For biblical historians interested in legal and economic history, Micah 6:9-16 is a powerful example of how corrupt religious practices often support corrupt political and economic practice. A friend of mine and fellow historian has researched in great depth the statutes of Omri, and I wish I had such research readily available to re-post or to link to, something that may be done in the future. Let us, however, use such information as is readily available in the Bible to discover more about the wickedness of the statues of Omri and why it matters for us today, over 2800 years after the time of Omri, a short-lived and corrupt king of Israel.
First we must ask why would Micah write about the statues of Omri over 150 years after Omri himself lived and died . In looking at Micah 6:9-16, therefore, let us examine what information it gives us about the statues of Omri, and why it matters for us today. For we may, upon examining the matter closely, find that we ourselves share far more in common with the statutes of Omri than we would prefer if we have not examined our own thoughts and attitudes towards social justice and equity. Caveat lector.
Micah 6:9-16: What The Bible Tells Us About The Statutes of Omri
The only information we have about the Statutes of Omri we have from scripture is found in Micah 6:9-16. This passage occurs immediately after the famous, and often quoted, verse about justice, which states, in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is a rhetorical question, and yet though Micah 6:8 is often quoted as a reminder of our responsibility as believers, the contrast of just behavior with unjust behavior in the rest of Micah 6 is often forgotten or ignored. It is therefore the purpose of this essay to help bring this contrast more clearly to light.
Micah 6:9-16 reads as follows: “The Lord’s voice cries to the city—wisdom shall see your name: “Hear the rod! Who has appointed it? Are there yet the treasures of the wicked, and the short measure that is an abomination? Shall I count pure those with the wicked scales, and with the bag of deceitful weights? For her rich men are full of violence, her inhabitants have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. Therefore I will also make you sick by striking you, by making you desolate because of your sins. You shall eat, but not be satisfied; hunger shall be in your midst. You may carry some away, but shall not save them; and what you do rescue I will give over to the sword. You shall soe, but not reap; you shall tread the olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; and make sweet wine, but not drink wine. For the statutes of Omri are kept; all the works of Ahab’s house are done; and you walk in their counsels, that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing. therefore you shall bear the reproach of my people.”
Micah here gives a very serious condemnation of ancient Israel for its corrupt business practices. Isn’t God only concerned with personal morality? Isn’t He on the side of the wealthy business owners? Not so. God’s law is intimately concerned with business practices. Those who engage in corrupt business dealings and try to avoid responsibility by saying, “let the buyer beware” are not only sinning against their fellow man but sinning against God and violating God’s laws. How so? Have you not read Proverbs 11:1: “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” What about Proverbs 20:23: “Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord, and dishonest scales are not good.” Is this a concern of God’s law as well? Absolutely—see Leviticus 19:35-36: “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you ought of the land of Egypt.”
According to God’s laws, business owners are required to behave honestly in their business transactions with customers. They are to deliver what they promised, not try to short their customers by cheating them either on selling them less good for more money, or trying to buy more for less by manipulating weights and measures and dimensions. Such behavior is corrupt and ungodly, and for those who gain their wealth through corruption God promises judgment. Corrupt business dealing is violence against the people of God through exploitation, and it, along with the lies and “spin” of deceitful business communication will be punished by God through hunger, theft, and destruction. National judgment follows from the unrepented sins of its corrupt elites, including corrupt business practices (see Amos 2:6-8).
The Statutes of Omri In The Modern World
Why would a nation follow the statutes of Omri and reject God’s laws about business practice? What if you are a libertarian, and believe that people should be free to make money however they want without being burdened by “socialist regulations” of business practices, prompt payment of wages (see Leviticus 19:13, James 5:4), the requirement to lend to the poor without interest (see Exodus 22:25), and the protection of vulnerable foreign immigrants from exploitation (see Exodus 22:21), as well as the protection of widows and orphans from mistreatment (see Exodus 22:22, James 1:27). If you wanted to be free of these laws, which are part of God’s law, and which reflect His perfect and righteous character, all of which will be enforced again when Christ reigns on earth as they were to be in ancient Israel, you might prefer a different economic law.
What if instead of laws requiring generosity to the poor, protection to the weak, and fair business practices by the rich, there were laws that sanctioned the efforts of businessmen to get ahead without burdensome restrictions on their business actions. Would not many who sit in pews as good Baptists, or Catholics, or Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Lutherans, or even Church of God members rebel against the enforcement of the biblical laws of business practice? So it would seem, by their political speech and behavior. After all, they promote the Statutes of Omri in this nation, over 2800 years after Omri’s death.
How so? For example, after the American Civil War the Fourteenth Amendment was written to protect the rights of newly freed black slaves, but almost immediately after it was written corrupt corporations sought to protect their monopolies, and protect themselves from state regulation, through the declaration of corporate personhood. Fictitious people were given rights that real human beings were denied, thanks to cases such as Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad . While the thoughts and ideas of human beings are appropriated by the companies they work for, while human beings in corporations are denied the right to privacy through restrictive corporate rules and procedures, those same corporations seek to declare themselves to be free of limits and restrictions on their behavior, and free of scrutiny from those whose responsibility is to wield the sword of God against evildoers through the enforcement of God’s laws, including those on business practices (see Romans 13:4).
So, if one believes it is right and acceptable for business to practice in a lassiez faire environment without regulation, one has chosen the Statutes of Omri over the law of God. The same is true if one prefers to exploit the poor and the stranger rather than to treat them with the mercy and kindness that God’s law requires. The same is true if one prefers to engage in corrupt business practices, supported by able and well-paid legal help, rather than behave in a just and righteous manner towards one’s employees and customers. The Statutes of Omri are not just obscure laws from a long time ago—they still live and breath in the hearts and minds and behaviors and legal arguments of those who would wish to be free of God’s law enforcing their business practices and their obligations to treat those they deal with, whether inside their company or outside, with dignity and respect. There are many such people in today’s world, and they provoke the same divine judgment that god made against Israel for their sins of social and economic injustice. Micah’s warning is just as true today as it was 2700 years ago. Are we listening?
In Micah 6:9-16, Micah states that the unjust business practices of ancient Israel would lead to their national judgment by God, and with the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 being enforced on their society. Within a generation the nation of Israel was no more, conquered by the brutal Assyrian empire, its people deported to distant lands. God’s law condemns the same corrupt business practices that exist in our world today as existed in the times of ancient Israel. God’s views on social justice and on economic regulation have not changed since His laws of Exodus and Leviticus, expressed in the Proverbs, and repeated in the renewed covenant in the Book of James. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Likewise, the Statutes of Omri, with their favoritism towards the corrupt practices of businessmen who wanted to be free of the burdensome regulations of God’s laws, still live with us. Will we choose to endorse the Statutes of Omri and invite God’s judgment on our wickedness and injustice, or will we promote justice and equity, like the prophets of old, through heeding Micah’s message today. The choice is ours to make, and we will bear the consequences of our choice. Let us therefore choose in a wise and godly fashion, lest the same judgment that fell on Samaria fall on us today.
See especially: “The economic prosperity was not felt equally by all groups of the population, and thus the economic rift in Israelite society was widened. The increasing sway of the foreign cults on the one hand, and the social oppression (cf. “the statutes of Omri” in Micah 6:16) on the other, caused the formation of a strong opposition movement to Omri and his house, at the head of which stood the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, and those who had remained faithful to the Lord.”