Corruption: A Path to Nowhere
Explore the Bible Series
May 17, 2009
Background Passage: Micah 3:1-12
Lesson Passage: Micah 3:1-12
Last weekend, I read a newly published book entitled, Losing My Religion: How I Lost my Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace, by journalist William Lobdell. A local Barnes and Noble had it on display, and, as I made my usual Saturday morning pilgrimage to the bookstore, the dust jacket caught my attention. The extinguished, smoking candle, on the front cover, gave me pause to examine the content of the monograph. Of course, I purchased the book and read it that afternoon. It was riveting-- couldn’t put it down.
For several years, Lobdell covered American religious news for the Los Angeles Times, at the same time, enthusiastically attending an evangelical mega-church. He professed faith in Christ as an adult, and his family engaged in several of the ministry programs at their church. Gradually, while covering important religion stories, Lobdell began to question his faith. In time, the questions overwhelmed his convictions, and Lobdell walked away from his profession of faith. This outline does not afford the opportunity to explore the theology of losing one’s faith (though I certainly recognize the importance of this theological concern); rather, I want to focus attention on the damaging effects of those who abuse religious influence and power.
Lobdell investigated the "ministries” Benny Hinn and the Trinity Broadcasting Network (especially Paul and Jan Crouch). I have not read Lobdell’s articles, but his book summarizes the opulent life-styles of these “prosperity” preachers, and the patterns of behavior highlighted in the book sent chills down my spine. I suspect that much of the financial support for these “ministries” comes from poor people, folks on fixed incomes, and the elderly. Hinn, in particular, gets the brunt of the book’s criticism. Terminally ill, profoundly infirmed, desperate people are, time and again, victimized by people like Hinn. All the while, the Hinn “ministry” brings in $100 million a year and the televangelist lives in a gated community with estates valued at $20 million (I base these figures on the book’s research). Of course, Lobdell’s findings did not surprise me, but the depth of the problem became clearer to me as I contemplated our passage from the Prophecy of Micah.
Though the offense seem less obvious, I wonder how many popular ministries milk the faithful to support elaborate church facilities and fund popular “ministries” that have nothing to do with the propagation of the gospel. For instance, how much money has the Roman Catholic Church spent on reparations to victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy? Protestant, evangelical groups have their problems too. Micah has something to say to the American church.
Our lesson for this week will introduce us to Micah’s second discourse (Chapters Three through Five), a section that focuses on the cruelty of the oppressive elite class and the false teachings of the religious leaders.
I. Oppression Compared to Cannibalism (3:1-4): Like cannibals, the rich and powerful devoured the poor and helpless. They flayed their skin from the bone, boiled their flesh, and consumed them. God will not answer the prayers of such cruel people (See v. 4).
A. A summons to judgment (v. 1): The prophet called for the attention of the inattentive leaders of people, probably the political and economic elites. He seems startled that these leaders apparently had no awareness of the injustices they fostered.
B. A clear indictment (vv. 2-3): Like cannibals, these leaders consumed the people they were supposed to protect. The violent, strident imagery is meant to offend the senses of “refined” readers—to shock them into an awareness of the seriousness of these offenses.
C. A verdict determined (v. 4): God, the prophet predicted, would close his ears to the pleadings of the oppressive leaders. They would alienate themselves from the source of their authority, wisdom, and protection.
II. The Failure of the Religious Leaders (vv. 5-8): “Prophet’s for Profit” (Oxford Bible Commentary). Micah outlined several sins of the religious leaders.
A. “who lead the people astray” (v. 5a): This general statement indicates the moral and theological shortcomings of these men. Whatever they did, their teachings and actions led the people in a false path.
B. “who cry “peace” when they have something to eat…” (v. 5b): The false prophets tailored their message to satisfy their own greed; that is, they gave the people a popular message, a message that produced a generous, favorable response. In contemporary terms, these men knew how to preach in a manner that filled the offering plates.
C. “declare war on him who puts nothing in their mouths” (v. 5c): If someone would not feed the appetites of the false prophets, these unscrupulous men would “declare war” on them. The following verses (vv. 6-8) reveal God’s judgment on the religious leaders. Micah concluded this paragraph by affirming that his message came from the Holy Spirit.
III. God’s Judgment on Corrupt Leaders (vv. 9-12)
A. Additional indictments against the leaders (vv. 9-11)
1. “who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight” (v. 9): The political and religious leaders conspired to deprive the people of justice, a conspiracy made all the worse by the silence and abuse of popular preachers.
2. “who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity” (v. 10): The reference to blood indicates the deadly effects of the leaders’ sins. Perhaps they employed murder as a means of oppression; or, they may have created such an oppressive environment that the poor and helpless simply could not survive.
3. “give judgment for a bribe” (v. 11a): The judges made a mockery of justice by accepting brides; thus, the rich, who afford to pay for favorable decisions, won the court cases.
4. “priests teach for a price… practice divination for money” (v. 11b): Micah indentified two problems: the preachers prostituted themselves to the appetites of their hearers, and they practiced divination (expressly forbidden in the Old Testament).
5. “no disaster will come upon us” (v. 11c): Above all, these delusional leaders failed to understand their own impending destruction.
B. God’s final judgment against the leaders (v. 12): All of Israel would suffer for the sake of the oppressive leaders. While the leaders were responsible for their actions, the people had chosen to submit to such injustice. Even the secure heights of Zion would meet with utter destruction.