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Remember, chapter 3 contains three oracles in almost identical form (address; accusation; judgment) with the same subject, viz. the corrupt leadership. The first oracle concerned the political/judicial leadership. This next one addresses the prophets.
v.5 A “prophet” is a spokesman for someone else. Cf. Exodus 7:1 where Aaron is called Moses’ “prophet.” Deuteronomy 18:18: “I will put my words in his mouth…”
v.6 That is, they will lose their gift. Divination, of course, was forbidden to the people of God (a betrayal of the sufficiency of God’s revelation and a serious mistaking of the way to live a life pleasing to God). But, Micah does not seem to regard these prophets as mere charlatans as some false prophets were. They seem to be men who had their office in the proper way. They were corrupt and their corruption had deluded them. They really believed what they said. These are like liberal protestant ministers in the main, not like a Robert Tilton who played his radio and TV audience for fools and milked them of millions.
v.7 Put Lamentations 4:13-15 in your margin. One hundred years later this was the fate of the false prophets. Walking through the ruins of Jerusalem as if unclean lepers.
v.8 Micah has the strength to resist both the discouragement of his situation and the opposition of the false prophets who are as much as declaring war on him.
Now there are many ways in which false prophets are like true prophets of God. They held the same office and the same status in Israel, if not higher for their popularity. You could find them in the royal court and together with the priests. They too sought decisions from the Lord and claimed to have received his Word. They too claimed to prophesy in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of the Lord. And their great theme was the same, prophecies of either peace and prosperity or doom and destruction.
But there were profound differences.
1. In some cases, these false prophets prophesied in the name of other gods besides Yahweh. Not all did, but some.
2. Some were charlatans, but others had some divine gift, else how could God take that gift away (3:6). Think of Balaam, not a true prophet of God, but clearly with some form of prophetic gift (Numbers 22). And then think of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 who says that he saw an evil spirit from the Lord going out to the prophets of Israel to mislead them so as to lead Ahab to ruin. And it is almost necessary to believe this about some Christian ministers today who purport and seem genuinely to care about the Christian religion and the service of God, but simply will not, cannot see the plain truth of the Bible or of the logic of their own position.
3. They taught a false theology that was false precisely because it did not conform to the divine revelation (Deuteronomy 13 — even if he performs a sign).
4. They see things from their own perspective and not from that of the kingdom of God. This is the force of v. 5. They will serve the interests of those who reward them for their service. They will preach a happy message for their benefactors and call down doom on the heads of those who do not approve of their message or who are the enemies of their friends. It is not always this crass, of course, but it has always been a means of suborning the Christian ministry, to offer it rewards for certain kinds of messages. In the seventeenth century, when the Anglican were filling up British pulpits with time-serving men who would gladly preach the message the powerful wanted preached, the message that would endear them to the rich and powerful, the Puritan Samuel Butler wrote this verse.
What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
About two hundred pounds a year.
And that which was proved true before proved false again?
Two hundred more.
5. And that leads to the last difference. The false prophets belong to the majority party most of the time. The true prophet is usually alone, or, if not entirely alone, almost so (here Micah has Isaiah and Hosea, e.g., but, like Elijah and Jeremiah and John the Baptist and Jesus himself, his was a lonely lot).
How often this has been the lot of the faithful prophet: Athanasius contra mundum; Savonarola; Huss; Wycliffe (hunted by the church to death for translating the Bible!); Boston (once the single vote against in a Church of Scotland General Assembly).
For none so lone on earth as he
Whose way of thought is high and free
Beyond the mist, beyond the cloud,
Beyond the clamour of the crowd,
Moving where Jesus trod,
In the lone walk with God.
Now these verses and their depiction of the false prophets — a subject Micah has raised and we have considered already in connection with 2:6-7) — are immediately relevant for our situation today. The Bible always is, but here it is so obviously and its relevance so easily described.
For the church today is beset with false prophets and, as in Micah’s day, they are leading the people of God astray with their false teaching (a false theology of God as in 2:7) and their undermining of the authority of Holy Scripture as the Word of God.
Think of the mainline churches where still millions of people who call themselves Christians and many who really are Christians live and worship.
These ministers widely teach or, at least, allow to be believed a universalism that takes all the gravity out of faith in Christ and loyalty to him. They also teach an easy-believism that confirms multitudes in spiritual indifference. There is no threat in their teaching, no prospect of divine wrath, no warning of impending judgment — as we saw in considering 2:7, this is a characteristic feature of false teaching. And, in this way, most profoundly, they lead the people of God astray, treating the wound of God’s people as if it were not serious.
In ordaining women to the ministry, nowadays completely accepted in the mainline and rapidly gaining acceptance in evangelical circles, the prophets of God are leading God’s people astray, putting as they do in this respect, a distance between the voice of the Lord speaking in the Scripture and the life of God’s church and people.
In affirming the propriety of homosexual relationships (not yet, but undoubtedly soon to be a feature of evangelical churches also) they lead the people of God astray, teaching them to do what God forbids and threatens his wrath for.
In approving abortion, etc. In all of these ways, like the prophets in Micah’s day, divine revelation is rewritten to suit the tastes of the culture and the prophets gain standing by confirming the biases of the culture and giving them a religious foundation.
But you say, who is to say whether these people are wrong about the Bible and its teaching? Evangelicals now encourage us to accept many of these changes in viewpoint and claim that the Bible is on their side.
Well, there is no other way to come to a decision than by the reading of Holy Scripture. But, there is a great deal of difference in the way different people come to the divine revelation to determine what it teaches. Some come with their minds already made up and find their opinions confirmed.
The refusal to be truly submissive to the Word of God is the essence of sin (so it was in the first sin in the Garden). But that submissiveness is not simply a professing to stand ready to believe whatever the Bible teaches. It is a true state of mind and heart, eager to know what God says, ready to believe whatever it says, however that teaching may cut across our culture’s tastes and our own prejudices.
Take, for example, an illustration that Dr. Waltke uses. The wise men who came from the East following the star got a long way by the revelation that God gave them in nature. But they could not get all the way. They had to stop in Jerusalem to ask the theologians where the Christ was to be born. With that single verse from Micah, they made the rest of the journey and found the Lord and fell at his feet to worship him. One verse, one verse only, brought them salvation, because their hearts were open to receive it, believe it, and act upon it with all speed and diligence.
The theologians themselves, however, who knew not only the verse in Micah that they quoted to the Magi, but the entire rest of the Bible, and who were themselves professional students of the Bible, did not obtain salvation even from all of those other verses that they knew, much less the one they gave to the Magi. Their hearts were dull and hard, they did not tremble at the Word of God, they were distracted by other interests and other concerns from caring about the Word of God. My goodness, it took only half an hour on a donkey to go from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and they couldn’t be troubled to make even so short a trip to see if what the Magi said was true.
I think of the many ministers in Christian churches today who are leading the people of God astray while holding the Bible in their hands. Refusing to believe what lies so plainly on the face of its pages, teaching God’s people to believe and to live in defiance of the teaching of the Word of God. And then I think of the young man Allen Pritzlaff told us about. A Kazakh man who was converted in those wonderful days when so many people were being saved in Kazakhstan a few years ago, and in the three weeks following his own conversion led six others to Christ. He was standing in the church office and someone mentioned the Apostle Paul. “Who’s that?” his man asked. He had led six people to the Lord and to salvation in Christ’s name before he knew there was such a person as the Apostle Paul. They had little of the Bible translated into Kazakh, but, in any case, he made the maximum use of the part of the Bible he knew and obtained salvation for himself and others.
Many teachers in the church, many with advanced degrees in the study of Holy Scripture, cannot with all that knowledge find Christ themselves or point him to others. They are deluded because their hearts are not open to receive the Word of God.
And it is easy enough to see. Notice the direction of the change that they recommend. In Micah’s day it was a theology that conformed to the materialism and the worldliness of the day. It comforted people in their dash for wealth, pleasure, and comfort. It avoided altogether, it actually denied, the hard, the frightening aspects of the message of God’s covenant and Word. It stressed the blessings and left the cursings out.
And in our day, in what direction do we find the changes, the places where the church’s historic positions have been changed? In every case it is in those places where the culture finds its chief objections to the Christian message. It is no surprise that a relativist culture should favor universalist preachers — it seems outrageous to people today that everyone must be a Christian, a real Christian, or he or she cannot be saved –; it is no surprise that a sexually promiscuous culture should resent restrictions on its practices — whether homosexuality or fornication; it is no surprise that abortion should be permitted in a self-absorbed culture that is sexually immoral, that resents the notion of judgment and guilt, rejects the very idea of accountability before God, and finds personal peace and a sense of well-being the highest good to be sought in human life.
The Bible requires church discipline, even explains how it is to be performed. But most churches today do not practice it as a matter of principle — that is, they will tell you that they do not practice church discipline, no matter what the Bible may say — because people won’t stand for it and they don’t wish to be or seem judgmental.
And, of course, in the later 20th century we have had the Bible rewritten as a Marxist document, a feminist document, a gay document, and so on. In all of these ways, it could not be more obvious that the Bible is being conformed to modern tastes rather than those tastes being made subject to the Word of God!
The prejudices, the convictions, the aspirations of a culture in rebellion against God are not likely to prove to be the undiscovered teaching of the Bible. Yet this is just what is being claimed by a great many Christian ministers today. They are leading the people of God astray in exactly the same fashion as did the prophets in Micah’s day, giving them the message they wished to hear instead of the message God had given to them, leaving out the wrath of God and the ethical demands that run counter to the spirit of the age.
So, what lesson do we carry away from this terrible judgment pronounced on false prophets, who, remember, did little more than preach the messages that the people wished to hear?
Well, it is that if we would be faithful to God and safe in our salvation, we must be people whose great interest and intention is faithfully to hear the Word of God, to receive its plain meaning — it was written to instruct us, remember, not to confuse us, and it always does instruct the willing heart — and to hurry to act upon it in belief and in obedience.
Think of it carefully,
Study it prayerfully,
Deep in your heart
let its oracles dwell.
Ponder its mystery,
slight not its history,
For none ever loved it
too fondly or well.
For those of us who are teachers, we find here in Micah’s oracle a solemn command to teach what God has revealed in his Word, nothing less, nothing more, and to teach that as plainly, as persuasively, as comprehensively, as passionately as we can, God helping us. Listen to the Lord, in v. 7 of the shame and disgrace of those false teachers when God’s judgment is brought upon them and realize that there will be no one in all the world wishing more for the mountains to fall upon them in that day than those who have led the people of God astray. It would be better for that man if he had never been born!
And the lesson for all of us — the lesson taught by the fact that there have always been false teachers in the church and usually many more of them than the true and faithful sort — is that we come to the Bible remembering and carefully reckoning with the fact that there is much in us and around us to disincline us to accept its teaching. There is much to distract us from what is of first importance in the Bible. There is much to make us blind to what the Bible plainly says. So, we are on our mettle to listen hard for the voice of the Lord amidst the din of our culture’s noise.
In the ancient days, before the general Christian population had access to their own copies of the Bible, they would listen to it being read for long periods of time in church services. They would, as it were, get their devotions in large chunks. And they would stand out of respect for the Word of God when it was being read. Once the emperor Constantine was invited to sit in the midst of one of these very long readings. His reply was that he thought it wicked to give negligent ears, when the truth being read was that spoken by God himself. [Bridges, Proverbs, 14n.] There is the attitude for us, to show reverence for God’s Word by the care with which we read it, seek understanding, and believe and obey. What did the Lord say? “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” [Isaiah 66:2] The false teacher never trembles at the Word of God. It is a tame and open book to him, and so those who follow such teachers.
Let it be our goal that the Lord should never say of us, what he said of the Sadducees who were learned in the Bible and known to be so, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures…” [Luke 22:29]
And, then, for our own sakes and for our children’s sakes, and our children’s children’s sakes, let us be like the parishioners of the church of Kilmalcolm, Scotland, who set a stone at the door of the church which read, this stone will bear witness against the parishioners of Kilmalcolm if they ever bring an unfaithful minister in here.