I’ve not heard jackals howl in the wild, but I listened on YouTube. Try it to get in a mood to study Micah. They are more shrill and annoying than the hyenas I heard when teaching in Ethiopia.
The prophet Micah likens his prophetic voice in response to Judah and Israel’s sins to the howling of a jackal. The prophetic word grates on the soul of a compromised people, and we’re only in the second month of a summer spent on these prophets.
As I sit at my computer to find a word of God for the church in this time through the prophet Micah, our nation is wracked with turmoil in the inner cities because of the uprising of poor people against injustice. The church is torn by differences of understanding about sexual mores. The world writhes in seeming helplessness as greed and lust for power, sometimes garbed in religious extremism, spread suffering and death on many innocent victims.
I sometimes wonder what guides those who have the responsibility to choose the texts for our weekly Sunday school study. The selection for the first week of July omits the contextual verses that provide the basis for Micah’s word given for our consideration. The source of the Lord’s judgments in 2:4-11 lies in the covetous wickedness that people devise “on their beds” and execute because they have the power.
The warning against false prophets in the midst of an immoral society is much-needed. Micah points to motivation: prophets who prophesy good to those who support them and declare war against those who do not feed their coffers. Follow the money, he says.
It helps as we seek to sort out controversies in our world today. Are climate-change deniers paid by the fossil-fuels industry? Is the treatment recommended by a pharmaceutical that holds the patent? Are the advocates for war a part of the military/industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against? It’s helpful to see whose ox is being fed and whose gored.
It’s in the midst of these complex issues that we need to hear Micah’s message. He tells us that God is not controlled by devious, self-seeking human dynamics. “Therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity’ ” (Micah 2:3).
It often defies our human logic, but the prophet affirms that God will bring justice out of human chaos.
Some modern prophets affirm this, too. In a short poem, “Retribution,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes:
Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.
In 1857, Theodore Parker, in a sermon titled “Of Justice and the Conscience,” expressed ideas that have been made famous in our time by Martin Luther King Jr. in these words: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Micah tells us God works in this pattern and will not let injustice go unchecked.
And, Micah tells us, there will be false prophets supporting the structures of evil in our society, voices in the pay of the sources of immorality. But God will not be left without a true prophetic voice. “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8).
Whether it be through Jim Wallis of Sojourners or some prophet on the MWR blog, God will have a witness to truth in the midst of injustice — some jackal howling into the wind.
John M. Miller, of Leola, Pa., served with his wife, Doris, as a missionary in Mexico and taught missions and social ethics in seminaries. He is a member of Stumptown Mennonite Church.