Justice for Injustice (Micah 2)

The following below is a sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.

*Originally preached in September 2021*

Sermon Audio: Justice for Injustice (Micah 2)

Pharmaceutical companies ballooning prices on life-saving medication; insurance companies refusing to pay out when they really should; politicians taking bribes to stay quiet about corruption; dishonest car salesmen peddling broke down cars to unassuming customers for as much money as they can get. 

Does God care about these things? We all intuitively recognize these things as wrong, as unjust. We don’t think they are simply things we disagree with or examples of inconveniences. We believe down to our core that these are wrong. And that is because we are made in God’s image, and our God is a God who cares deeply about justice.

Our church has begun studying the book of the prophet Micah. Micah was an unknown man from a small town (Moresheth) who was given the daunting task of declaring to Israel her sins, exposing the guilt of the popular and powerful, and holding forward the promise of salvation that God would work for those who repented of sin and trusted in Him. 

Here in Micah 2 we are going to see those with power exploit and oppress the weak in society. But, God will not stand by. He will act.

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.
2 They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance.
3 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.
4 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.”
5 Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
in the assembly of the LORD.
6 “Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
7 Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Has the LORD grown impatient?
Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
to him who walks uprightly?
8 But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
with no thought of war.
9 The women of my people you drive out
from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
with a grievous destruction.
11 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!
12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
they break through and pass the gate,
going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
the LORD at their head.

–       Micah 2:1-13

The Weak Oppressed

Micah presents us with several snapshots of what he calls “workers of evil” in this chapter. 

In verse 1 we are told that they are those who are eagerly and enthusiastically plotting out their evil. As they lay in bed they daydream about their schemes and efforts. At the first crack of dawn, they leap from their beds to enact their plans. These are people who are thrilled by their evil desires and with the “power of their hand” have the ability to carry it out. So these aren’t just people with plans but the power, money, status, and connections to carry out that desire.

In verses 2, 8, and 9, we are told the object of their desire: other people’s possessions, homes, and land. Verse 2 explains that they “covet” these things. What does that mean? To “covet” is to have an illicit desire for what isn’t yours. The tenth commandment explains, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s,” (Ex 20:17). 

Last week, in chapter one Micah declared to Israel her sin of idolatry. Here, in chapter two Micah is to declaring to Israel her sin of covetousness leading to the oppression of the vulnerable, which sounds like a very different thing. But Paul in his letter to the Colossians will explain that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). So, while chapter one is dealing with formal idolatry, here in chapter two we are seeing the informal idolatry of the heart. The ten commandments begin with a prohibition against idolatry (1 and 2) and conclude with a prohibition of idolatry (10). Why? Because what you worship, what you love most will control you.

In verse 8 we are told that they outright rob people of their robes, becoming enemies to their neighbors. Verses 2 and 9 hone in on their desire for land and homes which may have been taken by force (as the verbs “seize” and “drive out” could indicate) or through financial pressure. We know for certain that God evaluates that what they are doing as wicked, as constituting “oppression” (vs. 2), and it appears to be particularly targeting the most vulnerable of society (women and children, vs. 9). One possibility is that wealthy landowners could pressure the poor into risky loans with high interest that would cause them to forfeit their land and houses if they were not paid on time. Exodus and Leviticus, however, forbids the charging of interest and requires property to be returned to its owner at the year of jubilee (Ex 22:25-27; Lev 25:23-28). Further, in Joshua God portioned out the land to each tribe; everyone was supposed to have their own piece of land that they could work and develop so that they could provide for themselves and for the community.

Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, writes of the same problem occurring in Jerusalem: “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land,” (Isa 5:8). The wealthy land barons don’t care that their predatory property seizures are leaving widows and the fatherless homeless and destitute—all they care about is the bottom line, that their portfolio swells, and their profits roll in. 

This should sober us. It might be tempting to think that in personal matters, our faith should affect how we treat people, but in business dealings we can be as cutthroat as we need to be. Do you think your business life, how you treat and pay your employees or treat your competition is a secular matter that God has no place in? Friend, God cares how we treat one another—and God especially cares how we treat those who are most vulnerable and most easily exploited in society.

This also comforts us. Just as in Micah’s time, today there is economic disparity between the rich and poor, and the wealthy often use their wealth to (or generate more of their wealth by) oppressing the poor. Here we see that if we are on the receiving end of injustice, God Himself is taking note. “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed,” Ps 103:6

The Word Ignored

How can Israel persist in this? When you read through Israel’s Law it is amazing how many laws there are specifically about justice and equity for the poor. How could God’s chosen people have veered so far away from God’s ideal? They had turned the radio dial to a different station—they ignored God’s Word. As this nobody prophet from the middle of nowhere castigates the wealthy and powerful for their exploitation, they wave him away dismissably:

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

–       Micah 2:6

The wealthy, the comfortable, the powerful are certain that if Micah is preaching judgment and telling them to change they are certain he must be wrong. What do they want hear?

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!

–       Micah 2:11

Make us laugh, preacher; tell us what we want to hear, make us feel good! We don’t even care if you’re lying to us! God here hones in specifically on “wine and strong drink”—certainly to condemn their habit of drunkenness (see Isa 5:11, 22), but also to demonstrate that the people only want to hear about the luxuries, the comforts that their wealth affords them. In other words, they not only want Micah to stop preaching about God’s judgment, but they want to be told that God supports their lifestyle. 

Paul warns young Timothy of this in 2 Timothy: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” (2 Tim 4:3-4). This can take many forms today, but it is present anywhere where the Word of God is constrained and silenced to make something that God hates, look as if God endorses it—whether it be greed, sexual immorality, violence, racism, etc.

But God’s rhetorical question asked back in verse 7 bear repeating, “Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?” (Mic 2:7b). The word for “uprightly” there is the Hebrew word yashar, and it is elsewhere translated “equity” or “straightness” and is used in connection in the Bible with the word “justice.” To “walk uprightly” means to follow God’s path for justice. The oppressors telling Micah to stop speaking God’s Word are assuming that if they walk that path the Word will not do them good—they think that God’s ethical teaching of care and protection for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the fatherless is hindering their good, is inhibiting their happiness. Friend, I wonder if you have ever felt that way about God’s Word. Have you been suspicious that something that God has commanded—forgive your enemies, be generous with your money, maintain sexual purity—is not good?

Before the serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, he convinced them that God’s Word could not be trusted, that God was not interested in their good. “Did God really say…?…You will not surely die, you will be like gods!” He convinced them that God’s Word should be doubted, that God’s Law could be modified, that there would be no consequences if they sinned, and ultimately that God was holding back on them. And the great deceiver has continued to use that same playbook generation after generation, up to this very day.

The Oppressors Judged

How does God respond? Verse 1 opens with the announcement of judgment: “Woe to those who devise wickedness…” One author (Sally Brown) captures the feel of this scene well:

Imagine [prosperous landholders] gathered at a benefit gala. Bursts of laughter ripple through the room; their mood is buoyant. Their common bond, in addition to an elite social standing, is a knack for finding the upside in a volatile land market. But just as they are lifting their glasses to congratulate themselves, the party is interrupted by a messenger. Drinks are poised mid-air; all are strained to listen. The messenger bears a funeral announcement? Whose? Theirs. 

The oppressors have used their power, status, and money to rob and exploit the vulnerable. So now God is going to use His power to do the very same thing to them. In the explanation of God’s judgment we find a reversal of the oppressor’s very own acts falling back on their heads.

–       The oppressors “devised” evil while lying in their beds, so verse 3 tells us God is going to “devise disaster” against them. The word for “disaster” and “evil” are the same (rasha). 

–       The oppressors have “oppressed a man and his house” (vs. 2)—literally, pressed a man down. So God will place a yoke, a burden on their neck of disaster which will humiliate them (vs. 3).

–       The oppressors drive women and children out of their inheritances (vs. 9), that is, their land that was theirs by right. So God will drive them out of their land; their portion will be removed, vs. 4 tells us, “to an apostate he allots our fields.” The oppressors acted like pagans, unbelievers when they disregarded God’s Word, so now He will bring pagans, unbelievers—the Assyrians—to come and steal their land. 

A summary of God’s judgment can be found in vs. 10, “Arise and go, for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with a grievous destruction.” The promised land was meant to be the place of rest, the rest that was lost at Eden. But now, rather than this Edenic rest, the land has become a place of uncleanness that destroys, like gangrene that has spread so totally that the limb must be lopped off.

Friend, are you tempted to envy the wicked? Are you seemingly starstruck by the wealth and influence of celebrities, billionaires, CEO’s, and politicians? Oh friend, don’t be. 

While the Bible does warn that wealth and social status brings with it a whole host unique problems and temptations, the Bible does not condemn being wealthy or popular as inherently sinful. In fact the Bible commands the wealthy to use their wealth to help others and honor God. We should use our money or influence for God’s Kingdom. But, for those who have generated their wealth by or used their social power to exploit others, to disregard God’s Law, to commit injustice? They are no persons to envy. Micah shows us that their acts injustice will come crashing back down on their head, only instead of a finite, limited human or institution using its limited power and resources to carry out evil, they will be in the hands of eternal, omnipotent King of the Universe who will use all of His infinite power and might to bring perfect, exacting justice. 

Jesus Himself taught, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you,” (Matt 7:2). 

The People Redeemed

Micah concludes this chapter with this promise:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
He who opens the breach goes up before them;
they break through and pass the gate,
going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
the LORD at their head.

–       Micah 2:12-13

God had warned Israel long ago that if they abandoned His law, they would be removed from the land and go into exile. And that is exactly what happened, that is what Micah warned Israel of. But here we get a vision even further into the future when God will restore His people from exile. God will gather a “remnant” of those who want to be in a relationship with Him, and He will deliver them from their bondage, and will gather them together again. But notice what it is going to look like:

–       Those delivered will be like sheep. This is not a compliment; those being rescued are totally helpless, incapable of saving themselves.

–       It’s described like a prisonbreak. Those being rescued are captives; a great act of delivery, a conquering of an enemy must be worked.

–       God Himself, the King, will lead the escape. God Himself will work this act of rescue, He will conquer the enemy, and He will lead His sheep back home. 

God’s people had been exiled because of their sin, but after judgment, God brings mercy. It may feel odd, why would God send them away to exile only to restore them? Because it was only through exile that the people could learn how to be sheep, how to trust wholly on the Lord and not on their own understanding, how to be humble. In their arrogance, they had tried to play the role of God, disregarding His Word and setting up their own definitions of what “justice” was. So God humbles them. And it is the humble remnant who will be delivered, who will be brought back to the land and saved. 

Later, when Micah explains what God requires of man he summarizes it simply: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8). If we are to live justly and mercifully, reflecting God’s character and disposition to our community through acting equitably and charitably, then we must be humble. We must let God define good and evil, we must listen to God’s Word, and we must respond to it with faith. God’s Word does good to those who walk uprightly, and it is only the humble who walk uprightly. And because God loves us, He will humble us.

But, of course, this great deliverance from exile ultimately points towards the final deliverance brought about by Jesus Christ through the gospel. Jesus explains: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” (John 10:10-11). There is an enemy who is bent on holding us captive, to act like the Balrog of Lord of the Rings, the fiery monster bent on destruction, sucking all life out of us. The consequences of our sin have brought a terrifying judgment. But like Gandalf, Jesus is the great shepherd who lays down His life to destroy this enemy, who conquers the great enemy through His own sacrifice. Jesus is the good shepherd who died so that His sheep could be set free, could live, could finally return to their eternal home that they have always belonged to, to heaven itself. This tells us

1.     We are very sinful. It took Jesus dying to pay for our sins.

2.     We are very loved. God came back for us. He wanted to lay down His life for us. 

3.     We didn’t contribute anything to being saved. We are sheep dependent on a shepherd.

When we have our sins exposed, but covered; confronted and rebuked, but forgiven, this makes us humble. And it motivates us towards lives of justice and mercy. To lives of following Jesus. 

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