Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You who abhor justice and pervert all equity

To me the third chapter of Micah is the most interesting. The oracle contained in the first four verses is a condemnation of the ruling class including the persons responsible for administering justice. The leaders have failed to render just decisions in accordance with the requirements of the law. Micah delivers a devastating critique of the injustice and oppression perpetuated by the leaders and officials.

“And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?--
you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people, and their flesh from off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron.
Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time,
because they have made their deeds evil.”

The leaders and officials are guilty of violent acts of oppression. The social critique focuses on the hatred of justice, oppression, murder and bribery linked to Jerusalem and ultimately requiring its downfall. The major point being made by the Prophet is that this failure of the leadership is the cause of the punishment about to be suffered by the nation. Micah expects a destructive punishment upon those who oppress “my people.”

If a prominent cynical law school professor can ask the question, “Are there any honest lawyers left?” it is apparent there may be something wrong with the legal system. The professor answered his own question by indicating there are, but they operate in a profession which “... preaches honesty, but all too often it practices and rewards corruption.” It has been said that one of the signs of the decline of a particular society is the perversion of the judicial system. I wonder what Micah would say!

The Prophet provides a detailed accounting of the abuses beginning with the rhetorical statement: “should you not know justice?” The allegation of cannibalism that follows is a devastating metaphor charging the leadership with abuse of the people. There is no statement that the rulers, judges and/or prophets are eating human flesh. This according to some scholars is an indication that the image is probably metaphorical. Nonetheless, it is the most devastating condemnation of the legal system ever delivered.

There is no suggestion that the condemnation is issued by Micah because the rulers had shifted judicial power from local courts to central administration. There is no indication that traditional local courts had been abolished or curtailed. When Jehoshaphat conducted the reform of the judiciary, he made it clear the officials appointed to administer justice were agents of Yahweh in the performance of their judicial functions. With this very brief background, it is understandable why Micah would be upset that the judges “give judgment for a bribe.” It is because the judicial agents of Yahweh had perverted justice. Micah also condemned the rulers and prophets because they colluded with the rulers and magistrates.

No wonder Micah said:

“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.”

Copyrighted 2007


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