Micah 3:1-7 states,
“And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice? - you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron. Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have made their deeds evil. Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.”
Let me give you an example of something to consider as we begin this text today:
Imagine that you woke up tomorrow and you discovered that you had been grievously wronged. Perhaps you received a notification from the bank stating that because of a loophole they would take possession of your house. Fear would strike your heart immediately. After some time, you would begin to consider every course of action that you might take to find justice in this situation. You would - call the local branch in your community
- then the national bank
- you might call the media to get the word out,
- you’d find a lawyer
- and perhaps you would contact your senator to get some help.
In Micah’s day justice was being neglected and truth was stumbling in the streets. Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, put it this way in Isaiah 59:14 - Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.)
In the opening chapters of the book of Micah we saw that the larger land owners and businessman were finding ways to take from the poor and average citizens the little that they had. It was described in this way,
“Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.” (2:1-2)
And again we read,
“But lately my people have risen up as an enemy; you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. The women of my people you drive out from their delightful houses; from their young children you take away my splendor forever. Arise and go, for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with grievous destruction.” (2:8-10)
Upon losing their land, their homes, and their treasured possessions these people sought justice through the means that God had provided. They turned to the courts and their judges, the magistrates and to the appointed leaders for help. In some cases, their case made it all the way to the Chief Priest and to the King himself.
You could imagine the urgency of their situation. There was some hope in the fact that they still had some action to take and some manner of recourse that they could pursue to find justice. And yet, at every level their case was dismissed and justice could not be found. Truly, it appears to have been much worse than that even. These men and women went to these leaders for help, and instead they found themselves face to face with an enemy who showed them no mercy. Micah says,
“...[you] who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron.” (3:2-3)
These people came before these leaders to see their communities and families restored, and instead the leaders’ decisions made things worse. Their verdicts took away all hope, “The women of my people you drive out from their delightful houses; from their young children you take away my splendor forever.” (2:9)
In his commentary on Micah, David Prior says, “The bench had become butchers, seeing ordinary people as ‘saleable commodities’ and treating them as a butcher treats a slaughtered animal- chopping up land, houses and people like so much skin, flesh and bones.” He continues, “The cancer of injustice had spread from the marketplace to the courtroom. Micah recognized that certain people were getting away, literally and implicitly, with murder.” (p.138)
As bleak and hopeless as this situation now seemed for those who had been treated unjustly, there was one more avenue for justice that they could seek, and that was through the priest and prophets.
When justice was missing in the business sector of life and from the courtroom, the people had every right to expect that the spiritual leaders would speak up on their behalf. Yet, when the people turned to them they found that they too had been corrupted and bought off. “They cry ‘peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths.” (3:5)
The people seeking justice, found that the political, business, legal and religious institutions had joined together out of a love of power and money. Therefore, there was not going to be any justice for them. There was only one person who would yet help them and that is the Lord.
(I am reminded of the time that Judah was given into the hand of Israel in 2 Chronicles 28:8-11. Israel showed them no mercy and brought the captives to Judah in shame and nakedness. It was the prophets of Israel who came out and decried this action saying that they were bringing great judgment upon themselves. Thank goodness for the voice of the prophets.)
I will admit to you that there has been something that has been troubling me from the very first day that I began to look at the book of Micah. And I will also admit to you that this has only intensified with each passing week as we have heard Micah’s message and seen the plight of the people of God in his day.
- I have been troubled by the fact that so many should suffer at the hands of the ungodly.
- At the hands of those who love power more than people.
- Who love evil more than good.
- Who love possessions more than persons.
- Who love the words of others more than God Himself.
- It has been hard to come to this book and to consider what these people had to endure at the hand of such men. Like me, you too have probably grieved over all of this.
But I also grieve over the fact that these very people who experience all of this are also found to be caught up in the judgment that rightfully results from such sin and transgression. These people also have to go through the destruction of Jerusalem and into the exile that is now looming on the horizon. These would be men like Daniel and the prophet Jeremiah.
Two observations about this historical setting in Micah’s day:
First, in these chapters we have seen multiple layers of system failures that have led to this injustice: local leaders and rulers and national rulers and leaders, both political and religious.
Why are all of these layers of various authorities needed?
Surely the answer to that question will not lead us to pride. These offices and institutions were required because of our sinful hearts and because of our propensity to love the evil and to hate the good. In God’s wisdom and in his mercy, He has instituted these offices as a safety net for the weak, for the poor and for all of society. All of this should keep our leaders humble.
There are two more things that we should add under this point. First, these men who have been placed in positions of authority do not make up laws according to their whims.
- They are not to define good and evil according to their own standard.
- Rather, they are to help clarify and uphold God’s Word and revealed will.
- Similarly, the religious leaders and prophets are not allowed to speak their own words.
- They are to only speak and uphold God’s Word, even to their own harm and misfortune.
Secondly, when these leaders fail to uphold righteousness and justice they will face judgment. There are consequences from God for such things. For example, when the political and judicial leaders cry out to the Lord when trouble comes upon them, the Lord will turn His face from them just as they had turned away their faces from the poor and needy who had come to them for help. When the false prophets seek a word in their time of need, they will not be given a word of comfort or encouragement from the Lord; rather, they will hear nothing but experience only silence from the Lord.
This has not been the case for those who walk uprightly. To them, the Lord has sent men like Micah, whose words do good to them (2:7). The Lord has heard their cry and is confronting those who have done such things to the people.
Second observation concerning the historical setting of Micah’s day is that when things get to this point in a society more and more people are led astray. We see this specifically in Micah 3:5, “Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray”.
We too have seen the perversion of business, political and religious life, and this is having a profound effect upon these institutions and upon the people. Bruce Waltke says in his commentary on Micah this same problem in our country when he says, “Pathetically, nations that once had the heritage of Israel’s law have squandered it like prodigals. In the United States, for example, the Supreme Court in its secularism allows the unborn to be murdered and allows blasphemy and smut to foul society. And in today’s world the entertainment media give glory to fools and celebrate vice.”
At this point, we must ask and try to answer several questions.
- Is there any encouragement in from Micah’s words for us?
- Can a believer have hope when they experience injustice?
- Can a believer have hope when sin brings judgment upon the land?
Let me try to give encouragement to you in three different ways. First, by looking to the broader context. Secondly, by looking to the immediate context. Thirdly, by looking to the life of Jesus.
Hope in the Broader Context: Micah’s words in the first three chapters have indeed been bleak. Yet, all of this is leading us into chapter four and five where the Lord is going to contrast the godlessness and gruesomeness of these men, to the glory of the One whom the Lord will send. When God sends the Messiah, the mountain of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and all peoples shall flow to it. The reality of what has been described in chapters 1-3 will only serve to contrast them with the glory that was to come. And it is a reminder to all that even the most perfect of human governments fail to compare to the coming of the Lord’s kingdom. There are lots of things that earthly kingdoms can do to be better, but more importantly is that we be praying, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
Hope in the Immediate Context: When I read Micah’s words in 3:2b-3 my heart is grieved. Is justice going to arrive too late for so many? What of all of the miscarriages of justice that we see going on in our day? Is there justice for the 60,000,000 babies aborted since Roe V. Wade? Is there justice for all those who have stared evil in the face and were overcome? What of all of those listed in Hebrews 11 which states, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom this world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:35-38)
I think that our text today helps to answer these questions. Look at verses 2b-3, “...you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron.”
Notice that the words flesh and skin are mentioned five times. The words ‘bones’ is mentioned twice.
- The wicked can do a lot to a person’s flesh, skin, and bones.
- The godless in this world can cause a lot of pain and suffering for those over whom they have some authority or some advantage over.
- The wicked have abused the righteous.
- The godless have preyed upon the godly.
- The powerful have troubled and killed the weak.
As a result, the innocent would recoil in fear, weep in pain and at times collapse under the weight of the suffering.
And yet, for all of this, these men cannot gain authority and power over their souls. There is only One who has the power and authority over the soul. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy the soul and the body in hell.”
- Not one of us would wish to face injustice.
- Not one of us would desire to have our families torn apart, our houses taken or our communities devastated by sin; but even if this happens to us there is a limit as to what can be done.
For all that the unrighteous can do, they cannot take us out of the Father’s hand.
John 10:28-30 – “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and none is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Romans 8:31-31-39 - “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death no life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creations, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Hope by Looking to Christ: In Micah 5:1 we will read, “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.”
- There has never been a greater breach of justice than what is seen in the life of Christ.
- There has never been anyone who has ever been so unjustly accused, declared guilty and condemned to die than Jesus Christ.
He was innocent and guiltless of any sin. His trial was a sham of the highest degree. In Christ we have seen the rod that strikes the innocent judge upon the cheek.
Speaking of this process my friend Brian Williams said, “There was nothing just in this process. There was nothing appropriate; but that is not surprising because the whole reason that Jesus came to earth was to live, to offer himself and to die for precisely these kind of shenanigans from human beings. This tells us what people are capable of and shows us how far we can deviate from what God wants and desires from us.”
Yet, it was through this that God displays His mercy and justice. In this process Jesus becomes the just and the one who justifies the ungodly before God. Through this action the Lord justifies the guilty and declares them righteous. And through it He grants to them eternal life.
Let us consider John Flavel’s words as we come to an end. “Many of those who are sincere in their profession, and do arrive at last, yet come to heaven by the gates of hell; and put in, as a poor weather-beaten vessel comes into the harbor, more like a wreck than a ship, neither mast nor sail is left. The righteous themselves are scarcely saved, they are saved with very much difficulty. We measure the good and evil of providence by their respect to the ease and pleasure of our flesh. It is a poor comfort to have an increasing estate, and a dead and declining soul.”
So, even in the face of all such things a Christian can have hope. They may face injustice here, but upon our arrival to heaven we will enter the City of God. In that city righteousness and justice reigns supremely forevermore. Until that day we have taken refuge in the LORD.