“Therefore, the Lord says: I am now planning a disaster against this nation; you cannot free your necks from it. Then you will not walk so proudly because it will be an evil time.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The funny—and the frustrating—thing about the Bible is that it lends itself to wildly different interpretations by folks who come to it from different perspectives. Some people can look at it and clearly see one thing, while others can look at the same place and see something totally different. One of the debates that rages the hottest is the perspective of the Scriptures on rich people. The shortest answer is: It’s complicated. Let’s talk for a minute about what it collectively does and doesn’t say with this passage as our guide.
We’ve all seen the caricature of a super rich, cartoonish villain. This is the person who looks for ways to actively increase his already large holdings by taking from those who don’t have much. He wants to be wealthy all on his own. Poor people are simply a nuisance to be eliminated, not people worthy of compassion and wise assistance. This is someone everyone loves to hate, but isn’t a real person at all.
Well…sort of. Caricatures exist because there are people who display their cartoonishly exaggerated characteristics. The fact is, there have been and even are rich people who were so committed to themselves and their wealth that they didn’t care who they happened to exploit in pursuit of getting what they wanted. Some of these folks happened to exist in Micah’s culture.
This is one of the problems Micah is addressing here and throughout his collection of prophecy. There were a bunch of rich people who were not simply rich, they were actively taking advantage of and otherwise exploiting the poor in the land. They were using legal loopholes to gobble up the land of people who didn’t have much of it to start with. They weren’t just doing this, they were proud of themselves for it. They were boasting of their accomplishments among their peers.
The trouble for them is that while they may have been following some laws, they were doing things the Law specifically forbade. And through Micah, God was promising them judgment for it.
And isn’t that kind of thing just like rich people? We are sometimes taught to think that way. For a long time there have been voices that have demonized the rich to popular applause. We’ve been fed a steady diet of envy and jealousy of those who have more. Whole worldviews thrive on this ploy. And it’s an easy thing to buy. Some people have more than you. That’s just a fact of life. They can do things you can’t do, buy things you can’t afford, have opportunities you’ll never experience. It’s only natural to be a bit envious of them. And if we can explain this away by saying they’re just evil, we can feel better about what we don’t have. Then we look to the Scriptures to justify our feelings.
Here’s the problem for us in that: For all their various backgrounds and perspectives, nowhere do the various guys who contributed to the Scriptures suggest that wealth itself is bad. Wealth by itself is just a thing. It’s morally neutral. What’s more, having a lot of it doesn’t preclude anyone from faithfully serving the God who created that very wealth along with everything else in the world. That fact isn’t always popular with folks whose biblical interpretation has been influenced by Marxism in some way, but that doesn’t change its truthfulness.
At the same time, it is equally true that the various authors of Scripture are relentlessly clear in warning of the soul dangers of possessing wealth for those who have it. There are few obstacles to faithfully serving God that are as effective as being wealthy. The rich young ruler refused to follow Jesus because he couldn’t bear to part with what he errantly understood to be his. Jesus warned us in the most stringent terms to avoid the peril of trying to serve two masters—God and stuff. Having wealth doesn’t keep anyone out of God’s kingdom by itself, but it sure can lead to such an end all too easily.
There’s another problem here too. Just as the guys who contributed to the Scriptures were clear that wealth can be dangerous, they are equally clear that God has a special concern for the poor. That doesn’t mean He somehow hates the rich, but those who are struggling to make ends meet because of a lack of resources (a state of affairs that is a symptom of sin whether directly by the poor person or else indirectly by someone whose embrace of injustice has caused their poverty doesn’t matter for the moment) are objects of His special passion and concern.
Poverty is always caused by injustice of some kind, and the God revealed in the pages of Scripture cares deeply about matters of justice. If we don’t share this concern to the point that it moves us to action, then we are lacking in our grasp of His character in ways that can hinder a relationship with Him. Those who are rich have been provided their wealth by a generous God so that they can follow His example of generosity in the lives of those who need it. In other words, wealthy people have money because the God who owns all the wealth in the world wants them to use it to help others. This generosity cannot be forced (and all such efforts wind up making the problem worse than it would have been otherwise), but it must be in place if we don’t want our wealth to be an impediment to our relationship with Him.
Here’s the deeper truth: Whether we are rich or poor doesn’t make a bit of difference to God. We can serve Him faithfully and work for the expansion of His kingdom no matter what our current economic reality happens to be. In the church, the rich and the poor can be brothers and sisters in Christ. In the church done well, points that might otherwise divide us become rallying cries to unity. When the church gets wealth and poverty right, the rich are not owned by their stuff. The poor have their needs graciously and ennoblingly met by a combination of their hard work and the sacrificial generosity of the rich. The poor, on the other hand, are able to teach the rich about humility and what it looks like to actually rely on God for their daily needs and not their wealth. There is neither pride nor envy in the kingdom of God, but faith expressing itself through love worked out through lives of ordinary people.
This is what life looks like in the kingdom of God, and when we live according to the laws of the kingdom of God, life is just better. So, if you would consider yourself poor, trust in the Lord and work hard. If you are someone who is rich, trust in the Lord and work hard. Then, practice sacrificial generosity with what you have. If we get just these things right, life will always be better.