Saturday

17 July 2010

"Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds." (v.1)

Background

This passage takes us to one of the most fundamental issues of ancient life. Who owns the land? This is, of course, an important issue today as well, but it was even more central for the ancient Hebrew.

The people of Israel saw the land in which they lived as a gift from God, which was theirs to enjoy freely and fully as part of their covenant life with God (Genesis 17:1-8). Joshua chapters 13 to 22 tell the story of how the land was distributed among the people by casting lots. The Israelite ideal was for each clan to own and farm their own land. But the prophet Micah addresses rich landlords who have forgotten this social and theological point; who are oppressing people and not only removing from them their source of economic independence and livelihood, but also their inheritance from God.

In the ancient world, the dawning of a new day was meant to be a time which brought justice. The assumption was that thieves and villains operated at night when the darkness would cover up what they were doing, but that in the morning help and justice would be found. There is a particular biting irony in verse 1 - the people addressed by Micah are powerful enough to plot at night but carry out their wickedness in the full light of day, at the time reserved for justice. This is a direct challenge to God's justice.

Micah goes on to picture what God's justice will be like. From verse 3 onwards the oppressors discover that the god they thought they could mock is planning to humble them and to reverse their actions. Verse 5 is a reference back to the original distribution of the land in the time of Joshua. On the day of justice, when the lots are cast for the land, the oppressors will not be represented and will not receive any land. The weak and the poor who have suffered will be vindicated.

To Ponder

What situations today mirror the cry for justice in this passage?

What can the Church do to stand with the oppressed?

Bible notes author: Revd Judith Rossall

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