Shameless Shepherds

1 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. Micah 3:1-4 ESV

The last two verses of the preceding chapter provided a glimmer of hope concerning the future for the people of Judah.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But now, the prophet returns to the more immediate and pressing problem facing Judah: Their condemnation and guilt and the judgment God is bringing upon them because of it. In this instance, Micah turns his attention to the leaders of Israel, those whom God was holding particularly accountable for their failure to protect and guide His flock.

This is not the only time when God expressed His unhappiness with the religious and civic leaders of Israel and Judah. The prophet Ezekiel was given a message from God to deliver to “the shepherds, the leaders of Israel.”

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” – Ezekiel 34:2-5 NLT

He went on to accuse these men of abandonment and abuse, fueled by selfishness and self-preservation. And then He condemned their actions by guaranteeing His judgment of them.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

God asks the leaders of Judah a rhetorical question designed to accentuate the egregious nature of their sin: “Is it not for you to know justice?” (Micah 3:1 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “justice” is mishpat, and it carries the idea of “judgment” or “the act of judging.” As the leaders of God’s people, these individuals should have known what He expected in terms of proper conduct. God had given His law to Moses, and it contained an extremely detailed list of rules and regulations designed to govern virtually every area of Hebrew life. God had left nothing to chance or up to their imaginations.

And yet, the leaders of Israel seemed to behave as if they were ignorant of God’s commands. In fact, God flatly states, “you who hate the good and love the evil” (Micah 3:2 ESV). They were completely out of touch with God’s expectations concerning “justice.” And, once again, this was not a new problem. God had pointed it out before. The prophet Isaiah also called the people of Judah to repentance, demanding that they begin obeying God’s holy law once again.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

Isaiah even compared Judah to the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God had destroyed for their wickedness.

Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
    Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.” – Isaiah 1:10 NLT

Notice Isaiah’s mention of the law of God. The people of Judah were ignoring God’s decrees and living according to their own brand of justice and righteousness, with the end result being that they celebrated evil as good and good as evil. Just a few chapters later, Isaiah pronounces a woe upon all those who choose to replace God’s justice with their own perverted version of reality.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

God compares these men to hunters who mercilessly kill their prey, stripping off the skin and tearing the meat from the bone. And the imagery is meant to be graphic and alarming. Notice that God doesn’t refer to the people of Judah as sheep, but as “my people.” The description of the slaughter and subsequent “devouring” of God’s people was meant to conjure up images of cannibalism, something that would have shocked even the most insensitive and sin-saturated among them.

The prophet Zephaniah records another stinging condemnation from God against the leaders of Jerusalem.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men;
her priests profane what is holy;
    they do violence to the law. – Zephaniah 3:3-4 ESV

Rather than providing compassionate care, they consume. Their judgment, rather than being guided by justice and righteousness, is driven by their uncontrolled animal desires. They profane God’s holy law by replacing it with their own set of man-made standards designed to feed their sinful appetites.

But Micah warns that these very same individuals will one day find themselves on the receiving end of all the pain and suffering. The predators will become prey. The hunters will become the hunted. And when the tables are turned and these leaders cry out to God for help, He will ignore them.

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. – Micah 3:4 ESV

These men had been given the honor of leading God’s people. But that role came with heavy responsibilities. God considered them to be shepherds of His sheep. Their primary role was that of caregivers, tasked with protecting and providing for those over whom God had made them stewards. Their first and foremost responsibility was to ensure that God’s people knew God’s laws and lived according to them. But these men had failed at their task. They had used their positions of power and influence to feed their own egos and line their own pockets. And God was going to hold them accountable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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