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by Donald C. Fleming
The eighth century BC brought some remarkable developments in the political and social life of Palestine, both in the northern kingdom Israel and in the southern kingdom Judah. Agriculture and commerce thrived, but with the rapid growth of wealth came the temptations of greed, corruption, injustice and immorality. This in turn resulted in rebukes and warnings from God’s messengers, the prophets. Micah was the last of four prophets of this period whose writings have been preserved in the Bible.
Amos and Hosea, the first of this group, brought God’s message mainly to the northern kingdom. The other two, Isaiah and Micah, were concerned more with the southern kingdom, and prophesied during the same period (Isaiah 1:1; Micah 1:1). Both were particularly concerned with the sins of the capital city, Jerusalem. There are many similarities between their books, and it has even been suggested that Micah might have been one of Isaiah’s disciples (cf. Isaiah 8:16).
Judah’s prosperity was not evenly spread throughout the population. Those who gained most from the flourishing economic activity were the merchants, officials and upper class city people in general. They became wealthy largely by exploiting poorer people such as farmers, and with their wealth came social and political power. Corruption in the law courts made it easy for them to do as they wished, with the result that as they increased their wealth, the poor were driven into greater poverty. (See also background notes to Amos and Hosea.)
This cruel injustice was hateful to God, and through his prophets he warned of the judgment that would fall on the nation if the people did not change their ways. Isaiah was a person of influence in Jerusalem, an adviser to the king who used his position to try to develop a greater concern for God’s standards in the government of the nation. Micah, by contrast, was from a small farming village, and was particularly concerned about the plight of the poor farmers. He condemned the greed of the rich people in the cities, and defended those who were the victims of their oppression.
One of the farmers’ main problems came from the economic pressure put on them by people in positions of power and influence. Because of the corruption of the officials and merchants, farmers were forced to borrow from the wealthy to keep themselves in business. The wealthy lent money at interest so high that the farmers found it impossible to repay their debts. The creditors then seized the farmers’ possessions as payment - firstly clothing and household items (Micah 2:8), then, when these were not enough, the farmers’ houses and land (Micah 2:1-3,Micah 2:9). In the end the farmers became tenants who were forced to rent their land from their new masters, which increased their burden even more.
This whole sorry state of affairs showed no thought for the rights of others, no understanding of the nature of true religion, and no knowledge of the character of God. Micah told the people that as long as their lives were characterized by such behaviour, they could never be pleasing to God, no matter how much they appeared to worship him by religious ceremonies (Micah 6:6-8). Unless the people turned from their sinful practices, Judah was heading for certain judgment (Micah 3:12; Micah 6:16).
Micah prophesied during the reigns of the Judean kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. (The overall extent of these three reigns was approximately from 740 to 687 BC.) Political conditions were reasonably stable during the reign of Jotham, but during the reign of Ahaz they became very unsettled. Ahaz weakened Judah’s independence and almost ruined its economy through buying Assyrian protection against other enemies. This was a policy that Isaiah strongly opposed (2 Kings 16:1-9; Isaiah 7:1-9; Isaiah 8:5-8). (For relevant maps of the period see commentary on Hosea.)
The next king, Hezekiah, reformed Judah’s religion and set out to rid Judah of all Assyrian influence. There is no doubt that Hezekiah was influenced in his reforms by the preaching of Micah (Jeremiah 26:18-19). He was also influenced by Isaiah. But when, instead of trusting in God for victory against Assyria, he trusted in military alliances with Egypt and other nations, Isaiah opposed him (2 Kings 18:1-7; Isaiah 30:1-3,Isaiah 30:15). On one occasion Jerusalem was saved from what could have been a crushing siege by Assyria only through the miraculous intervention of God (2 Kings 18:13-37).
During the time of Micah’s activity the northern kingdom Israel was conquered by Assyria and the people taken into captivity (in 722 BC; see 2 Kings 18:9-12). From that time on, the southern kingdom Judah was all that remained of the once united kingdom over which David had ruled. In contrast to the usual practice of referring to the northern and southern kingdoms as Israel and Judah respectively, Micah often makes no distinction. He uses the names Israel and Jacob to apply to the people in general. The comments below will follow Micah’s more general usage of the name Israel, though it should be remembered that Micah is mainly concerned with the southern kingdom.
Samaria and Jerusalem doomed
The ideal kingdom
God accuses and the people reply
the First Week of Advent