Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (March 22, 2020) Corrupt Leaders / An Argument Against Corruption Micah 3:1-3, 9-12; 6:6-8

Corrupt Leaders / An Argument Against Corruption

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s lesson the prophet Micah speaks truth to power. The religious leaders are corrupt.  The political leaders are corrupt. The Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital of Samaria has already fallen and Micah knows the same will happen to Jerusalm if the corrupt leaders don’t change.  Micah’s job is to warn the nation of Judah so they can turn from their unjust and wicked ways. The two tribes of the Southern Kingdom know how the Northern Kingdom of Israel was brutally defeated, taken into captivity, and many deported to Assyria.  Yet their headlong slide into idolatry, corruption, and injustice doesn’t seem to persuade them to seek justice and righteousness. Instead they seek bribes, commit murder and tell lies. These leaders are corrupt and they only care about themselves and their friends.  Micah preaches a message of doom against all of Judah and he cries out against the priests, the false prophets, and the rulers of Judah. Money, greed, and power have replaced justice and righteousness and God will destroy the Holy City of Jerusalem if Judah’s leadership won’t do right by the people they are oppressing.  Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:  

Zion

Injustice

Background:  

The book of Micah bears the name of the prophet centered in this book.  It is the sixth book of the twelve minor prophets and as we studied with Amos and Habakkuk the inscription at the beginning of the book identifies Micah as a prophet of God.  According to the New Interpreter’s Study Bible “Micah’s preaching spanned two periods: the last years of the divided monarchy and the first years of the existence of Judah alone.”  Jerusalem was the capital city of Judah and now stands alone as Israel’s capital city of Samaria has fallen. The NISB notes that “Samaria’s Northern Kingdom (Israel) officially became  one of the provinces of the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE.” The Southern Kingdom consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin with the Northern Kingdom containing the remaining tribes. So if Micah was written in 700 BCE, Micah’s prophecy of the utter destruction of Jerusalem would occur 113 years later in 587 BCE when the first Jerusalem Temple is destroyed.  Micah’s job is to warn the nation of Judah so they can turn from their unjust and wicked ways. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel have already fallen. The two tribes of the Southern Kingdom know well how the Northern Kingdom of Israel was brutally defeated, taken into captivity, and many deported to Assyria (2 Kings 17:3-6).  Micah knows Jerusalem is next if the political leaders and religious leaders don’t turn the nation around.

The NISB also notes that “this book is a collection of oracles written in a variety of styles and perhaps representing several periods.  Many scholars believe the earliest speeches were spoken by Micah in the eighth century and that others updated the vocabulary, added lines, and entire speeches in later centuries, but there is little agreement on the details.”  In my view what is certain is that this book is a powerful account of the injustice in Judah, the righteousness of God, and is a message to us today.  

The NISB also lists three themes in Micah.  These themes are derived from attention to the proper names of “Israel”, “Jacob”, and “Micaiah”.  It notes that “Micah generally chooses to refer to the Southern Kingdom (which is Judah) as “Israel”.  He wants to remind his listeners of the unity of the people as the LORD’s covenant partner. Even though “Israel” ceased to exist in 722 BCE.”  So when you see Israel in the text, in most cases it specifically refers to Judah but broadly to the Northern Kingdom of Israel as well. Micah knows that even though the monarchy of King David was divided, the ten northern tribes were still a part of the great work God did in the nation’s history.  The NISB also notes that “Micah calls Judah “Jacob”, referring to Jacob and Israel.”  Additionally, “Micaiah is the full form of Micah’s name.  His name asks the question “Who is like the LORD?”  

Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “Micah exposes the injustice of Judah and that about one third of the book indicts Israel and Judah for specific sins.  Another third of the book predicts the judgement that will come, and the remaining third is a message of hope and consolation. God’s justice will triumph and the divine Deliverer will come.”  So of the seven chapters in this book one-third is an indictment that tells them what they are doing wrong.  Another third tells them what will happen because of their wrong doing and another third offers the hope of God if they turn from injustice.  Nelson’s also explains that “Micah begins by launching into a general declaration of the condemnation of Israel (Samaria) and Judah (Jerusalem).  Both kingdoms will be overthrown because of their rampant treachery. Some of the specific causes of judgement include premeditated schemes, covetousness, and cruelty.”  

It is this kind of injustice that causes Micah to speak out against the political leaders, and the religious leaders of his day.  Micah speaks truth to power. He confronts the political and religious leaders of Judah with their injustice. Micah preaches a message of doom against all of Judah and he cries out against the priests, the false prophets, and the rulers of Judah.  That message of doom begins in chapter one as the NISB notes “Micah portrays the destruction of Samaria as a theophany, or divine appearance: The LORD will walk on the earth, bringing destruction (vv. 3-4) because of the evil of the Northern Kingdom, Israel.”  If you read the first chapter you will get the sense of utter destruction and doom by the hand of LORD. It is an indictment against the religious leaders of Judah. They are guilty of idolatry.  

The second chapter is an indictment against people who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds at night and against the corrupt priests and prophets.  These are economic injustices and again an indictment against religious leaders.  

The third chapter is an indictment against the rulers of Judah.  These include the prophets, priests, and political leaders. The prophets are corrupt, the priests are corrupt, and the political leaders are corrupt.  Money, greed, and power have replaced justice and righteousness.  

The sixth chapter presents a metaphorical courtroom with God making the case against Judah, telling them what God requires, and that cheating and violence will be punished.  In all of this God reminds the Judahites of what God has delivered them from and where God has brought them from. Their wickedness, corruption and unrighteousness will bring punishment if their unjust and unrighteous ways don’t change.  Some important terms to consider about this text include:

Zion

Injustice

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

In last week’s lesson the prophet Habakkuk learned that there would be consequences for the injustice of Juda and especially of Babylon.  He had taken his watch on the tower wall. He questioned God and was expecting an answer from God.  He had made his complaint known and now he would watch and wait to hear an answer from God.  God graciously answered the prophet. God told Habakkuk to write and to make it plain. And that is exactly what Habakkuk did.  Habakkuk essentially trash talked the Babylonians when he wrote the prophecy containing the five woes that would befall the wicked and evil Babylonians.  He wrote the prophecy and there would be no question about who he was writing about and who would cause the woes to befall the Babylonians. When God said something will come to pass, people would be able to look back at the record and know that it was God who brought it to pass.  The wicked and evil Babylonians were on top at the moment, but judgement was coming. And when it did come, it wouldn’t be pretty. God would still use the evil Babylonians to punish Judah. Judah wouldn’t escape but the Babylonians would fall and when they do fall it would be epic.  This week we continue in the theme of justice and the prophets.  This week’s prophet is Micah. In this week’s text Micah speaks truth to power.  The religious leaders, the prophets and the priests are corrupt, the political leaders are corrupt and the people devise wicked ways to cheat people.  Justice and righteousness have been replaced with money, greed, and power. Micha’s job is to call out the injustice and warn the people of the coming utter destruction if their ways don’t change.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Corrupt Leaders.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles this week’s lesson An Argument Against Corruption.  The scripture text comes from Micah 3:1-3, 9-12; 6:6-8.   

Pay attention to how the political leaders hate good and love evil.  How the religious leaders judge for a bribe, teach for a price, and the prophets tell fortunes for money.  Both the political and religious leaders of the country are corrupt and righteousness and justice has been replaced with money, greed, and power.    

What Takes Place in This Passage:  

The lesson opens in chapter three verse one with Micah having already indicted both the religious and political leaders of Judah.  He has pronounced judgement against Samaria in Israel and Judah, declared the doom of the cities of Judah, and denounced the social injustices of the land.  Micah knows what has already happened to the Northern Tribes of Israel and it’s capital in Samaria and he knows what will happen to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and it’s capital in Jerusalem if the injustice doesn’t stop.   

Verse one begins “And I said: Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!”  The Pulpit commentary notes that these heads of Jacob and rulers “addresses the heads of families and the officials to whom the administration of justice concerned.”  These are the rulers, the priests, and the prophets. They are leaders in charge of the political systems and religious systems in Judah. They are supposed to know justice, practice justice, and meet out justice.  The Pulpit Commentary notes that “these magistrates and judges seem to have been chiefly members of the royal family in Judah.” Of all people, these are the people who should know, understand, and practice justice.  They should be concerned with justice, fairness, and righteousness. These people in the royal family are the ones Micah is speaking out against. Micah speaks truth to power.  

In verses two and three Micah declares “you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and flesh off their bones.”  These rulers are corrupt. Instead of loving justice and righteousness they hate good and love evil. It should go without saying that people in authority, people who have power can do so much more damage when they are ruled by evil instead of good.  The NISB notes that “they are portrayed as cannibals who eat the people they are charged to govern. No wonder the LORD will not respond when they ask for help from the trouble that is coming (v. 4).”  

In these three verses Micah speaks truth to power, he accuses the rulers of hating good and loving evil.  He portrays the rulers as cannibals who eat their own people. Clearly, Micah has no respect, no regard, and no affection for these corrupt leaders who are only concerned about themselves and their friends.  The text then skips to verses nine through twelve.  

If you read verses five through eight, you get the picture of a prophet who cries loud and spares not.  In these verses Micah directly accuses the corrupt prophets. The NISB notes that “the prophets tailor their messages to the amount (food in v. 5, money in v. 11) paid to them by their audiences (vv. 5, 11).  

Verse nine begins “hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel who abhor justice and pervert all equity.”  Micah is driving home the point that these rulers are corrupt. They haven’t simply replaced justice with greed, they abhor justice and pervert equity.  The UBS Handbook on Micah notes that “By their attitudes and actions the rulers were really undermining the whole social structure of the nation and their own position within it.”  The New American Commentary notes that “Jacob” and “Israel” in this verse refers to Judah.  

In verse ten the writer continues the same line of thought saying “who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!”  The Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “Zion” as “used in the Old Testament for all or part of Jerusalem.  In both Old and New Testaments it refers to God’s heavenly city (Isa. 60:14; Heb. 12:22; rev. 14:1). In the Christian church it is an image for heaven.”  So in this case Micah is referring specifically to Jerusalem. He declares Zion or Jerusalem is built with blood. The UBS Handbook on Micah notes that “the city’s moral foundation was one of murder and injustice:  The rich could only afford these buildings because they were cruel and oppressive to the poor.” The injustice of Micah’s time is not unlike the injustice of our time. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because of corrupt leaders who care only for themselves.  Not only did they disregard the poor they broke their covenant with God. UBS also interprets this verse as “You are able to do so much building in the city only because of the murder and injustice by which you gain your money and your power.”  

In verse eleven the political leaders hate good and love evil.  The religious leaders judge for a bribe, teach for a price and the prophets tell fortunes for money.  Both the political and religious leaders of the country are corrupt. The political system and the religious system have failed the people.  Even with this corruption they still tell the people “isn’t the LORD among us? And reassure the people that no disaster will come upon us.” UBS explains “the leaders of the nation, both the secular rulers and the religious priests and prophets, are all corrupt and have more interest in growing rich than in doing their jobs properly.”  

In verse twelve the writer tells us “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.”  Micah is laying it bare. The house of God, the Temple in Jerusalem where for centuries now the people have gone to worship God will be destroyed. And it will be destroyed because of corrupt leaders.  UBS notes that “The LORD sees through their pretense and will bring judgement upon Jerusalem rather than allow their evil deeds to continue.” So God would rather destroy the holy city than to see it used in this way to uphold injustice and oppress the poor.  I continue to say that God is more concerned with how we treat people than God is concerned with us following the rules and regulations of the law. The priests were still making sacrifices and conducting religious services but their hearts were far from God. The text then skips to chapter six verses six through eight.

In chapter six verses six through eight the NISB notes that “the scene shifts from judicial to liturgical.  Israel as worshiper asks what offering is needed to placate the LORD proposing increasingly extravagant gifts, ending with child sacrifice.”  God is not interested in their sacrifices. God is interested in their obedience. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  UBS explains “in verse seven the offerings suggested gradually increase in size and value until they reach a climax which is both horrifying and self-defeating. It was quite beyond the ability of the ordinary Israelite to offer a thousand sheep.”  

Verse eight is the answer to the question.   God is interested in relationship. There is liberty in Christ Jesus and that liberty frees us from sacrifices, it frees us to come before God just as we are with our hearts turned toward God and not pretentious rules and regulations when our hearts are far from God.  

Context

In 1936 Dale Carnegie published “How to Win Friends and Influence People”  that self-help book has been re-published many times and in many different languages and formats since then.  It’s nice to have friends and it’s especially nice to have friends in high places. But hopefully those friends aren’t corrupt.  Micah wasn’t trying to win any friends in high places. In fact, he specifically denounced the rulers and leaders of both the political and religious systems.  Micah spoke truth to power. He was concerned with righteousness and justice because he knew what was at stake – the very life of his nation. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the same applies to us today.  Righteousness and justice are the foundations of a safe and secure society.  

Key Words:  

Zion- used in the Old Testament for all or part of Jerusalem.  In both Old and New Testaments it refers to God’s heavenly city (Isa. 60:14; Heb. 12:22; rev. 14:1).  In the Christian church it is an image for heaven. 

Injustice – The ethical wrong of not rendering to another that which is due.  It is condemned by the biblical prophets (Isa. 58:6, Jer. 22:13, Hos. 10:13).    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:  

1. Speak truth to power.  (Micah wasn’t afraid to confront the corruption of the ruling class in his society.  He denounced both the corrupt religious leaders and the corrupt political leaders.)

Question:  

Micah saw the injustice of both the political and religious systems.  What did he do about it?

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson continues in the Old Testament minor prophets.  The lesson for March 29, 2020 comes from Malichi 2:1-9 and 3:5-6. Next week’s lesson is titled Leading Justly and Need for Just Leaders.  

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