What follows is an oracle against the false prophets and against the leadership of the people that favored these prophets and approved of their teaching.
v.6 The imperative “do not prophesy” is plural, suggesting that there were more than one who were objecting to the majority view, more than just Micah. We know that Isaiah and Hosea were contemporaries of Micah and that Isaiah had disciples (8:18). As well there was a remnant of faithful folk who would have repeated the teaching of these faithful men.
v.7 The first two lines are what the false prophets are teaching, the second two is Micah’s response to that teaching.
v.8 “like men returning from battle” — such men are confident, assured, at peace, not expecting trouble, but the leadership pillages them. In other words, the leadership treat the people just like the enemy would. Russia today is no better off than she would be under the boot of a foreign power.
v.9 This is evidence that the people of Judah were, at this time, prosperous and comfortable. “Rich robes” and “pleasant homes” were the norm. A time very much like ours in this way.
The consequences for children and children’s children never far from the Bible’s view. The covenant always sees the issue of things in the rising generations.
v.10 That is, “go away into exile.”
This is an oracle, a sermon, like many others in the OT prophets concerning those who prophesied at the same time in Israel and Judah but who preached a very different message. False prophesy was a threat from the very beginning of the history of God’s people, they were warned against it in the Law of Moses, and heretical teaching by priests and prophets was a constant problem once they were settled in the Promised Land.
In fact, if you consult the prophets in general, you will find that they regularly lay the blame for Israel and Judah’s spiritual collapse at the feet of the religious leadership who subverted the true teaching of the Word of God and led the people away from the covenant. In Jeremiah’s great “Sermon on Apostasy” in Jeremiah 2, he offers as an explanation on the human level for Judah’s apostasy: “Those who deal with the law did not know me…the prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.” Throughout his prophesy Jeremiah returns to this theme. “…my people do not know the requirements of the Lord. How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely…. prophets and priests alike all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.’
This is exactly Micah’s charge.
The nature of the false teaching was, as it always is, to take the sting, the fear, the darkness out of the message and to make it all sunshine and light. Heresy always proceeds in this direction. Inventing the message themselves, they always invent a message more palatable, less demanding, more amenable to human feelings, more complimentary of men, more easily believed because more to be desired.
So it was with the false prophets. Their message amounted to an assurance that God being love, Israel had nothing to fear. As Micah says in v. 7: their message was that it was contrary to God’s nature to be angry with his people and that he would never do what those conservative, fundamentalist prophets like Isaiah and Micah were claiming he is about to do.
Like all the false teachers who have followed them in the ages since, no doubt they argued their message from scriptural texts. They would have turned to Exodus 34:6 and preached powerful sermons on the benevolent attributes of God:
“The Lord, the Lord, the campassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.”
Believe me, human life being much the same in all ages, I’m sure there were some very powerful preachers among those false prophets and some mighty sermons preached on such texts. I will even say that I suspect that some of the false teachers were considerably more effective public speakers than Isaiah or Micah. Still more, I suspect that there were among those false teachers some very impressive men, men who were genuinely admirable in various ways. Charles Hodge bore witness to the impressiveness and effectiveness of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s preaching and teaching — the early liberal of the 19th century Germany — and for a time during his studies in Germany, J. Gresham Machen fell under the spell of the arch-liberal of his day, Wilhelm Herrmann, precisely because Herrmann was so impressive personally and so passionate a Christian — as he understood Christianity — in his classroom lectures.
Here is Machen, as a young man writing home from Germany, talking about a man whose views Machen would come to believe were the very antithesis of true Christianity and would spend the rest of his life seeking to destroy.
“The most important thing that has happened in my three days since Sunday was my first lecture from Prof. Herrmann. If my first impression is any guide, I should say that the first time that I heard Herrmann may almost be described as an epoch in my life. Such an overpowering personality I think I almost never before encountered — overpowering in the sincerity of religious devotion. Herrmann may be illogical and one-sided, but I tell you he is alive.
I can’t criticize him, as my chief feeling with reference to him is already one of the deepest reverence. Since I have been listening to him, my other studies have for a time lost interest to me; for Herrmann refuses to allow the student to look at religion from a distance as a thing to be studied merely. He speaks right to the heart; and I have been thrown into confusion by what he says — so much deeper is his devotion to Christ than anything I have known in myself during the past few years. I don’t know at all what to say as yet, for Herrmann’s views are so revolutionary. But certain I am that he has found Christ; and I believe that he can show how others may find Him — though, perhaps afterwards, in details, he may not be a safe guide.” [Stonehouse, Memoir, 106]
This from the Machen who had already completed his training at Princeton Seminary under Warfield and W.H. Green and C.W. Hodge. And this concerning a man who taught that God was not a person, but rather “the personal vitality and power of goodness” [NDT 297], who taught that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, but rather a man in whose exemplary character, the power of God, that is, the power of the highest good was revealed, a man who denied the miracles and virtually everything that was supernatural in the Christian faith! “I tell you, Herrmann is alive!”
But like the false prophets of Micah’s day, Schleiermacher and Herrmann also made the faith an easier way, less difficult to believe and less difficult to practice. You could be a Christian and thoroughly at home in the present world. You could be a Christian and embrace all the prevailing orthodoxies of modern culture. You needn’t fear hell, for both of these men also minimized the antithesis — the absolute contrast between God and sin, between heaven and hell, between right and wrong, between life and death. God, however they understood the term, was to be loved, not feared.
It is the badge of the false prophet that he never preaches judgment, unless it is judgment on someone else, the people we would like to see judged. False prophets never teach the heart to fear, and so, can never then those fears relieve. There is never true repentance produced, because there is never first produced the fear and hatred of sin because of the holiness of God. They coddle people. You can destroy the gospel as well by leaving truth out as by adding falsehood.
But Micah counters in the second half of verse 7. These prophets, with their magnificent sermons on Exodus 34:6 conveniently forget to read and expound 34:7. After that magnificent description of the divine character of mercy comes, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God is gracious, absolutely. But he is also a God of judgment to those who do not believe in him or obey his Word. And because Micah’s generation were such an unbelieving and disobedient people, he was going to be a God of judgment to them, not a God of grace and mercy. He could be, if they would cry out to him for mercy and forsake their evil ways, but they will not. They will instead find out that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
The problem is a problem of false theology, a theology that because it is only half-true is entirely wrong. Grace without wrath is not grace, forgiveness without judgment is not forgiveness, life without death is not life, not the life worthy to be called life. All heresies have their texts. All of them start with some piece of the truth, which they then subvert and destroy by attaching it to pure error. They gain their strength, heresies do, by their approximation to the truth, by their mimicry of it.
But Micah goes on. He is also properly cynical of the base motives of the false teachers — though they, of course, would hotly deny such motives and would be sure they were free of such interests altogether. In v. 11 he mocks their message as simply another version of what people want to hear. “Prophesy plenty of wine and beer” and you will be just the prophet for these people. [The message for those who want to be popular.]
We’ve seen this over and over again in our century. We see it in politics in which political success in our land virtually requires politicians pandering to public tastes and simple-minded desires. But we see it in religion still more. We see it in the popularity of movements that purport to teach us that we are all little gods, that we have the solution to all our problems within ourselves, that our greatest need is to love and serve ourselves more. Formulate a message like this, speak it in an Indian accent, charge people a lot of money to sit at your feet, and you’ll be driving a Rolls Royce in no time flat!
Heresies are always profoundly sentimental. That is, they teach, not the truth, but what people want to hear. It is reminder to us that there is that in the Gospel that people do not want to hear. That is why it takes a supernatural work on God’s part to make people willing to hear it and believe it. There is the doctrine of divine wrath itself; the doctrine of the absolute necessity of faith in Christ; of faith as the surrender of one’s sovereignty to God; of the necessity of obedience to an impossibly strict moral code; and so on.
Do you have any problem seeing, I don’t, how difficult it is to believe all this; how genuinely unwelcome so much of it is? It would certainly be easier to sell Christianity without these doctrines that so burden it. Being forgiven, people like that. Going to heaven, people like that. A kind and merciful God, people like that. So, that is the part of Christianity that is nearly universally received in our culture. Divine justice, wrath, judgment, hell; the seriousness of sin, even the sins of the heart, the strict necessity of obedience to God, people don’t like these things, and, lo and behold, these are the parts of the faith that are universally disbelieved, ignored, or downplayed in the Christianity of our time.
And so it has always been. Through all of church history, there have been many, if not most, who have sought a form of the faith less offensive, less scandalous, less difficult, less demanding.
As Chesterton put it, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not been tried.”
We can, as Christians now see how we really would not want a universe without a God who was just as well as loving, would not want a Christian life that contented itself with whatever was pleasing to man. After all, these false prophets had virtually to take God out of the world to maintain their sunny and “pollyannaish” outlook. There is a great deal of woe in this world, and if that does not come from God, where does it come from?
But, still it is easy to see how a full-blooded Christianity is going to be constantly at war with the inclinations and the desires of the human heart.
And so today we face the very same thing within the church. Robert Schuller is an evangelical remember. But his preaching is shorn of Micah 2:7b. It is perhaps a parable of our times that, as Dr. Waltke pointed out, there are only two man-made objects that are visible from the moon: the great wall of China and the Crystal Cathedral! A church devoted to the prophesying of wine and beer.
But we are not immune. We must guard ourselves. For false teaching makes the progress it does precisely because there is that in us that gravitates to messages we like to hear. There is a movement abroad in our circles that wishes to emphasize the grace of God and our complete acceptance in Christ. Nothing wrong with that. We all need to believe that and glory in that acceptance and Christ’s triumph and the Father’s almighty love much, much more than we do. Unless that emphasis is mixed with an unwillingness to hear the other side. This movement characteristically denies the judgment of believers according to their works, that Christians too, as Paul said, will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil. They don’t want to hear of accountability for one’s life, of having to answer for the way one has lived as a Christian! They don’t want to hear the strong emphasis of the Bible on those “whose ways are upright” as Micah has it here. Well, the Bible says the one as well as the other, and to preach grace without the obligation of obedience, an obedience for which we must someday give an account — even those of us who are righteous in the righteousness of Christ — is a step in the direction of prophesying wine and beer. It is what Bonhoeffer called the message of “cheap grace.” It is what the false prophets taught and what so many teach today and, what you and I always are ready to hear. Dr. Waltke comes out and says it. Micah would condemn the generality of evangelical preaching today for its refusal to place the divine judgment before the people as the only true context for the gospel.
We know from what direction the danger comes — the desire to have a religion that is what we would like it to be, one that caters to our preferences and inclinations. We also know that in a prosperous age — an age somewhat insulated from many of the shocks of life — (an age such as Micah’s and ours) — we are particularly susceptible to sentimental views of life and salvation. We are used to comfort and to getting our own way. We are soft and not so given to reflect on the hardness of life. It is no secret that most Christians have not been found among the wealthy and the powerful. The poorer have a better grasp of the real world and are more likely to hear the bell-like sound of reality in the Christian message of both grace and judgment, forgiveness and accountability.
It can take a long time to prove the heretics wrong — so here. Micah is prophesying around 700 B.C. Judah would not go finally into exile until 586. You cannot judge these things in the immediate present. Which is why we must stand always and only with the Word of God which endures forever. “To the Law and the Testimony!” What do the Scriptures say? Not what do we want them to say! What is God really like? Not what do we wish he were like.