God told their leader Moses, “You are about to sleep with your forefathers; then this people will begin to prostitute themselves with foreign gods of the land where they are going. They will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be sparked against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. Many disasters and troubles will overcome them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Are not these troubles happening to us because our God is not among us? 18 I will surely hide my face in that day for all the wickedness they have done by turning to other gods.” Deuteronomy 31:16-18. Micah’s contemporary Isaiah also declared God’s judgment upon His people, “Look, the LORD’s hand is not too short, that it cannot save, nor is his ear so deaf, that it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. 4 No one cares about justice, or pleads their case with honesty. They trust in empty words, and speak lies; they conceive trouble, and give birth to sin.” Isaiah 59:1-4.
The words of Jesus to those who are not true followers of Him are chilling and are a reminder to all, that works done supposedly in Christ’s name will not be any guarantee of our acceptance into heaven, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and by your name cast out demons, and by your name do many mighty works?’ 23 Then I will profess to them, I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23.
b. 3:5-8 The Blindness of the Prophets
3:5 This is what the LORD says:
“The prophets who lead my people astray,
who cry ‘Peace’ whenever someone feeds their teeth,
if someone does not feed their mouths,
they declare war against him.
Micah next addresses the false prophets beginning with the divine authoritative, “This is what the LORD says.” As a prophet who pronounces God’s directives to other prophets whom themselves claim inspiration from God, it was imperative that Micah invoke the very words of Yahweh as his basis for declaration against them. Jeremiah used the same divine authoritative when chastising the false prophet Hananiah. Such chastisement resulted in the death of the false prophet, Jeremiah 28:12-17. Ezekiel declared, “This is what the sovereign LORD says” (Ezekiel 13:3), when rebuking the false prophets who spoke their own words rather than the words of God. See context in Ezekiel 13:1-23. These prophets “prophesied concerning Jerusalem, and who have envisioned peace for her, when there was no peace, says the sovereign LORD.” Ezekiel 13:16. The judgment of God was upon them, “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and speak lying divinations. They will not be in the council of my people, neither will they be written in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the sovereign LORD.” Ezekiel 13:9.
Prophets, Hebrew nâḇîy’, spoke for God. God gave the definition of a prophet to Moses and promised to raise up another prophet like him in the future, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst, from your brothers; you need to listen to him. 16 This is what you requested from the LORD your God at Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Do not make us hear the voice of the LORD our God again or have us see this great fire anymore, lest we die.’ 17 The LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their countrymen, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 Whoever refuses to listen to my words that he will speak in my name, I myself will hold him responsible. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name, that I have not commanded him to speak, or who will speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet must die.’ 21 If you wonder in your heart, ‘How can we tell when a word has not been spoken by the LORD?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, and the prophecy does not take place or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not fear him.” Deuteronomy 18:15-22. Micah had previously declared God’s indictment against the false prophets in 2:11. For other selected examples of God’s condemnation of false prophets in the O.T. see Jeremiah 5:30-31; 14:13-22; 23:9-40; 27:14-22; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 22:23-31; and Zechariah 13:2-6. False prophets continued to be a scourge on the followers of the Messiah during the days of His first advent and during the days of the Apostles, and this will continue to the end times, Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1.
The prophets whom were called out by Micah were false prophets who spoke pleasant words of peace to those who gave them money for food, feeds their teeth but declared a holy war on those who did not feed their mouths. The prophets were the same as the rulers and judges of Judah who brutalized the people and fed upon them, Micah 3:2-3; see also 3:11. Jeremiah also included them with other corrupt leaders, “As the thief is ashamed when he is caught, so the house of Israel will be shamed–they, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets.” Jeremiah 2:26. See also Ezekiel 22:23-28 and Zephaniah 3:1-4. Jeremiah, also decried the false message of “peace” from the false prophets “They have treated the wound of my people as if it were only superficial, saying, ‘Peace, peace;’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14. See also Jeremiah 14:13; and Ezekiel 13:16. The message of “peace” spoken by the false prophets who prophesized solely for profit, was meant to justify the unjust acts of the rulers and leaders of Judah. Thus the prophets and the leaders were all implicit in their ruthless cruelty to the less fortunate within the Judean society. The poor and oppressed who could not pay them were the objects of the prophet’s wrath. The last phrase of vs. 5 in the NASB is “they declare holy war,” is a literal rendering of the Hebrew.
It should be remembered that, although the poor and less fortunate were treated so brutally by their leaders, they were not pursing a righteous relationship with Yahweh. They would also be swept into exile along with their leaders for their rebellion against their sovereign LORD. Isaiah spoke of the complicity of the people in demanding that these prophets speak only what the evil ears and hearts of the people wanted to hear which in reality was a rejection of God’s words to them, “For they are a rebellious people, deceptive children, children that will not obey the law of the LORD. 10 They tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions,” and to the prophets, “Stop prophesying to us about what is right, tell us pleasantries, prophesy illusions.11 Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 30:9-11.
3:6 Therefore night will fall on you,
but you will have no vision;
it will be dark for you,
with no revelations;
the sun will go down on the prophets,
and the day will be black over them.
God’s judgment on the false prophets is proclaimed in terms of the removal of light as in not seeing any light of vision. Visions often came from God in the nighttime, Genesis 46:2; Daniel 2:19; 7:2, 7; 7:13; also in the N.T., Acts 16:9 and 18:9. God would be completely silent in not giving them any further enlightenment as in words to proclaim to the covenant people of God. The silence of God is described as the sun that will set upon them blackening out any revelations or visions. This implies that God once did give these prophets His words that they were to proclaim. They however turned from preaching for repentance of the people to preaching for reward from the people. The need for sanctification was replaced with the greed of self-gratification.
Other passages of Scripture also mention the judgment of God in terms of darkness and a failure of seeing a vision, Psalm 74:9; Isaiah 8:19-22; 29:10-12; Jeremiah 13:13-16; and in the end times, Zechariah 13:2-6. Isaiah spoke of a time of darkness, “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us. We look for light, but see only darkness, for brightness, but we walk in utter darkness. 10 We grope along the wall like the blind; we grope as those who have no eyes. We stumble at noonday just like it was twilight; among the living we are like dead men.” Isaiah 59:9-10. In the far future God’s judgment on “the day of the Lord” is described as days that are devoid of light, Amos 5:18-20; 8:9-10 and days when the word of the Lord will not be heard, Amos 8:11-12.
God’s terrifying judgment will come upon the false prophets, Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in my name. I did not send them, nor have I commanded them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a phony vision, worthless revelations, and the deceptions of their own hearts. 15 Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name, who I have not sent, yet they say, Sword and famine will not come on this land. Those prophets themselves will be consumed by sword and famine.” Jeremiah 14:14-15
3:7 The seers will be disgraced
and the diviners shamed;
they will all cover their lips
for there will be no answer from God.
Micah stated two other words to describe these false prophets, “seers” and “diviners.” The explanation of a “seer” is given in 1 Samuel 9:9, “Previously in Israel, when a person went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, and let us go to the seer,” for the one who is now called a prophet, used to be called a seer.” Before the ministry of those who were recognized as true prophets of God, such as Samuel and those who came after him, the people would consult “seers.” Micah declared the word “seers” as a synonym for prophets in a negative sense for they were without any word from God.
Micah also spoke of “diviners” who were those who considered omens and spells as a means to tell the future or discern the answer to some dilemma. God had forbidden His covenant people to consult with diviners, Deuteronomy 18:9-14. The rulers of Babylon consulted diviners who were in the same category as magicians, Daniel 2:27; 4:7; 5:7. However, it is likely that Micah simply spoke of “diviners” as another synonym for the false prophets as did Jeremiah in later years, “For this is what the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel says: “Let not your prophets and diviners that are in your midst, deceive you; do not listen to the dreams you are prompting them to dream. 9 They prophesy falsely to you in my name. I have not sent them,” says the LORD.” Jeremiah 29:8-9.
Those who prophesy falsely will receive no vision or response from God. They will all “cover their lips” signifying their disgrace. This phrase speaks of “covering the mustache” in shame because of their uncleanness and as did the lepers, Leviticus 13:45; and also as a sign for those in mourning, Ezekiel 24:17 and 22.3 The shame of the covenant people of God that brought God’s judgment upon them was that they refused to listen to His true prophets and instead bent their ears to those they paid to speak peace, when there was no peace. The true prophets had no need to cover their upper lips in disgrace for they spoke the very words their sovereign LORD had told them. The Lord referred to them as His servants, 2 Kings 9:7; 17:13; Jeremiah 7:25; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15; 44:4; Ezekiel 38:17; Zechariah 1:6 and in the N.T. see Hebrews 1:1 and Revelation 10:7. Micah was a true prophet, a servant of God, who revealed the foundation of his prophetic ministry in the next verse.
3:8 But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
with justice and strength,
to declare to Jacob his rebellion,
and to Israel his sin.
Not only did Micah declare the authoritative, “This is what the LORD says,” 3:5, when addressing the false prophets but he also made the claim that he can rebuke these prophets because of three (or four) distinct aspects of his prophetical ministry. The DASV, NASB, NIV, ESV have similar translations. The KJV and NKJV have for the first section of 3:8, “But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD.” The KJV and NKJV emphasize first, the foundation of the prophet’s bold ministry. The translation of the other versions emphasize this foundation in the second phrase. Thus, the statement of Micah could have three or four elements, three if the Spirit of the LORD only acts as an external source of his ministry, and four if it is understood as a separate but foundational and causative element. The comments below indicating four elements stem from the separate clauses in the DASV version.
First, Micah declares that he is filled with “power,” Hebrew ḵôaḥ, indicating in the context of Micah chapter 3, ability, boldness and forcefulness. The word ḵôaḥ, is often translated as the power and strength of God, as King David proclaimed, “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might. It is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all.” 1 Chronicles 29:12. God also gives strength, ḵôaḥ, to those who wait for Him, as Isaiah stated “He gives strength to the weary; to the weak he increases strength. 30 Even youths will faint and grow weary, and vigorous young men fall exhausted, 31 but those who wait for the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run, and not grow weary; they will walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31. See also Isaiah 41:1.
Second, Micah stated that he was filled with “the power of the Spirit of the LORD.” This was the source and cause of the prophet’s power, justice and strength. Micah, like all prophets of God, had no power within him to bring the rebellious people of God to repentance. He was God’s spokesman, proclaiming God’s words to God’s people and left the results of his preaching to God alone. It was God’s Spirit who empowered Micah to speak in boldness and confront social injustice within the Judean society and bluntly declare the judgment of God on all who acted wickedly even the prophets of God who had previously received visions from God. Ezekiel also declared that the Spirit of the LORD was upon him, Ezekiel 11:5 and 37:1.
In the O.T. the Spirit of God came upon certain individuals for a specific task. For example on Gideon, Judges 6:34; on Jephthah, Judges 11:29; on Samson, Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; on King Saul, 1 Samuel 10:6; on Jahaziel, 2 Chronicles 20:14; but it was on David that God’s Spirit seemed to be prominent and lasting, 1 Samuel 16:13. David prayed for forgiveness due to his sin with Bathsheba and her husband and pleaded with God, “Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11. But even as great as was God’s hand on David, a greater Son of David was to come, a Servant who would take upon Him the iniquities of all peoples. To this Servant, the Spirit of the LORD would rest, Isaiah 11:2 and come upon Him, Isaiah 61:1. (cf. Luke 4:18). In the N.T. it is revealed that the Spirit empowered Servant, the Messiah, Jesus Christ would establish His Church and a mystery would be unveiled. That mystery was that believers would be indwelt by the Spirit of God, Colossians 1:27 and they would be the temple of God in whom the Spirit of God lives, 1 Corinthians 3:16. Paul stated “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power and love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7, LEB.
Third, Micah declared that he was filled with “justice,” Hebrew mišp̱âṭ. Micah thus declared that he stood in opposition to the political, financial, judicial and religious leaders of his day who had perverted justice for their own gain by oppressing and preying upon the poor and less fortunate. Another way of understanding
Micah’s statement is that he is declaring the judgment of God upon the corrupt leadership of Judah. A third way of understanding this statement is that he is “right-sided” in his attitude and actions versus the wrong-sidedness of these leaders.
Fourth, Micah avowed that he was filled with “strength,” Hebrew g̱eḇûrâ which in the context of Micah chapter 3, indicates “valiant might”4 that comes only from God. It is not self-generated. The KJV, NKJV, ESV and NIV, translate g̱eḇûrâ as “might” while the NASB has “courage.” This gift from God includes both physical and spiritual strength.5 Micah’s godly “might” was the key to his steadfastness, loyalty and faithfulness to his prophetic task. He would not shrink from his responsibility to proclaim the words of God regardless of the rebelliousness and hostility of his audience. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the “strength” of the Servant, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2. NASB). Isaiah also spoke of the potential for His covenant people to have “strength” but they rejected it, “For this is what the sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel says, In returning and rest you will be delivered; quietness and trust will be your strength, but you rejected it.” Isaiah 30:15.
King David praised God speaking of His might and power and other words that resound in heaven, (Revelation 4:11; 5:12-13), “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might. It is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. The bolded words in the above verses translate g̱eḇûrâ.
In 3:8, the purpose of these aspects is revealed. Micah declared that he was “filled” with these things “to declare to Jacob his rebellion, and to Israel his sin.” Micah’s filling with the Spirit of the LORD, enabled him to have power, justice and strength, to confront with boldness and resolve the rebellion, Hebrew p̱eša‘, and sin, Hebrew ḥaṭâ’â, of God’s covenant people.
God conveyed His indictment and charge of rebelliousness and sinfulness of His people through the prophets. The prophets proclaimed the terrifying message that because of their wickedness, God would remove His people from the land of promise. For the northern kingdom of Israel see 2 Kings 17:22-23. For the southern kingdom of Judah see Isaiah 39:5-7; Jeremiah 25:1-11 and Micah 3:12. But they will not be driven out forever as Jeremiah prophesized, “Look, I will gather them out of all the countries where I have driven them in my anger, fury and great wrath. I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to live in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Jeremiah 32:37-28.
c. 3:9-11 The Bribery of the People
In the third of four sections in Micah 3:1-12, the prophet summarizes the root cause of the social injustice brought upon the people of Judah by the heads of society, including its rulers, (judicial and civc) and its leaders (priests and prophets). The root of this social injustice is the same in ancient society as in today’s modern society, which was also a pervasive evil in the days of the apostles, as Paul instructed his disciple Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 NKJV).
3:9 Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob,
and rulers of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice,
and pervert everything that is straight.
The word “hear,” Hebrew šâma‘ introduces a smaller literary section, 3:9-12 within the larger major section of chapters 3:1-5:15 which also begins with the same word. Micah in 3:9 mentions “heads” and “rulers” as the leadership of the judicial/civic and religious segments of his country. “Jacob” and “Israel” are synonymous terms for Judah. See comments for “Jacob and Israel” in notes for Micah 1:5.
The message of 3:9 is that all the leaders of Judean society are corrupt, hating justice and perverting what is right and straight. These leaders are so wicked that they detest any concept of justice. The word abhor is the Hebrew ṯâ‘aḇ, indicating a loathing or abhorrence for covenant justice. Leaders were required to righteously apply justice to the people, Deuteronomy 16:18-20. Also, see comments for Micah 3:1. King David wrote about God, “You will destroy those who speak lies; the LORD detests (abhor) those who are violent and deceitful.” Psalm 5:6. (“detests” in Psalm 5:6, is the Hebrew word ṯâ‘aḇ). God not only abhors injustice but He also abhors those who abhor justice. A righteous member of society, should proclaim as the Psalmist, “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.” Psalm 119:163 (“abhor” in Psalm 119:163, is the Hebrew word ṯâ‘aḇ).
These leaders turned their loathing for covenant justice into twisting what is equitable, right and straight into that which was corrupt, wicked and false. The objects of their perverse justice were the poor and less fortunate who could not defend themselves for the judiciary were in an evil alliance with the rich landholders. Judges rendered unrighteous decisions which profited the rich and stripped the poor of all their possessions. The phrase “pervert everything that is straight” can also be likened to taking something that is level and good, like a road and making it rough and jolting.6
3:10 They build up Zion with blood,
and Jerusalem with injustice.
Micah refers to Zion and Jerusalem together in 3:10 and in 3:12, 4:2 and 8. The pairing of the two names signifies God’s presence among them and the physical representation of that presence in the temple and the contents of the holy place. The inhabitants of the city, however, took this presence for granted as a safeguard for any harm no matter how many sins they committed. See comments for 3:11.
The leaders of Jerusalem were constructing large works in an attempt to protect the city against the impending siege by the Assyrians. Walls and storage areas were erected6 along with other works but the greatest and most remembered was the water tunnel commissioned by king Hezekiah, 2 Kings 20:20. All of these construction works required a massive amount of labor and finances. The money obtained from seizing lands and houses, Micah 2:1-2, outright theft, 2:8, and unjust judgments, 3:11 was likely used to fund these projects.7
Workers were also exploited and many died in the inhumane working conditions. A century later, another prophet warned, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who uses forced labor, and gives his workers no wages for their labor.” Jeremiah 22:13. This prophet continued his indictment, “But your eyes and your heart only think about dishonest gain, shedding innocent blood, imposing oppression and committing violence.” Jeremiah 22:17. Although Jerusalem’s builders had been devastated by defeat and exile in Jeremiah’s day, they had not learned justice much like those of Micah’s day. The word “injustice,” (“violent injustice” in the NASB), is the Hebrew ‘awlâ, which has the meaning of iniquity and wickedness. Another prophet warned, “Woe to the one who builds a town by bloodshed and establishes a city by injustice!” Habakkuk 2:12.
3:11 Her leaders judge for a bribe;
her priests teach for hire,
and her prophets divine for money.
Yet they lean on the LORD, and say,
“Is not the LORD among us?
No disaster will come on us.”
Micah pinpoints the guilt of three classes of rulers in Judean society. The leaders, magistrates/judges render judgments not based on righteousness and justice but upon a bribe. The law prohibited the taking of a bribe because it perverted and undermined justice, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” Exodus 23:7-8, ESV. Another text states, “You must not pervert justice. You must not show favoritism or take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and corrupts the words of the righteous.” Deuteronomy 16:19. The law also declared a curse on those who accepted a bribe to kill an innocent person, Deuteronomy 27:25. This would have applied to judges who accepted a bribe to give a verdict of guilty to an innocent person which resulted in the death of the innocent one.
Micah next declared the guilt of the priests who taught the people for payment. Aaron and all those who followed him were guided by God’s instruction, “you must teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.” Leviticus 10:11. The Levitical priests were also to render decisions on difficult cases Deuteronomy 17:8-13. The priests were to be supported by the tithe paid by the Israelites, Numbers 18:21-32. They did not receive any instruction from the LORD to accept additional payments for their ministries including teaching the statutes of the law. The implication by Micah is that the priests taught only what the people who paid them wanted to hear and not the words of God. This problem of teaching only what people wanted to hear was an issue hundreds of years later as it still is today. The Apostle Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy, “For there will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. But, they will heap up for themselves teachers compatible with their own lusts, having itching ears.” 2 Timothy 4:3.
Also Micah added to his words spoken in 3:5-7,against the false prophets. These false prophets “divine for money” speaking not what God would have given to them, for God had stopped speaking to them, but they declared false visions for money. They spoke of peace where then was no peace. See comments on Micah 3:5. They deceived the people who paid them into a false sense of security while fleecing them of their money. The result of the hypocrisy of the prophets, the false teaching of the priests and the bribe-tainted justice of the magistrates was God’s judgment upon their beloved city, 3:12.
The wicked rulers of Judah thought they could continue in their corrupt actions without impunity. They falsely assumed that because Jerusalem had the temple where the presence of God dwelt and also because they piously publicly leaned on the Lord in an façade of trusting in Him, they could carry on with their iniquitous acts without any concern for their own safety. They arrogantly assumed no “disaster” would happen to them. The word “disaster” in the Hebrew ra‘ which is often translated as “evil,” “wickedness,” and sometimes as “affliction.” This word occurs in Micah 2:1 translated as “evil;” in 2:3 (twice), translated as “disaster” and “trouble;” and in 7:3 translated as “evil.”
A century later, another prophet would warn against this false assurance, Jeremiah chapter 7:1-15. They may have also based their false hopes on the praise of the psalmist who wrote the words of Psalms 46, 48, 84 and 87.8 The LORD abhorred their wickedness and cast aside their false hopes of trusting in the temple even if it was dedicated to Him, 1 Kings chapter 8. They were to hear from Micah, recorded in 3:12, of the folly of these false fancies.
d. 3:12 Result: The Bareness of Zion
3:12 Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field;
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
and the Temple Mount like a hill overgrown with brush.
As with the two other four verse messages in Micah chapter 3, this message also ends in vs. 12 with a declaration of God’s judgment. Micah is very blunt in giving this pronouncement of doom. It comes upon them because of their own evil actions. Although it is addressed to the “heads” and “rulers” of Judah, 3:9, it will affect the entire populace. It is not as if the general population were righteous and immune to God’s indictment. Isaiah declared God’s indictment of the “daughters of Zion” in 3:16-17 for their wickedness and promised to wash away their filth in a later day, 4:4. Centuries later, Jesus also admonished the “daughters of Jerusalem” to weep for themselves and their children for the destruction that was to come upon them, Luke 23:28-31. The people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day were also indicted for their wickedness, Jeremiah 13:10, 14:16. Ezekiel proclaimed the message of God upon the wicked people of the land, Ezekiel 6:9; 7:1-19 and 20:27-32. Daniel also prayed for forgiveness for the wickedness of his people, Daniel 9:15. The message of Hosea also rings with the resounding notes of God’s judgment upon His people because they had broken the covenant. See Hosea 6:7 and 8:1.
It should not be thought that the judgment of God upon His covenant people came as a surprise. God had told Moses that His people would rebel against Him once they occupied the land and became prosperous, Deuteronomy 31:16-21. God had previously warned them of this as recorded in Exodus 34:15-16; Leviticus 20:1-5 and 26:14-39. Micah’s contemporary Isaiah also warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem of God’s judgment upon them. See for example, Isaiah chapters 3 and 29. God’s judgment was directed to Jerusalem because the other cities of Judah would be conquered by the Assyrians in 701 B.C. Jerusalem would be surrounded by the Assyrian forces, but they would not enter the city because of the repentance of King Hezekiah. Jeremiah wrote, “Micah the Morashtite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, ‘This is what the LORD of hosts says: Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, and the Temple Mount like a hill overgrown with brush.’19 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 the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he had announced against them?” Jeremiah 26:18-19.
From this account in the writings of Jeremiah, it is evident that king Hezekiah repented and prayed for God’s mercy to spare Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Micah’s message was heeded by Hezekiah as was the message and personal contact with Isaiah. See Isaiah chapter 37. Thus the prophecy of doom upon Jerusalem in Micah 3:12 was not cancelled but delayed. The LORD was merciful to faithful king Hezekiah, but His mercy would not be extended to all kings who followed sitting on David’s throne. From 605 to 586 B.C. another conquering army would be allowed to lay seize to Jerusalem and then destroy the city. The Babylonians, as prophesized by Isaiah, 39:5-7, would be God’s instruments of judgment upon the wickedness of the people of Jerusalem, who would not listen to God’s servants, the prophets.
The judgment of God upon His unfaithful covenant people would result in what Micah revealed as the beloved city of Zion/Jerusalem would be “plowed like a field,” and become “a heap of ruins,” and the temple mount would be “left like a hill overgrown with bush.” This prophecy of doom would have been depressing to the people of God had Micah ended his words at the conclusion of chapter 3. Had God’s plans and promises ended in defeat? Would there be no continuation of the covenants He made with Noah, Abraham, the priests and with David? Would Jerusalem be left a distant memory without any future? For the people who lived in the days of the Babylonian conquest, it certainly seemed as if their Creator, the Holy One of Israel had abandoned them. But God was not going to let His everlasting promises fail.
In the second major portion (4:1-5:15) of Micah’s second message, (3:1-5:15), there is an amazing prophecy of God’s intentions to restore Jerusalem and Mount Zion. It should be remembered that there is no chapter breaks in the earliest scrolls containing the prophecy of Micah. So what is now known as 4:1 and following came without a break after 3:12. The doom and gloom of 3:12 will turn to peace and security for God’s covenant people whom He has not abandoned. God has and will remain faithful to His covenants with His people. He will be their God and they will be His people, a truth that is announced from the Pentateuch to the Book of Revelation. Leviticus 26:12 and Revelation 21:3. See also comments for Micah 6:3.
Notes for Micah Chapter 3.
- “Metonymy” is a figure of speech that uses a part or attribute of something to describe the thing itself.
- For a discussion on “justice” see Bruce K. Waltke, A Commentary on Micah, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007, Exposition for Micah 3:1-4.
- Thomas Constable, Notes on Micah, 2019 Edition, page 33.
- Bruce K. Waltke, Micah, Exposition for Micah 5-8.
- For a discussion on g̱eḇûrâ see Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, page 79, footnote #27.
- Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Interpreting the Minor Prophets, Pg. 143.
- Gary V. Smith, Micah, comments for Micah 3:10. Kindle Edition.
- Gary V. Smith, Micah, comments for Micah 3:11, Kindle Edition.