Judah’s Corrupt Leaders

Micah 2:1-13

God gave the Jewish people the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance. However, their uninterrupted possession of it was conditioned on the nation walking in God’s ways and keeping His commandments. Failure to do so would result in Israel’s temporary removal from the land (Lev. 20:22). Throughout her history, Israel broke all of God’s commandments, and both Judah and Israel lost the land of their inheritance.

In Judah’s society, abuse of the Mosaic Law was graphically illustrated by the deeds of the elite who misused the poor. These affluent and influential men illegally appropriated the property of the less fortunate and sold off their holdings, like livestock, for unpaid debts. Their control of the legal system stripped the poor of their rights. And no one spoke out against these injustices except the prophets in Judah.

Micah was well aware that the wealthy were preying on the poor. The prophet called these rich rulers to account for how they oppressed the downtrodden, perverted justice, and destroyed the moral and social fabric of the nation. The court scene presented in chapter 1 continues in chapter 2. God finds these rich rulers guilty of criminal acts against the poor and pronounces judgment on the nation.

The Poor Defrauded
Micah began his message by condemning the deeds of the wicked:

Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence, and houses, and take them away; so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage (vv. 1–2).

The word woe is a pronouncement of guilt and a threat or imprecation from the Lord concerning the calamity about to befall the wealthy for their ill treatment of the poor. Affluent landlords coveted the peasants’ land that joined their estates. These wicked men lay awake all night, carefully devising well-engineered plans to acquire wealth at the expense of the poor through manipulating the country’s legal system. If that did not work, they seized property by brute force. Crooks usually cover their felonies under the shroud of darkness; but these sharks perpetrated their crimes during the morning court sessions. These powerful landlords used slick lawyers who perverted justice by finding loopholes in Judah’s legal system. They so tightly controlled the courts that the poor had no right of appeal on the judicial decisions handed down.

Upon entering the land of Canaan, every Israelite received a portion of land. Owning land provided a man with freedom and a livelihood and brought civility and stability to Israel’s society. If a peasant was deprived of land in this agrarian society, he became a day laborer at best and a slave at worst. Property surrendered for debt was never to be kept forever but was to be returned to the original owner in the year of jubilee (Lev. 25:13). Confiscating a man’s land with no intention of ever returning it defied the divine principle of inheritance set forth in the Mosaic Law (Dt. 19:14).

The Lord declared through the prophet, “Behold, against this family do I devise an evil [a calamity], from which ye shall not remove your necks, neither shall ye go haughtily; for this time is evil” (v. 3). Notice that God disowned them as His people by calling them “this family.” As these wicked landlords had devised evil against the poor, God will devise evil to befall them. Humiliation and the iron yoke of judgment will replace the pride of Judah’s affluent. They had oppressed their fellowman; now they will experience the same fate.

In the day of judgment, the mourner will chant a doleful parable of lamentation and say, “We are utterly spoiled; he hath changed the portion of my people. How hath he removed it from me! Turning away, he hath divided our fields” (v. 4; cf. Dt. 28:37). In their distress, the rich landlords will cry out like the poor whom they had defrauded and victimized. As they had defrauded the poor of their land, so their land will be permanently stripped from them and confiscated by the conquering heathen. There is no indication they cried out in repentance, only in remorse, on losing their land to a heathen nation.

These covetous landlords will receive the same treatment they inflicted on the poor. “Therefore,” said Micah, “thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord by lot in the congregation of the LORD” (v. 5). In short, these unscrupulous landlords will have no one to measure an allotment of land to them as Joshua did when he divided land among the tribes of Israel (Josh. 14:1–2). Because they blatantly oppressed the poor, they were permanently cut off from any inheritance within Judah and would have no part in a future restoration to the land.

The Prophet Denounced
The covetous landlords and false prophets commanded Micah to stop prophesying because he preached truth that revealed their corruption: “Prophesy not, say they to them that prophesy; they shall not prophesy to them, that they shall not take shame [disgrace]” (v. 6). The words translated “prophesy not” are from natap, a Hebrew word that means “to drip.” In other words, these men were telling Micah, “Stop dripping irritating words of condemnation on us.” The prohibition against prophesying is immediately followed by another form of natap that is translated “them that prophesy.” They were commanding Micah to stop prattling on about threats of judgment because his prophecy of shame and disgrace (so they claimed) would not come true for Judah.

Micah was considered a dangerous agitator because his pointed prophecy disgraced these landlords and embarrassed the false prophets who foretold only peace and prosperity.

Micah was considered a dangerous agitator because his pointed prophecy disgraced these landlords and embarrassed the false prophets who foretold only peace and prosperity. These men believed that as long as Micah’s “impertinent,” “irrelevant,” and “inappropriate” prophesying continued, they would be humiliated and disgraced in the public eye.

Micah answered his critics by asking three rhetorical questions concerning their ongoing complaint: “O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of the LORD shortened [less long-suffering]? Are these his doings? Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” (v. 7). These landlords and false prophets boasted that they were the chosen people of God, descendants of Jacob, men God was pleased with for their faith and obedience. But Micah informed them that they had ceased to be anything like their father Jacob. They were wrong to imagine that God was no longer long-suffering toward His Chosen People because He announced judgment on Judah. God has always been and still is long-suffering. These men also had reasoned that, if God is long-suffering, and He promised blessing through Jacob their forefather, how can judgment be His “doings?” In their minds, Micah was wrong to characterize God as a God of wrath and vengeance who punishes His people.

But they held erroneous views of God’s character. Judgment is not out of character with God’s nature. In fact, God as a Father would be remiss if He did not discipline His disobedient children. Micah’s third rhetorical question, “Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” received a positive answer. God’s words are, in fact, good and prove to be a blessing, not a threat, to the upright.

Micah pointed out that these princes of Judah were committing acts of injustice at the time of his prophecy: “Even of late [literally, “yesterday”] my people are risen up as an enemy” (v. 8). In short, the leaders of Judah had committed recent and repeated blatant acts of violence and oppression against society; and by so doing, they became the enemy of the Lord, provoking Him to judgment.

In the preceding verses, Micah provided concrete examples of how Judah’s leaders are the enemies of God. First, they “pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely, as men averse from war” (v. 8). These leaders acted like soldiers returning from a battle with the belief they had the right to ambush unsuspecting and innocent people. They stripped them of their belongings, especially their expensive outer robes and inner garments (tunics)—necessities of life. The law prohibited a creditor from keeping a man’s garment overnight, even if it was taken in a pledge (Ex. 22:26). Second, Judah’s leaders abused women (probably widows) and their children by confiscating their homes and evicting them from their property (v. 9). This deprived their children of the LORD’s glory forever (v. 9), that is, the privileges due them under the Mosaic Law.

These rich landlords had deprived others of their inheritance. Now they themselves will be removed from the land of their rest and inheritance. Through Micah, God ordered the people to rise and depart from the land of Judah. Because the leaders had defiled the land with their despicable deeds, the land will vomit them out. Eventually, they will be removed from Judah through death or captivity (v. 10).

Micah continued: “If a man, walking in the spirit and falsehood, do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people” (v. 11). In other words, these rich leaders accepted the message of the false prophets who predicted affluence and prosperity, but they totally rejected Micah’s message of impending judgment.

The Promise Declared
Micah abruptly changed the tone of his message in verse 12 from one of judgment to a promise of deliverance. First, the restoration spoken of here pictures a greater fulfillment than Judah’s deliverance from its seventy-year captivity in Babylon. The prophecy looks forward to a day when the Messiah will gather and restore all saved Jews and lead them into the Promised Land at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom. Second, He will gather them in great numbers like “the sheep of Bozrah,” an area in Edom known for rearing great flocks of sheep. Third, Israel will return to the land “like the flock in the midst of their fold [pasture]” or to a productive field that will provide for all its needs. Fourth, the throngs of returnees will be so great that the sound and shout of their rejoicing over salvation will echo throughout the pasture lands like a “multitude of men.”

Micah closed this portion of his prophecy by introducing the Deliverer of Israel who is called “the breaker” (v. 13). The term breaker is a Messianic title and refers to the time when the Messiah will deliver Israel from her enemies during the Great Tribulation. Shepherds function as breakers when they remove a wall, hedge, or any obstacle that would impede their sheep from passing through a gate to pasture. In like manner, the Messiah will break open the way; remove every obstacle in Israel’s path; and go before the nation as its King, leading the redeemed through the gate to Kingdom blessing (v. 13). Though Judah faced judgment, a future, glorious day of deliverance still awaits.

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