3 That is why the LORD says: “Look, I am planning trouble against such people, and you won’t be able to save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, because it will be a terrible time. 4 At that time people will make fun of you and sing this sad song about you: ’We are completely ruined; the LORD has taken away my people’s land. Yes, he has taken it away from me and divided our fields among our enemies!’
Try to imagine for a moment, as uncomfortable and unnerving as it may be for most Israelites, how encouraging these verses would be to you if you were truly poor and powerless. Imagine hearing Micah utter these words when you are someone who lost all your family lands and are without any help—because you are poor, you lack the contacts, the knowledge, the power to do anything.
As we said last week, to be poor does not automatically mean that you are lazy or dependent; but to be poor is, in most places and at most times, to be stuck without the ability or hope to dig yourself out of your poverty.
If that were your life, then Micah 2:3-4 would be a breath of fresh air to you because it would offer a shimmering hope in the distance. It would be a revelation of a God who does not oppress you and will not stand to see you oppressed.
It is hard to read the Bible from that perspective if you have not experienced that life. But it is critical to you seek to do so as best you can. Brian Zahnd, a pastor in Missouri, addressed this in a powerful way:
“I have a problem with the Bible. If I read it right, I am the ancient Egyptian. The comfortable Babylonian. The Roman in his villa. I am not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt … a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I am not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.
“Because of that you get the bizarre behavior of the rich and entitled who use the Bible to proclaim that their dominance is God’s will. That’s what becomes of Roman Christianity after Constantine. Of Christendom on crusade … This is the whole history of European colonialism. This is Jim Crow. This is the American prosperity gospel … This is making the Bible dance a jig for our own amusement …
“Imagine this: A powerful charismatic figure arrives on the world scene … announcing a new arrangement … where those at the bottom are to be promoted and those on top are to have their lifestyle ‘restructured.’ I can imagine the Bangladeshis saying, ‘When do we start?!’ and wealthy elite saying, ‘Hold on now, let’s not get carried away!’
“That’s the challenge I face when reading the Bible. I’m not the Galilean peasant. Who am I kidding! I’m the Roman in his villa and I need to be honest about it. I too can hear the gospel of the kingdom as good news (because it is!), but first I need to admit that it calls us to rethink our prosperity from another’s perspective.
“What does the Bible ask of me? Voluntary poverty? No. But the Bible does call me to deeper humility—a humility seen in hospitality and generosity.”
Maybe we, too, can see the Bible that way, and we can begin to feel more personal about oppression. If we did so, we would rejoice at these words of God promising an end to oppression and we would feel the joy it would bring to most of our world.
Remember, God is going to bring an end to oppression:
It turns out that oppression is on a short leash in Micah’s day, along with the arrogance and pride of the powerful and the rich. There is no middle ground here. If you are poor, this is the dawn of a new day. If you are rich at the expense of the poor, it is ruin. Disaster is heading your way and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Everything the wealthy of Israel have will be lost, Micah promises in verse 5: “Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.” Remember that Micah is doing his ministry right before the Israelites are sent off to Babylon in exile.
Basically, what God is telling the rich here is, Look, there is going to come a day when I will bring you back from Babylon to your own land, back to Israel. When I do that, you will have no share in that land. Everything you worked for, all the wealth you stored away—is all going to be taken. I am going to recast the line by lot to divide up the land; and you will get nothing.
He goes on in verse 4, As I do that to you, I am going to take the poor. I am going to make them rise from the rubble to delight over your plight. They will taunt you over your destruction with your own lament. The rich will be crying out, “We are utterly ruined” and the poor will be mocking them.
But beyond this rebuke will come restoration.
So the Lord promises through his prophet in verses 12-13:
“Yes, people of Jacob, I will bring all of you together; I will bring together all those left alive in Israel. I will put them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will be filled with many people. 13 Someone will open the way and lead the people out. The people will break through the gate and leave the city where they were held captive. Their king will go out in front of them, and the LORD will lead them.“
The doom and gloom of Micah 2 was paving the way for this shining hope. We want this promise badly today. We long to be gathered like sheep by the shepherd.
But we are not supposed to have warm, fuzzy feelings when the Bible calls us sheep. It is the farthest thing from being a compliment. Sheep are animals who need help, who cannot last long left to themselves.
So here is the ultimate hope Micah offers: a Shepherd is on his way who gathers his people together. He will burst through the breach, the gap, and break open the gates of oppression and lead us to the dawn of a new day.
As their hearts leapt with anticipation for this Shepherd, we can look forward a few hundred years. A charismatic figure, Jesus, shows up in Israel, and walks around calling himself the Good Shepherd. And he says, I’m bringing in a new order; the last are first now; the poor are blessed; the oppressed are free. How does he bring in this new order? I will take the last spot, the lowest place, myself, he says. Do you want riches? Make me poor. Do you want strength? Strip me of all of mine and make me weak.
But when the elites of Jerusalem, the wealthy and the influential heard Jesus say all this, instead of being grateful, they hated him because what he did exposed how selfish, callous, and hardened their own hearts had become.
They asked him to keep quiet. But he would not. So, they decided, We have to do something about radical Jesus of Nazareth. Let us take his robe off his back. Let us beat him. Let us make fun of him. Let us mock him with his own words, shove a crown of thorns on his head, nail him to a cross, and send him to his ruin.
And he responded, And I will let you do all of it. I will let you do it because it is the only way to save you. I cannot deal with this oppression without destroying the oppressors unless I take the consequences on myself. I will do it for the oppressed, that they may be freed, but also for the oppressors, that they may also be freed. That is how much I love my sheep. That is what God has done to deal with oppression.
And he is not done yet. He is still looking for “a noisy multitude” to join him. He is still looking for people who will admit that they know what it is like to gain at the expense of somebody else when they did not deserve it and will use what they have for the benefit of others. That is what he wants. That is his vision. That is his desire. He will burst through the gates of oppression and open the breach. He will lead you through if you too will confess.
What does this mean for us? How will all this impact and shape us?
It will force us to ask some tough questions, and we will need boldness to answer them honestly. It means that any decisions in life won’t be easy. It means that we need to soberly assess the way we live our lives, to understand that the gift of life that we have came at the expense of someone else’s comfort and life—so that we move to the direction of a self-giving life that seeks the good of others.
This is the good news that we have in the midst of oppression. We have a way through it and out of it and beyond it. Jesus has shown us the way. He first demonstrated it himself by giving up his riches, comfort, and advantages, so that we may flourish.
As God’s people, we should be quicker to see oppression, and quicker to admit to ways we may have unconsciously contributed to it. As God’s people, we are freed to give what we would otherwise seek to grasp, and to give up what we once strived to get.
Think about something you can use at your expense for someone else’s good, and then use it that way. With that, God will gather what we give, together with what others give, and he will start the process of opening up that breach, breaking through the gates of oppression and leading all of us to a brand new day.
The famed German pastor, Martin Niemoeller, said:
“In Germany, the Nazis first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. They came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”
Joseph Addison wrote, “Justice discards party, friendship, and kindred, and is therefore represented as blind.”
It is true that justice is blind, but it is not deaf or mute. Justice hears the cries of the helpless—and the voice of God. Justice cries out against a person’s inhumanity to another person.