Micah denounced Israel not only for their sins against God in the form of idolatry, but also for their sins against each other. There is no doubt about their guilt, as it is God himself who testifies against Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:2).
Israel Was Judged for its Oppression of the Weak
In both Israel and Judah, idolatry was accompanied by covetousness, fraud and oppression. Some, simply because they had the power to do so, made themselves rich by seizing the homes of their fellow-man, devastating families as they took their inheritance (Micah 2:1,2). Their punishment fit the crime as those in power saw their land and their children’s inheritance taken from them (Micah 2:4,5).
These kinds of practices were echoed on a very large-scale in the United States as big banks and Wall Street made huge fees selling packaged sub-prime mortgages to unsuspecting investors and then foreclosed on homes, often taking a family’s life savings in the process. Adding insult to injury, those who were guilty of these practices were rewarded with hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
Israel’s Leaders Did Not Believe They Would Be Held Accountable
While false prophets proclaimed that disgrace would not overtake them they sought to silence Micah and other prophets of God (2:6). Not fearing judgment, sure that God would never do such a thing to his people (2:7; 3:11), they took comfort believing that God would keep his promises of salvation to the people of Israel all the while ignoring the promises of judgment for disobedience that were part of the conditional covenant with Moses (Deut. 28).
Meanwhile, in this atmosphere promoted by these false prophets, the rich in Israel were emboldened to evict widows from their houses and sell their children into slavery to finance their lifestyles (Micah 2:9; Amos 8:6). God does not tolerate those who perform or condone such wickedness: they will come to ruin as God evicts the evictors (Micah 2:10). But the warnings are ignored and visions of prosperity are just what the people want to hear (Micah 2:11; Jeremiah. 5:31).
Prosperity Gospel and the Poor
Many religious leaders today preach a gospel of prosperity that not only believes God will not judge those who weary themselves to gain wealth (Proverb 23:4) but that God is obligated to make us wealthy if we have enough faith. They strip God of his sovereignty and make their faith sovereign (2 Peter 2:1). Devoid of any doctrine of suffering, their message appeals to those who would rather skip the experiences of the saints listed in Hebrews 11’s “hall of faith” (Hebrews 11:36-40) (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
They disparage the poor man for his lack of faith instead of showing compassion toward him. They deceive the poor to obtain their money (Titus 1:11) and are seemingly unaware that they will be judged for preaching to satisfy their greed (2 Peter 2:3,14,15). It is certainly not to our credit but to our shame that this false message has spread from its origins in the United States into many parts of the world.
Perhaps there are even American Christians who, believing we are somehow better than the rest of the world, think God will overlook our sins because he cannot do without America’s mission agencies, mega-churches and seminaries!
Israel’s Leaders Did Not Restrain Evil, but Instead Loved It
The leaders, who should have known better and who should have known what God expected of them, hated good and loved evil (Micah 3:1). Instead of restraining evil they devoured the poor for personal gain (Micah 3:2,3). When their fortunes turn for the worse they will cry out and not be heard (Micah 3:4; Proverbs 21:13).
The professional prophets waged war against those who wouldn’t pay for their prophecies but would tell those who paid them what they wanted to hear. Therefore these false prophets will not hear from God. In contrast, Micah, filled with the Holy Spirit, declared to the people their sin (Micah 3:5-8).
The leaders judged for a bribe and the prophets taught for a price, denying that disaster was near as they clung to their belief that God would never judge his people (Micah 3:11). But judgment from God would come (Micah 3:12).
Are we guilty when we place our faith in a free market economy to police itself as many are wont to do? When we say that there is too much regulation and we need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit are we ignoring what God has to say about fallen humanity and its propensity to act wickedly? Christians should know better.
What difference is there between Israel’s leaders who judged for a bribe and our politicians who pander to special interest groups?
Before getting into Israel’s trial, Micah devotes two chapters mainly to future hope and blessing – namely the coming kingdom of Messiah, perhaps to show that he is faithful even though his people are not. God will keep his promises even as he exacts judgment.
When God brings his case against them he again states they should have known better. God has shown Israel what is good – acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with him (Micah 6:8) (Deut 10:12). When God makes his case against Israel he emphasizes the kind of sins that, instead of helping his weaker neighbor, harms him – gaining wealth at the expense of others by employing wicked methods (6:10), using dishonest weights and scales to defraud him (v 11), and threatening those who challenged their ways (6:12). But ill-gotten gain is not safe, and those who obtain it will be brought to ruin (6:13-16).
Does America Fit This Pattern?
Does any of this sound familiar? To many, the answer will be no. They will say that corruption and oppression is much worse in other nations and that the opposite is true in America – we coddle our poor with “entitlements”. Besides, many of the poor in America would be considered rich in some countries.
They will say everyone has opportunity to succeed if they try. They will say too many people have a victim mentality and are just envious of the rich.
So, according to this line of thinking, God was wrong. He didn’t need to include commandments for economic interaction in the law he gave to Moses. If only God had known about free markets! Now that we have them, we need not be concerned.
Let me ask this. Is it possible that America has gained its great wealth solely because its people work harder than the people of other nations and because of our freedoms? Is a nation’s wealth always a sign of God’s favor? Have all rich individuals in our nation gained their wealth because they worked harder, utilized their freedom of choice and were blessed by God accordingly? Of course not! It wasn’t true in Israel’s time either.
We cannot hide behind a belief that our economic system has somehow overcome the problem of human sin when it comes to gaining wealth. People will still take from each other through trickery and oppression and people will still be lazy. It seems we, as a nation, hold neither person accountable.
Perhaps the most important question to ask is this. Does the way our economic system operates indicate to us a dependence on God as protector and provider and judge of our behavior?
I think the answer is no.
What Is the Proper Christian Response?
Micah, seeing the fate that awaits his people, mourns for Samaria with weeping and wailing, going barefoot and naked, howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl (Micah 1:8,9). Indeed, the northern kingdom would go into exile under Sargon II in 721 B.C. Twenty years later, his successor, Sennacherib invaded Judah taking many captive with Jerusalem escaping only because of God’s miraculous intervention (2 Kings 19:35).
We don’t know for sure (as did Micah) that we have an incurable wound. Only God knows. But should we not recognize our sins and mourn for our nation?
As we see our nation’s moral and economic decline accelerate, should we not be praying for a return to God rather than for a return to prosperity? Shouldn’t we know better than to chase after riches? We too know what is good – to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
Our task, as Christians living in America, is not to place our trust in our leaders, our economic system, our national ideals, our military or in American exceptionalism. If we have misplaced our trust, then our task is to stop digging broken cisterns and return to the wellspring of life (Jeremiah 2:13).