05. Reflections on Old Testament Prophets (Micah)

What God Wants (Micah 3:1-4; 6:6-8)

Published in Mennonite Weekly Review (June 18, 2007)

By the time we turn to Micah, the fourth of the “writing prophets” ministering among the ancient Hebrews in the eighth century B.C., we have gotten a pretty good dose of the prophetic agenda.  However, the repetition is intended not to lead to a sense of saturation with these concerns but a sense of conviction.

As with Amos and Hosea, we know very little about the prophet Micah.  The authority of his words lie with their content, not with his “office.”  As with Isaiah, Micah worked in the southern kingdom, Judah – but his home was in the country, not in Jerusalem.

As with all three other prophets, Micah combined a “conservative” commitment to the validity of the “old ways” (that is, the Law of Moses) with a “radical” counter-cultural dissent. Do these prophets provide a viable model for present-day followers of Jesus?  Should we combine the conservative and radical in similar ways?

Also, along with the other three prophets, Micah spoke to the people in power.  He understood God’s will revealed in the Law to be normative for each person in the society–and for society’s political structures and practices.

Brutally straight talk

According to Jer. 26:18-19 (100 years after Micah), Micah’s warnings of judgment were in fact heeded by King Hezekiah, and Judah turned (for a time) from destruction.  When we read Micah, though, we may be shocked at his bluntness.  He does not pull any punches.  If he did influence Hezekiah, it was with brutally straight talk, not with language tailored “to be heard” by the king.

Look at our passage from Micah three, an extraordinary text in its use of the gruesome metaphor of cannibalism to characterize the corruption of Judah’s leaders.  “Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!…You who … tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh off my people, … break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron” (3:1-3).

Would we see parallel injustices in our society today?  If so, would we expect this kind of critique to bear fruit?

Justice, kindness, humility

Our second passage underscores that Micah was a prophet of healing above all else.  He provides a recipe for transformation; he doesn’t simply critique.

What way forward does the prophet propose?  Not more religiosity!  Sacrifices and rituals–today, perhaps, lively worship services and generous charitable giving–are not the answer.

This is what the Lord requires: “Do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (6:8).  Micah here invokes the Law of Moses.  Micah sets the “requirement” in the context of the covenant the people and God made together to create and sustain healthy communities after God liberated the people from slavery through the exodus.  Out of your relationship with God practice social transformation: kindness, healing justice, and beating swords into plowshares (Micah 4:1-4).

Certainly Micah (and the other prophets) intend their words to speak to people in power.  They critique the leaders and call upon the leaders to change, to exert their power in ways that further God’s will for the community rather than serving their own interests (a relevant message today as well).  However, as events proved, it was the faithful remnant keeping the message of these prophets alive who insured ancient Israel’s future and sustained God’s healing work.

So might it be today.  We should hope, pray, and proclaim, seeking to influence our leadership classes.  However, we are also called to live out the prophet’s messages in our own face-to-face lives–and this face-to-face living might be the best hope for the future of the world, too.

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