Unlike several other prophets who gave no clue regarding the time period of their ministry, Micah opens his book with an inscription saying he prophesied through the reigns of three kings – Jotham (ca. 742-735), Ahaz (735-715), and Hezekiah (715-687). Most scholars think the majority of his work occurred during the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah. That would have made him a contemporary of Isaiah and Amos (in the north). He was identified as Micah of Moresheth, which was a small town roughly 25 miles west of Jerusalem near Gath, relatively close to the border of the Philistines. Since the name "Micah" (or Micaiah) was relatively common, it was a way of identifying him from others of the same name, and it probably meant that he was no longer living in Moresheth but rather in Jerusalem. He was a prophet of the southern kingdom, though he had a few choice words for the north as well. The meaning of his name in Hebrew is, "Who is like Yahweh"; nothing is known about him personally.
Even though he is less well known now than some of his contemporaries, in his time Micah was quite prominent. Even Jeremiah made reference to him a century after his death. Micah's writings are a collection of oracles written over a long period of time. Scholars would feel more confident about the overall message of the collection if they could locate the time period in which each oracle was spoken. Obviously, that is not possible. Some even question whether Micah was the author of certain sections, thinking later writers might have added them long after the fact. These are issues that cannot be determined with any certainty.
Nonetheless, it does not detract from the general message of Micah's book. Like his contemporary, Amos, Micah saw beneath the outer trappings of society to the flaws that simmered underneath the surface. He was very troubled by the societal disregard for the poor, the injustices of the courts, and the lack of leadership by the religious authorities. It is unlikely that he was one of the poor (the style and language of his prophecies are quite sophisticated), but he certainly identified with them. Some scholars have speculated that he might have been a priest or a Levite since he seemed to have access to the royal court and especially targeted the priests and false prophets, accusing them of complicity in the injustices of society.
Historically, the stable reigns of Jeroboam II in the north (786-746BCE) and Uzziah in the south (767-739BCE) led to unprecedented prosperity for Israel and Judah. Borders were enlarged while foreign powers remained weak. But the world began to change for their successors. The north experienced a series of kings who proved impotent in the wake of Assyria's resurgence. Finally, in the year 722, the city of Samaria fell to the Assyrian king, Sargon II, and the demise of the northern kingdom was complete.
Ahaz was king of Judah during that time, and while his pro-Assyrian policy averted a similar fate for Judah, his reign was noted for corruption and paganism. Judah became a vassal state of Assyria and was assessed a heavy tribute, which deepened the divide between the rich and the poor. Even though Hezekiah was noted for making some religious reforms, economic conditions continued to deteriorate mainly because of having to pay tribute to other nations. Peace and independence came with a huge price tag. As always, the imposition of heavy taxes struck hardest at those who could least afford to pay. Like Amos, Micah saw this as an affront to the Covenant, wherein they were covenanted to care for each other and which had been the basis of society. In Micah's day, however, the poor had lost their lands, were powerless, and had no voice. Instead of remedying the situation, the political authorities made things worse by extracting as much as they could from the peasants, while the judges and religious authorities stood by silently.
Micah gave a voice to those who could not speak for themselves. Through God's words, he considered their true worth as well as God's commitment to them. Despite his message of total doom and destruction for society as a whole, he looked forward to a time when God would make a new beginning. Those who suffered would be rewarded.
There are three main oracles in the book of Micah: Impending Judgment 1-2; Indictment of the Leaders 3-5; God's Lawsuit and the Ultimate Triumph of God's Kingdom 6-7.
Impending Judgment 1:1-2:13
- Introduction; ministry covered reigns of three kings
- Impending judgment
- Summons for all the nations to "hear"
- God will come from his dwelling place to "witness" against them
- God's arrival will cause violent storms and earthquakes
- National upheaval will be due to sins of the nations
- Samaria will be destroyed
- Personal reflection on the coming judgment
- Micah will go around weeping and wailing and mourning
- A warning and summons for the people
- A listing of various towns that should be called to mourning
- Denunciation of authorities
- Fraudulent activities of those in power
- God's response will be the coming disaster
- Corrupt people will be brought low
- They will have no part of the covenant community
- True vs. false prophets
- True prophets were troublemakers, embarrassing the privileged classes
- False prophets told them not to prophesy
- People were not living according to God's standards
- The poor, women, and even children were being treated cruelly
- People only wanted to hear that more prosperity and affluence would come
- They didn't like hearing what Micah was saying
- A statement of hope for the remnant
- A remnant will be gathered
- Message of hope remains in stark contrast to message of continuing prosperity from all the false prophets
- Micah was not speaking about his own generation, but a future time
- Kingdom of God would burst forth; people would be restored
Indictment of the Leaders 3:1-5:15
- Indictment of the rulers of Israel
- He asked if they knew justice
- Micah continued with a harsh description of their disregard for justice
- He used the metaphor of treating the people like cattle for butchering
- Because they had been so merciless, the Lord would not answer their cries for help
- Indictment of the religious leaders of Israel
- The false prophets told the priests what they wanted to hear
- Micah, on the other hand, preached a message of doom
- The day would come when events would discredit their bright prophecies
- Then they will remember the words of Micah; he will be vindicated
- Consequences of corruption
- Listing of additional sins of leaders
- They despised justice and distorted all that was right
- All leaders had denigrated their offices for personal greed
- They maintained the outward show of religion, but were empty of any ethical response
- Their behavior guaranteed that Micah's words would come to pass
- Prophecy included the destruction of the temple, which no one ever thought could happen
- Future glory of the city
- Prophecy changed from doom to sublime (similar to Isaiah)
- Jerusalem would become the focus of God's activity to all people
- People will be drawn there simply to learn more about God
- "In the last days" – but no one knows when that will be
- Possible messianic reference, when Messiah would effect God's will
- All the people will look to the law of the Lord and there will be peace
- "Swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks"
- All peoples will walk in the name of the Lord
- In that day, exiles will be gathered; lame will be a remnant
- The Lord will rule over all
- Jerusalem will be restored to its "former dominion"
- Ruin and redemption of Jerusalem
- Description of dismal situation
- No king, no priests, only pain (likened to a woman in labor)
- Description of exile to Babylon (May be used as general term for Mesopotamia)
- Exile to Babylon wouldn't happen for another century or more
- Also promise of rescue out of the hand of their enemies
- Nonetheless, that promise was for future generations
- Current generation remained unrepentant and will suffer for their sins
- Nations that gloated over Jerusalem's misfortune should think about their place in God's overall plan – in turn, they, too, will experience judgment
- They, too, will be gathered like sheaves to the threshing floor
- Future King of Jerusalem
- Description of siege of Jerusalem
- Yet, out of Benjamin will come one who will be ruler over Israel
- This individual has not yet been born
- This indicated that God would not abandon them forever
- Israel will not only have a new ruler, but also a reuniting of its brothers
- Israel will be cared for by this messianic king
- He will shepherd his flocks in the strength of the Lord
- Future peace
- God will gather his scattered people
- They will rule over those who have ruled over them (Assyria)
- Remnant of Jacob
- Remnant will be transformed from being insignificant to having dominion
- Nations will not be able to withstand the remnant
- Purification of the Remnant
- Weapons and idols would be destroyed
- Nations will be expected to conform
- The Lord will take vengeance on those who disobey
God's Lawsuit and the Ultimate Triumph of God's Kingdom 6:1-7:20
- God accuses his people
- A lawsuit formula wherein the mountains were called as witnesses
- God pleaded with his people
- Why have they ceased to obey him?
- He recalled his saving act of the Exodus and the many great leaders he gave them
- What constitutes proper worship?
- Description of trappings of formal worship – is that what God wants?
- What does the Lord require?
- "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God"
- This is what is good
- God is interested in the state of one's heart
- These are members of the covenantal community with covenantal responsibilities
- Sentence of judgment
- The Lord calls – disaster threatens
- Emphasis on social sins
- Leaders had made so many promises that were not kept
- Invalidated their leadership in many ways
- Result: They will lose their land
- Their efforts to amass personal wealth will have been meaningless Idolatry also an issue
- Because you have followed their traditions, "I will give you over to ruin,
- Your people to derision; you will bear the scorn of nations"
- Micah's lament
- Micah mourned the conditions he witnessed, the sorry state of mankind
- Gave voice to his deepest feelings of disappointment
- Used metaphor of going to vineyard hoping to find fruit, but none was there
- Lament over corruption of society
- He claimed no honest people were left
- Rulers and judges had given themselves over to greed
- All were out to exploit before they became exploited
- No one could trust anyone
- "A man's enemies are the members of his own household"
- A psalm of lament
- A godly man can turn to God for help, he can wait in hope for the Lord
- Micah knew that God would act in his own time
- That brought a sense of peace, knowing that God was in control
- He also knew the faithful would be vindicated
- Ultimately God would act on their behalf
- The promise of victory
- One day the remnant will triumph
- Their borders will be expanded and all the peoples of the world will come to Jerusalem
- All peoples will partake of the promise of faith
- The Good Shepherd will lead them as He had in the past
- They will see all His wonders
- Nations will humble themselves before God
- Stark images described their trembling before the Lord
- Who is a God like you? (A pun on his name: Micah = Who is like Yahweh?)
- God's promises are sure because of His nature
- When people respond, God pardons and forgives (way more than they deserve)
- He delights to show mercy and will again have compassion
- His promises are sure "as you pledged in oath to our fathers in days long ago"
Although much of Micah is harsh, focusing on the face of God that will not allow sin to go unpunished, the prophecy ends with a psalm of trust and a picture of God's other side. He virtually sings of God's magnificence. God will show His power in the judgment, both of Judah and of the nations. That is inevitable, but it won't be the final word. God's intent is always the elimination of sin, the forward progression towards the perfection of His plan and salvation for all mankind. Micah believed this was possible. It is our hope and challenge for today as well.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth. "Minor Prophets I." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.
Alearo, Juan. "Micah, Justice and Loyalty." International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1989.
Craigie, Peter. "Twelve Prophets." Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.
Gaebelein, Frank. "Micah." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1985.
Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.
Smith, Ralph. "Micah-Malachi." Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1984.