Fleecing the Flock

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,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 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.”
12 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. – Micah 3:9-12 ESV

Micah’s indictment is aimed at all the leaders of Israel, including those in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The problem he was addressing was not an isolated or recent one. Poor leadership had been an issue for the nation of Israel all the way back to the days of King Solomon.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. – 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

It was Solomon’s failure to remain faithful to God that had led to the split of the kingdom. And the kings who eventually reigned over Israel and Judah proved to be, for the most part, just as unfaithful as Solomon had been. But the nation of Israel had always been governed by a triumvirate that included prophets, priests, and the king. So, Micah’s words are directed at all three.

But since Jerusalem had been the original capital of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, he gives it special emphasis. From the palace to the courtroom, the leaders of God’s people were guilty of ruling unjustly and unethically. The prophets, who were supposed to be speaking for God, were busy telling the people what they wanted to hear and charging them for it. The judges, the God-appointed arbiters of justice, were guilty of settling cases based on bribery and extortion. The priests, who were supposed to be serving as God’s undershepherds, were guilty of fleecing the flock, using their position to line their own pockets.

Micah accuses them all of hating justice. Their actions gave evidence of their disdain for God’s ways. Even David, the man after God’s own heart, recognized the presence of unjust leaders in his own day.

Justice—do you rulers know the meaning of the word?
    Do you judge the people fairly?
No! You plot injustice in your hearts.
    You spread violence throughout the land.
These wicked people are born sinners;
    even from birth they have lied and gone their own way. – Psalm 58:1-3 NLT

As far as Micah was concerned, the actions of these men were antithetical to the ways of God. The prophets, priests, and kings were actually working against God, rather than for Him. Micah flatly accuses them of detesting justice and making crooked all that is straight. It wasn’t that they practiced injustice, it was that they actually hated the justice of God. And they were going out of their way to pervert and twist the ways of God, making that which was straight or right, crooked. Their efforts were not inadvertent or innocent. They were deliberately working against God, and the prophet Isaiah points out that, one day, God will step in and straighten the mess they have made.

Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
    and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
    and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
    The Lord has spoken!” – Isaiah 40:3-5 NLT

The problem Micah is addressing in this passage would persist for a long time. In fact, more than a century later, the prophet, Jeremiah, would reference these verses when warning the people of Judah that God’s judgment, while delayed, was still inevitable. He quoted the words of Micah, attributing them to God.

“Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ – Jeremiah 26:18 ESV

God would not put up with this problem forever. These men could continue to abuse their God-given authority, but the day was coming when He would deal with them once and for all. Sadly, these very same men were guilty of claiming to have God on their side. While they were busy misleading and abusing the people of God, they were claiming to have the full power and protection of God.

“No harm can come to us,” you say,
    “for the Lord is here among us.” – Micah 3:11 NLT

One of the reasons Micah emphasizes Zion or Jerusalem was because of the misguided perception the leaders held regarding the sacred city that was home to God’s temple. They viewed the temple as the dwelling place of God and as long as the temple stood, they believed the presence and protection of God were guaranteed. And as long as they continued to offer the requisite sacrifices and keep all the sacred feasts and festivals, they would be immune to disaster and defeat.

And their leaders were guilty of perpetuating this false narrative. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah would attack this dangerous misperception, delivering a stinging indictment from God Himself.

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again?’” – Jeremiah 7:3-10 NLT

And the prophet, Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah’s, would level a similar charge from God against the people of Judah.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

They were guilty of going through the motions. They were doing all the right things, keeping all the prescribed feasts and festivals and offering the sacrifices just as God had commanded, but their hearts were not in it. They were not doing any of it out of a love for God. They had become nothing more than religious rule-keepers, adhering to a perfunctory list of regulations but without any heart for the Rule-Giver.

And Micah points out that there will be consequences for their actions.

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. – Micah 3:12 ESV

Lousy leaders produce flawed followers. And the nation of Israel had experienced a long line of poor-quality prophets, priests, and kings, who had spawned generations of disobedient, unfaithful sheep who were no longer capable of hearing the voice of their Shepherd. Faithless leaders produce faithless followers. Leading the flock of God is a high calling that comes with grave responsibilities and serious consequences for those who use their authority selfishly or unjustly. God cares for His own and He holds His shepherds to a high standard when it comes to the care of His flock.

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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