Take HEED and BEWARE of COVETOUSNESS: Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them. So they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. Therefore thus says the Lord: "Behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks; nor shall you walk haughtily, for this is an evil time." (Micah 2:1-3)
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of four other prophets (Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Jonah) who lived in the 8th century A.D. He lived in a rural countryside called Moresheth (1:1) but directed his prophecies primarily against the urban leaders of Jerusalem and Samaria, which were the capital cities of the southern and northern kingdoms respectively. The name Micah means ‘Who is like the Lord?’, and as a reflection of his name, Micah stood on God's side as he denounced Judah for adopting the idolatrous ways of Israel and criticized the leaders of Jerusalem for their oppressive policies toward the country’s rural citizens.
In the above passage, Micah announced a ‘woe’ against those who would lie awake at night, thinking up ways to sin. As soon as morning came, these individuals would rush off to put their evil plans into action. In seizing the lands of their countrymen, these people were violating a key principle of the Law. They were stealing people’s allotted portion of the Promised Land, in disobedience to the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:13, 15, 17), the law of redemption (Lev. 25:23–28), and the law against changing landmarks (Deut. 19:14). For the breaking of these laws, the Lord promised to exact retribution in kind by allowing foreigners to seize the lands of Judah (Mic. 2:4). For these poor, defenseless people, God will rise up in judgment, and His punishment would adequately compensate the crime of covetousness!
To covet was not just to have a passing thought, but was a determination to seize what belonged to others. This was what King Ahab of Israel did who had coveted the field of Naboth and snatched his rightful inheritance from him through deceit that was orchestrated by his wife Jezebel (see I Kings 2:1–16). The current leadership of Israel and Judah has continued to covet the fields and possessions of the poor people and have violently deprived them of their rightful inheritance. These wealthy and powerful people were grabbing real estate that belonged to others, by force and even violence if necessary (Micah 2:2; 3:10). The top leaders had allowed this hideous practice, which amounted to daylight robbery, to go unchecked. They had not only denied justice to the poor, but had essentially ‘skinned them alive’ in order to enrich themselves (3:3, 10; compare Prov. 22:16).
The justice that God expected in ancient Judah during the time of Amos is the same kind of justice that He expects from us today, particularly among His chosen and redeemed children. The New Testament strongly warns us against covetousness (Eph. 5:5; James 4:1–5). Longing for more can lead to longing for what belongs to others, which in turn can lead to injustice as we grasp for the things we want. Today, if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content with that (1 Timothy 6:8). Let us take heed and beware of covetousness!