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March 22 lesson: An Argument Against Corruption

March 16, 2020
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An Argument Against Corruption

Spring Quarter: Justice and The Prophets
Unit 1: God Requires Justice


Sunday school lesson for the week of March 22, 2020
By Dr. Hal Brady


Lesson Scripture: Micah 3:1-3, 9-12; 6:6-8
Key Verse: Micah 6:8


Lesson Aims
  1. Summarize the condition of Judean leadership of the late eight century.
  2. Explain why the requirements of Micah 6:8 were especially necessary for leadership of the day.
The book of Micah is another of the 12 Minor Prophets. Micah’s ministry took place in the second half of the eight century BC. His times were full of turmoil and uncertainty for both Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). The Assyrians were a dangerous threat to both kingdoms. They were the instrument in God’s hands to carry out his judgment against Israel when the capital city of Samaria fell in 722 BC.

The title locates the prophet geographically (from Moresheth) and temporarily (in the reigning days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah) and indicates that the focus of his message concerned Samaria and Jerusalem (1:1).

Micah and Isaiah were contemporaries (compare the lists of kings in Isaiah 1:1 and Micah 1:6). Both ministered in Jerusalem. Micah’s message included words of judgment against both Israel and Judah. His book begins with a reference to Samaria and Jerusalem, representing Israel and Judah respectively (1:1). Both are indicted for rebellion against the Lord (1:5-9).

In Micah 3, the source of today’s lesson, we see language reminiscent of that found in the previous study from Habakkuk 2. Habakkuk, however, was describing the conduct of the foreign Babylonians. Unfortunately, on the other hand, Micah is describing the behavior of those who are part of God’s covenant people and should know better.

Condemned Leadership
(Micah 3:1-3)


The people being addressed in Verses 1-3 are the rulers, the heads, the political and judicial leaders of the people. They were appointed to uphold the law, to make sure that all the citizens were treated equally and fairly, regardless of their societal wealth or status.

So Micah begins this address to the leadership with a rhetorical question about their knowledge of justice. “Should you not know justice…?” (Micah 1:1).

The question implies that leaders ought to know what true justice is and how to exercise it faithfully and consistently. And the obvious answer or response to that question is yes, as the prophet assumes the leaders he addresses agree that the establishment and maintaining of justice is their proper task.

Justice, however, requires God’s people to behave according to his righteous standards (contrast Jeremiah 5:5; Matthew 23:23). Exercising justice reflects a person’s awareness of God’s standards of right and wrong (example, Leviticus 19:15).

However, those leaders to whom the prophet is speaking have not done their job. Because they hate the good and love the evil makes it impossible for them to administer proper justice. Their moral compass points in the wrong direction. Both Isaiah (in Judah) and Amos (in Israel) address this perversion of values at about the same time (Isaiah 5:20; Amos 5:14, 15). And both the northern and southern kingdoms are guilty of rejecting the Lord’s standards.

Micah then describes the leader’s terrible actions toward the people with a metaphor that is both coarse and shocking. These leaders, he says, tear, eat, flay, break, and chop “my people” as one could slaughter an animal to be eaten.

Here Micah uses figurative, symbolic language to illustrate the extreme degrees to which these leaders hate the good and love the evil. They are so indifferent to the people they are meant to serve that they can be compared to butchers.

The leaders are meant to administer justice and uphold righteousness. Doing so would allow the people to flourish, both physically and spiritually. Instead, the leaders do the opposite by perverting justice and thwarting righteousness.

Ezekiel, whose ministry will take place more than a century later among the captives in Babylon, uses similar language (Ezekiel 11:2-7; 24:3-6).

Centuries later, Jesus will describe the leaders’ greediness when he speaks of how the teachers of the law “devour widows’ houses” (Luke 20:46,47).

And Paul in turn warns Christians against our own type of cannibalism in Galatians 5:15.

As you see, Micah used images of cannibalism as a shocking illustration of the unjust practices in his day. He condemned Israel’s leaders for treating people as sources of nourishment instead of as creatures made in God’s image. Christians today must still be on guard against the tendency to use people to get what they want or need instead of valuing them as God’s beloved children.

How do we resist “cannibalizing” others?

Condemned Hypocritical Leadership
(Micah 3:9-12)


In Micah 3:4-8 (not part of today’s lesson), the prophet declares the Lord’s judgment on the leaders (compare Deuteronomy 1:45). Then Micah exposes false prophets (Micah 3:5-7). Next, he contrasts their selfish motives with the divine authority that undergirds his own prophetic ministry (Micah 3:8). And this leads to further condemnation.

Beginning with verse 9, Micah has more words for the rulers and the prophets. However, this time he also includes the priests in his criticism. Every area of society – business, government, and religion – is corrupt. Those who should act on behalf of the people have abdicated their responsibilities and brought on them much misery. And these same leaders are responsible for the punishment that God will soon send on the city and nation.

These leaders abhor “justice!” To “pervert equity” means to twist, to make crooked, that which should be straight. The remainder of the accusation hints at the specifics of this charge. While those listening to the prophet were in the midst of the majestic city of Jerusalem, the prophet’s eye saw something else behind the crafted cutwork and the carefully hewn stone. The prophet knew something of the human cost of these buildings. Perhaps some of his own countrymen from Moresheth had been involved in forced labor assignments or as workers who were not paid a fair wage. Micah knew that the city had been built “with blood” and “with wrong.”  These leaders were exploiting labor, and this too was to “abhor justice.”

You will remember that Habakkuk indicted the Babylonians for building “with bloodshed and ... wickedness'' (Habakkuk 2:12). Here, however, it is not the pagans but the leaders of God’s covenant people who are charged with cruelty. The implication, like that of the butchering image before, is that the leaders are taking advantage of the people for their own gain.

Political officials, priests, and prophets come in for scathing transgressions. When God established the function of “judge,” he made it clear that those exercising this responsibility must never accept bribes or exhibit favoritism in their decisions (example Leviticus 19:15). The leaders in Micah’s time ignored these standards. All these judges were interested in was what reward, in the form of a bribe, they could obtain for their services.

And the “priests” and “prophets” whose offices were especially sacred were no better. They too were guided by financial rather than spiritual priorities. They are willing to lie in order to earn their fee (example, Jeremiah 6:13). The prophets are described as those who tell “fortunes for money.”

Micah also adds “priests” to the list of those who are willing to sell their integrity and their God-given responsibilities for a price.

Now, if God’s messengers are more concerned with financial gain or pleasing people rather than with listening to God, then society is in grave danger. It is only a matter of time until destruction comes.

Of course, Paul later taught that “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” and be compensated for their work (1 Corinthians 9;14). However, Paul’s method and motive were very different from those condemned by Micah. The leaders of Micah’s day were motivated by greed.

As if these disgraceful practices of these leaders were not enough, these fraudulent leaders now have the audacity to claim God’s presence as a cover for their detestable conduct (see also Jeremiah 7:4). The Lord had promised to place his name in Jerusalem when Solomon built his temple there. But that promise remains contingent on the people’s obedience (2 Chronicles 7:12-22). The leaders of Micah’s day were prime examples of disobedience.

Point to ponder! If we stand idly by while some are treated unfairly, in the belief that it has nothing to do with us, we may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

In verse 12, we see that such arrogant, brazen behavior by the leaders of God’s people cannot be tolerated. The “disaster” that the leaders confidently claim will never come (Micah 3:11b) will indeed come – and its arrival will be terribly severe. “Jerusalem,” the great city of David, will be reduced to “a heap of rubble” (see Leviticus 26:31).

“Zion” will be treated as nothing more than a “field” for plowing (Lamentations 5:18).

The “temple hill,” which refers to the location of the house of the Lord, will be reduced to a forested area.

We are told that approximately 100 years after Micah’s time, his prophecy of Jerusalem’s demise was quoted by some of the elders in Jerusalem as a warning not to ignore Jeremiah’s message (refer to Jeremiah 26:17, 18).

They noted that King Hezekiah heeded Micah’s warning. However, rejecting this example and ignoring Jeremiah will imperil the whole city (see Jeremiah 26:19).

Heavenly Living
(Micah 6:6-8)


Micah 6 opens with Micah’s final appeal to the people to hear what the Lord has to say. Whereas the previous calls were aimed primarily at Judah’s leadership, this one is directed at the people (Micah 6:3). The Lord portrays them as defendants on a witness stand, facing a series of questions from him. He proceeds to give the people a history lesson, recalling his gracious acts on their ancestors’ behalf (Micah 6:4,5).

So God has done all these things for the people. Now the people ask what God expects in return. In verse 6-7, an individual raises the question for the whole community. What can we do to please God, especially at those times when we have gone astray and need to make things right with God again?

Consequently, the worshiper wants to know what God wants from him/her. Then the worshiper offers a series of possible answers: “Burnt offerings,” “year-old calves,” “rams,” “rivers of oil,” “even the worshiper’s first born.” The questions about quantity gradually rise to ridiculous levels (“thousands of rams” or “10,000 rivers of oil” in verse 7a). Then, at the end, there is a qualitative jump with the suggestion that God may even require the giving of a human life (v.7b). God had once asked that of Abraham, but then prevented Abraham from completing that terrible sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Yet, God has not kept his desires a secret; what he requires is not a mystery. God has revealed what he considers “good” and what he wants (see Deuteronomy 10:12, 13; Mark 12:33). What God wants are the people themselves, given to the Lord in lives that reflect his priorities and passions.

“To act justly!” Treating people justly may be thought of as treating people just as God would treat them (example, Jeremiah 22:3).

Dorothy Day, the great Catholic social worker, once asked “Why is it that when I raise money to feed the poor, ‘I’m a saint’ but when I ask why they are poor anyway, ‘I’m a communist?’” To work for justice is not just a nice thing, it’s a sacred obligation.

“To love mercy!” Mercy in Hebrew means both identifications and empathy, involvement and intense feeling. It describes the feeling of getting inside another person’s skin and feeling what he/she is feeling or hoping or asking. Simply stated, mercy is the other person’s pain in our heart.

It is important that Francis of Assisi once came upon a half-frozen beggar. Wrapping his own coat about him, Francis said, “Here friend. Here is thy cloak. I have kept it from thee far too long already.” Francis identified with the beggar and then extended mercy.

Extending mercy also includes expressing forgiveness! Now, the key to understanding both justice and mercy lies in a relationship with God, which is where the challenge to “walk humbly” applies (as Isaiah 57:15). Without such a walk, justice and mercy are unattainable.

The issue before us is that God’s people must conduct themselves in ways that are pleasing to God. Amen.

Action Plan
  1. How would you explain to someone the difference between good and evil?
  2. What modern imagery would you use to describe corrupt leaders today? Why?
  3. What plan can you make to identify and improve the requirement in Micah 6:8 that is most lacking in your life?
Resources for this lesson
  1. “2019-2020 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christan Teaching,” pages 253-260.
  2. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII,” pages 556-557, 559-562, 579-580.
  3. “Interpretation-Hosea-Micah,” by James Limburg, pages 174-176, 178-179, 189-193.
  4. “Old Testament Prophets for Today” by Carolyn J. Sharp, pages 149-156.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
 

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