July 12 lesson: No tolerance for corrupt leaders and prophets
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No tolerance for corrupt leaders and prophets
Sunday school lesson for the week of July 12, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: Micah 3:5-12
Today we are dealing with corrupt leadership and how Micah confronted those corrupt leaders. The main subject of Micah 3 is the injustice and leadership failures of the “heads of Jacob” (3:1). After dealing with leaders of all types – those perverting justice, in legal decisions favoring the rich, those promising judgments for bribes, and priests giving instruction or lack of instruction for money, Micah here renders judgment in a way similar to Amos. But Micah’s harshest criticism is reserved for the prophets – most likely the prophets of Jerusalem. The prophets, who are charged with communicating God’s word to give direction to the people, are being disobeyed. They are speaking falsely and taking money for their favorable words. To be sure, however, Micah states that he is different from these corrupt prophets and actually speaks of Judah’s injustice and sinfulness, which is a message the people do not want to hear.
Beginning in verse 5 (the lesson scripture), Micah focuses his attention specifically on the prophets. The issue is simply that they do not speak the truth. Rather than speaking the truth as it is revealed to them by God, whether the news is good or bad, these prophets are adapting their message to the wishes of those who pay them. Micah sees these prophets in his time as speaking good news to those who give a reward and bad news to those who do not offer compensation.
We are informed that the good news is characterized by the word “peace.” In Hebrew, the term is “shalom,” which is a declaration that all is well, that a state of wholeness and health is present. This is the message that is being proclaimed to those who pay the prophet. But to those who don’t pay or feed them the message is vastly different. The prophetic message is to “declare war” (3:5) against them.
Is it any wonder, then, that Micah sets himself over against these corrupt prophets? As scholars explain, it may be helpful to note that Micah does not actually refer to himself as a prophet, and he does not label his speech as prophecy. No doubt, Micah fits the character of what is commonly known as a prophet. But it may be that the office of the prophet had become so misused and mistrusted that now legitimate prophets did not abide by that label. Thus, Micah declares that he speaks the true word of God and is led by God’s spirit” (3:8).
In the first portion of chapter 3 (verses 9-12), Micah states again his message against the leaders of Israel (verses 1,9). Stating the names Jacob and Israel, Micah reminds those who hear them that these leaders represent people who have a history with the God of Abraham and of the Exodus. Jacob/Israel is the name given to the holy nation. But these leaders are not speaking the truth. As scholars attest, to make matters worse, the heads- rulers and priests and prophets invoke the Lord’s name for support. They continually speak good news. By saying, “Surely the Lord is with us…” (v.11), they ignore the problem the nation faces and the evil that is approaching. So it is that Micah lowers the boom and concludes his indictment against these false prophets. He declares in verse 12 that Judah’s holy city will fall. Jerusalem will be destroyed. Consequently, the people will no longer be able to live under the delusion that God will protect them no matter how they live.
What is a prophet?
The lesson scripture provides us with great understanding as to what the Old Testament means by the word “prophet.” It also gives guidance for people of faith today who want to be part of a ministry that is considered prophetic. Micah’s aim here is to call the prophets of his day to accountability. But in so doing, we are able to observe the characteristics and typical activities of prophets and see how prophets in Israel were not to conduct themselves in fulfilling God’s calling for them.
As scholars inform us, Micah reveals the nature of prophets and prophesy in part by the other titles he gives in parallel to the word “prophet.” For example, Micah refers to “seer” in the same context. Seer and prophet are often understood as exercising in common the function of “seeing.”
One scholar, Carolyn J. Sharp, associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Yale Divinity School states, “Through visions and dreams, prophets see God’s purposes – sometimes for Israel or Judah, sometimes for the whole earth – symbolized and enacted before their very eyes.” Average people simply did not have those visions and special experiences of divine revelation. Therefore, the prophets “saw” what God revealed to them and had the responsibility for communicating the content of their vision and telling the people what it meant. Stating it another way the prophets were responsible for telling people what God was doing and what God expected them to do.
In chapter 3:7, Micah also uses the word “diviner.” Diviners were people who sought answers from God concerning the problems and questions people had. A good example of this is found in 1 Samuel 9 where Saul and his servant go to the prophet Samuel to find out about the location of Saul’s father’s donkeys. The prophet then sought out and would seek an answer to their concerns from God.
Another significant note about prophets is that their messages of divine revelation were somewhat mysterious. They did not get their messengers directly from the voice of God. This is made clear in numbers 12:6 where God says, “I the Lord made myself known to them (prophets) in visions; I speak to them in dreams.” Only Moses was different in that he did receive a direct revelation from God. Because the prophets received their words through visions and dreams, there was always a temptation for them to cast the message in ways that favored those they wanted to please.
To Micah, a prophet should be a humble spokesperson for the living God and for no one else. As a spiritual leader, a prophet should be a determined champion of the welfare of all God’s children. He/she should always be about the business of correcting inequities and healing divisions.
Today the prophetic role of announcing God’s word is largely the responsibility of the church. Proclaiming God’s word sometimes means offering comfort but at other times that same word brings a standard and a call to repentance. It takes a certain kind of courage to point to a standard and genuine sensitivity of dealing with it. However, when the standard, a message of judgment, is turned into comfort, the hearer is allowed to continue in an unhealthy state and the word of God cannot correct and heal. As scholars inform us, the terrible disaster of Micah 3:9-12 was the direct result of Judah not hearing such a word earlier. And without hearing the word of God, the same could be true of us today.
Filled with the Spirit
Micah states how he is different from the other prophets, as a spokesperson of God’s word, in Micah 3:8. Micah declares, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord…” It is significant that Micah states this before giving the details of his prophecy. For what he says is the result of being filled and empowered by the spirit.
As scholars remind us, Micah’s identification of the spirit of God that “filled” him is a key to his word being powerful and true. Other prophets also give testimony to God’s spirit as the force that propels them in their work. One suggested example is Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones (chapter 37). In verse 1, Ezekiel says, “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord…” Ezekiel simply did not have control of the experience. The spirit of God was in charge.
Important to our lesson and life, Micah is declaring something of the same thing when he mentions that he is filled with the spirit of God. To be sure, his message is of God, not of himself. And because of that spirit filling empowerment, Micah is able to courageously speak the truth.
The purpose of judgment
Because of the corruption of its leaders, the last four verses of Micah 3 state the resulting destruction of Jerusalem. It is pointed out that two features of this prophecy of destruction make it important for us. First, the prediction of destruction did not come true immediately as Micah probably though it would.
But it came true all the same. In Micah’s time, the Assyrians were the dominant force, but it was the Babylonians about 150 years later that destroyed the city. However, Micah’s prophecy is judged to be true because of his accurate critique of the situation. Micah’s prophecy required the people of Judah to consider how they might live differently, and that is the purpose of prophecy today.
Second, Micah’s prophecy was remembered precisely because of the positive effect it had on the people of Judah. When Jeremiah had predicted that Jerusalem would be destroyed, he was put on trial for treason (Jeremiah 26). His defenders recalled that Micah, two generations earlier, had also predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, but he was not brought up on charges for his prediction. Instead, the people repented and Jerusalem was spared. Thus, Jeremiah’s defenders said that he was not guilty of treason either. As a matter of fact, he was a true patriot. If the people listened to his message, the nation would be saved in the end.
In conclusion, the memory of Micah’s sharp rebuke and prediction of destruction was positive. Why? Because his prophecy brought about the intended aim which was repentance.
- What can be done to end the dishonesty practiced by corrupt leaders?
- How does the class define a prophetic ministry in the church? Share examples!