Man’s plans and God’s, 1-5

In ch 1 Micah had complained in general terms about the sins of Samaria and Jerusalem.  But it is relatively easy for people to acknowledge that they are sinners in general terms, or to suppose that the accusation refers to others.  So, Micah now specifies what those sins were.  The outcome will be that those who have achieved worldly success will forfeit heavenly favour.

‘In Micah 1 men distort worship (Mic 1:5,7,9); here in chapter 2 they despise people.  One suspects a connection.’ (Davis)

Christopher Wright expands on the connection: ‘The prophetic message [about economic justice and injustice] did not stem from a general concern for human rights, nor from an advancing ethical sensitivity.  It was not even a merely economic issue.  It was deeply spiritual.  Anything which threatened a household’s economic viability or drove them out of secure tenure of their portion of land was a threat to its secure membership of the covenant people.  To lose one’s land was more than economic disaster: it struck at one’s very relationship with God.’ (Living as the People of God, p56).

Micah 2:1 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.

Allen comments on the structure of a typical prophetic oracle: first there is a statement of the crimes committed (‘like a police “wanted” notice’), and then follows a prediction of the retribution that the Lord will visit on the offender (signalled here by ‘therefore…’, v3).

Woe! – According to Allen, this is slightly misleading, because it suggests the utterance of a curse (‘woe betide’), whereas it is more an exclamation of shocked sorrow (‘alas!’).

‘Everywhere you look in the prophets, this vehement indignation at economic injustice is either evident or not far from the surface.’ (Wright, Living as the People of God, v56)

Those who plot evil on their beds – They lie awake at night, plotting evil deeds.  Their crime is not impulsive, but premeditated.  Then, as soon as it is morning they are ready to carry them out.  ‘There is not a little prophetic awesomeness in Micah’s implication that he – and the Lord God – are fully aware of what is going on in the privacy of their homes, in the darkness of the night, in the secrecy of their hearts and in the daily business of their offices’ (Prior).  Cf. Heb 4:13.

Five steps in this sin of oppression: (a) they eagerly desire what is not their own – ‘they covet fields and houses’; (b) they devise plans and strategies to accomplish their desires – they ‘plot evil on their beds’; (c) they use their power to get what they want – ‘it is in their power to do it’; (d) the do all this with the greatest expediency – ‘at morning’s light’; (e) they empoverish others in the process – ‘they defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance’.

‘These are not sinners who fell under sudden temptation and gave into weakness, but determined oppressors.’ (Phillips)

At morning’s light indicates lack of fear and shame, for thieves often operate under cover of darkness.  They have ‘a diligence that would be commendable were it not misapplied…[they are] dedicated and unscrupulous villains.’ (Allen)

Because it is in their power to do it is a telling phrase.  ‘Wealthy and successful people usually reach a point in their lives when there is nothing they reckon they cannot achieve or acquire.  They have the resources; all they need is the opportunity…The bottom line is, “I want it and I’m going to get it”.’ (Prior)

We are reminded that many wealthy people are not satisfied with the money and possessions they have accumulated.  They crave more and more.  As Phillips reminds us, this attitude continues to be prevalent today.  People who are already rich beyond measure continue to exploit and deny the poor.

Micah 2:2 They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.

They covet – In defiance of the tenth commandment, Ex 20:17; cf. Rom 7:7f.  Paul calls covetousness ‘idolatry’ (Col 3:6).  And shall any of us deny that we ourselves have a tendency to do the same?

‘The acquisition of property by oppressing the poor and weak violates both the law against coveting as well as the injunction not to violate the covenantal division of the land to each Israelite household after the conquest.’ (OT Background Commentary)  The story of Naboth and Ahab (1 Kings 21) illustrates this type of sin.

Craigie: ‘The small landowner, who could provide for himself and his family was suddenly destitute. Where once he was self-sufficient, he now became dependent on others, his livelihood lost to the unscrupulous dealers in real estate. And the small landowner lost not only his own livelihood, but also his “inheritance” (verse 2), that which he might have bequeathed to his children for their future support and survival.… The greed of the wealthy created a category of “new poor.” A section of society that once fended for itself now could no longer do so; the nation’s socio-economic foundation was crumbling..

This is the sinful attitude underlying all of this white-collar crime.  So, lest we imagine that we are not prone to such outrageous exploitation, let us reflect on our our acquisitive habits of mind and behaviour, and who is hurt, not least in the sweat-shops that produce our cheap clothing and food.

Their wickedness consisted in stealing land and property.  A man might typically own one field and a single dwelling.  This was all he had to pass on to his children.  And these were being stolen from him.  ‘One can imagine these people turning up with eviction papers that had the stamp of the local governing authority on them.’ (Davis)

The Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries would represent a further instance of this attitude at work.  In our own day, small businesses and farmers are often similarly treated by large corporations.

‘Greed is the central diving force of such people’s lifestyles, the kind of greed that is never satisfied, scarcely recognised, rarely admitted and often rationalised.  Most people involved in business would be horrified to be told, especially by preachers like Micah, that their transactions amounted to fraud and plundering the poor.’ (Prior)

Fields ‘were a sacred trust.  In that agrarian economy a man’s life and freedom depended on owning them.  Deprived of them, he might at best become a day-labourer; at worst, a slave.  In either case he lost his independence, his freedom before God, and became a dependent of the land barons.’ (Waltke)

Defraud ‘represents a situation where the stronger takes away, either directly or indirectly, the produce and labour of the weaker, giving nothing in exchange.’ (Waltke)  This may be done by the use of dishonest, scales, Hos 12:7; extortion, Isa 52:4; Jer 50:33; or corruption of the legal system, Amos 5:7,10-17.  (Waltke)

‘Covet…seize…take…defraud’ all indicate that ‘the land barons were not achieving their fortunes through fair enterprise but through deceit, guile, and manipulation’ (Phillips).  One tactic (according to Phillips) was to make ill-advised loans, and then foreclose for the slightest of reasons.

A fellowman of his inheritance – ‘In essence, says the preacher, wealthy city slickers are fleecing ordinary people under the guise of doing business efficiently and profitably.  Land and property were being concentrated in the hands of a tiny, wealthy, arrogant minority.  Such monopolies in ownership of farming lands are sill with us, with similar dangers for our society.  But today’s “instruments of production are not just land but factories, raw materials and capital.  The concentration of these instruments of production, distribution and communication in the hands of a few may threaten our society.”‘ (Prior, quoting R.L. Smith)

Isaiah, too, railed against such land barons, ‘who buy up farm after farm until vast tracts of country are theirs and they are monarchs of all they survey from horizon to horizon’ (Allen, referring to Isa 5:8).  The same commentator adds: ‘Micah, country cousin to the urban Isaiah, must have known at close hand the tragedy and heartbreak that the landgrabbers caused.  He protests more ardently than Isaiah at their cruel selfishness and callous greed.  They are heedless of the suffering they cause, unbothered by scruples about the shady tricks they play to get more and more land.’

Allen notes ‘the peculiar importance attached to the occupation of land in Israel.  At the forefront of Israelite economic theory stood the principle that the land was Yahweh’s (Lev 25:23) and that the people received it from him as a sacred trust which was handed down from generation to generation, from heir to heir.’  This principle underlies Elijah’s outrage (over a century before, in the Northern Kingdom) at King Ahab’s treatment of Naboth (see esp. 1 King 21:3).

Allen: ‘It was Yahweh who protected the rights of his tenants to their holdings, and ideally it was the duty of those in authority in theocratic Israel to keep vigil on his behalf.  But in permissive days it fell to the prophets to raise lonely voices on behalf of the victims of loss of land.’

Indeed, we may suppose that the same sins are committed in our own day, but only on a vastly greater scale.  ‘In today’s marketplace, with its “urge to merge” and apparently endless moves towards conglomeration, ruthlessness seems to have settled in.  Banks are needlessly foreclosing, building societies are unfeelingly repossessing, employers are radically downsizing in order to maximise profits, manipulators of the markets and of its technology virtually “create” money by playing on the inefficiency of internal banking systems.  On the global scale, richer nations hold poor countries to ransom for money which they should never have loaned out in the first place.’ (Prior)

Much depends on your perspective: what seems like good business to the wealthy man in Jerusalem may feel more like oppression and exploitation to the small landowner in the provinces.  Micah was raised in the country but lived in Jerusalem, and so had seen both sides.  ‘He knew people back in Moresheth whose lives had been wrecked by property sharks, who probably had never met the individuals, let alone the families, whom they had fleeced in doing a good deal; they were just names on a contract or a bill of sale, clients or customers but certainly not fellow human beings.’

In our own society, the effects on the poor are mitigated by the welfare state.  But in Micah’s day there was no such safety net.

Phillips notes that not all means of wealth production are wicked.  But ‘many people gain gross wealth today by means that the Bible labels as wicked and evil. Consider some insurance companies who gain customers by making lavish promises of care in need, but who then make every effort to pay out as little as possible when need arrives, often by means of legal technicalities written in fine print. Such actions are simply wicked. Or consider the Enron scandal of 2000, in which fabulously wealthy executives falsified the books to disguise losses. When their financial house of cards collapsed, they had arranged vast payoffs for themselves while thousands of their employees lost almost everything they had saved for retirement.’

Adding to the above the examples of manipulation of stock markets, and exploiting market inefficiencies, Phillips remakrs: ‘The sins of Jerusalem’s land barons expose the dark side of Western capitalism today and warn many against God’s vengeful judgment.’

Micah 2:3 Therefore, the LORD says: “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity.

Therefore the Lord says introduces the divine sentence.

‘The authority for his words lies not just in his own conscience by in the divine will.’ (Allen)

“I am planning disaster” – The word is the same as that translated ‘iniquity’ in v1.  ‘God is never evil, of course. But just as God thought that what the greedy rich were doing was evil, they would look upon his judgment as a great evil upon themselves.’ (Phillips)

The deeds of the wicked rich have not only affected those they have bullied and exploited: the Lord himself if personally affronted.  Their punishment, then, will not merely be the impersonal outworking of their deeds, but the righteous retribution of Almighty God.  And God’s personal indignance is especially provoked by sins against his own precious people.  These latter may be reassured that their God will intervene on their behalf. (Phillips)

As Phillips notes, the big mistake of these land barons was that while they did their night-time scheming, they thought everyone else was asleep.  The Lord is doing some scheming of his own.  He will repay them in kind.  The punishment will fit the crime.  They will reap what they have sown.  However, although God will repay evil for evil, ‘rebellious humanity and God have entirely different definitions of what is evil and offensive.  We deem evil anything which impairs our convenience and comforts; God deems evil anything which ignores his commandments and character.’ (Prior)

Disaster will come, as we have seen, in the form of the Assyrian invasion.

This people – lit, ‘this family’, or even, ‘this crowd’ (Allen).  ‘God is well able to draw distinctions in his dispensation of justice.  Not least, he holds individuals ultimately accountable for their own sins, not for anybody else’s.  He also knows how to rescue the godly from all kinds of trouble and to lift up the downtrodden.  Nevertheless, when a family (a nation or a city) persistently tramples over his laws, his judgment is apparently and traumatically indiscriminate: the innocent suffer along with the guilty – a fact which has created angst in sensitive souls from time immemorial.’ (Prior)

From which you cannot save yourselves – lit, ‘from which [yoke] you cannot remove your necks.’  The picture is of an animal struggling to free itself from its yoke, but is unable to do so.

You will no longer walk proudly – you will be utterly humiliated.  ‘Those who once walked so proudly among men will be vilified as the source of calamity for the nation.’ (Phillips)

Micah 2:4 In that day men will ridicule you; they will taunt you with this mournful song: ‘We are utterly ruined; my people’s possession is divided up. He takes it from me! He assigns our fields to traitors.'”

Men will ridicule you; they will taunt you – The evil-doers will suffer public humiliation.

My people’s possession – The land had been divided into portions and allocated to the different tribes, Josh 12-22.  It was given by the Lord on trust, on pain of being taken away and given to Israel’s enemies should God’s people become faithless and disobedient.

He – is the Lord, but the prophet will not put his name into the mouths of these faithless people.

‘The same Lord still divides up the nations according to his own good pleasure and justice, Acts 17:26, and directs the building of his church by taking away spiritual advantage from those who apostatise it, giving it to others (in this case to the faithful, cf. Rom 11:17-21; Rev 2:16; 3:16, and by giving spiritual gifts to his people, Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4:7-13. (Waltke)

Our fields – not theirs by right at all, but those that they seized from others.

Note how the punishment fits the crime: they had taken land and property from others, and now the same would happen to them.

‘The situation envisaged seems to be the forced evacuation of the landed elite, who are marched away by the foreign invader while their estates are left to their erstwhile serfs.’ (Allen)

This prediction seems to have been fulfilled during Micah’s lifetime, when Sennacherib’s army besieged Jerusalem.  They will find that the land they had obtained by such ill-gotten means is given by the Lord to ‘traitors’ (lit. ‘those who have turned away [from the covenant]) – probably meaning the Assyrians, although possibly referring to the common people, to whom the Assyrians turned over the land, having carried off the upper classes into exile (cf. Jer 39:10, dating from a century later).

According to Phillips, this reminds us that God’s gifts in this life are provisional.  There is no unalienable right to the land for those who have rejected God’s covenant.  Christian churches are warned that Jesus will remove their lampstands, unless they repent (Rev 2:5).  Turkey is littered with the ruins of once-thriving Christian churches, and today in the West many church buildings, whose occupants gave up on gospel ministry, have been turned into dwellings, shops, restaurants, museums, and even mosques.  ‘Nations, churches, and families that squander their spiritual inheritance through worldliness and sin should expect to have their gracious allotment taken away.’ (Phillips).

Micah 2:5 Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the LORD to divide the land by lot.

The assembly of the Lord refers to the group of men authorised to make decisions on behalf of the community.

This verse looks obliquely to the time when God’s scattered people will return from exile.  There is an implicit hope hear for those who had been robbed and cheated by the land barons.  But those under God’s judgement will have no place in that great re-gathering and reallocation of land.  They are far away, in exile.  As Allen remarks, it is the ceremony of land allocation that underlies the metaphor in Psa 16:6.

As Davis remarks, we ourselves may think that we have neither the opportunity not the power to engage in the sort of white-collar crime described here.  But again: the root of these crimes is covetousness (Mic 2:2), and we may not suppose that we are any freer of a covetous attitude than we these crooks.  Underneath our respectable exterior, what might be found?  ‘The fact that you have done nothing like the thugs in the text does not mean you are virtuous, but only that you may lack opportunity to sin in this way.’

Micah ‘confidently looks ahead to a great reversal of circumstances to be set in motion by God himself…Christianity with its centre of gravity pushed forward into a posthistorical day of reckoning has tended to pay less attention to this belief.  But common to the faith of both Micah and the Christian is the confidence that justice will eventually be seen to be done’ (Allen).  See Gal 6:7.

Allen adds that Micah’s sense of sacred privilege in land ownership is somwhat paralleled in the NT doctrine of stewardship.  ‘As a family was entrusted with God’s property to cultivate and cherish and to pass on to the next generation, so the local church and the individual Christian have the task of guarding what has been entrusted to their faithful care.’

False prophets, 6-11

There is a conflict between two groups of prophets: between the true and the false; between genuine prophetic faith and the vested interests of established religion (Allen).  It may well be that the latter represent the vested interests of the landgrabbers of vv1-5.  As Allen put it: the prophets and the profiteers were hand in glove.

Micah 2:6 “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us.”

“Do not prophesy” is plural, associating Micah with his contemporaries such as Isaiah and Hosea.  This is not the usual word for prophesying; there is, according to Phillips, a pejorative slant in the expression: “Don’t preach at me.”

“Do not prophesy about these things” should, possibly, be, “They (the false teachers) will not prophesy about these things’ (so Davis).  Either way, it is plain that they would not be seen dead preaching such a negative message.

These things are the disasters threatened in vv3-5.

During much of Israel’s history, there were true prophets and there were false prophets.  The former often bore difficult, unpopular messages.  The latter frequently pandered to their hearers’ desires by preaching optimistic, ‘uplifting’ messages.  Things are not necessarily different today.

‘They reckoned that preaching should not tackle issues of daily behaviour and business ethics.  Preachers should concentrate on spiritual matters and not interfere in marketplace issues.  They should talk about worship, prayer and a personal relationship with God, not fraud and corruption.’ (Prior)

‘True prophets continue to preach against the lies by which men seek to justify their life-styles.’ (Waltke)

“Disgrace will not overtake us” – ‘The way they chose to operate in the marketplace was their own affair, not the prophet’s.  What did he know, let alone understand, about property and finance?’ (Prior)

Jer 6:14; 28:8f warns against prophets who prophesy peace.

Phillips comments: ‘False prophets today loathe above all else the Bible’s teaching on sin and judgment, and therefore its teaching on the atoning blood of Christ. Increasing numbers of   p 179  supposedly evangelical scholars now scorn the teaching that Jesus died in the place of sinners, receiving the wrath of God their sins deserved. In place of the Bible’s teaching on sin and the cross, false preaching today emphasizes human goodness, moralistic works, health, wealth, and prosperity, and lifestyle training that mimics self-help psychology.’

Micah 2:7 Should it be said, O house of Jacob: “Is the Spirit of the LORD angry? Does he do such things?” “Do not my words do good to him whose ways are upright?

The false prophets are first quoted, and then answered.

“Is the Spirit of the Lord angry?” – Or, ‘losing patience?’  The false prophets want to focus on God’s love and patience.  They want Ex 34:6,7a, but not Ex 34:7b.  ‘We thought that the Lord was long-suffering and slow to anger, Micah.’  It is the way of such false teachers to quote half-truths, to take truth out of context, and to misapply it.  ‘The problem is not with the truth the false prophets taught, but with the other truths they so carefully left out.’ (Phillips)

Phillips quotes Bonhoeffer: ‘Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.’

‘False teachers today apply the doctrine of the believer’s security to those who disown their Lord and do not bring forth the fruit of repentance from sin (cf. Mt 7:24-27; 12:50; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:21; 2 Tim 2:12).’ (Waltke)

“Do not my words do good to him whose ways are upright?” – ‘In other words, enjoyment of covenant benefits only comes to those who are faithful in keeping covenant stipulations, cf Deut 11:26-28.’ (Davis)

‘His commands are not burdensome’ (1 Jn 5:3).  The false prophets had a ‘cheap’ theology of grace, and so receive no good from it.  Micah’s more robust theology, harsh as it may seemed, actually delivers blessing.  If disobedience to God’s word brings disaster, then obedience to it brings untold happiness.

It would be easy to protest, now as then, that Micah’s God is too severe, too judgmental.  Is there not ‘a wideness in God’s mercy’?  Will not people be alienated by a message of fear?  Should we not leave behind the law, and focus on the good news?  ‘In short, there is no market for Micah’s message.  And yet when there is such insistence of always proclaiming the love of God, the blessing of God, the comfort of God, one has the odd feeling that something is being manipulated.’ (Davis)

Allen remarks that with their optimistic message the false prophets uttered seductive half-truths.  The message was not so much wrong as restricted and misapplied.  ‘Theirs was a word for the wrong people at the wrong time…Subconsciously picking and choosing among God’s revealed truths, they glossed over aspects of his character that were more relevant to the present state of his people.’ (Allen).

Micah 2:8 Lately my people have risen up like an enemy. You strip off the rich robe from those who pass by without a care, like men returning from battle.

Micah turns his attention back to the land barons, in whose pay the false prophets were.  Israel’s leaders have turned themselves into enemies of God and of his people.  They assault people’s dignity by tearing their best clothes from their backs, possibly by way of calling in a debt.  Instead of protecting ordinary people, they attack them and steal from them.

My people have risen up like an enemy – One reason why Micah is so appalled is that it is Israelites who are oppressing fellow-Israelites.  By their attitude and behaviour they have aligned themselves with Israel’s foes; with those who do not know the Lord.  As Paul would put it: ‘Not all who are descended fro Israel are Israel’ (Rom 9:7; cf. Jn 8:39).

You strip off the rich robe from those who pass by – ‘Such was the callous malice of the smug adherents of cheap grace that they were like bandits who ripped the robes off unsuspecting passersby. This may suggest that the rich land barons hired gangs of thugs to take even the clothes off the backs of those who owed debts from their usurious loans.’ (Phillips)

‘One section of God’s people was depriving another of what was God’s gift and every Israelite’s right: freedom and land…Economic exploitation is a moral evil which could be condemned on the wide basis of common humanity and an ethic of stewardship…But when those who are the agents and victims of the exploitation are members of the people of God, and when the means of exploitation is a supreme and “costly” gift of God to his own people, then the evil is seen in all its unnatural perversion, and the vehemence of the prophets’ denunciations can be properly understood.’ (Wright, Living as the People of God, p56f)

‘For Micah, character expressed in social conduct is a better guide that creed or race to identifying God’s true people.’ (Allen)

Micah 2:9 You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever.

This verse suggests that widows and their (fatherless) children were the special targets of these unscrupulous crooks.  Cf. Ex 22:22, and Jesus’ words in Mk 12:40.

As Phillips remarks, the soft talking of the false prophets has engendered the hard hearts of the elite.

Phillips illustrates how such hardness of heart can be found today: ‘When I attended a graduate school of business, I remember hearing that it was the duty of executive decision makers to place the stock value above all other considerations, even if one’s decisions resulted in pollution to the environment, ruin to low-level employees, or corruption in the government—and this was in a business ethics class! Considered this way, the company exists solely to make money for its stockholders. If small businesses operated by families for generations are wiped out, if widows are evicted from their homes, if layoffs reduce loyal workers to penury, these things are simply “the cost of doing business.” The only sacrifices that cannot be made are in the stock price and the ever-soaring executive compensation packages. All the while, the board members and CEOs live in a fairy-tale land far removed from the common people about whom they neither know nor care—a world of rich estates, private jets, skyscraper views, and—all too often—richly appointed churches with smooth and elegant preachers whose wagging tongues assure them of God’s favor.’

Micah 2:10 Get up, go away! For this is not your resting place, because it is defiled, it is ruined, beyond all remedy.

Here is Micah’s verdict.  Once again, the punishment will match the crime.  They will be given their marching orders.  Those who have destroyed the lives of others have, in the end, destroyed themselves.

Get up, go away – or, as we might say, ‘clear up, clear out and clear off.’  The irony is that these words, which might well have been used by the land-stealers, are now being used against them.  ‘Micah is, in effect, acknowledging that the nation has reached the place of no return’ (Prior).  Deportation looms.

Phillips: ‘This reminds us that God’s blessings are to be used for God’s purposes. Position, power, and wealth are not to be employed with violence or neglect for others, or for personal gain alone. The land God gave to Israel was to be a land of pleasant rest in which holy people enjoyed God’s loving bounty. Micah describes the land barons’ policy as an abomination to the land: “uncleanness that destroys with grievous destruction” (Mic. 2:10). Just as the abominable nations who occupied Canaan before the Israelites were driven out and destroyed, so it would be with the apostate people of Jerusalem.’

What Phillips writes about the current situation in North America is doubtlessly true of Western societies generally: ‘Do we realize that a similar loss of God’s blessing is taking place today in the midst of our fevered Western affluence? Our land of liberty is increasingly a land of bondage to the most vile and destructive sins, including spiraling domestic abuse, sexual perversion, and the slaughter of unborn children. Our version of peace and prosperity is increasingly nothing of the sort. Rich only in money, we are more and more becoming poor by every other standard. In many respects, the decadent rich are their own chief victims. Slaves to pride and avarice, they are unable to enjoy the most basic and most important blessings of life: covenant faithfulness in marriage, joyful harmony in the home, godly contentedness, wholesome purpose and satisfaction, the ability to enjoy life and the courage to face death. This is why the rates of depression and suicide seem to be so high in the most affluent sectors of society: those who live for money, pride, and greed increasingly find it impossible to live at all.’

Micah 2:11 If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ he would be just the prophet for this people!

“I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer” – This is prosperity gospel, good-time religion, no more and no less, and it is just the message that the hearers wanted to listen to.  ‘They love to hear the covenant promises, but not the covenant prescriptions; they like its comforts, but not its commandments.  They assume that a prophet’s function is to tell them what they want to hear: that the barometer is rising, the economy is expanding and God is smiling.’ (Davis)

As Davis remarks, there is great pressure in our own day for preachers to utter only positive, uplifting, message.  No negativism please: we must not make people feel bad about themselves.  ‘But then,’ (says Davis) ‘the cross becomes a charade, for then there is no wrath of God that falls upon the Son of God, who took my hell as his portion.  If you do not hear of your sin, your guilt, your ruin, how can the cross of Christ become the shelter of Christ from those very curses?’

Allen summarises: ‘This dramatic contrast between creed and conduct exposes the weakness of the concept of the covenant held by Micah’s rivals.  They had fallen into the trap of stressing part of the truth, like most heretics, instead of declaring what Paul called “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  They had raised divine promise to an absolute level and cut away the attached strings of condition and conscience that linked it to divine reality.’  Jeremiah (Jer 23:36, 39f) and John (1 Jn 1:6; 2:10; 3:16-18) stand in the same prophetic tradition as Micah.  And our Saviour himself placed love of neighbour next to love of God, and urged that ‘You can tell them by their fruit.’

Phillips challenges us to ask ourselves what kind of preaching we crave: a soft, smiling, charming preaching which, though it contains enough half-truths to convince many, actually amounts to a pile of lies and deceit, or preaching which is true, though it may be hard?  Let congregations seek those who, like Paul, are determine to preach ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27).

Deliverance promised, 12-13

Micah 2:12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people.

Nothing could seem bleaker or more final than Micah’s message of woe.  But this is not the last word.  At the end of the long dark tunnel is a glimmer of hope.

Some – even Calvin – have found the change so abrupt that they assume that we have in v12f a continuation of Micah’s message of judgment.  The ‘gathering’, then, would be gathering for destruction, or the ‘going before them’ of v13 would be a leading of the people into exile.  Or, according to some others, Micah is here quoting from the ‘positive prophets’ he has just condemned.  But it is better to view these two verses as holding forth a message of hope beyond judgment.  The people will be gathered (v12) and liberated (v13).

Through Micah, the Lord has already distinguished between ‘my people’ as those who have ‘risen up like an enemy’ (v8) and ‘my people’ as those who have been bullied and exploited by them (v9).  ‘Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’ (Rom 9:6).  God’s judgement will distinguish between these two groups as well: the former will lose their ill-gotten land and livelihood (v3f), whereas the latter will be kept safe, with Jerusalem being a city of refuge for them. (Allen)

“I will surely gather all of you” – Many interpreters place this in the mouth of an exilic or post-exilic prophet.  Some, however sees here a reference to Jerusalem’s deliverance from Sennacherib.  The earlier glimmers of hope, Mic 1:9, 12; 2:5, are confirmed.  Nevertheless, the hope is a distant one, for the ‘gathering’ presupposes a previous dispersal.

‘If studied in isolation from the total context of the prophecy, the passage may be understood simply as a prediction of the return from the captivity. But this is inadequate in view of the broader background of Micah’s concept of the future. Micah envisioned a kingdom of eternal duration with the Lord as King (Mic 4:7). The Deliverer-King of Mic 5:2–4 seems to be identical with the king of the present passage; he plays an important role in the restoration of God’s people. In both passages the motif of the “flock” is prominent. The fulfillment of the great prophecy in Mic 5:2–4 requires a ruler whose birthplace is Bethlehem and who will extend his influence to the ends of the earth and bring security to God’s people. Micah’s perspective of hope extends beyond a mere restoration from captivity to the messianic kingdom. It is only then that Israel’s hope will be finally and consummately realized.’ (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)

Jacob refers to the whole twelve tribes.  But the verse makes clear that only a remnant will be brought together.  Verse 5 indicates that the land-grabbers will have no part in this restoration.  Within ethnic Israel would be a true Israel by way of a remnant (but a very sizeable remnant – the place will be thronging with people!).  Amos 5:3 also speaks about this remnant.

‘There is an anomaly in the first phrase, all of you, which initially suggests a complete rescue and restoration; but then the phrase the remnant of Israel kills off any false optimism, making it plain that all means the entire remnant.  Not one of the remnant will be lost.’

‘God who had led Israel of old out of their oppressors’ reach was leading his people still.  The true people of God in Judah would be brought to a place of security.  Those who escaped the sword or rope of the invader would be gathered safely into the fold.’ (Allen)

‘This drastic reduction would be a penalty for sin and unbelief. This was precisely the situation when Sennacherib’s conquering army arrived at Jerusalem’s gate in 701 B.C. The northern kingdom was entirely in exile, and all the region around Jerusalem was lost. All that was left of the once-great nation of Israel were those thousands huddled behind the stone ramparts of God’s city. Though only a remnant of the nation was left, God promised, “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob.” This indicates that this faithful remnant is the true people of God, the true covenant children of Jacob, and the true Israel of faith.’ (Phillips)

‘Centuries later, after Jerusalem had rejected and crucified her promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, the city again fell to the sword in one of the most devastating conquests ever: the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Over a million Jews were slaughtered by the invading Romans. Only a small number of believers, the followers of Jesus Christ, escaped.’ (Phillips)

In our own day, Christian believers may feel very much in a minority, and pushed to the edges of society (in intellectual, ethical and other matters).  But we should not be surprised: Satan’s present influence is such that it can still be said that ‘the whole world lies in the power of the evil one’ (1 Jn 5:19).  But, however few we may feel ourselves to be, and however marginalised, if we are on the Lord’s side, then we are on the victory side.

Micah 2:13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”

One who breaks open the way is vivid, giving the idea of pent-up water pouring through like a torrent.

If the immediate reference is to deliverance from blockade, then the reference here is to the breaking open of the blockaded gate, the passing through the gate of the people, and the positioning of their king at the front.  But the deliverance is due to ‘the Lord at their head’.

This verse picks up some important OT motifs: the Lord going before his people (Ex 13:21; 2 Sam 5:20,24), God as King (Isa 6:5), and Jerusalem as the royal city (Psa 48:2).

As Allen remarks, Sennacherib boasted that he has ‘shut up Hezekiah inside Jerusalem his royal city like a bird in a cage.’  What he does not mention is the overthrow of the city, portrayed here as due to the Lord’s leadership and control.

But, ultimately, ‘the fulfilment of this prophecy commenced with the gathering together of Israel to its God and King by the preaching of the gospel, and will be completed at some future time when the Lord shall redeem Israel, which is now pining in dispersion, out of the fetters of its unbelief and life of sin.’ (Keil)

The Lord is represented in this verse as a very powerful ‘Breaker’.  As a result of his powerful liberation, the people ‘will break through the gate’ and march through’ and ‘go out’.  No human power can stop their progress, for their God is with them.  As Davis says, does this thought not put grit into our souls and steel into our bones?

Allen summarises: ‘Micah had seen Judah invaded and overwhelmed, town after town falling before the merciless enemy until Jerusalem was isolated “like a hut in a cucumber field,” as Isaiah quaintly put it (Isa 1:8).  He did not believe in the grandfatherly God of his prophetic rivals, and in this he was proved right, for had he not now seen, as formerly he had foreseen, God chastisement of his people?  “The true prophet must be able to distinguish whether an historical hour stands under the wrath or the love of God.” [Osswald].  Evidently God had not finished with Israel, for the prophet received this conviction of eventual victory.  In this blackest hour he looked forward with confidence to a fresh revelation of the God whom Israel had found to be their help in ages past.’