In the remaining verses of chapter 6, Micah closes the door to any remaining hope of restoration and pronounces the sentence against Israel for her betrayal of the covenant. In other words, these verses represent the end of the “lawsuit” that God brought against his people in vv. 1-8.
v.9 There are questions about the translation of this and certain verses that follow, especially, in this case, about the phrase the NIV renders “and to fear your name is wisdom” which, on the face of it, seems a surprising thing to say in the context. In any case, the verse is a summons to the city to listen to what the Lord has decided.
v.11 “ephah” = 22 liters or c. 1/2 bushel. Only approximate equivalences can be given however, because the lack of technological expertise made the manufacture of precise weights and measures impossible. Archaeologists, e.g., have found few weights inscribed with the same denomination to be of identical weight. The same would be true of measures. All you need to make a killing is an ephah that really holds less than it should, so that you are getting the price for a full ephah while giving less than an ephah to your customer. Do this often enough and you can make a great deal of pure profit selling more grain than you actually have. And so with weights that were used on balances to measure commodities for sale. If the weight said a pound, but it was really only 7/8 of a pound, every eight pounds produces another pound for you to sell and your customers are none the wiser that they have paid for more than they received. There was little a customer could do in the day before “weights and measures” inspectors. And, all the more, if the authorities were in the pocket of the cheating merchants, as Micah says they were in chapter 2. Amos had made a similar complaint (8:5), putting it into Israel’s mouth to complain that the Sabbath was taking too long, because they wanted to get back to trading, “skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales.”
The same thing happens today. Someone fiddles with an odometer, or the bar code system at the store rings up a higher price than is found on the tag. And it is cheating and stealing now just as it was then.
v.12 The “rich” would be the royal family, the land barons, and the military elite. We have already heard of their unjust treatment of the middle class in 2:2, 8ff.; 3:2-3.
v.13 “Therefore” = what follows is the just desert, the righteous sentence of the judge they have ignored.
v.16 This is the only verse in prophetic messages that mentions the kings by name. It suggests that the sins of Omri and Ahab, more than a century before Micah’s time, had by this time become proverbial and serve as a paradigm for apostasy and injustice (e.g. Ahab’s seizure of Naboth’s village).
Now, there are two very important conclusions to draw from this material — no doubt many more, but the two that seem to be the burden of the oracle itself.
The first is what any Israelite who was acquainted with the text of God’s covenant with his people would immediately recognize. The judgments pronounced in vv. 13-16 are the very curses that God long before promised to visit upon his people if they proved unfaithful to his covenant with them.
1. The first line of v. 14 “You will eat but not be satisfied” is identical to the curse threatened in Leviticus 26:26.
2. The next two lines of v. 14, which the NIV has rendered as having to do with food, are very difficult to understand and there are many different proposals for their translation. Dr. Waltke, in his commentary, prefers this reading: “You shall come to labour but not bring forth, and even if you bear a child I will give it to the sword.” [You may wonder how a text could be translated so differently by different scholars, but believe me, it is possible, especially when the text is unusual and may even be preserved in a damaged state.] But, either way, it parallels precisely the curses of futility that God will bring upon Israel’s effort to produce and secure her future (Deuteronomy 28:18, 51). They will sow their seed, but their enemies will eat the harvest; they will bear children but they will be taken from them.
3. The mention of losing the olive crop is paralleled in the curses in Deuteronomy 28:40 and the grapes as well as the oil in Deuteronomy 28:51.
In other words, what is to befall Israel as her judgment for her refusal to trust God and live according to his law is precisely what God had long before promised would be the consequence of infidelity!
The promised punishments were visited upon unfaithful Israel but they were a long time in coming. And this is a great problem for all men and for Christians as well. It is perhaps here as much as at any other point of reality that faith is shown to be absolutely necessary.
Suppose, for a moment, that the world were otherwise. Suppose, that is, that every act of promiscuous sex produced either a pregnancy or a disease; that every lie was discovered and the liar made the object of public scorn and ridicule; that every single act of cheating in business or personal dealings recoiled publicly and shamefully on the cheater; that every private sin became known to others and damaged the reputation of the one who had committed it; that every act of speeding resulted in either a ticket or an accident; that every instance of drunkenness produced some public penalty; that every thief was caught and punished; every murderer; every perjurer; every tax cheat; that every parental failure resulted in some immediate evidence of harm to the child, and so on.
But, the fact is, God does not bring his judgment to bear upon sins either so comprehensively or so immediately. Israel began her systemic rebellion against God in the 10th century B.C. The northern kingdom was not judged until two hundred years later and the southern until three hundred years had passed. And remember, in the case of both kingdoms, there were times of real peace and prosperity relatively soon before the final catastrophe.
Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Jeroboam II had reigned from 782-753 B.C. and his reign, though spiritually and ethically corrupt, was very prosperous and peaceful so far as international affairs were concerned. Israel was probably as wealthy as she had been since Solomon’s day. Thirty years later she did not exist. Similarly, in the South, in Judah, the reforms of Josiah, late in the 7th century B.C. produced a springtime in Judea that encouraged Jeremiah, at least for a short while, to think that better days were ahead. But the changes were superficial, short-lived, and the end came quickly after Josiah’s death. But, no doubt, there were many who said of Jeremiah’s condemnation of Judah’s immorality, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
You see, generations committed the very same sins that Micah is describing and died peacefully in their beds. And for that reason Micah’s contemporaries were not ready to believe that there would be punishment in their case when there had not been in the case of their parents and grandparents. They scoffed at his message, did not heed his warnings. They passed it off as simply the prophet’s Puritanical zeal and natural pessimism. If their sins were that bad, they reasoned in their deepest hearts, why hadn’t they been punished long before; they weren’t the first in Israel to commit them! But, in fact, Micah was right. The judgment did come. It came and it was even more savage than Micah had described. But it did not come right away.
In part it did not come because of God’s mercy and grace and justice (Genesis 15: the iniquity of the Amalekites was not yet full, and so Israel had to spend four hundred years in Egypt!) But, in part, it did not come because God has ordered that his children’s life be lived by faith and not by sight: and, if that is to be true, it must be true of his judgments as well as of his mercies, of hell as well as heaven.
You live every day among a multitude of people who simply don’t believe that their sins will ever pay a wage, not really! And they make a thousand judgments a day based on that refusal to believe that God will really visit their sins with his wrath. And we can be caught making similar judgments, judgments that leave out of account the coming, the certain, however much delayed, divine punishment of sin.
I was reminded recently, in some reading I was doing, about the greatness of Winston Churchill as a wartime leader. But there was much about Churchill that was deeply wrong and evil from a biblical viewpoint. There were good military leaders in Israel who were wicked themselves. Ahab was such a leader. The Bible doesn’t even mention his triumph at Kharkar in 853 B.C., where Ahab as the leader of a confederation, dealt a decisive defeat to the Assyrians and secured safety for Israel from the Assyrians for another century.
Read William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill, or other biographies. They all agree on this point. Churchill was an extraordinarily vain man. And, for a Christian, there is no way around the significance of that. As Pascal put it, “without humility all our other virtues are but vices!”
Churchill loved himself passionately. Charles Simeon, the great Anglican minister of another day, struggled with vanity too, but he would write to himself in his journal: “Talk not about myself.” Churchill not only never wrote such a thing to himself; he never thought such a thing! He himself once said that his idea of a fine dinner was to dine well and then discuss a serious topic, “with myself as chief conversationalist.” He was not a man of prayer because he fully expected to be able to manage things without God’s help; and, in any case, he would not beg. When he fell into debt he would ask friends to beg for him among his wealthy acquaintances. One of his friends, mind you, would later say of Churchill, “‘Thou shalt have no other gods but me’ has always been the first, and the most significant of his commandments.” [vol. 2, 374]
But he never really paid for this vanity. God never brought him down for his lack of contrition or faith. He was a hero in his own day and he remains an icon of Western Civilization. He was the evil Hitler’s great enemy and bested him in battle. But, you see, he knows better now! And that utterly changes our view of his life and the meaning of his life. t must, surely it must! Manchester and many others will say that Churchill’s vanity was a small price for his saving England in its darkest hour. But what does Churchill think who, as we suspect, had his sins find him out at last and faces the same miserable prospect — however different in degree — as his erstwhile German adversary?
No doubt there were many great people, impressive people in Micah’s day. The economy was rushing along, many were getting well-to-do; others were suffering but, hey, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. God had even delivered them from their great enemy, the Assyrians. They took their present circumstances to be a vindication of their lifestyle and their ethics. But God had said long ago that he would punish unfaithfulness to his covenant. They should have listened, because, in his own time, God always keeps his promises!
Second, we are reminded here of the scope, the reach of God’s interest in our lives and of his summons that we should be holy as he is holy.
God cares even about your shopping, your business. As one commentator puts it [Allen, 378] “Our God is no Olympian, remote from everyday living. He is the Lord of the shopping center, whose claims over his people extend to the most mundane of life’s duties.”
I’m sure there were otherwise faithful people in Micah’s day — people who would have supported Micah’s general outlook — who, like many today, said to themselves and to their priests and friends: “You know, I don’t really want to run my business this way, but a man has got to live!” With everyone else approaching business that way — everyone else violating the Sabbath to increase their trade, everyone else fudging here and there on taxes or being not entirely honest in advertising their wares — if I don’t go along I can’t compete and I’ll be driven out of business.
And all of that makes perfect sense until you read the covenant again and realize that God expects your loyalty at every single point, your honesty, your love of neighbor, your justice, your loyalty to Him and to his day. And the Lord Jesus, far from relaxing those standards, seemed rather to raise them. He was always talking about the cost of following him, the giving up one had to be willing to do, the extravagant sacrifices one had to be willing to make, the readiness of his true disciples to throw all worldly calculation to the wind because they were putting their trust in God who saw in secret and promised to reward in his own time.
Those of you who have businesses, or who work in businesses, listen to me. There is nothing that really matters apart from fidelity to God. You say, “But I’ve got to live.” “No, you don’t; not in this world.” You’ve got to be faithful to God; that’s all you have to be. “Unless a man is willing to take up his cross and follow me, he cannot be my disciple.” And for many, this is exactly where you will have to take up that cross: where loyalty to Christ requires you to conduct your business in a way that disadvantages you in relation to others who have no regard for the law and covenant of the Lord. You will not misrepresent a product, or fudge on telling the truth in an ad or a contract, or mislead the government as to your true income, or violate the Sabbath Day, the Lord’s holy day because your competitors are doing so. Otherwise you may find yourself with the world and not with God when the accounting is made and discover what the Israelites discovered who felt, at the time, that Micah’s demands were simply impractical. They thought that at the time. But what do they think now? That is the question.
I remember a friend from Scotland days. He was a newspaperman and growing up he loved to follow Formula I racing, a much bigger sport in Europe than in the US. He would travel to the famous sights to see the races, the storied sites of racing (e.g. Le Mans; Monaco), and he followed the careers of the great drivers, and it was a time when the Scots were represented by some of the greatest: Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. But in those days Formula I races were all on Saturday. Then the races were moved to Sunday. And my friend, in an instant, simply gave up racing as a special interest. It is not a good sign when there are not many, many Christians making decisions like that all the time, when we are hearing of such decisions all the time, especially in a culture like ours, so much like Micah’s, when the opportunity to refuse a corrupt culture’s way of doing things is presented to us time and again.
Hear again the burden of Micah’s message: Don’t take the Lord’s delay to mean that those who betray his covenant in the ordinary run of their daily lives, will not have to face the curses he promised to bring down on the heads of those who are unfaithful to him! You chose life, time and again chose life, the life that faith tells you stretches wonderfully out before the one, and only the one, who trusts and obeys the Lord.