Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
and make crooked all that is straight,
who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with iniquity.
Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
its priests teach for a price;
its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
“Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
No disaster shall come upon us.”
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
This message will be laid out in the following manner. First we will give three reasons why Micah is bringing his judgments against these people to a climax in this text. As we conclude that point we will also observe that even in the face of such impending doom there is still the call to turn and to repent that forgiveness and healing will come.
The second focus of this sermon will be to notice that most of those that Micah was addressing were so deceived that they were unable to see their sin or see that the Lord was no longer in fellowship with them at this time. This attitude, this belief, this theological misconception would keep them from seeking the Lord to find salvation.
Finally, we will look at an example of someone who stood against bribery in his generation and sought to live a godly, righteous and upright life before the Lord.
Since the beginning of this book we have gone through two of the three judgment oracles that these chapters contain. Today we have come to the last of the three and in many ways Micah now brings to a climax all of his arguments against Israel and Judah.
This climax occurs at the levels of address, of accusation, and of judicial sentence. Let’s take just a moment to discuss these things but let me first give recognition to Dr. Bruce Waltke for bringing this out in his commentary on the book of Micah.
(Who Micah is addressing)
In the first judgment oracle we saw that Micah’s words were aimed at the magistrates and business leaders of the day. The second address was against the prophets of Micah’s day who had failed the people by not speaking out against the injustices that were occurring. In this third address it is again the magistrates who are initially addressed but Micah also addresses the prophets and the priests. As a result, Micah now brings them all together to hear the indictment against the main institutions who governed this theocracy.
(What is the accusation)
The first message speaks against the leaders and magistrates for their exploitation and injustice against the poor. In the second oracle Micah turns to address the prophets who were extorting bribes from people to receive a blessing. Those who did not do this, or could not do this, they declared war upon. In this third message against all of these principle persons, Micah again addresses these same things in verses 9-10 and even widens the allegations to be against all of those who are responsible for this injustice.
In addition to these things we also see in this text that the guilt of these persons is increased because of their way of justifying such sinful behavior (v.11). The way in which they justify themselves leads to making one feel as though they are on good terms with God, that God will still bestow His blessings upon them and that they are not in need of salvation and redemption. As a result of this God will remove all of the things that these people feel secure in and the things that they believe reflect the false notion that God is with them (v.12).
(What is the judicial sentence)
Throughout all of these three oracles the judicial punishment is becoming much more severe. In the first oracle God is content to remain silent (3:1-4). In the second oracle the things become dark (3:5-8). Now in the third oracle the Lord is absent: by destroying the temple, God seems to abandon the people (3:9-12).
As a result of these three oracles we now have Micah’s message climaxing at this point. Micah’s words are indeed sobering and bleak as Micah concludes by saying, “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.” (v.12)
Yet, if Israel would turn and repent they would find mercy and grace. We see examples of this in scripture. For example in Isaiah 36-38 we see how the Lord will respond to sinners when they repent and seek the Lord. When Sennacherib comes against Jerusalem, Hezekiah immediately tore his clothes and covered himself in sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. Others around Hezekiah joined the king in this act of repentance. As a result of this, Isaiah sends word to the king saying, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.” (37:6-7).
Or consider how in the next chapter Hezekiah becomes ill and receives word from the king that he needs to get his house in order for he will surly die. Hezekiah turns his face to the fall and prays, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” Then we are told that Hezekiah wept bitterly. (38:2-3) Because of Hezekiah’s response the Lord tells Isaiah to tell the king that he will recover and live another fifteen years.
Let us also consider Isaiah’s words when he says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:18-20)
Therefore, Dr. Waltke says, “On account of this implication, all judicial sentences are in effect threats.” He means by this, that if a person will but humble themselves and turn to the Lord, they will be shown mercy and they will be forgiven.
(Second Half of the Sermon)
Notice with me in our text verses 11, “Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lead on the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.’”
Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” All of these leaders: the prophets, priests, and the magistrates, have in their love of money despised God. They have despised His Word, His people and His prophets.
They profess to lean upon the Lord but their hearts are far from Him. Like our politicians, they probably end their speeches with the words, “God bless Zion!”, yet they are mere words of the mouth and not expressions of faith from the heart.
If we are being honest with ourselves we must admit that as sinful people we are so prone to self-deception. Peter proclaimed, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison or to death.” (Luke 22:33) Peter is so confident of his own strength, ability and resolve here. But Jesus says to him, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (34)
Or consider Revelation 3 when Jesus addresses the church of Sardis saying, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember then, what you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1-3)
So how can we keep from being deceived like the generation in Micah’s day? How can we keep from being deceived like Peter or the church of Sardis?
In Micah 3:9 we see the text begin with these words, “Hear this”. It is not enough that we are a people who goes to church to hear a preacher. We must be a people who goes with a heart ready to hear the message and then will incline their heart to obey the Scriptures by God’s grace (Micah 3:4)
(A couple godly examples for us to follow...)
I have been reading a biography about the life of Jonathan Edwards. There was a story concerning him that I have been so encouraged by. Jonathan Edwards was a young man whose life seemed to embody the admonishment of Paul to Timothy when he said to him in 1 Timothy 4:15, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”
Doctor Steven Lawson writes of Edwards, “Many regard Edwards as the most eminent preacher ever to come from what is not the United States. He delivered what many believe to be America’s most famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God. Others esteem Edwards as on of America’s greatest theologians.” In another place Lawson writes of Edwards saying, “In the pulpit, Sunday by Sunday, Edwards soon distinguished himself as a preacher. His sermons were marked by ‘riveting expository skill… wide thematic range, a wealth of evangelical thought, a pervasive awareness of eternal issues, and a compelling logical flow to make them arresting, searching, devastating, and Christ-centered doxological to the last degree.”
Despite Edwards power in the pulpit I am also seeing that he also knew how to be fruitful when he sat in the pew with others. On those rare occasions when he did not preach the Word of God he still was found as close to the preached word as possible. Consider these words again by Doctor Lawson, “Edwards invited George Whitfield to Northampton to preach, and he sat on the front pew and wept under the power of the great evangelist’s pulpit ministry.” Here Edwards is a model for us of a leader in the church who both sits under the Word, weeps at the preaching of the Word, practices the Word and proclaims from the heart the living Word.
But let us look to someone in scripture who displays the opposite of what Micah is having to preach against to his generation. To do so let us turn to Psalm 26. In this passage David is wanting to live a life that has been tried and tested by the Lord so that he could be proven to have a heart and mind that is trusting in the Lord.
In this psalm David is living an upright, godly and righteous life among those who are described as men who have evil devices in their hands and with their right hand they receive bribes (v.10). In other words, this is the type of prayer that the godly would pray in Micah’s day as they looked to the Lord.
In this psalm, David makes three requests of the Lord. First, he seeks vindication (v.1). Secondly, David wants the Lord to prove, test and try his heart and his mind (v.2). Thirdly, David asks that the Lord not sweep him away with the ungodly (v.9).
First, David seeks to be vindicated (proved right and just) for two reasons. David says that he has walked in his integrity and because he has trusted in the Lord without wavering. David knows that the Lord’s Word has revealed the path that he is to walk upon (Psalm 26:4). Like a gymnast who concentrates thoroughly on the balancing beam, David watches every one of his steps to make sure that he is walking according to the Word of God. David moves forward in the Lord, not walking to the left or to the right. He trusts God and His Word in every area of his life.
David desires not to be deceived as to the true condition of his heart and his mind. Therefore, he says in verse 2, “Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.” When David speaks in this manner he is asking the Lord for a complete and thorough testing. This week I spent quite a bit of time thinking of this verse and what David was asking for here. Then that night I dreamed that I enrolled in school and dreaded going to take my first test. Most of the night was spent trying to avoid that test. This is not the case with David, he wants a complete and thorough inward test. He doesn’t simply desire that his actions be judged but his heart and his mind tested.
Verses 3-8 then give ten reasons why David is bold enough to ask for such a testing. First, he says that he has put the steadfast love of God before his eyes. This is the Hebrew word hesed which also speaks of the great mercy of God. God is merciful to those who would humble themselves to the Lord.
Secondly, David is confident to have such a testing because he has walked in the faithfulness of the Lord. In other words, David loves the Word of God and seeks to apply it to his life. He walks out what he has seen in God’s Word.
Verses 4-5 contains four negative things that David has avoided in his life so that he can ask the Lord to be tested. David says that he does not sit with men of falsehood, he does not consort with hypocrites, he hates the assembly of evildoers and he does not sit with the wicked. Though a believer is in the world and has relationships in the world, he or she is to have such boundaries. I will only elaborate on one of these this morning. Notice that David hates the assembly of evildoers. I take from this that the grace of God truly does transform the heart and the mind. So much so, that David would now hate to be found among the evildoers. Sometimes our desires love and desire sin, but there will come a time when our heart and our mind changes concerning those things.
In verses 6-7 David goes on to describe some of the positive actions that he takes which will give him confidence before God when he is tested, tried and proven. David says that he washes his hands in innocence. In the Old Testament everyone had to perform ceremonial washings but not everyone came to the temple innocent and prepared to worship. For example, those in verses 4-5 would not be innocent when they came to worship. Their hearts and their minds were far from the Lord.
Then David says that he walks around the altar. This suggests that David would go and offer sacrifices to the Lord and he would contemplate the process. He would see the lamb that was sacrificed for his sin. He would look upon the life that was given because of his sin. He would think about the atonement that was his through all of these things.
This led David to proclaim out loud thanksgiving to the Lord and to tell of all his wonderful deeds. In Galatians Paul warns them that to go under the law again and not to hold on to the faith would lead to them biting and devouring one another. Here we see David contemplating the altar and the steadfast love of God and it leads him to praise and worship. Does our contemplation of Scriptures, The Cross, the promises of God lead us to that same end?
Finally David is confident in passing this test because he loves to be in the house of the Lord. He loves to be with the people of God and to hear the Word of God proclaimed. He loves to be in the Tabernacle where the glory of the Lord dwells.
The last thing that David requests of the Lord is that the Lord would not sweep away his soul with the sinners. David describes these people as bloodthirsty men in whose hand is evil devises and in their right hand is bribes. These men sound identical to those who have been described in Micah’s day. They are the hypocrites who assemble together in the church and profess to lean on God but are not found in the Lord. They profess a faith but they do not possess faith.
Then David sounds much like Micah last week when he says, “But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity, redeem me, and be gracious to me. My food stands on level ground, in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.” (v.11)
It is my prayer that as we come to the end of chapter three we have been stirred in our hearts and minds to live as David did. That we would not be like those in Psalm 26 or in Micah 3 whose faith was untested and whose profession of faith was false. May we consider Paul’s words as we close.