A Conflict of Interests

[Jerusalem’s] heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.”

Micah 3:11 (ESV)

What people say with their lips can all too easily mask what lies in their hearts. Even Christian leaders can claim to serve and depend on God, while all the time abusing their position to establish security through wealth and status.

Judah’s judges, priests, and prophets were commissioned by God to carry out His work. In court, the judge was to judge justly and without partiality (e.g., Exod. 23:8). In the temple the priests were to guard the truth and instruct the people in the demands of the covenant (e.g., Mal. 2:7). The prophets were to apply the covenant demands and promises, bringing God’s word to bear on specific issues (e.g., 1 Kings 22:5ff.; 2 Kings 8:8; 22:12-13). Each of these duties required a detailed knowledge of God’s word, and scrupulous integrity.

Yet Judah’s leaders were concerned only with money. Her prophets were profiteering scoundrels. Her priests would teach but only if the price was right. Her judges could guarantee a favorable verdict in court; no fee, no win. Money talked. Judah’s establishment was riddled with corruption. (Micah’s eighth-century B.C. prophecies to Jerusalem and Samaria, including this text, were pure, unlike the words of the faithless prophets.)

However, in spite of their corrupt practices, judges, prophets, and priests maintained an outward show of piety. They leaned on Yahweh, teaching and adjudicating in His name. They looked to Him for security, but more than that for credibility. What better claim to legitimacy for a prophet, judge, or priest than that he speaks in the name of God Himself.

Although they claimed to speak in Yahweh’s name, Judah’s rulers were leading the people to destruction; their trust was a false faith. Because of them, God’s judgment would come upon Jerusalem (v. 12), for in their hearts lay a conflict of interests. While they claimed to be serving God, in truth their consuming passion lay elsewhere. They were less concerned with covenant standards and fidelity to God’s Word than with profit margins and a healthy turnover.

Those who lead God’s people today are no less immune from a desire to manipulate their position for financial gain. Sadly, the Church is no stranger to corruption. Otherwise, there would be no need for such a watchdog as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Paul succinctly stated the problem facing laity and clergy alike—“the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Accordingly, he insisted that a church overseer not be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3) and that a deacon not be “greedy for dishonest gain” (1 Tim. 3:8).

The only certain protection is to seek godliness with contentment, recognizing that this is the sole path to true gain. Wealth and riches disappear at death; godliness stores up a treasure which is certain and will last forever.