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Bible Commentaries
Micah 1

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verse 1

GOD’S WITNESS AGAINST HIS PEOPLE

Micah 1:1 to Micah 3:12

Title (1:1)

Like other books containing the works of the prophets, the Book of Micah begins with a title, probably added by the editor who compiled the prophetic collection. In addition to identifying Micah as a native of Moresheth, the title mentions the kings of Judah during whose reigns the editor believed that Micah had prophesied.

The prophecies themselves are characterized as "The word of the Lord that came to Micah . . . which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem." The utterances of most of the prophets are described as "the word of the Lord," pointing to the source of the inspiration from which they sprang. In connection with a number of prophetic utterances the editors used the word "saw," which has reference to the special visions or insight through which the word of the Lord came. The word is appropriate for the Book of Micah since the book begins with an imaginative scene, showing God in dramatic action (Micah 1:2-4), and includes the vision of the latter days (Micah 4:1-4).

Unlike the prophecies of Isaiah, which concern Judah and Jerusalem, the Book of Micah is described as "concerning Samaria and Jerusalem." Specific references to Samaria (Micah 1:5-6) and to its rulers (Micah 6:16) make this description appropriate.

Verses 2-9

The Forthcoming Visitation from God (1:2-16)

God’s Coming and Its Meaning (1:2-9)

Micah’s first prophetic word from the Lord begins with an invitation to all the peoples of the earth to listen while God presents his case against those who have disobeyed his will, particularly the people of Israel and Judah. Whereas verse 2 seems to indicate that the witness of God is against all of the peoples of the world, verse 5 makes it clear that he is especially concerned with Samaria and Jerusalem, the capitals of the two Hebrew kingdoms. As the message reaches its climax, it is Samaria to which attention is directed at first (Micah 1:6-7) and then Jerusalem (Micah 1:8-9).

In Micah’s graphic prophecy figures of speech are not fixed; Instead they shift as the prophet seeks language to express his thought. God appears first as a witness against the guilty. Then, as the prophet notes the place from which God arises to testify, he focuses on the "holy temple" which is God’s dwelling. Finally, having thought of God’s exalted dwelling place, the prophet visualizes God treading upon the "high places of the earth." The devastating effect of God’s striding along the mountain peaks is represented by the prophet as the melting of the mountains and the splitting of the valleys, which break up and run like wax near a fire. The series of images directs attention in turn to God’s sense of justice, to his holiness, and to his power. But throughout the series of figures the prophet emphasizes God’s concern about human affairs: He is both a witness and one who comes from his holy place into the landscape of human history. Most commentators agree that the temple referred to is not an earthly building but the heavenly counterpart of the one built in Jerusalem, the one to which Isaiah’s vision transported him (Isaiah 6:1).

The significance of the visitation from God is not entirely clear from the initial invitation to the peoples of the earth, except that they are to hear the witness of one who has his dwelling in a holy place. Verse 5 returns to the witness from God; the entrance of God into human history is because of the sins of the Chosen People. Specific sins are not yet in evidence; the accusation is simply that both Israel and Judah have offended God. Offenses of two kinds are indicated in the terms used by the prophet: "transgression" indicates an abuse of privilege, the crossing of indicated limits for proper behavior; "sin" is the failure to attain a standard which has been set up for behavior, a falling short in achievement. Both by overextending themselves and by failing to reach indicated goals of behavior God’s people have become liable to the prosecuting action of God. It is for this that he comes.

How will he proceed? Verses 6-7 sketch the intention of God with reference to Samaria. It will become "a heap in the open country," a tumble-down ruin, with its stones scattered into the valley, fit only for use as a vineyard. Its images, along with everything else, will be broken and burned. Its ill-gotten wealth, "the hire of a harlot," will be taken from the city and returned to those who made the city wealthy, and thence reused to prostitute some other city. It thus appears that the specific instrumentality of the destruction of Samaria, as the prophet saw it, was to be the peoples who surrounded it, the peoples from whom Samaria had learned her idolatrous ways.

A historical question faces the interpreter of this prophetic message: What was the status of Samaria at the time of Micah’s words? At first glance the prophetic word seems to anticipate the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. But no complete destruction such as that pictured in these verses took place at that time. Rather, many believe that the message of Micah looks forward to a long period of slow destruction of the now defenseless city (after 722), carried on by Samaria’s neighbors, her erstwhile lovers and patrons.

In two verses (Micah 1:8-9) which follow the initial message, the prophet speaks for himself, giving what he expects to be his reaction to the coming visitation from God. His words may be an explanation of a dramatic action such as prophets performed from time to time (see, for example, Isaiah 8:1-4 and Jeremiah 19:1-13). What is clear is the application to Judah. The wound or blow with which Samaria has been smitten will reach Judah and Jerusalem itself. Whether verses 8-9 are contemporary with verses 6-7 is now of no great concern; Micah’s message was directed primarily to the people of Judah, and particularly to Jerusalem. God’s great visitation has to do with the sins of all his people.

Verses 10-16

The Coming Conquest of Judean Cities (1:10-16)

In a dirge which begins with the same words as David’s lament over the death of Saul (2 Samuel 1:20) , Micah surveys the approaching tragedy of defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Though not all the places he mentions can now be identified, his survey appears to include the western border of Judah, centering around the fortress and chariot city of Lachish, which took the brunt of the Assyrian invasion since it was on the border of Philistia. It was from this area that the Assyrians approached Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Micah’s lament is notable for the way in which he has expressed his message through a series of puns on the names of the various towns, the full effect of which is difficult to render into English, For those to whom "Beth-le-ephah" meant "the house of dust," the command, "roll yourselves in the dust," had an immediate force, such as a reference to Los Angeles as the "city of lost angels" might have today.

To the ancient Hebrew the sober message underlying the wordplay could hardly have been missed. Beginning with the memory of the ancient tragedy which David wished to keep from the Philistine enemy (2 Samuel 1:20), through the dusty groveling, the nakedness and shame, the wailing and the anxious waiting, the prophet’s words point to the tragic reality to be faced by Judah: "evil has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem." Lachish, the city of chariots and a regional fortress, may harness the horses, but in vain. Like a divorcee receiving a settlement, Moresheth-gath (a few miles north of Mareshah and Lachish) would receive "parting gifts" as she became the property of the Assyrians. Mareshah, accustomed to changing hands, would again belong to foreigners. And finally, like David hiding in the cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2), the leaders ("the glory") of Israel would come to the border town of Adullam, fleeing from the conqueror. The prophet’s survey goes full circle, rounding up the representative towns of the western section of Judah and returning to the recollection of the tragic times of David’s distress as a parallel to the distress about to break upon the Judean state. Micah ends his dirge with the advice to parents to shave their heads in accordance with traditional mourning rites, because of the exile which awaits their children.

The prophet’s survey of the approaching conquest of the Judean cities reaches its climax in verse 13 where he declares to Lachish, "You were the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion." The path of conquest into the heart of Judah has been opened already by the entrance of sin into the heart of the state. Both paths center on the ancient fortress city of Lachish. In the same manner moral weakness in society today may serve as the path for future social and political downfall.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Micah 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/micah-1.html.
 
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