Micah is one of the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, labelled because of the length of the books. Five books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel and Ezekial) constitute the Major Prophets, whilst Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi constitute the Minor Prophets .
c1100 BC King David establishes a united Israel
c930 BC Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) alienates the northern tribes and Israel splits into two:
Israel in the north (capital Samaria) and Judah in the south (capital Jerusalem)
Prophets: Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk
721 BC Israel is conquered by Assyria, but Judah survives
Prophets: Amos, Hosea (in the north); 1 Isaiah, Micah (in the south)
598 BC Jerusalem falls to Babylon, Zedekiah is installed as a puppet king
587 BC Rebellion, Judah is sacked and the people deported, or escape to Egypt
Prophets: Jeremiah (in Jerusalem and Egypt), Ezekial (in Babylon)
The Exile in Babylon
Prophets: 2 Isaiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
c530 BC Return from exile, Jerusalem and the Temple rebuilt
Prophets: Nehemiah, Ezra
1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings and 1&2 Chronicles are “historical” commentaries during the period of the two kingdoms
“The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Mic 1:1)
Two prophets bear the Biblical name of Micah: Micaiah son of Imlah, from the Northern Kingdom in the time of Ahab (c874-852 BC) (1 Kgs 22:8-28) and Micah of Moresheth Gath (Micah 1:14), who prophesied between ca 740 and 690 BC. Mi-ca-iah is a sentence name meaning “Who (Heb – mi) is like (k) Yah (iah), i.e. Who is like the Lord?. Yahweh or I AM was the memorial name of God, which became famous when he hurled the Egyptian army into the Red Sea. It is both the name of the prophet and the content of the prophet’s message – Who is like the Lord will hurl the people’s sin into the depths of the sea (Mic 7:19-20). Micah is identified with his place of origin rather than his family (cf Isaiah son of Amoz). Moresheth is 20 miles south west of Jerusalem near the border. The area beyond the border was contested between Egypt, Assyria and the Philistines. As a Moreshtite (Mic 1:1, 14) it suggests that he was an outsider to the capitals of the nation.
Context 1. Moral corruption
Micah prophesied in the southern kingdom during the reigns of Jotham (742-735 BC), Ahaz (735-715 BC) and Hezekiah (715-686 BC). Two forces are at work: moral corruption internally and the threat of Assyria externally. Micah is active during the time when Israel (the northern kingdom) was conquered by Assyria and when Judah (the southern kingdom) faced a similar threat.
God’s word comes to Micah in the form of a vision. As God’s messenger, his message rests on God’s covenant with his people given at Sinai (Micah 6:3-8). It is a message that brings judgement as well as hope. However most of Micah’s contemporaries are false prophets who follow the corruption endemic in the royal court, they are not prepared to prophecy the truth about God’s judgement and the nation has become cynical and corrupt (Mic 6:6-11) “Do not prophecy,” their prophets say. Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us.” (6:6) “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be a just prophet for this people!” (Mic 2:11)
Amos (c775-743 BC) and Hosea (c760-725) provide eyewitness testimony to the moral corruption in Samaria before Micah. Micah and Isaiah indicate that this had spread to Jerusalem as well. Injustice from the rich to the poor was driving people off the land and into dependency (Mic 2:1-2) “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them. They defraud people in their homes, and rob them of their inheritance.”
The judges and prophets were venal so the people had no power of redress (Mic 6:10-11) “Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? The rulers “despise justice and distort all that is right” (Mic 3:9), whilst “Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money” (Mic 3:11). Although the nation looked religious as it thronged the temple and bought lavish gifts to buy God’s favour (Mic 6:1-8) it had replaced the moral covenant mandating love to God and neighbour with despoiling of the poor and weak.
Context 2. Geo-politics
In the parallel accounts in the Book of Kings we are told that Jotham did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kgs 15:34) but he did not remove the high places so that people continued to offer sacrifices to idols. Ahaz, Jotham’s son, was 25 when he became king and ruled for 16 years. He turned against God and even sacrificed his own son in the fire (2 Kgs 16:3). During his reign the northern kingdom (Israel) made an alliance with Syria and invaded Judah. Rezin king of Aram (Syria) and Pekah, son of Remaliah (King of Israel) besieged Jerusalem. Isaiah told Ahaz to stay firm in his faith and to ask God for a sign, but instead Ahaz turned to Assyria for help and sent the treasures from the Temple and the Royal Palace as gifts to Tiglath-Pileser III, the King of Assyria (2 Kgs 16:7-8). The King of Assyria obligingly attacked Syria, but only because he intended to occupy Israel and Judah himself. Ahaz did not stop his political alliance with the Assyrians or his adoption of pagan practices. When he went to Damascus to meet the King of Assyria he built a replica in Jerusalem of the pagan altar he had seen there and offered sacrifices on it (2 Kgs 16:13).
Hezekiah, Ahab’s son, succeeded him but he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord; removing the high places, smashing down the sacred stones and cutting down the Asherah poles(a sacred pole or tree used in pagan worship, 2 Kgs 18:4). As a result the Lord was with Hezekiah in all that he did. However, the northern kingdom continued to defy God and eventually the Assyrian army became the means of divine judgement (2 Kgs 18:12). Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BC) had launched the Assyrian Empire on a policy of expansion. By 734 he had entered Israel’s coastal plain and reached Sinai (2 Kgs 16:2). By 732 BC he had conquered Damascus and occupied Galilee and he confirmed Hoshea as ruler of the rump state of Israel after Hoshea had assassinated Pekah, Israel’s King. Since Galilee was the first part of Israel to fall into darkness, it would become the first to see salvation (Isa 9:1-2).
Tiglath-Pileser III was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser V in 726 BC and Hoshea, the last northern king, rebelled after allying himself with the King of Egypt. The Assyrians then laid siege to Samaria (2 Kgs 17:5-6), and Sargon II (Shalmaneser’s successor) captured the city and deported the leadership. The northern kingdom therefore became the Assyrian province of Samaria. “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. All her idols will be broken to pieces; all her temple gifts will be burned with fire; I will destroy all her images. Since she gathered her gifts from the wages of prostitutes, as the wages of prostitutes they will again be used.” (Mic 1:6-7)
Judah therefore becomes surrounded by Assyrian vassal states, and their petty rebellions bring strong reprisals. The kings of Judah face a delicate balancing act preventing an Assyrian takeover but avoiding religious compromise. Hezekiah tried to balance submission to Assyria with obedience to the covenant and he initiated reforms to purify temple worship (2 Kgs 18:3-6), restore the Passover (2 Chr 29:20-31) and lead the nation into repentance.
Sennacherib (705-686 BC) succeeded his father Sargon II to the Assyrian throne and in Hezekiah’s fourteenth year as king he attacked the fortified cities of Judah. Hezekiah, however, went against Isaiah’s prophetic advice and refused to pay tribute to Sennacherib (705-686 BC). Superficially it seemed a sound judgement as the Babylonian king Merodach-Baladan was encouraging nations to join his coalition against Assyria (2 Kgs 20:12-21), but Isaiah had foreseen that one day it would be Babylon that would carry Judah into captivity instead. Micah would mime these captives’ fate, going about himself barefoot and naked (Mic 1:8) “Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl.” However, like Isaiah, he also predicted a day of restoration from exile “You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies.” (Mic 4:10).
Sennacherib eventually dealt
with the Babylonian revolt and entered Judea in 701 BC. He took the major
defensive cities that protected the outskirts of Jerusalem, including those
mentioned in Micah 1:10-15: Gath, Beth Ophrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth Ezel,
Maroth, Lachish, Moresheth Gath, Akzib, Mareshah and Adullam. Although the Egyptians
also attacked the Assyrians they were defeated on the plain of Eltekah. All
seemed hopeless, but Isaiah joined a repentant Hezekiah in prayer (2 Kgs
19:1-19). God heard their prayers and Isaiah was able to predict Sennacherib’s
fall (2 Kgs 19:20-34). Plague took the Assyrian army, attributed to divine
deliverance (2 Kgs 19:35) and the city was saved – for a time.
The structure of the book
There are various oracles within the book that take a number of forms, such as doom oracles threatening judgement, laments, lawsuits etc. Scholars suggest that a clue to the structure of the book is detectable in the repetition of the word “Hear” or “Listen” in 1:2, 3:1 and 6:1 corresponding to a threefold division (Mic 1:2 – 2:13, 3:1 – 5:15 and 6:1 – 7:20). In each of these sections is a “judgement” theme followed by a “salvation” theme:
1:2 – 2:11 2:12-13
3:1-12 4:1 – 5:15
6:1 – 7:7 7:8-20
The first major section (Mic 1:2 – 2:13) announces judgement against an unrighteous nation. The indictment is against both kingdoms formed as a lawsuit based on the divine covenant. There is a clear statement that Samaria is to be destroyed (Mic 1:6). Exile is foretold but God’s judgement is vindicated by a description of the people’s corruption (Mic 2:1-11). In a brief “salvation” section (Mic 2:12-13) the hope is expressed of a remnant through whom God can fulfil his covenant promises.
The second section (3:1 – 5:15) is about the concerns for the leadership of the nation. Chapter 3 denounces the leadership (rulers, prophets and priests) as corrupt. The contrast given in chapters 4 and 5 is of a time when the nation will have a righteous leader. It is set in the “Last Days” (the Messianic kingship of God) and it foretells that this Messiah will come from Bethlehem (Mic 5:2).
The final section is more emotional in tone, looking at God’s loyalty to the nation in spite of the judgement that He must bring. God is portrayed as grieving of heart (Mic 6:3-5) and the prophet also laments what must take place (Mic 1:1-7). However, the book closes with a salvation section that states that God will forgive his people and restore them (Mic 7:8-20).
In the final verses (Mic 7:18-20) is a “Hymn of Praise” to God because of his forgiveness, compassion and faithfulness to His people. It begins with the rhetorical question “Who is a God like you” which is the play on Micah’s sentence name “Who is like the Lord.”
The image of God as shepherd is a theme occurring throughout the book, e.g.:
- Mic 2:12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people.”
- Micah 4:6 “In that day’, declares the Lord, ‘I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief.”
- Micah 7:14 “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, which lives by itself in a forest, in fertile pasture-lands.”
There is also a literary device of “interruption-answer” found in each section, in which the flow of the text is broken by a comment in response e.g.
- Mic 2:5 is a comment on the ruination that is coming to the land, “Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the Lord to divide the land by lot.”
- Mic 6:6-8 is a response after a passage about God’s grievance against His people in which God’s faithfulness is contrasted with their disobedience, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?…”