Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly - Part 2

Series: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sermon by David Strain on Jun 2

Micah 2-3

Well now if you would take a Bible and turn with me to the prophecy of Micah, chapters 2 and 3. Micah chapters 2 and 3; page 776 and 777 in the church Bibles if you’re using one of our church Bibles. We began to consider the message of Micah a few weeks ago. We turn now to these two chapters were Micah continues his oracle, his message of rebuke and discipline on wayward Israel. Israel is divided into two kingdoms - the northern kingdom takes the name “Israel,” the southern kingdom the name, “Judah,” but they are God’s people. Micah has an oracle of warning and judgment for them both and here we’re going to see, in these two chapters particularly, the sin, the transgressions that were characterizing their national life spelled out for us in some more detail. Micah goes after the wealthy and the powerful for their oppression of the weak and the poor and the disenfranchised.

And one of the features of these two chapters is the connection that Micah makes between oppression and injustice amongst God’s people and the failures of preaching and the proclamation of the Word of God. And he shows us that these two things are connected. When the people of God start to live more like the world than the kingdom, he traces the root of that spiritual disorder to the failure of the ministry of the Word. So these are biting, challenging chapters for us in our affluence and our comfort and our position, generally speaking, of power and prestige in our society. Micah is talking to us. And yet we need to hear it if we are going to be faithful and obedient to the call of Jesus Christ in our own day and generation.

We’re going to consider these two chapters under three headings. First of all, chapter 2, 1 through 11, we’ll see oppression characterized. Micah describes some of the features of the oppression and injustice that were rampant in society in his day. Oppression characterized. Then chapter 3:1-12, we’ll see the oppressors identified. Micah calls them out, different segments of society - the rulers and the prophets and priests in particular are highlighted as the culprits. Oppression characterized, the oppressors identified, then we’ll back up again and look at chapter 2:12-13 to see the Deliverer prophesied. Right in the middle of all of this rebuke there are notes sounding of Gospel hope that point us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The oppression characterized, the oppressors identified, then the Deliverer prophesied.

Before we read God’s Word, let’s pause again and pray. Let us pray together.

O Lord, would You now, by the work of Your gracious Spirit, open our eyes that we might behold marvelous things out of Your Law. For Jesus’ sake, amen.

We won’t read all of chapters 2 and 3. Let me simply read a few sections that sort of epitomize the material so you get a flavor of it, beginning with chapter 2 verse 1. This is God’s holy Word:

“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. Therefore, thus says the Lord:  behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster. In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, ‘We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.’ Therefore, you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.

 

‘Do not preach’—thus they preach—’one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’”

And then look over at chapter 3 verse 9. Chapter 3 verse 9:

“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.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

Like it or not, ours is a society of growing income and equality. The American Dream is part of our cultural narrative. But life in America today, for many, tragically especially for children, is a nightmare of grinding poverty with little chance of change. The startling statistics of human trafficking and modern slavery proliferating right under our noses are so hard to stomach that frankly most of us prefer to be ignorant of them altogether so the monstrous trade in young girls goes on largely unnoticed. I heard a news report a few weeks ago about the spread of a predatory financial scam that targets the elderly in particular, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our society robbed, not only of their income but actually of their dignity as well. And we could go on listing scenarios and illustrations of oppression and injustice on every hand.

And yet, maybe because of things like compassion fatigue or straight-up cynicism towards people who make arguments about oppression for thinly disguised party political ends, and yet don’t you find it hard to hear the Bible’s call to care for the poor without reading it somehow as a sort of social agenda covertly aligned either to the political left or the political right. I think that’s a real temptation for us when we hear the challenge, the call to care about the world around us - to love our neighbors, to care for the poor in particular. It’s easy for us to retreat to safe enclaves of party political conviction either to affirm or decry, to denounce in hostility or to use what we are hearing and what we find in places in Scripture as a stick to beat others and to win arguments with rather than to hear God’s Word speaking to our own hearts and consciences in humility.

And yet there’s no avoiding the fact that the prophecy of Micah simply will not let us off the hook when it comes to the believer’s responsibility to care for the poor. If we’re going to hear what God is saying to us here correctly, we need to understand while oppression and injustice were everywhere in the world that Micah occupied - the Assyrian Empire was the superpower of the day; many of the nations surrounding Palestine in those days, they were characterized by injustice and oppression - but that’s really not Micah’s concern or focus. Micah’s concern is not to speak to the world at large about injustice but it is to call the Lord’s people out when their behavior begins to look more like the unbelieving world than it does the citizens of the kingdom of God. The pagan Assyrians, they were oppressors, they were preying on the weak and the vulnerable and that would have been of no surprise to Micah, but that the people of God, the covenant people might live that way, that’s a scandal that Micah could not fail to denounce. So Micah is not preaching what we might call a social gospel, but he is preaching the implications of the true Gospel for the way that we live as we seek to be good neighbors and faithful citizens in the midst of a dark world. And we have to be willing, we’ve got to try to get our heads into a space where we are willing in humility to hear the voice of God speaking in holy Scripture, even if - or better - especially when what God has to say to us calls us outside of our comfort zone.

Oppression Characterized

So would you look with me please at Micah chapter 2 verses 1 through 11 first of all and let’s think about the way Micah characterizes the oppression that was everywhere in his day. Here is oppression characterized. You will immediately notice in verse 1 of chapter 2 that the oppression he denounces is willful and inventive. It is imaginative. You see that in verse 1? “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.” Simply because of the power to do it, there were people in Micah’s community, members of the church of the people of God, who spend their private time inventing new ways to prey upon the weak. And when day dawned, that is right out in the clear light of day without shame or embarrassment, because they have the power to do it they follow through on their wicked schemes.

And notice in verse 2 that the oppression in view in particular here is economic in its character. He’s talking about what we might call ruthless, predatory business practices - driven, notice in verse 2, by covetousness. “They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, and his inheritance.” You will remember of course the tenth commandment forbids covetousness. It’s the sin of acquisitiveness, of greed. And it speaks, doesn’t it, not just to behavior but to the heart, to the deep layers of inner motivation - covetousness. And so it shows us that God’s Law is not just about what you do but about what you think and feel about the layers of motive that drive our behavior and our actions. And the flipside is also true - that the tenth commandment positively commands godly contentment with the provision of God to whom alone we are to look for our daily bread. So that was God’s standard for His people then, just as it is for His people today.

But in Micah’s day, the direction of the moral law was being disregarded. Instead, the powerful were preying upon the weak so that they took away their inheritance. Now that word “inheritance” in verse 2 is important. The inheritance of God’s people was not so much a sum of money, you know, bequeathed to your children at death in your will. Don’t think about that so much as you should think about an allotment of land assigned to your family in the Promised Land. It was a way of indicating you belonged forever to the people of God and the covenant promises of God could never be taken from you. You have an inheritance in the community because you have a plot, a land. The lines that fall for you fall in pleasant places because of your inheritance in the land and in the people of God. And so the symbolic significance of the land of your inheritance in the land meant for the people of Micah’s day and generation to lose that inheritance wasn’t simply an economic problem; it was also a spiritual catastrophe. So there really is no regard on the part of the wealthy elite for the little guy, for the welfare of the little guy - the economic and material and spiritual welfare of the little guy. “It’s just business,” they would say.

And so verses 3 through 5 of chapter 2, God speaks a word of judgment. Do you see that in verses 3 through 5? “Therefore, thus says the Lord:  behold, I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster.” Back in verse 1, remember, the wicked, the oppressors devise evil as they scheme to prey upon the weak and the vulnerable. Here now in verse 3 it’s God who devises disaster. Actually, it’s the same word used in verse 1. God now devises evil against them. Here’s what Micah is saying. When we devise what God considers evil deeds, God devises what we would consider evil consequences. That’s worth repeating, I think, as a general principle and a useful warning for us all to hear. When we devise what God considers evil deeds, God devises what we would consider evil consequences. So be warned. That’s what Micah is saying. Be warned.

And we mustn’t forget that he is speaking to the covenant community. He’s talking to the church. We’re not to think for a moment that the rebukes and the discipline of God do not fall, even in this life, upon those who devise evil just because they’re not pagans. You know, “We’re members of First Church and so we’re exempt!” No, Micah’s whole concern in these chapters is to shake those who thought themselves secure in the church of his day, to shake them from their slumber and to make them aware that merely professing faith in the Lord while you live like the enemy of God and His people can provide no defense from His judgments, both in this life and in the life to come.

And before we move on, did you notice the extraordinary ironies lacing verses 4 and 5? Look at verses 4 and 5. While they’re busy oppressing others, they don’t seem to care at all about taking away the inheritance of the Lord’s people as long as they’re lining their own pockets. But when God brings the same thing upon them, they are filled with complaints against God for His injustice. Look at verse 4. “In that day they” - the oppressor - “shall take up a taunt song against you” and against God “and they shall moan bitterly, and say, ‘We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate’” - probably the Assyrians - “‘he allots our fields.’” That’s their complaint. They are whining that God is not treating them fairly even though only a few verses before in this chapter Micah calls them out for doing the very same thing to the weak and the vulnerable in their community.

And so, God’s conclusion - “Therefore, you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.” You will have no inheritance left to you. Those who disenfranchise the poor will themselves be disenfranchised. And yet in their entitled, self-absorption - do you see it - they’re complaining about God taking away their inheritance. They are moaning bitterly as if God were the unjust one. It’s extraordinary. And we really do have to work to make sure that this lands with us, as uncomfortable as it is. Because Micah, remember, is not preaching here to the far away politicians and decision makers in the court of the wicked Assyrian Empire. He’s preaching to the church. He’s talking to us. He’s saying to us, “We must not mimic the practices of the world in the way we use power just because we have power.”

You might not think you have power, but let’s take a look around the room for a moment and be honest with ourselves. This is a room full, for the most part, of doctors and lawyers and political consultants and social elites. We are well connected, we are economically privileged, we are culturally secure. We sit on boards. We leverage our contacts. We are cultural gatekeepers who make decisions about who gets to belong and whose face doesn’t fit. And I know for sure, having spoken to many of you, of this struggle precisely that there is a real temptation along with those great privileges to cut corners in business, to look the other way at dodgy investments that might make us a fast buck but that will wound the weak and the unwary along the way, to make more, even though you already have more, because greed has gotten its claws into us. We easily forget the words of Jesus, don’t we, that “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And so instead of accepting a relative wealth and prosperity as an undeserved kindness of God and so holding it with humility, with open hands in a posture of careful generosity, the danger for us is that we get defensive and we become entitled as if the worst thing that could happen to us would be to lose money or power or influence and we’ve forgotten Christ’s exhortation - “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?”

The people, the elites at least of Micah’s generation, had forgotten to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and so find that all their daily necessities were provided for them also. They had forgotten that. And the question of our passage really must be, “Have we?” Have you forgotten to “seek first the kingdom and His righteousness” and to use the resources with which God has blessed you for the glory of His name?

And then look down at verses 6 through 11 please because here the connection between oppression in the community and the failures of preaching begin to become clear. We’ll see them again when we get to chapter 3 in a moment. Verses 6 through 11, Micah anticipates the reaction of his hearers, his original audience, to his pretty punchy message. You see how they respond in verse 6 to his preaching? “‘Do not preach’—thus they preach—’one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’” And the first half of verse 7 probably continues their speech and should be in quotation marks as well, indicating now their counter-sermon, their counter-address to the people to whom Micah first spoke. They turn now and they preach a sermon of their own in the first half of verse 7. Look at what they say to God’s people - “Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Has the Lord grown impatient? Are these his deeds?” Do you see what they’re saying? “Look, don’t listen to him! Micah doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That’s not what God’s like at all. He’s patient and kind and if there’s anything to forgive, of course He’ll forgive! Isn’t that His job after all?”

And if you skip down to verse 11 you get to see what Micah thinks about their preaching, the kind of preaching he thinks the community would really prefer. Verse 11 of chapter 2, “If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!” That’s his assessment of what they really want. “Give us someone who will endorse our lifestyles; tell us the way we party is perfectly acceptable before God. We don’t want preaching that speaks to our consciences, thank you very much.” Isn’t that why the prosperity gospel is so wildly popular still, isn’t it? It’s easy on the ear after all. People like Joel Olsteen and Beth Moore and so many others, they have a huge following because they’re going to tell you that God wants nothing more for you than your happiness and your health and your material prosperity. It’s so easy on the ear. And while you’re listening to their honeyed words, they quickly slip in, “And please don’t forget to donate $100 to the number scrolling across your screen here to ensure your portion of the hundredfold blessing of God.” It’s a scam. It’s a scam.

Instead, if you look at the second half of verse 7 you get to see God’s reply to these so-called preachers. “Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly? But lately my people have risen up as an enemy.” And here’s exactly what He means. Here is how they live. Here’s their oppression characterized. “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.” It’s interesting that women and children are mentioned here as among the most vulnerable in Micah’s day. They’re still largely among the most vulnerable in our own day as well. That’s why James 1:27 is so important for us. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Tender concern for orphans and widows, for women and children, for the weakest and the most vulnerable - that’s the mark of a child of God whose heart is changed by the grace of God in the Gospel. That’s what James is saying. But the predatory elites of Micah’s day saw them only as easy marks and targets for their greed.

And so, verse 10 - there’s judgment coming. “Arise and go, for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with a grievous destruction.” The land of promise should be a land of rest, but not anymore. Instead they will be taken away into exile by the Assyrian Empire.

Alright, so here’s Micah’s point in all of that. Here’s what we are to do with all of this. It might seem obvious to us to say it, but we need to remember there is a vital connection between faithful preaching, faithful preaching and the kind of radical holiness in the lives of God’s people that spills over in the way we behave toward the weak and the poor and the marginalized, the way we spend money and make money and give money, the way we care for the widow and the orphan. Preaching that is easy on the ear and easy on the conscience, that preaches to us of wine and strong drink, that tells us, “I’m okay  you’re okay! God is patient. God will forgive. That’s His job!” preaching like that, Micah says, results in the cultural captivity of the church and leaves us liable to divine rebuke. Oppression characterized. Do you see it? The way Micah characterizes the injustice of his day.

The Oppressors Identified

The let’s look together at chapter 3 because how he goes a little further and he identifies the oppressors. Oppression characterized, now the oppressor identified. In verses 1 through 4 of chapter 3, the rulers are mentioned. They prey on the people with such abandon that Micah compares them to cannibals, stripping the flesh from his people’s bones. And get this. In verse 4, when judgment comes, these people 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.” Now I think that’s a chilling word for us, a warning. It tells us these folks could turn on religion when they needed to. They would run to God when the going got tough. But God is not impressed with sudden, uncharacteristic penitence in the middle of a catastrophe. He is not misled by foxhole conversions because God does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks on the outward appearance. God looks on - what? Are you awake? God looks on the heart. God is interested in inside-out renovation. The change, the transformation of your life so that you begin to love the things that He loves. Those who submit to Him, who name His name, who trust in Christ, love Him and keep His commandments. That’s Micah’s point.

That’s not at all what the elites of his day were doing. They think that they can use Jesus like an insurance policy. Have you come across that phenomenon? Maybe you’ve tried it yourself - to use Jesus as an insurance policy while you live your life on your own terms. It simply will not work. If you will not have Christ on His terms, you cannot have Him at all. And so, Micah calls out the rulers.

But then, in case you think that preachers get off scot-free, we get smacked upside the head in just a moment here because he calls out the prophets next. They’re also part of the oppressors that Micah goes after in this part of the chapter. He gives a word of personal testimony for us in verse 8 as a faithful prophet. He says that his admittedly punchy expose of the people’s sin is empowered by the Spirit of God in verse 8. That’s where he gets his boldness in preaching from and the courage to say hard things. But what a contrast Micah provides to the false prophets who were preaching to his generation. If you look back at verse 5 for example, you will see something of the way they went about their so-called ministries. They cry, “Peace,” for those who feed them and war on those who put nothing in their mouths.

Or look at the summary statement of this whole business in verse 11. The community’s 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.’” You see what’s happening? The elites in Micah’s community have the prophets and the priests in their pockets bought and paid for and so it’s no surprise that their message was always easy on the ear, full of comforts. The sting of Biblical conviction or the warning alarm of divine rebuke was never to be heard from them.

So, look, the ministry of the Word of God sets the tone and the temperature for the life of the people of God. In our day as in every other day, Micah’s day included, there were all kinds of pressures to recast the message in therapeutic terms, to push preaching to the margin and replace it with something easier and more attractive, to reinvent the purpose of the preaching ministry so that it’s always filled only with pleasant encouragements. “We want a pep talk, you know, to send us from the church on the Lord’s Day with a spring in our step and a song in our hearts knowing that all is right with the world!” And so, in Micah’s day at least, the danger was that the people only ever heard what they wanted to hear when the alarm ought to have been sounding, because of their danger and the terribly precarious position in which they stood before the holiness of God. It’s a real danger. It’s a danger for us too, isn’t it - to want preaching that tells us what our itching ears want to hear. It’s a danger we must resist at all costs. Micah chapters 2 and 3 tell us what happens to the people of God when they do not.

Oppression characterized. The oppressors identified - the rulers, even the preachers. But then finally and very quickly, will you look back at chapter 2 verses 12 and 13 at the end of the chapter? Right here in the middle of this extended word of rebuke and discipline there is a word of Gospel hope. Micah speaks of a Deliverer prophesied. Do you see it in verses 12 and 13? Verse 12, there is the image of God, the Good Shepherd, who assembles His people like a flock in its pasture. And in verse 13, God is described now again as a conquering King who breaches the siege barriers that have surrounded them by their enemies. And He goes up before them and comes out from among them to lead them. Micah’s talking about the Shepherd King, not David - David’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole second half of his prophecy is primarily designed to speak. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The sheep hear His voice and He calls His own sheep by name and He leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them and the sheep follow Him for they know His voice.

Micah is saying, “Look, there is another way to live.” There is another way to live. The oppression of the elites and their pet preachers expose them to judgment to be sure, but rescue comes in Jesus Christ. He delivers His people. He sets captives free. “Bend the knee to King Jesus,” Micah would say to us. Those who follow Him have been delivered from sin and judgment and one of the great marks of those who have followed Him and been so delivered is care for the weak and the poor and the marginal, for the widows and the orphans. They show integrity and compassion in business. Compassion in business! They display generosity and hospitality in the midst of prosperity, and they trust the Lord for daily bread. There’s a connection, do you see it, between embracing the true Gospel and being a good neighbor; between submission to Christ the King in our lives and compassion for the unlovely who live all around us. However orthodox our doctrine, however orthodox our doctrine, if we don’t show mercy to the poor and if outsiders, people who don’t look like us, who don’t come from our comfortable community, are not welcome in our lives and in our church, we are functionally denying the lordship of Jesus Christ.

So let me ask you, “What are you living for?” Really, what are you living for? I’m not asking can you say the right words about who is Jesus and, “Yes, I’m a Christian and here’s what the Gospel is.” I’m asking, “What are you living for?” Have you perhaps forgotten somewhere along the way lately that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of things? What profit is it to you if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? If all you want is your best life now, will you please hear the warning that that is likely all you’ll ever have. But come under the mastery of Christ, the Shepherd King, and you get a whole new kind of life. You find pardon for sin; you’re set free from the tyranny of living for power and money and reputation and all the idols of our day and our age. You remember the words of Jesus - “Whoever loves his life loses it, but he who loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, finds it.” Die to yourself. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” For joy over the treasure buried in a field, sell all that you have that you may possess the treasure. Find Christ, take hold of Christ whom to have is of greater value than any earthly trinket, and you will find life, real life, life in all its abundance.

Who and what are you really living for? It may be that God’s Word to you, to me, in our affluence and our ease and our power and our prestige, is a call to repentance, a call to renew our commitment to living for others before ourselves, to leveraging the resources with which we’ve been blessed for the advancement of His kingdom rather than padding our dens. May the Lord give us grace to hear His Word and to come back and bend the knee to the great Shepherd King. Let’s pray together.

Lord our God, we confess to You how easily, how easily the idols of our age - money, affluence, comfort, pleasure - get their claws into us - greed gets its claws into us. And so, we’re discontent. The more we have the more we want and happiness, joy, rest eludes us like sand through our fingers. And yet here today You have spoken to us a word of warning and of invitation. You have rebuked us for our worldliness. You’ve called us on our lack of concern for the poor and for the weak. And yet You’ve offered to us in Your Son, the Lord Jesus, a different way. So now before You we come, as it were on bended knee, to the Shepherd King, asking You first to have mercy and to do that great work of renovation in our lives from our hearts all the way out to our hands, to the way we live in our community, to the way we treat our neighbor, to the way we show concern for the least and the worst, for the way we do business and use our resources. Would You do a work in us now, for Your glory, that Your name may be held in honor and the truth may be given its great illustration in our transformed lives. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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