God is not Mocked

Micah’s prophecy develops the themes of judgment and redemption. None will escape the former and only those who obtain the latter can pass through uncondemned.  Paul House observes this interplay: “Micah moves back and forth between how the present needs reformation and how God will guarantee a bright future for the remnant.” Both the personal and public consequences of idolatry and other kinds of unfaithfulness are laid bare in Micah’s plainspoken word of prophetic inspiration. Chapter 3 is a continuation of a relentless description of sin and consequent judgment.

I. Judgment

A. Chapter 1 – God can’t be confined to his temple but will judge all nations

1. Verse 1 – The reigns of the kings of Judah are identified as the time frame for this prophecy narrated in 2 Kings 15-18 and 2 Chronicles 27-29. It concerns both the northern kingdom, Samaria, and the southern kingdom, Jerusalem.

2. verses 2-4 – Rather than receive the people in the temple (2), the place of the mercy seat and the acceptance of sacrifice for trespass, sin, and guilt, God leaves the temple (3) and “comes forth from his place” to bring a withering judgment on both nations, both Jacob and Israel (5). He treads on the “high places” for from those places institutionalized idolatry has spread into every place. How pervasive and centralized this perverse religion has become is seen in the identification of Samaria with rebellion and of Jerusalem with a “high place” (5). 

3.  The Lord will make Samaria a “heap of ruins” destroying agriculture and built-cities because of the idolatry (6, 7).

4. The prophet is brought to great lamentation and becomes a symbol of the unforgiven transgression of Samaria. His nakedness brings us back to Adam’s discovery of his nakedness upon his transgression (Genesis 3:11).

5. The rebellion and consequent judgment of Israel seeps into Judah (9-11, 13)), permeating every type of locality that will be stripped of its beauty, fairness, fruitfulness, and peaceful conditions. The Philistines should not hear about this lest the godless rejoice, but where repentance is necessary, they should see that they are but dust (11).

6. The judgment that is coming soon to Israel will eventually make its way to Judah. They are called, therefore, to deep lamentation for even the “children of your delight” will have to suffer a hardship for which they are totally unprepared (16).

B. Chapter 2 – Wickedness of everyday life establishes the certainty of judgment.

1. Evil, like Jezebel in her plots against Naboth, is planned and executed (1, 2). They tease out their robberies and covetous shenanigans at night, carefully plotting when they should be sleeping. Then the well-planned thievery is executed the next day.

2. God, therefore, plans a like evil of judgment against them, so that they cry out against the oppressive attack that has taken their land and destroyed their security (3, 4). Like the sinner of Romans 2:1-4, they are guilty of the very evil they resent in others.

3. They will learn what it is like to have no advocate for justice pleading their cause (5). They were elected by grace, have been maintained by grace, and God has no obligation to grant them anything but the oppression they have so richly deserved.

4. Even though God blessed them with prophets who brought to them words that would do them good, give them life, secure their temporal stability, and lead them to life, they rejected them, doubted their inspiration, and even sought to forbid them to speak (6, 7).

5. They repress even those who have fought in battle for them, apparently stealing from them the spoil of battle (8). They attack even women and children.

6. God sends them away, therefore, for their promised land has become a theater of doing evil, delighting in gain by injustice and oppression, and ridiculing the mercy that sends true prophets. What they deserve is a false prophet, a mere blowhard, who will coddle them in their sinful revelry and put them, therefore, under even greater judgment (10, 11).

7. Lest it appears that God is even more fickle than the people, he reasserts his intention to maintain the promises in the covenant to a remnant who will be redeemed, released from the bondage of sin. One among this remnant will be a “breaker” who breaks through the barrier that keeps the remnant enclosed. This breaker is the Lord himself (12 – 13).

II. Chapter 3 – Micah returns to his narrative of the sins of the tribes of Israel and Judah—”and I said.” Micah reveals the perversity of the rulers. He does this in two sections—verses 1-3 and 9-11. Respectively the conclusion to each of these sections sounds a warning of judgment in verses 4 and 12. Verse 5-7 reveal the carnality and emptiness of their false prophets. Verse 8 describes the contrast between Micah and these false prophets.

A. Again Micah uncovers the perversity of Israel, its “heads and rulers,” that will surely bring judgment.

1. The heads and rulers do not pursue justice but demonstrate that they love evil and hate good (3:1, 2). By their conduct they show that the true justice and moral structure that God revealed in the law had been rejected by them and they have, therefore, fallen into the natural moral darkness of the corrupt human heart. None who reject God’s law, his lordship, his rights as sovereign Creator will ascend to any higher state of truth, justice, or morality but will live in progressive stages of evil and destruction.  

2. Micah uses metaphors of killing and dressing animals for a stew as an indication of the callous disregard the rulers had for the well-being of the people. They cared only about their own bellies, their own pleasure, and their maintenance of power. They feasted at the expense of those for whom they should care by just government and principles that would bring a righteous prosperity to the people. They did not concern themselves with the moral context of their civil duties. Like abortionists and the defenders of it in the present day, they strip the skin, break the bones, and chop up the flesh of the most vulnerable and put it under the nomenclature of rights and compassion.

3. When judgments comes and they cry out to the Lord, because they have not heard the cries of those who sought from them kind treatment and just dealings, he will not listen. He will let them reap the whirlwind for their sowing to the wind. They have done nothing to curb injustice but have themselves practiced it and enriched themselves through its destructive power. They will on that account feel the retaliation of true justice for their evil.

B. What about the prophets?

1. The false prophets with whom the people surrounded themselves prove just as rapacious and sensual as the perverters of justice. Feed them and they are happy and predict good times for the nation—“Peace.” If any do not bow to their falsely assumed prophetic calling, they do not announce “peace,” but declare war.

2. Their falsehoods will fall on them in judgment, and they will find that they have no answer. They have no word from the Lord. Their mouths are shut and their eyes are blind. Darkness descends on them and consequently the people also know that the word of the Lord comes not. As Amos prophesied, a famine of the word of God has come (Amos 8:11). When they and the people need to know what is happening, they find no divination, no answer, and so they can only cover their mouths.

3. Micah, however, knows that he is “filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord” (8). But the message of immediate deliverance that they desire, he does not deliver. He stands against the whole lot of the selfish, deceitful charlatans with both “justice and courage” and proclaims to them their sin. He points out their rebellion. This is the work of the prophet, both law and gospel. The law reveals the sin and rebellion of the human heart, and it must be announced in all its absoluteness and severity and threatenings. The hard times of judgment will certainly come if there is no way for God to be just and yet justify the sinner. So, in the power of divine revelation, the prophet may also announce that a breaker will lead forth his sheep from bondage into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

C. But now, back to those “heads and rulers” (9) and the content and consequences of their actions.

1. Far beyond the failure to practice justice, as if it were too hard for them or too high for them, they in fact “abhor justice.” They willingly and willfully take what is straight and true and twist it (9). When the city should be built on principles of justice and should establish safety for its inhabitants, its rulers make it a place of bloodshed where the murderous not only are unpunished but are among those rulers and leaders (10).

2. Cupidity engulfs every level of leadership. Leaders make their judgments on the basis of a bribe. Priests give instruction “for a price.” Prophets conjure up supposedly divine revelations as merchandise. And they all combine with a question of rampant incredulity and sickening hypocrisy, feigning their dependence on the Lord, “Is not the Lord in our midst?” They unanimously agree to the myth, “Calamity will not come upon us.” This construal of lies sets before us the horror of taking the Lord’s name in vain. They have claimed warrant for their lies from the immutable holiness of his character: “Is not the Lord in our midst?”

3. Now the truth from the true prophet says that, as a result of these very lies and the actions of those who should assure God’s blessings on the people, severe judgment comes. Zion, the city of God, will be plowed as a field. Its culture, its places of commerce, its dwellings, its people will be leveled like a plowed field and Jerusalem will be a “heap of ruins” (12). And the most tragic and ironic part of this judgment is that its temple—the place of true worship according to the revelation of the sacrificial system that promises a Redeemer—will become like a high place in the forest where pagan deities give nothing, promise nothing, but only destroy their devotees.

4. Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Even today, the prophets with “justice and courage” must call out the failure of justice, the corruption of bribes, the emptiness of practical paganism. With equal clarity and courage bolstered by confidence in its undiminished display of pure justice, the prophet announces the gospel of the cross. There truth, justice, and mercy kiss one another and establish the only hope for forgiveness and eternal life.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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