The Decivilization of Judah Micah 3
How Judah’s corrupt leaders infected the nation and led to its downfall
What goes around comes around. That means you can’t get away with doing wrong because eventually, wrong will be done to you. Biblically, it is the law of sowing and reaping, something the Judean leaders would learn about firsthand.
So evil were they in the days of the prophet Micah that God used grotesque metaphors to describe their cruelty and promised to make them pay for what they did. Micah 3 elaborates on Judah’s corruption, denounces both civil and religious leaders, and announces the imminence of divine retribution.
Chapter 3 begins with a call for these leaders to hear God’s message: “Hear now, O heads of Jacob, and you rulers of the house of Israel: Is it not for you to know justice?” (v. 1). The names Jacob and Israel refer to the southern kingdom of Judah because Assyria already had destroyed the northern kingdom. All of Judah’s rulers and leaders, especially the judges, were supposed to know the Mosaic Law and adjudicate righteously, using God’s standards of right and wrong (Dt. 1:13–17).
Instead, they were tyrants who hated good and loved evil (Mic. 3:2). They aided and abetted the criminals in Judean society for greedy, selfish gain and heartlessly consumed every possession their victims owned:
You who hate good and love evil, who tear off their skin from them and their flesh from their bones, 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 (vv. 2–3, NASB).
These men were like starving, wild animals that savagely and mercilessly grab their prey, rip it open, and devour the flesh and blood. So thorough were these butchers that they hacked up their victims like cooks who chop the meat and grind the bones of an animal they plan to boil.
Such grotesque metaphors emphasize the deep depravity of men who should have safeguarded justice; guaranteed human rights; and protected their Judean brethren, particularly the underprivileged. Instead, they abused their positions and exploited everyone. God calls their prey “My people,” a term of endearment that highlights the Lord’s love for His covenant people Israel (v. 3).
But what goes around comes around. “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19; cf. Dt. 32:35). Micah warned that God someday will turn the tables on these vile rulers; and though they beg Him for mercy, He will not answer them: “Then they will cry to the Lᴏʀᴅ, but He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, because they have been evil in their deeds” (Mic. 3:4).
These profane men lived as though there were no God to whom they must give an account. So God will hide His face from them and refuse to ease their anguish. He will show them no grace or mercy because they showed none to the people of Judah who cried out for their help.
The second group God condemns is the false prophets:
“Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ concerning the prophets who make my people stray; who chant ‘Peace’ while they chew with their teeth, but who prepare war against him” (v. 5).
People looked to the prophets as men who knew the mind of God and therefore would direct the nation properly. Instead, they deliberately misled Judah for their own selfish ends. God condemns such people and puts them under a divine curse (Dt. 27:18).
Some scholars believe the phrase chew with their teeth means they only predicted peace and prosperity for those who gave them food or material goods. Others believe it speaks about their lying words, which bit like a serpent. Both teachings are true. To someone who gave these false prophets nothing, they prepared “war against him”; that is, they predicted a curse. “Therefore,” Micah declared, “you shall have night without vision, and you shall have darkness without divination; the sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be dark for them” (Mic. 3:6).
God’s judgment will descend on these charlatans like night and darkness, words that depict their impending destruction. He will not give them visions or explain their calamity. Nor will they claim to have visions from the God of peace and prosperity. In that day, they no longer will use “divination” (magic and spiritism). The sun will set on their prosperity—and on any possibility of deliverance (v. 6).
In that day, “the seers shall be ashamed, and the diviners abashed; indeed they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer from God” (v. 7). People who looked to these prophets for direction and illumination concerning the future will disown them and put them to public shame. These prophets will be “abashed,” or struck dumb, because their prophetic gift will be stripped from them. In humiliation, they will “cover their lips” (v. 7). Covering the lip (including the face) signified embarrassment, shame, and mourning (Lev. 13:45). Covering their mouths was an appropriate sign that they had nothing to say. It would seem these prophets did possess a true gift from God; but over time, they prostituted it for financial gain.
In contrast, Micah walked with the Lord: “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8). He stated three facts about his power and authority:
- He was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to speak God’s Word.
- His words of justice or righteous judgment were not his own. They came directly from God.
- He was given might, or manly courage, to stand fearlessly against men and preach boldly against the sins of “Jacob” and “Israel” (the entire nation, cf. 3:1, 9).
Verse 9 recaps the scathing sins of Judah’s rulers and religious leaders and denounces their false confidence that God will not allow calamity to strike them. Micah called them men who “abhor [despise] justice and pervert [twist] all equity,” distorting the facts of each case in Judah’s courts. No one could be assured a fair verdict unless he bribed the judge.
Judah’s leaders “build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity” (v. 10). That is, the wealthy extorted the poor. Jerusalem’s buildings and palaces were built with blood money gained by fraud, confiscation of property, and even murder. The entire justice system was utterly corrupt: “Her [the nation’s] heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money” (v. 11).
God established the priests to teach, interpret the Law, and decide questions on religion and ritual—free of charge (Dt. 17:8–11). But they only did so for financial gain. He established the prophets to provide divine guidance gratuitously. But they used demonic divination and charged for it (cf. Balaam, Num. 23—24).
“They lean [support themselves] on the Lᴏʀᴅ, and say, ‘Is not the Lᴏʀᴅ among us? No harm can come upon us’” (Mic. 3:11). These corrupt leaders believed they had immunity from judgment because (1) the Israelites were in a covenant relationship with God, (2) God’s Shekinah Glory dwelt in the Holy of Holies, and (3) they scrupulously offered the required animal sacrifices at the required times.
How mistaken these men were. Their gross immorality and hypocritical religious practices made God’s judgment inevitable: “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest” (v. 12).
Because of their sins, three events will befall Jerusalem. First, Zion will be destroyed and become a leveled field for plowing and planting seeds. Second, Jerusalem will be razed and left in ruins. Third, the Temple Mount will become overgrown with trees, briars, and thorns.
Godly King Hezekiah took Micah’s prophecy to heart. He humbled himself, repented of sin, and brought religious and social reforms to the southern kingdom of Judah (Jer. 26:17–19). Because Judah turned to God, God postponed its destruction for more than a century.
Micah’s message is certainly a word from God for our time. Many Americans today worship materialism and technology and pay lip service to God, if they acknowledge Him at all. William Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education, said it well: “There is a coarseness, callousness, and cynicism, a banality and a vulgarity to our time. There are just too many signs of decivilization: that is, civilization gone rotten.”1
What goes around comes around. Judah’s fate may be waiting for others around the next bend.
- Jim Nelson Black, When Nations Die (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1994), 7.