Let’s play Jeopardy! The category is Roman Mythology for $100. She wears a blindfold and holds a set of scales in one hand. If you answer, “Who is Lady Justice?” you are correct. For centuries, the goddess of justice has been the symbol of due process in democratic societies worldwide. Lady Justice wears a blindfold so that facts and evidence tip the scales of justice instead of bias and personal preference.
Many Old Testament prophets, including Micah, speak against the social and economic injustices laid upon poor and weak people by the powerful rulers in their day. The verse most Bible readers associate with Micah reads, “He has told you, O man, 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?” (6:8).
Today, we hear many cries for social justice. So-called justice warriors talk, protest, and sometimes riot in the streets in the hopes of making massive societal changes that tip the scales more evenly between the rich and poor, the powerful and weak, the advantaged and disadvantaged. Social justice sounds good. Who can argue against it? Even the American way speaks of “justice for all.”
But is today’s social justice the same cry for justice heard from the Lord’s prophets? If the Lord requires us to do justice, how do we achieve that? What are the means and methods of biblical justice? The prophet Micah helps us think through these questions.
Micah of Moresheth
The book begins, “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (1:1). Like Amos, Micah was a country preacher from a small, rural town about twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem on the border of Judah and Philistia, near Gath. He is among the Old Testament prophets that we can set within a specific historical context.
Micah, the justice warrior, grew up in a humble place far from the ruling elite. He aimed his ministry toward anybody who might use their social, economic, or political power for personal gain, and in doing so, abuse the poor and weak. He boldly took the Lord’s prophetic message to the capital cities of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, Samaria and Jerusalem. Micah held nothing back when targeting the corrupt rulers, false prophets, and immoral priests of his day.
Though considered a minor prophet, Micah’s ministry resembles Isaiah’s—a major prophet who proclaimed God’s word during the same time. They probably knew each other and perhaps compared prophetic notes in Jerusalem, which is why some of their messages sound similar. For example, Micah 4:1-3 is nearly identical to Isaiah 2:1-4.
Of course, Isaiah’s ministry stature was enormous. But one hundred years after Micah’s smaller ministry, some of Jerusalem’s elders quoted the lesser-known prophet during their defense of Jeremiah after his blistering temple sermon (Jeremiah 26:17-19). Others called for Jeremiah’s execution after he was arrested for preaching about the destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7, 26). The elder’s citation of Micah 3:12 worked, sparing Jeremiah’s life; it also extended the influence of Micah from Moresheth.
Micah expressed his prophetic call in 3:8, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.” Like other men who spoke for God in the Old Testament, Micah weaves the Lord’s promises of hope and restoration into his judgment-laced prophecies. Each major section of the seven-chapter book begins with the word “hear,” imploring us to listen carefully to the Lord’s prophet. Let’s take a closer look at what God reveals (1-2), how God rules (3-5), and what God requires (6-7).
What God Reveals
In chapters 1-2, Micah delivers a message “for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (1:5). He uses stark imagery to describe the Lord’s intended purpose, to “tread upon the high places of the earth,” a reference to the Almighty One crushing the idolatrous worship sites with His presence. When the Lord comes out of His place, “the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place” (1:4). Of Samaria, Micah says, “All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste” (1:7). God does not mess around with idolatry.
In 1:10-16, Micah uses words with similar sounds or closely related meanings. We miss the wordplay in the English translation, but the prophet’s creativity is obvious in the original Hebrew language. Micah mentions ten cities in these verses, all of them are in the Shephelah, a rural region southwest of Jerusalem that surrounds Moresheth, Micah’s hometown. In other words, Micah directs his first message to his rural neighbors, a reminder that the mission field begins in our neighborhood, too.
Chapter 2 begins with the word “woe,” signaling a strong warning to the oppressors, “those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds!” (2:1). Micah has in mind, for example, the ruling elite who covet a man’s house and then exercise their power to seize his inheritance. Sound familiar? The Lord will not tolerate such injustices, especially when furthered by the leaders themselves. “Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster” (2:3).
After the Lord’s clear warnings, Micah ends his first message with the hope of future restoration. “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men” (2:12).
How God Rules
The next major section of prophetic messages (3-5) decries Israel’s leadership and then points to a future ruler in Israel who will be born in Bethlehem. Can you guess who the ruler “from ancient days” might be? Micah starts by denouncing the faulty political rulers (3:1-4) and then takes aim at the false prophets (3:5-8). He lumps them together as those who “detest justice and make crooked all that is straight” (3:9-13).
Everything rises and falls on leadership. However, it is never easy to find good, faithful, and trustworthy leaders. Nations languish when feckless people who lack integrity and detest justice assume leadership positions. Thus, in Micah’s time, the Lord said Jerusalem “shall become a heap of ruins” if the political rulers and religious leaders did not get their act together (3:13).
Chapter 4 stands at the midpoint of the book and rises like Mount Everest above the rhetorical dark clouds of the previous chapters. It opens by describing a bright and glorious time of future restoration for Yahweh’s people happening “in the last days” (4:1). It will be a time of peace when the nations of the world “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (4:3). A time of peace like this will require new leadership, which brings us to chapter 5 and Micah’s famous Christmas prophecy.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. 5:2[i]
This prophecy refers to a shepherd-ruler (5:4-5) who was born in Bethlehem seven hundred years later. Jesus Christ came first as a suffering servant but will return at the end of the age as a glorious king to establish His peaceful, millennial kingdom on earth. The contrast between the disastrous political and religious leadership of Micah’s time and the future Messianic ruler cannot be underestimated.
What God Requires
Like Isaiah 1, the last major section of Micah opens with a lawsuit against Israel, who has broken her covenant with God. This brings us full circle to what the Lord requires of His people.
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, 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? (6:6-8).
In contrast to meaningless religious ritual, God requires justice, kindness, and humility of His people. The word translated “kindness” is that beautiful Hebrew word hesed, which speaks of loyal, faithful love. Kindness is rare and underrated. We need more kindness in the world today (Ephesians 4:30). We also need more humility. God rejects the proud of heart and destroys the strongholds they build (Proverbs 18:12; James 4:6).
The words of an athletic legend who played in the National Basketball Association caught my attention this week. Shaquille O’Neal, commonly known as “Shaq,” rejected the proud, celebrity wokeness in Hollywood by saying, “These celebrities are going freaking crazy, and I don’t want to be one. Just because I made it doesn’t mean I’m bigger than you, smarter than you. Just because I have more money doesn’t mean I’m better than you.” Three cheers for the humble Hall of Famer, who led his teams to win four NBA championships!
Finally, God requires justice because injustice is sin. Make no mistake about that. Let’s return to our earlier discussion about the present cry for social justice and tread carefully around the term. Today, social justice does not mean what we think it means. This is no time for freedom-loving people to wear blindfolds.
Social justice, as it is meant today, refers to the state redistribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities for the purpose of achieving equal outcomes for disparate groups. Social justice replaces individual freedoms with group mandates. Today’s social justice warriors want to achieve “equity” (equal outcomes), not equality (equal opportunity).
An equal outcome is the aim of socialism and communism; whereas, free-market capitalism, the American way, offers an equal opportunity for all who desire to work hard and chase their American dream. Various outcomes result from free-market capitalism because people have different skills, abilities, and aspirations. But different economic or education outcomes are not necessarily the result of injustice unless the fight for equality is failing.
However, none of what social justice warriors fight for today has anything to do with biblical justice, which we must contrast with social justice. According to Voddie Baucham—a pastor, theologian, and prophetic voice worth listening to today—biblical justice is the application of God’s righteous standard equally to all people, places, and circumstances.[ii] Reread that last sentence and think about it deeply.
Thus, the unequal application of God’s righteous standard leads to oppression and injustice, which is why Christians, like Micah, should be the best and most engaged justice warriors. But today, God’s people must do so with discernment, steering clear of those who use the cry for social justice as a Trojan Horse to introduce Marxism, which has a long, terrible history of destroying human lives and stealing individual freedoms.
Let’s play Double Jeopardy! This time, the category is Prophets for $1000. He was a justice warrior from a small town who told us what the Lord requires. If you answer, “Who is Micah of Moresheth?” you are incorrect. If you answer, “Who is Jesus of Bethlehem?” you are listening carefully to the prophetic voices of the Old Testament Minor Prophets.
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 5, the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi) in our Store.
[i] “Ephrathah” designates this Bethlehem from two other nearby towns also called Bethlehem. King David was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, thus connecting the future Messianic ruler with the Davidic covenant.
[ii] Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice: A Panel with Voddie Baucham, Charlie Kirk, and Eric Metaxas. “The Eric Metaxas Show,” accessed on September 28, 2021, https://metaxastalk.com/video/biblical-justice-vs-social-justice-a-panel-with-voddie-baucham-charlie-kirk-eric-metaxas/