This chapter can be divided into three equal parts. Each of the three parts begins with an accusation against the responsible leaders and ends with a condemnation:
1. Verses 1-4 are addressed to the heads and leaders,
2. verses 5-8 to the false prophets and
3. verses 9-12 to the two preceding categories, to which the priests are added.
The keyword is the word ‘justice’ (verses 1,8,9).
1 Knowing Justice
1 And I said,
“Hear now, heads of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel.
Is it not for you to know justice?
Micah addresses “Jacob” and “Israel” again. He did so in the blessing at the end of the previous chapter (Mic 2:12). There, it is about a faithful remnant while here, it is about the unfaithful leaders. The “heads” and “rulers” are judges and governors, the civil authorities.
Micah asks them a penetrating question that must touch their conscience. They, who know more than anyone what justice is and judge others, do the worst injustice. In a terrible way they are twisting the law that they have to maintain and that is laid down in the law of Moses. With this they dishonor above all the LORD, for He is the Lawgiver.
In many ways they resemble the Pharisees and scribes in the days of the Lord Jesus. The Lord denounces the pious behavior of these people and their exploitation of the socially weak (Mk 12:38-40). These law enforcers look down on the ‘ignorant’ people with contempt (Jn 7:49). Blinded by the pursuit of their own interests, they are always out to kill Him Who has given the law (Jn 5:18; 11:53).
2 Hating the Good and Loving the Evil
2 “You who hate good and love evil,
Who tear off their skin from them
And their flesh from their bones,
Hating and loving relate to their mindset and show the corrupt basic attitude of these people. Not only do they not do the good they ought, but they loathe it, they hate it. It is already sin if someone does not love the good, let alone if he hates it. It is the same with evil. They do evil, but not only that, they like it, they love it. It is already wrong if someone doesn’t flee from evil, let alone if he loves it.
These people are not shepherds, but butchers, or even worse, cannibals. Instead of healing what is broken, they break what is whole. Instead of feeding the flock, they feast on it. They don’t shear the sheep, but tear off their skin. Instead of protecting the flock from wild animals, they behave like wild animals among the flock.
In John 10, the Lord Jesus uses three terms for these people: thieves, hired hand and wolves (Jn 10:10-13).
1. The thief comes secretly and sees the sheep as a source of profit. In order to obtain optimal profit he is prepared not only to steal, but also to kill and even to destroy.
2. A hired hand thinks only of his own safety. As soon as there is danger for himself, he abandons the sheep and flees.
3. The wolf acts according to its own nature. It does not think of profit or danger, but tears and robs, frightens and sows confusion.
Tearing off the skin corresponds with our saying ‘bleed someone dry’, or ‘rip someone off’. It means robbing them of everything that makes life somewhat livable for them. They take all their means of existence away from them. ‘Tearing off the skin’ can mean taking off their clothes and ‘flesh from their bones’ can mean their territory.
3 Who eat the flesh of my people,
Strip off their skin from them,
Break their bones
And chop [them] up as for the pot
And as meat in a kettle.”
When God speaks of “My people” here, this means in particular the believing part of it. They are especially the target of these unscrupulous people. In plain language, the prophet tells the judges their beastly conduct. They not only rob the people, but they also eat them up, they treat them like cattle for slaughter.
In his description, Micah shows that these people leave no means, no matter how atrocious, untried to feast at the expense of others and to rob their fellow citizens of their possessions. What a contrast these leaders form with the Shepherd of Micah 2 (Mic 2:12). We also see this contrast in Ezekiel 34 (Eze 34:1-10,23-24).
The apostle Paul shows a totally different mind than these corrupt leaders. Opposite to the savage wolves of which he knows they will sneak into the church after his departure, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29), he shows his mind when he says: “I do not seek what is yours, but you” (2Cor 12:14).
4 The LORD Does Not Answer Them
4 Then they will cry out to the LORD,
But He will not answer them.
Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time
Because they have practiced evil deeds.
After the accusation follows the sentence. There is no mercy for those who do not show mercy (Jam 2:13a). They do not listen to their victims when they beg for mercy. If these unfaithful, ruthless leaders will cry out to the LORD in the misery that will come upon them, He will not listen to them either (Deu 31:17; 1Sam 28:6; Isa 1:15; Jer 11:11; Pro 1:28; 21:13). After all, they will only cry out to be set free from misery and not because of repentance for their sins and iniquity.
That God hides His face from someone is the worst thing that can happen to anyone (Psa 22:2; 69:17). God does that here with His people. This is the result of their sins (Isa 54:8). It means that He withholds His mercy from them (Jam 2:13a). It is ultimately the horror of hell. As blessed as the grace of God is, so horrible is His wrath. God has always answered (Psa 22:5), but when the time of grace is over, the evil ones will not get an answer.
5 Again Against the False Prophets
5 Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray;
When they have [something] to bite with their teeth,
They cry, “Peace,”
But against him who puts nothing in their mouths
They declare holy war.
After Micah has spoken about the leaders in the previous verses, he speaks about the false prophets in verses 5-8. A prophet is supposed to pass on God’s words and thereby lead God’s people on the right path. But instead of leading the people, these prophets seduce the people. Opposite the false prophets in verse 8, Micah places the true prophet. He speaks here in a sarcastic way.
The leaders rule by power. The false prophets exercise power by twisting the words of God. In this way they are in the process of leading God’s people, “My people”, astray. In this way the prophets support the judges in their malice. Today there are powerful leaders, governors, and also people with a captivating charisma, who promise prosperity and healing, which deceives many. Often these are also people who thereby exercise power. What they have in common is that they do not serve the Lord Jesus but their own belly (Phil 3:19; Rom 16:18).
The false prophets are people who predict peace and happiness for a bite of bread and some money. To serve their own bellies they deceive the people instead of telling them their sin and preaching penance. They rock the people of God to sleep by flattering and encouraging them in their sins.
And if they get nothing, they foretell doom. The content of their preaching depends on the amount of money they receive. They let themselves be influenced in their preaching by the money or gifts they receive. They only preach for the rich and they promise them only prosperity. The degree of prosperity they predict depends on the amount of money or the gift. The poor are told that they will experience even more misery, because they have nothing to buy a good message with.
6 Night and Darkness for the False Prophets
6 Therefore [it will be] night for you—without vision,
And darkness for you—without divination.
The sun will go down on the prophets,
And the day will become dark over them.
Prophets are supposed to spread light for God’s people. These false prophets pretend to have ‘the light’. They pretend to be enlightened people who know more than the ordinary members of God’s people. But false prophets draw from dark sources. Therefore, darkness will be their destiny.
Because these false prophets have violated the consecrated ministry of prophet so much, the LORD pronounces a fourfold judgment on them, all in connection with darkness. The first judgment is in short, in Hebrew: “Night for you!” They will see no more visions from the realm of darkness; there will be no more occult apparitions. The darkness with which they are connected will completely surround them. Their divination will be over. They will no longer have a message from the abyss for anyone.
They will never see the sun again (Amos 8:9; Jer 15:9), it will never be day again for them. The setting of the sun aptly indicates that these prophets have no connection with the Lord Jesus, the Sun of righteousness. They have led others into the darkness, while presenting the light to them. Because they present themselves as divinely enlightened persons who promise daylight to those who ask their counsel, they will end up in darkness.
7 Seers and Diviners Ashamed
7 The seers will be ashamed
And the diviners will be embarrassed.
Indeed, they will all cover [their] mouths
Because there is no answer from God.
“The seers” and “the diviners” belong to the false prophets. Their shame will be revealed because there will be no answer from God. There will come a time when they will stand exposed, tongue-tied, because all their prophecies will be denounced as lies. It will become clear that they have spoken without the LORD having sent them. Their shame will be seen when none of all their beautiful promises will turn out to be true.
Covering the mouth, literally mustache, seems to be a sign of sadness and here also of shame (cf. Lev 13:45).
8 Filled With Power to Preach
8 On the other hand I am filled with power—
With the Spirit of the LORD—
And with justice and courage
To make known to Jacob his rebellious act,
Even to Israel his sin.
In contrast to the false prophets, Micah now speaks about himself and gives the characteristics of the true messenger of God. He knows of himself that he speaks through the Spirit. This is not pride, but an awareness of God’s presence.
Every part of this verse is of great significance. It shows the preparation and equipping of the prophet of God. He speaks with power through the Holy Spirit (2Tim 1:7), while the false prophets speak only from their own spirit (Eze 13:3). He is full of holy courage to make known to the people their sins, despite what the people desire (Mic 2:6).
If there is such a clear difference between the false prophet and the true prophet, how come the people fail to distinguish between counterfeit and real? The cause of this is their luxurious, opulent life and their low moral condition. As a result, they have a complete lack of interest in the things of God. Materialism has blinded their eyes and flattened their feelings, leaving them without any interest in these essential things.
And if they want to satisfy their religious feelings, they are happy to pay a false prophet with part of their wealth. In return, he gives them a sermon that soothes their conscience and makes them revel in their lust. The same applies to contemporary Christianity. One chooses and pays a preacher who weighs his words so cautiously that he bypasses and prevents any stimulation of conscience (2Tim 4:1-4).
These kinds of preachers are false prophets who believe that the gift of God can be obtained for money (2Pet 2:15; Acts 8:18; Jude 1:11). True prophets are not out to please people, but they please God Who examines the heart (1Thes 2:4; Gal 1:10). They do not let themselves be bribed to say what people like to hear. Because Micah is free from the crimes of his contemporaries, he can address his adversaries with the power of a clear conscience. Fearless, he can testify against the sins of the house of Israel.
Such a message is not received with enthusiasm. Teeth gnawing, he is listened to. Only a few will let themselves be addressed by it. Those who are called by the LORD to rebuke therefore need a lot of courage to persevere.
For this service and the perseverance therein it is necessary to be filled with the Spirit. Filling with the Spirit is a command for every believer (Eph 5:18), how much more than for those who present God’s Word to others. On Pentecost all believers are filled with the Spirit, but it also happens later (Acts 13:52). The fullness of the Spirit is only limited by our ability to receive. If there are elements in our lives that prevent this, we must first get rid of them. It’s not that we get more of the Spirit, but the Spirit gets more of us.
9 - 10 Justice Abhorred and Twisted
9 Now hear this, heads of the house of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice
And twist everything that is straight,
10 Who build Zion with bloodshed
And Jerusalem with violent injustice.
The fact that Micah is a true prophet is shown once more by these and the following verses. He does not mince his words. Filled with the Spirit and power, he presents the leaders of the people their sins (verse 9). In powerful language, which the leaders must have experienced as very shocking, he denounces their corrupt inner life and their wicked actions. Their abhorrence of justice is their reluctance to be honest. Amos also speaks about people who abhor the law (Amos 5:10). Twisting what is right is deliberately misrepresenting things.
“Build … with bloodshed” (verse 10) means that their beautiful buildings have been built through gruesome extortion. We can also think of judicial murders, as Ahab committed them (1Kgs 21:1-15) and later Jehoiakim (Jer 22:13-17; cf. Hab 2:12). In this way they think they can get a firmer hold of Zion and come to a higher esteem. They consider themselves capable governors. Anyone who stands in the way of their plans is expropriated through the courts. This judicial method is set up in such a way, that it fits in with their plans. In this way Jerusalem is built “with violent injustice”. Any resistance against it is useless.
In truth, however, they are not building the city with it, but preparing it for its destruction, as it says in verse 12. Before Micah says that, he summarizes the sins of the various leaders in verse 11.
11 Haughty Boasting
11 Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe,
Her priests instruct for a price
And her prophets divine for money.
Yet they lean on the LORD saying,
“Is not the LORD in our midst?
Calamity will not come upon us.”
The whole legal system is fundamentally corrupt. All those who have a place of prestige and authority are out for their own benefit (Jer 6:13). “Their leaders”, the civil authorities, enforcers of civil law, must ensure fair justice. But they let themselves be bribed (Exo 23:8). In the licensing policy, for example, the big businessmen get the licenses by giving bribes. The one-man businesses do not get a chance and go bankrupt.
“Her priests” have the task to teach the people in the things of God. They receive the reward for this from the LORD (Num 18:20; Deu 17:8-11; 18:2; 21:5; Lev 10:11; Eze 44:23-24; Mal 2:7). But these priests only teach if they are paid for it. Their tongues are for hire. They are ‘worthy’ successors of Balaam, who loved the wages of iniquity (2Pet 2:15).
The website rentapriest.nl shows that this is topical. On this website, ministers offer themselves for e.g. baptisms of children and full-grown and marriage/blessing relationships both heterosexual and homosexual. On the website it says: ‘All Rent a Priest’s ministers are academically educated, so they are all truly professional ministers! Very unique is that the team of Rent a Priest Netherlands consists of both priests and pastors. All are ecumenically minded, open-minded ministers!’
I once heard from a couple that had hired such a ‘clergyman’ via internet for their wedding service. The rates run – in 2020 – from €60,00 (for an intake interview) to €495,00 (for weddings and funeral services).
Once I heard from a couple that had hired such a ‘clergyman’ via internet for their wedding service. The foolishness spoken out during the service can be guessed.
It should come as no surprise that on such an occasion people claim the presence of God. So did the Israelites in the days of Micah. In their blindness, they use the alleged presence of the LORD as a kind of mascot who protects against possible doom. They trust that no harm will befall them. But the wrath of the LORD about this attitude is great (Jer 7:4,8-11).
The prophets are also mentioned again by Micah. Once again he speaks in clear words about the fact that these people are diviners. They are not in connection with God, but with Mammon, the god of money.
Of all these leaders it is true that they make the LORD a cover for their sins. It fills the measure of their sins. Never let the LORD connect himself with sins. Wherever that suggestion is awakened, He will judge.
It is particularly repugnant to the LORD that those who have the name to be His people exalt themselves on the privilege of His presence. It is utterly reprehensible to Him that they use this presumption for self-glorification and to justify evil, daring also to claim Divine favors and help.
In their vain imagination and carnal confidence they lean on the LORD. He who builds on the LORD in faith may count on Him as the rocky ground of his existence. But he who leans on Him, while using Him only to achieve his own goal, will perish hopelessly.
Pretentious, they proclaim it: “Is not the LORD in our midst?” In doing so they point to His temple. But if there is no living and humble relationship with Him, it sounds like a magician’s charm. Then it is like the wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, taking the ark of the LORD with them in the battle against the Philistines, as if they could use God for their evil plans (1Sam 4:3). The result is a humiliating defeat and their death.
12 On Account of the False Priests and Prophets
12 Therefore, on account of you
Zion will be plowed as a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple [will become] high places of a forest.
What happened to Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli, will also happen to Zion and Jerusalem. Zion is the district with the royal castle, Jerusalem is the rest of the city. Separately, “the mountain of the temple, the Temple Mount, is mentioned, because the people boast that the LORD is in their midst, in the temple.
All their boasting and self-deception will result in the destruction of their religious center. As a result, they will be deprived of the opportunity to bind the name of the LORD even longer to their self-willed religion.
In the same way, the professing Christian system of Babylon will be put to an end in one hour. It will become an object of horror for all those who have conspired with it (Rev 18:15-19).
About a hundred years later, some elders of Jerusalem quote this verse to save Jeremiah from a death sentence. Jeremiah is threatened with death because he fearlessly announces that Jerusalem will be destroyed if its inhabitants do not repent (Jer 26:4-6). Then the people imprison him under the guidance of the priests and prophets. All of them agree that he should die (Jer 26:7-9). They go with their indictment to the princes (Jer 26:11).
When Jeremiah has defended himself (Jer 26:12-15), some elders remind the people of what Micah said (Jer 26:18). They also point out that Hezekiah did not deal with Micah, as they now want to do with Jeremiah (Jer 26:19). Hezekiah has not charged what Micah says here as evil, but has accepted this verdict. The prophecy has also been fulfilled literally (Neh 2:17; 4:2; Lam 5:18).
The quotation of this verse by the elders in Jeremiah 26 (Jer 26:18) proves how the word of God echoes through the years. It still does. It will always remain true and everything will be fulfilled. Herein lies a great consolation and hope for everyone who wants to hear it (Rom 15:4). Through Scripture, faith looks forward to the great final salvation that will surely take place.