Written by Pastor Ed
Micah – Advocate for the Poor
June 28, 2015
Books of the Bible Series
Let me say a word about the series we been in for some time now. Obviously we’re going to take a break from it, as I will be gone. There are 6 more Old Testament prophets that we haven’t covered. And we will, at some point pick them up, although it might not be all together. I’m not sure if it will all be in the fall or not, you’ll just have to stay tuned. Today we look at the prophet Micah.
Mennonites have always liked the prophet Micah. Perhaps it is because he came from a small village and speaks knowingly about rural life, but I suspect it is because his message resonates with many of the themes that are near and dear to our theology and life.
Now, one of the difficulties of preaching through these minor prophets, as they are often called, is that they are not arranged chronologically in our scriptures. Micah is a contemporary of Isaiah, but whereas Isaiah preached primarily in Jerusalem, Micah came from a small village, Moresheth, located between Jerusalem and Gaza, not far from the Philistine border. So he was well acquainted with the rural life of the poor farmers and shepherds who occupied his world.
But he was not unaware of the larger world, because he lived on one of the major trade routes between Africa and the empires to the north. Not only that, but Tekoa, the home of Amos the prophet was not far away, and Micah may well have heard him speak. For that matter, he may have traveled to Jerusalem at some point and heard Isaiah, for both of them are represented in the themes that Micah holds up.
As with numerous other of the prophetic books, the book of Micah as we now have it is a collection of the sayings of the prophet Micah, probably gathered together and written down by a follower or editor. Ass a contemporary of Isaiah, Micah was a prophet before the exile, but one who saw as did other, the coming judgement on Samaria and Judah. In fact, he was quite certain that Samaria, the northern kingdom was doomed, and so directed most of his preaching at Judah and particularly at Jerusalem which he saw as the centre of the problem, both politically as well as spiritually.
Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
10 who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
“Surely the Lord is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.” (3:9-11)
And who are the ones who suffer the most from this perversion of justice. It is the poor, the small time farmers and those who labour for their wages. When justice is perverted, it is the wealthy who can get what they want, and if the priests and prophets will say anything for a price, guess who gets to dictate the message?
Therefore, it took a brave voice to speak up against such abuse of power. But Micah proclaims that he has been filled with the spirit of God, with power, justice and might to declare to Jacob and Israel their transgressions. (3:8) Because of their lack of care for the poor, says Micah, they will be reduced to rubble, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins and the people will be carried away into exile.
Now we don’t know what effect Micah’s words had on the people, but there is some evidence elsewhere not only that he got in trouble for his preaching, but also that some people listened. In Jeremiah 26 the prophet Micah is used as an example. Jeremiah had proclaimed a similar message to the people of Judah, and the people were quite upset, ready to kill him. Jeremiah was hauled before the officials at the city gate who sat in judgement. And as they deliberated what to do with Jeremiah, thankfully some of the elders knew a bit of history and said, “Wait a minute, maybe we shouldn’t put this man to death, after all…”
18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’
19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!” (Jer. 26:16-19)
But while the message of Micah echos many of the other prophets in denouncing the excesses of the wealthy and the perversion of justice by the haves against the have nots, Micah is one of the more hopeful of the prophets, for he sees a time when God will restore things to a better way of living. While he doesn’t see much hope for the society that he was living in, in fact he was quite sure it would be destroyed, the God he knew was no ready to give up on humanity completely.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your[g] possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
19 He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our[h] sins
into the depths of the sea. (7:18-19)
And so Micah foresaw a time when a remnant of God’s people would be restored and peace and prosperity would again reign. It’s the vision that resonates with Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they will sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” (4:3-4)
Now we often repeat the first part of those verses and reflect on them as part of our teaching on peace. And they certainly are part of that vision. But I’m not sure we always catch the significance of the rest of those verses, the part about each one under their own vine and their own fig tree. For you see, peace, the ideal that Micah longs for, isn’t something that just happens because we want it to. Nor is peace something that can be imposed, as nations are so prone to try and do. Through the centuries we have lived with the lie that we can go to war to bring about peace. The problem is it doesn’t work that way, as Gwynn Dyer points out in his book, War. I think only recently have more people begun to realize that invading Iraq and plunging that region into war has not brought peace, but in fact is at least partly the cause of the increase in radicalization, the emergence of ISIS, and the call for more force.
The only way to bring about peace is for there to be justice and equality, where each one can sit under their own vine and fig tree and not fear that someone will come and take it away from them. How we treat the poor among us, and around the world, says a great deal more about who we are than whether we are the strongest and can impose our will on others.
In the 6th chapter of Micah, God files a lawsuit against the people. It’s a devise used by numerous of the prophets. “Rise and plead you case before the mountains.” says the Lord. God outlines a whole history of God’s dealing with Israel, from bringing them out of Egypt through the wilderness and into the land. So if I’ve done all that, why have you forgotten about me now? How is it that you can forget so easily how I looked after you when you were the ones who were oppressed?
And the response to those charges is perhaps one of the best summaries of the Gospel in the Old Testament.
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
It is not through more fervent worship, not through greater sacrifice on our part that God will be pleased, but rather through how we live out our lives. Doing justice, loving mercy, and walking in humbleness before God. How much more peaceful life would be if everyone would follow those three simple instructions.
But even if not everyone does it, we as Christians are called to this path, for it is the path that Jesus also calls us to in following his example. We believe that Jesus, the one who came from Bethlehem, as mentioned in Micah, ushered in that peaceable kingdom and those who follow in the way of Jesus are called to already begin to live out the principles that Isaiah and Micah saw as the ideal of the future, when God would establish his new kingdom.
Three simple phrases, all of which have to do with how we act toward and treat other people. To do justice is to make sure that everyone has a vine and fig tree to sit under without fear that someone will take it away. To love kindness is to think the best of people and to treat them with love. And to walk humbly before God is to recognize that we too are sinners and may not have all the answers.
So simple, and yes, so difficult. May we be empowered, as Micah was, to speak out against the injustice of our day and strive with God’s help to do what the Lord requires of us.