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Introduction to the Book of Micah

Julian Spriggs M.A.

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Interpreting OT Prophets Dates of kings of Israel and Judah
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Micah the prophet

His name is the abbreviated form of "who is like Yahweh",which is the man theme of his message. He was from Moresheth-Gath, twenty-five miles south-west of Jerusalem in the Shephelah, near Gath on the Philistine border. He was a prophet of the countryside, preoccupied with the sufferings of the common people and the peasant farmers, speaking with a countryman's directness and a great indignation. Micah had no access to the court, in contrast to his contemporary, Isaiah, who was a prophet of the city and royal court.

His message concerned Samaria and Jerusalem (1:1), but only 1:2-8 refers to Samaria and Israel. His interest in Judah and Jerusalem is more extensive, so he is normally included as one of the prophets to the southern kingdom, Judah. He was a contemporary with Hosea, who was prophesying to the northern kingdom and with Isaiah to the southern kingdom.

Historical background

Micah's ministry covered the reigns of the following kings of Judah, spanning fifty-five years:

Jotham 742 - 735 BC
Ahaz 735 - 715 BC
Hezekiah 715 - 687 BC

The description of the corruption and immorality in Judah given in Micah fits well with what we know about the reign of Ahaz and the early years of Hezekiah's reign. After Jeremiah’s famous temple sermon, the elders recalled Micah’s message in the time of Hezekiah, by quoting Micah 3:12 (Jer 26:18-19)

Syro-Ephraimite War

Assyria was expanding southward under Tiglath-pileser III. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus formed an anti-Assyrian coalition and tried to force Judah to join them. Ahaz of Judah appealed to Tiglath-pileser for help, against Isaiah's advice (Is 7). Assyria crushed the coalition and Judah became a vassal of Assyria, involving the payment of heavy tribute and accepting Assyrian gods. This lead to a loosening of moral and social standards which Micah spoke against.

Literary Style

Micah frequently uses play on words, especially in 1:10-15, where the predictions of doom fit the names of the towns. This is particularly seen in the Moffat translation:
Gath (= Tear-town) weep not at all
Beth-leaphrah (= House of dust) roll yourselves in the dust
Shaphir (= Beauty-town) pass in nakedness and shame
Zaanan (= Going-forth town) do not come forth
Beth-ezel (= House of taking away) shall remove the support from you
Maroth (= Bitter-town) wait anxiously for good
Lachish (= Horse-town) harness steeds to chariots
Achzib (sounds like deception) shall be a deception

Theology of Micah

Uniqueness of Yahweh

Micah's name means "Who is like Yah(weh)?". His message ends with the same question, "Who is a God like you - pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession?" (7:18). Yahweh is the Lord of the whole earth (4:13).

God appearing in historical events

His prophecy begins with a description of the coming of the Lord, a Theophany (1:3-4). The appearance of God was an intervention in history to cause destruction of Samaria, which was actually caused by Assyrian army (1:6), but Micah sees the invasion as a direct result of Yahweh's response to Israel's disobedience. This destruction is a witness against the nations (1:2). The destruction of Samaria (1:6), and Jerusalem (3:12) is a witness that God punishes sin, even in his own people, so he will also punish sin of other nations (5:15).

This Lord is coming to bring both judgement and salvation

There are three sections of the book:
Micah's summons to the people (ch 1-2),
Micah's summons to the leaders (ch 3-5), and
Micah's summons to the mountains (ch 6-7).

Each section begins, "Hear, you ...." (1:2, 3:1, 6:1), and each contain oracles of judgement and oracles of hope for the faithful remnant.
Section 1: People - judgement (1:2-2:11), hope (2:12-13)
Section 2: Leaders - judgement (3:1-12), hope (4:1-5:15)
Section 3: Mountains - judgement (6:1-7:7), hope (7:8-20)

The Shepherd King

The Messianic Shepherd King is mentioned in all three hope sections:
Section 1: The survivors of Israel will be set together like a sheep in a fold, and the "one who breaks out" will go up before them, their king (2:12-13).
Section 2: To you, O tower of the flock, the former dominion shall come (4:8). The king / ruler shall come from Bethlehem (5:2-4). He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.
Section 3: Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you (7:14)

When the wise men came to King Herod, the scribes identified these as predictions of the Messiah:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2:5).

The Lawsuit theme

Through their idolatry, Judah had broken the covenant, so God was bringing a lawsuit against them.

1. Initial summons of nation (1:2-7)
v2 Summons of people by Lord
v3-4 Coming of the Lord
v5 Charge against Israel and Judah
v6-7 Judgement against Samaria and Jerusalem

2. Lawsuit against landowners (2:1-5)
v1-2 Charge against the oppressing landowners
v3-5 Judgement - capture, exile, loss of fields

3. Three lawsuits against the leadership of the nation (3:1-12)
v1-3 Charge against the unjust rulers
v4 Judgement - Lord will hide from them
v5 Charge against false prophets
v6-7 Judgement - disgrace, no visions, no revelation
v9-11 Charge against presumptuous leaders
v12 Judgement - Jerusalem ploughed like a field

4. A full legal case is brought against Judah, with the Lord acting as the plaintiff, Micah as his messenger, the mountains as the witnesses, and Judah as the defendant (6:1-8)
v1b Lord calls Micah to plead his case before the mountains
v2 Micah summons the mountains to hear the controversy of the Lord, "Hear you mountains ..."
v3 Case for Prosecution - Lord's case against Judah
1) What fault do they find with the Lord?

v4-5 Accusation defended - what the Lord has done
v4 Lord brought them up out of Egypt under great leaders
v5 a) Lord turned Balaam's curse into blessing
b) Lord led them across the Jordan

v6-8 Case for the Defense - Judah defending themselves
2) What sacrifice would Lord be pleased with ever increasing sacrifices?
3) What does Lord require?
- to do justice, to live kindness and to walk humbly with your God

5. Another case is brought and judgment declared (6:10-16)
v12 Accusation 1 - injustice
v13-15 Sentence 1 - famine
v16a Accusation 2 - idolatry from Ahab
v16b Sentence 2 - desolation, exile

The mountain / high places theme

Micah uses the common understanding of holy mountains, or high places, which were places of worship for pagan idolatry, but God also had his holy mountain in Jerusalem. “The Lord will come down and tread on the high places of the earth” (1:3), “the mountains will melt ... like wax in the fire” (1:4), because of the transgression of Israel. The transgression of Israel was Samaria, where the golden calves were worshipped, and the high place of Judah is Jerusalem (1:5).

He predicts that Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, the mountain of the house a wooded height (3:12), and calls the people to “Rise, plead your case before the mountains” (6:1), calling the mountains as witnesses against the people. Micah creates a picture of Yahweh coming and treading across the mountains, crushing the pagan sanctuaries under his feet.

After the judgement, he promises hope, that, “The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established ... People and nations shall stream to it, saying: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord ..." (4:1). The former dominion shall come to the hill of daughter Zion (4:8), and their boundary will be far extended, from mountain to mountain (7:12).

Message of the book

Micah is preoccupied with the sufferings of his fellow countrymen in the agricultural areas who are being exploited by the rich landed nobility (6:12). He was not particularly concerned with the political situation. His message was to the common people, dealing with social injustice and personal religion. He cries for social justice (as Amos 5:24), and he pleads for steadfast love (as Hosea 6:6).

No class of people were exempt from his prophetic word. Rulers, priests, prophets and people were all shown to be the cause of the religious, social and moral decay which had affected the heart of the nation (2:2,8-9,11, 3:1-3,5,11). Carnal judges, corrupt priests and false prophets, who oppressed the poor, were all condemned under God's coming judgement (3:12, 4:10, 6:16). Hating false religiosity, he exposed the futility of the religious observances which continued through all the corruption, injustice and inhumanity (6:7-8). Through all this, Micah still brings the hope of restoration and the coming of the Shepherd-King Messiah from Bethlehem.

This is the heart of his message: "He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God". (6:8)

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets Dates of kings of Israel and Judah
Syria / Aram The Assyrian empire
Canaanite Religion Covenants in the Old Testament