Micah was a prophet during the time of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, who reigned over Judah. It was a time of change as the city of Jerusalem became a center for the cultural elite whereas the rest of the land continued in their largely rural and agrarian ways. The push for more power and greater wealth by the cultural elite had been leading to great injustices in society. For example, in chapter 2 Micah declares this unjust imbalance of power.
They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.Micah 2:2 ESV
Land was the means to produce crops, and crops could be exported for money. Those with power were seizing land from those without, that they might gain even greater power and wealth. God sent Micah to preach against such injustices.
Given the numerous provisions in the law of Moses to prevent such injustices, one wonders how this could happen. They were, after all, the very people of God! The answer is quite simple: those who were responsible to speak against such evil did not. In fact, they participated in it. Consider God’s words to the prophets in Micah 3.
Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.Micah 3:5–7 ESV
There were many prophets in that day, though not all were true. The false prophets would adjust their message for personal gain. God says that their message was “Peace”—but only when they have something to eat. When they did not have something to eat they proclaimed that war and its consequent destruction was coming. Who wants that? Better to pay a prophet for a good message! It isn’t difficult to see how a prophet, who claimed to speak for God, could manipulate and abuse his position as a prophet.
In the Ancient Near East prophets went by a variety of names. One was “seer” for a prophet could see things that others could not. Notice what God says to them: it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. In the Ancient Near Eastern city-state of Mari prophets were often called “answerers”, for they provided divine answers. God declares they shall be put to shame and they shall cover their mouths. Why? “There is no answer from God.” These false prophets who prophesied for personal gain do not, and cannot speak for God. Their message was not from him.
This is hardly an ancient problem. We know from the Didache, a late first-century document containing instructions for churches, that the same problem persisted. The Didache instructs Christians by warning, “But [if a prophet] shall say ‘Give me money, or something else,’ you shall not listen to him”. We even see a similar problem today. There are those who preach for personal gain. Their message is not from God but is designed (quite often) to increase offerings and gifts to the church, and therefore to the preacher, or even gifts given directly to the preacher. However, money may not be the motivation for changing the message God has given us to proclaim. It may be “relevance,” the desire to be seen as important or necessary. It may be popularity. Who doesn’t love a feel-good message? Whatever the motivation, if it results in altering the message God has given to proclaim, the warning is clear: that message ain’t from God.
At this point it’s tempting to limit this to changing the message to a feel-good message for gain. The truth is the warning to the prophets is about any alteration of God’s message. There are those who alter the message by refusing to preach God’s holiness and therefore refusing to call out sin. We see this all the time. But there are also those who only call out sin, who think that “standing up for Jesus” means calling out various cultural sins, but without good news.
God is holy. All sin is an offense against him. There are those who like to preach against “Romans 1” sorts of sins, but often they only preach against a subset of the sins listed in Romans 1. In Romans 1 Paul lists various sexual sins, but he also lists other offenses against a holy God, things like envy and strife and slander and haughtiness and boastfulness and even disobedience to parents.
It is good and right to call out cultural sins, but we must not alter God’s message by failing to proclaim the good news. Rather than preach Romans 1 in isolation, let’s also preach Romans 3:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:21–26 ESV
As those called by God to proclaim his word to the world, let us not hold back any part of his message. Let’s be faithful to call out sin, even the sins that we ourselves commit, but let’s also be faithful to proclaim the full message of the gospel, the hope that we have in Christ. Whether one is a murderer or a gossip, whether one is sexually immoral or full of envy, whether one is an inventor of evil (Romans 1:30) or is deceitful, through faith in Jesus one can be justified by his grace as a gift—an undeserved gift. Let us proclaim the whole counsel of God, and therefore the hope of the gospel we have in Jesus.