Miseracordia. Woe is me. I am like one who tries to glean leftovers and finds none – the godly are already swept from the land. Everybody I meet poses a threat, not a promise. The gleanings are for the poor. Micah shares their physical fate of no welfare payments, with his moral loss of godly company.
It’s a selfish and a vicious time of social Darwinism, survival of the fittest, Hobbes’ horror of a life ‘nasty, brutish, and short’ with each one competing against the other. Everybody’s hustling – you can’t trust a neighbour or a lover.
I am particularly struck here with verse 6, since we just completed a reading of Luke, and Jesus’ denial that he brings peace, but division in households. What if the gospel is just quoting Micah, and assuming we know it?
So what do you do, apart from the Pollyanna thing from 6:6-8? This is a darker version of patience, accepting adversity deserved and perhaps mercifully less than deserved. It’s about seeing the wicked prosper, as the psalms sing it, and waiting for a just God to make this case.
The day will come (but not yet) for a reversal, for building walls again, for other lands to be desolate and abandoned as they stream toward Zion (but not yet) Let the people be scattered, to experience again the liberation cycle of Exodus.
There is a far side to the anger of God, which combines the justice of God with the love of God. The familiar genius of Micah is about morality – but the greater message is of a divinity that can’t be limited to love without justice that spoils us, or justice without love that breaks us.
We come from a subculture of our great religious tradition, which has claimed to overcome a moralistic judgmental sectarianism with ‘inclusiveness’, which risks becoming love without justice, and is reflected in our incapacity to address economic injustice and political evil. We probably need another run through Micah, and not just with ‘thou, bethlehem’ or ‘what does the Lord require’, or ‘ain’t gonna study war no more’ prematurely hummed.
Micah 7 (NRSV)
1 Woe is me! For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.
2 The faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one left who is upright; they all lie in wait for blood, and they hunt each other with nets.
3 Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice.*
4 The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of their* sentinels, of their* punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand.
5 Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace;
6 for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.
7 But as for me, I will look to the LORD, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.
8 Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me.
9 I must bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he takes my side and executes judgement for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall see his vindication.
10 Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, ‘Where is the LORD your God?’ My eyes will see her downfall;* now she will be trodden down like the mire of the streets.
11 A day for the building of your walls! In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
12 In that day they will come to you from Assyria to* Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
13 But the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their doings.
14 Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us* marvellous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick dust like a snake, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their fortresses; they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God, and they shall stand in fear of you.
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your* possession? He does not retain his anger for ever, because he delights in showing clemency.
19 He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our* sins into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.