‘Woe to those who plan iniquity upon their beds’ is the way I remember it – people who get to sleep in, while others work in the dark – then rise and implement another oppressive plan. Imagine a minority getting richer, saying that ‘the economy is great’ while the majority don’t share the benefit. Imagine the minority elite thinking that their wealth is due to their merit, effort, intelligence, or hard work – diminishing the humbler labours of others.
If we knew Hebrew better, we’d enjoy the wordplay – but the content is good enough – those who claim social Darwinism will suffer from it in the end. Recall our tour through Leviticus this fall, and Joshua in the spring: land is allotted, by lot each tribe gets some turf entrusted for a while – and in Jubilee, we return to a re-allotment, re-distributive justice. The worst threat to the rich families is that they will not only lose their ill-gotten gains taken from other clans, but their line won’t even have a representative to cast a lot! They get dealt out of the game, like a cheating card player from a high stakes poker table.
The rich pay their own prophets to tell us not to preach. As Soelle’s poem puts it ‘keep away from the pulpit the crude speech of the people’. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be – we serve the powers that be, they say. The people who rise up to complain complain that this is not what God’s reign should be like are treated as enemies rather than citizens.
Micah makes fun of the kind of leadership popular in the time – offering beer and wine – ‘buck a beer’ or perhaps ‘legalized cannabis’ – the vices of affluence, the luxury goods of entertainment, rather than sharing with the dispossessed homeless widows. It’s a play on words, the sound of ‘lament’ and ‘taunt’ in Hebrew – and Micah is taunting the elites.
The closing lines of the chapter and the first oracle offer a note of hope to the people (not the negligent shepherds, but the flock) – God will gather a scattered remnant in due course – into a noisy pen, collected together briefly. Then, in the next verse, in the opposite action, a ‘Breaker’ appears who busts open the pen and leads the flock after the new king in a procession out of the pen. This is not an eirenic vision, but a militant one – disrupting order.
Micah 2 (NRSV)
1 Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds* on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power.
2 They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.
3 Therefore, thus says the LORD: Now, I am devising against this family an evil from which you cannot remove your necks; and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be an evil time.
4 On that day they shall take up a taunt-song against you, and wail with bitter lamentation, and say, ‘We are utterly ruined; the LORD * alters the inheritance of my people; how he removes it from me! Among our captors* he parcels out our fields.’
5 Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the LORD.
6 ‘Do not preach’—thus they preach— ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’
7 Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Is the LORD’s patience exhausted? Are these his doings? Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly?
8 But you rise up against my people* as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful,* from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war.
9 The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses; from their young children you take away my glory for ever.
10 Arise and go; for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with a grievous destruction.*
11 If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’, such a one would be the preacher for this people!
12 I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the survivors of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture; it will resound with people.
13 The one who breaks out will go up before them; they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king will pass on before them, the LORD at their head.