Last week we entered the courtroom and heard God’s case and Judah’s complaints, this morning we are going to hear the verdict and that verdict begins with a cry to Listen! Like the town criers of the middle ages, who read official pronouncements from the king, so Micah is about the read God’s verdict for Judah’s unfaithfulness to the covenant relationship.
The city is urged to pay attention, not only to the discipline that is coming but also more specifically to the One who is bringing the discipline. God’s intent in bring discipline is not to get their focus on the punishment but to get the focus of a sinful people onto God, presumably to effect repentance and create a change of living so that people will Love God and neighbor. The phrase Heed the rod and the One who appointed it (Micah 6:9) is akin to saying Learn from the consequences of your sin and the One who accuses you. And it is that three-fold structure that we are going to look at this morning – God, his accusations and the consequences of idolatrous living.
Repeating the charge and pronouncing the sentence is very common in the judiciary. Our legal system still follows this pattern when a judge asks the jury, “On the charge of …, how do you find…” and then in the sentencing phase of a trial the same judge will repeat, “On the charge of …, I sentence you to …”
Similarly, God lists the charges and it is important that we understand these are God’s accusations. They aren’t the prophet’s words, or anyone else’s. These are God’s accusations against God’s people, a sinful people who need to be rebuked and brought to repentance. And if they are God’s words of accusation, then they are applicable to every person that lives, for our God is the same yesterday and today and forever…I am the Lord, I do not change… (Heb 13:8. Mal 3:6). Sin is sin, regardless of the culture or the time in which it occurs. That is a lesson we would do well to take to heart in our contemporary world. The charges are:
- Ill-gotten treasure
- Short ephah and dishonest scales, false weights
- Violence of rich
- Lying and deceitful speech
- You have observed the statutes of Omri and all the practices of Ahab’s house and you have followed their traditions (Micah 6:16a)
That last charge is a way of summarizing all the guilt that God finds in the people of Judah, particularly those living in the City of Jerusalem. When God summarizes it this way, he is telling Judah that they are idolatrous in heart. Their business actions, their speech, their general approach to life is idolatrous, for Omri was the founder of Samaria and introduced 2 golden calves into the northern kingdom and his son Ahab, we know practiced child sacrifice, worshipped Baal and Ashtoreth and stole Naboth’s vineyard by having the man killed (1Kings 16:29ff). These acts were considered detestable in God’s sight and anyone living in Jerusalem would have rebelled at the idea of being a Samaritan, but God himself indicts and finds Judah and Jerusalem guilty of being Samaritans. God has placed the sin listed above on the same plane as the sin of Omri and Ahab. There is no difference. Sin is sin, and it is at its root, the result of an idolatrous heart that places something above the worship of God and obedience to Him.
The steal, they cheat, they lie. When people came to the markets, they were being forced to pay more than was required and were given less than was expected. That is what dishonest scales and false weights do. This kind of business practice was directly in contradiction to the law of God given in Leviticus 19:35-36, “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” And this same word is echoed in the Proverbs “The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him” (Prov. 20:23) and Amos (8:4-8) had brought a similar indictment against the Northern Kingdom just a few years before.
When the Jerusalem kind of business model permeates a society then the next thing that happens is violence and deceit. When everyone is out to cheat one another, then people begin fighting their way to stay on top, whatever the cost. When cheating is the norm, then lawyers and contracts penetrate a society. Handshake business deals based on truth and honor give way to meticulously drafted language and unscrupulous legal tricks seeking to shift blame and protect assets. Sound familiar?
Honestly I have struggled to figure out how we cheat in business directly by charging too much and giving too little, and since we don’t have old school markets it is hard to see directly. Ponzi schemes are one example, maybe multi-level marketing is another. But I wonder if our advertising industry is not guilty of making grand promises about products, which can never be delivered? I was even reading an article on how businesses like Amazon track the kinds of products that we as individuals look at and they can then customize pricing to the individual so that you and I could buy the same product but pay different prices based upon our surfing history and how much money they think we are likely to pay for the product. Is that not differing weights and dishonest scales? Recently I bid on something on eBay. $27.95 was my maximum price, I didn’t win, but within 10 seconds of the auction closing, I had an offer from the seller to sell to me the object for $27.95. Obviously they were trying to see how high I would go.
I have two other ideas as well. Are modern tax laws examples of differing weight and measures? Why it is one section of society pays more than another. Wouldn’t a consistent tax law without loopholes be more consistent? My last thought concerns paper currencies and economic indicators. Might our modern currencies be an example of differing weights and dishonest scales? What I mean is this – If we were to have been living in Jerusalem buying from a market the transaction would have been like this. I ask for 1 pound of corn. The guy puts the corn on the scale and puts an offsetting 1-pound weight on the other side. When we both agree that the scale is balanced, then the corn is scooped into a bag and set aside. Next the merchant asks for 1 ounce of silver that is placed on the scale and again compared to a weight to ensure that the coins are real and valid, not slugs plated or edges clipped, but a full ounce of silver. The scale served to balance both the product and the payment. So what happens when a people agree that a piece of paper will take the place of an established weight of silver, or gold or some other measurable item? Not much, until the tie connecting that two is broken. When paper currencies happen, they can be inflated, essentially allowing powerful merchants and governments to charge more and more for the same product. In 1930, US$1was equal to .77344 ounces of silver, a Morgan dollar. But now, that same coin is worth $16.40 (9/23/10 @$21.15/oz) strictly based on inflation. 1 ounce of silver is equal to more than US$20. And how is inflation calculated officially? It is always changing sometimes it includes housing costs, sometimes it doesn’t. Inflation has happened and dishonesty in our currencies is affecting our market-based economies. Do you see how God’s indictment against an agricultural trade system is equally valid against a powerful first world government espousing modern economic principles and printing billions of dollars? Governments and corporations can charge you more and give you less in return, and you probably don’t even realize it.
It’s dishonest, its false, its is a lie, and God judges it. How? The same way he judged Judah. They were told that they would eat but not be satisfied (Micah 6:14). These powerful merchants and rulers would have lots, but their cravings would never be fulfilled. The avaricious spirit would hunger for more and more, there would never be contentment. In the same manner, we who live in a world of corrupt weights and measures, faulty economics permeated by paper money and the ability to inflate at will, can expect to store up but save nothing (Micah 6:14).
All of the images that God gives to Micah, eating but not be satisfied…store but save nothing…plant but not harvest, pres olives but not use the oil on yourselves, crush grapes but not drink the wine (Micah 6:14-15) are images of want and hunger amidst plenty. The bounty of the land will be there God promises, but the ability to be satisfied with it will be lacking. Does that not describe many in the world who seek ill-gotten treasure, money at any cost? Does it not describe a great tragedy called greed? Is it not alive and well and something many struggle with? Might not our inability to be content be a symptom and God’s punishment upon our ill-gotten treasures, dishonest scales and false weights?
Might not the derision and scorn of the nations which we experience as a nation be related to our economic policies and the manner in which we use them? Consider all the nations that harbor great hatred towards the USA – are they not countries where poverty abounds? Are they not places where every time the USA prints more money, the cost of our products increases to them and the cost of their products decrease to use causing great inflation inside their own countries for basic commodities? Thereby making their poverty.
Has free trade really improved the lives of many in Africa, Asia and Latin America or has it allowed us to destroy their indigenous businesses and farms while exploiting the cheap labor? Look into the history of agro-business in developing countries and tell me if ill-gotten treasure is not at work? Look into it and see if the violence of the rich takes the land of the poor? Look into it and see if our currency policies are affecting other countries? China knows it is and that is part of the reason they have been so forceful about US quantitative easing.
Is it fair that we can print more of the trade currency at our whim, while others are forced to take our terms in order to gain access to that needed trade currency? Consider if our sin as a nation might not be being judged with discontent, derision and scorn? And every time we purchase stock, every time we choose to buy the cheap product built on the backs of the poor, every time we elect people to political office who just go along with the game, we participate in the process and become one of those who are judged.
Now you are probably thinking – Scott, it is the 4th Sunday of Advent, and this is such a non-adventy sermon. What about the joyousness of the coming king, the promised Messiah? How does he fit into all of this? There are two ways:
First, Jesus Christ needed to come into our world for precisely the reasons I have mentioned. We are all hopelessly idolatrous. We serve money, power, fame, and what not, and when we do we oppress others, we use others, we abuse others. Jesus was born into our world in order to live a perfect life and free us from the stranglehold of death, which is so evident in all the spheres of our life. So he came as a man, to redeem people from every tribe, race, tongue and language – to forgive them of their sin and to lead them into a way of life opposite to how they had been living. Instead of lying, cheating and stealing; instead of violence and oppression, he wants people to experience truth, generosity, charity and love. All of these become possible because to the incarnation and all that occurs because of it. We can love because he first loved us giving his very life for our redemption. In fact, Paul goes even further and explains that because Christ died and rose, we too can die to our sinful way of living and rise to a new life of holiness in Romans 6.
Second, Jesus Christ promises to come back. The second coming of Jesus will inaugurate a new kingdom, a new life where sin and destruction, evil and all forms of idolatry and injustice will be eradicated and unknown. It is on this fourth Sunday of Advent that we look back at how Jesus judged the sin of the past, the present and the future as evil and the power and promise he gives to every Christian that they don’t need to live like this any longer, but at the same time we also look forward to a time when we will have no more knowledge that such a life ever existed. We look forward to the complete redemption of the earth and all that is in it knowing that what our Lord began he will bring to utter completion. So rejoice at judgment knowing that what is judged will one day pass away so that the new can take it’s place.
So look forward to the return of Christ, for he alone can make and remake the world into a better place.