These are some of my notes for Sunday, May 17, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.
Books referenced in these notes are:
1. The Minor Prophets, Micah by Waltke, edited by McComiskey
2. Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah: New American Commentary, Micah by Barker of Barker and Bailey
3. Hosea, Amos, Micah: NIV Application Commentary by Gary V. Smith
This is the beginning of a series of sermons (chp. 3-5) Micah gave in the time of Hezekiah. Chp. 3 is negative, but the larger portion made up of chp.4-5 is positive. These speeches, or judgment prophecies are dated early in Hezekiah’s reign based on Jer. 26:17-19. There is a positive message of sorts even in chp. 3, for God’s removal of oppressive rulers will eventually lead to better rulers in their place. The judgment oracles are unified by condemnation of Judah’s leaders. The judgment itself is a series of silences, no answers coming from God, first to people’s cries (3:4) then to prophets (3:6-7), and finally God’s allowing His own temple to be destroyed (3:12). The destruction of the temple is a shocking, direct answer to the assumption that God must protect Judah because they are His people and possess His temple. (Smith)
Each of these three messages in Mic chp 3 follow the same form of three steps:
1.Call to hear
3.Sentence declared (Waltke)
This message is given to political and civic leaders responsible for seeing justice governs all human relationships, including judges, clan elders, and the king. 2 Chro 19:8-11 tells of Jehoshaphat appointing some Levites, priests, and clan leaders as judges, while making the high priest supreme judge in religious matter, and appointing a chief judge over state affairs as well. The answer to the rhetorical question about justice is obviously “yes”, both because justice is not so difficult to define and because it is in fact defined in the handed down Mosaic law.( Smith, Waltke)
Instead God sees leaders who are the reverse of expectations: lovers of evil who hate good. Micah uses metaphors of cannibalism to indicate the leaders’ perversity, saying that they devour people as a wild predator would, that they treat the people as cooks do animal meat. (Parallels of this sort of metaphor occur in Ps 14:4, 27:2; Prov. 30:14). One suspects most of this terrible treatment was inflicted on the poor, but it is not so specified, and so the leaders doubtless crushed their share of the wealthy in order to make themselves rich. This is not what God requires of leaders and judges. (Ex. 18:15-16, 20-21; Deu 16:18-20).
God’s response to this unjust behavior is to leave leaders to their own devices when they themselves face trouble. Normally God is quick to aid people in trouble who call to him (Ps 50:15; Is 55:6, 65:24) but as He warned in Deu 31:17, He is quite capable of allowing sinners to fall to the mess they have put themselves in.(Smith)
“Then I said” , Hebrew root amar, functions to separate chapters 1-2 from second unit of 3-5. Like Mic 1:2, it begins with “listen, hear”.
“Justice” is the Hebrew mispat, a term mixing both legality and covenant. It bears a sense of “right order” for all society. In a sense, when there is mispat, all is right with the world. In its absence people and governments suffer. The rhetorical question here points out that there isn’t justice, and people are suffering for it.
Amos 5:15 and Rom 12:9 speak of loving good and hating evil. Judah’s leaders here do the opposite.
“Tear” begins a series of figures of speech speaking of how inhumane, how animalistic, how predatory the leaders of Judah are toward the people. The treat the common folk as prey, something to be consumed and then tossed away. “Tear” is the Hebrew gazal, is also used in places as “rob” (Lev 19:13; Judg 9:25; Ps 35:10, 69:5),a most appropriate double meaning in this case.(Barker, Waltke)
“Then”, “in that time” refers to the time of God’s punishment, presumably the conquest and exile of Judah. Again God promises to mete out lex talionis, eye for an eye justice, as in Prov. 21:13. “Cry out” Hebrew zawak, is always a loud cry for relief from great distress, and when made “to God”, it indicates a very powerfully emotive prayer. God’s response is to turn His face away, to ignore the cries of distress, and a most terrible punishment it is. Hell, according to many, is to be removed from God’s sight, to be ignored by God.(Barker, Waltke)
Next God addresses the prophets, those supposedly speaking to the people from God. These men have become more enamored of money than God’s truth, Thus to those who pay they give hopeful, positive messages (to ensure the flow of food and/or money, no doubt), while those unable to pay get hostile, negative messages (to encourage future payment, no doubt). Thus the prophets have prostituted the office of prophet, an institution founded by God Himself. Again God’s answer is a tit for tat, eye for an eye punishment, the same as announced in Amos 5:18-20. If the prophets cannot relay true prophecies, God will simply take away their prophetic powers. This straightforward answer avoids any debate about whether these are false prophets conning people or true prophets gone bad. Both get no sign from Heaven, thus inevitably forcing them to condemn themselves as frauds by either wrong prophecies or obviously cautious, non-prophetic statements. Thus they will be exposed and embarrassed.
Covering the mouth is a sign of uncleanness in Lev. 13:45, and of grief in Ezk 24:17. Here it is a sign of humiliation, based on the notion that facial hair is a source of pride and sign of manhood among men, and to cover mustache and beard a sign of shame.(Barker)
If these prophets are primarily known by their method of prophecy (dreams, vision, divination), Micah defines himself by the source of his prophecy (God and Spirit) , which empowers him to speak unflinching truthful words, a confrontational message to sinful Judah. (Smith)
This section against evil prophets begins with the standard prophetic intro “thus says the LORD”. “Prophets” here are false, as remembered in Lam 2:14. Their prophecies are propelled by greed and self-interest, designed to keep themselves well-fed and well-kept, rather than speak the truth. They speak out only against those who don’t financially support their prophethood. They remind one of those in Php 3:19. The root of “lead astray”, Hebrew ta’ah, can describe both an aimlessly wandering person or a drunk staggering around. “Bite”, Hebrew nasak, is almost always used of snakes, thus emphasizing the malign and potentially deadly effect of the prophets.
Note the contrast between the message the prophets give to those who pay, “peace”, and that given those who don’t pay “war”.(Barker, Waltke)
“Divination”, Hebrew qasem, is a term for a practice hat is always condemned in the OT (Deu 18:10; Josh 13:22, 1 Sam 15:23; Num 23:23, 1 Sam 28:8; 2 Kgs 17:17). There are no exact ideas of how it was practiced. Examining animal entrails, tossing dice, stones, or even arrows are some methods recorded in history.(Waltke)
Not only is covering the mustache a sign of uncleanness, like leprosy (Lev13:45) but one place where sinful prophets are treated just as lepers (Lam 4:13-15)
Now Micah returns to the leaders of v. 1-4.
Hezekiah’s Broad Wall (24 feet) and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, along with new storage areas, were all likely built at vast expense and huge labor demands, presumably in the name of national defense, with Assyria’s conquest a looming threat over the entire Middle East. The politicians doubtless trampled now few liberties underfoot getting these things done, and beyond the national defense measures, there were surely many an estate enlarge and aggrandized in the mix.(Smith, Barker)
The root of the problem was greed, which, 1Tim 6:10 notes, is a source of many evils. Bribery was openly condemned in the Law (Ex 23:8, Deu 16:19), and likewise priests were not to serve for gain ((Lev 10:11, Deu 17:9,11)
The leaders trusted that God would necessarily protect them, because of the covenant and the Temple, but they were being warned that would not save them, and not just here (Is 1:11-15; Amos 5:21-24; Hos chp 8; Jer. 7:22-23, Mal.1:10). Indeed, as the Temple was no longer a place to bring people to obedience to God, and the Jewish nations no longer a holy example to the world, why would God not abandon them, since they had ceased fulfilling their function?
Certainly there are great psalms speaking of the temple’s endurance (Ps 46; 48; 84; 87) but the people interpreting them overlook the conditional nature of so many of God’s promises. God promised to lead the Israelites into the promised land, yet, he ended up doing it with a whole new generation rather than those originally promised. (Barker, Smith)
It is interesting to note that the curse of Deu 27:25 against someone taking a bribe to kill an innocent is in fact unique in the ANE. Other cultures did not outlaw bribery, and indeed considered in some times and places as a regular way of conducting business. (Waltke)
This verse is the only case of an OT verse quoted verbatim by another OT writer, in this case Jer. 26:18. Jer 26:19 goes on to point out that Micah’s prophecies spoken here had the effect of turning Hezekiah and the leaders of Judah back to God, with the result that Judah was spared being destroyed by Assyria.(Waltke)