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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

- Micah

by Various Authors



James H. Gailey Jr.


Micah and His Times

Only a few facts regarding the prophet Micah can be established with certainty: his name is an abbreviated form of Micaiah and means "Who is like the Lord?"; he was a native of Moresheth and lived during the period of Assyrian invasion of Palestine at the close of the eighth century B.C.; he preached a prophetic message dominated by a strong sense of social justice and directed particularly against the sins of the leaders in his time.

Moresheth, or Mareshah, was an otherwise insignificant place overlooking the Philistine plain and city of Gath, situated in the Shephelah, or lowland, between the Philistine plain and the mountains of Judah near Hebron. The village of Moresheth-gath mentioned in Micah 1:14 is now identified as a separate site about three miles north of Mareshah. During his earlier years the prophet Micah had observed the successive invasions by the Assyrians in the last part of the eighth century B.C. and the fall of Damascus to the Assyrians in 732 B.C., after the effort to promote a Syro-Ephraimite-Judean alliance against Assyria had collapsed during the reign of Ahaz. Then ten years later he saw the collapse of Samaria itself following an agonizing three-year siege of the city. During this period of crisis political alliances with Egypt had been futile, and Samaria’s vacillating policies had failed to maintain her independence.

The decade following 722 B.C. was marked by uprisings in several Palestinian areas, centering particularly in Ashdod, the Philistine city nearest to Gath. Eventually (in 711 B.C.) Ashdod and Gath were captured by the Assyrians, and the former became the name of an Assyrian province situated right at Micah’s doorstep.

In 701 B.C. the Assyrian advance finally came to the gates of Jerusalem, after the Judeans had succumbed to the temptation to stop sending tribute money about 705 B.C. (following the death of the Assyrian King Sargon). The reports of Sargon’s successor, Sennacherib, agree substantially with those of the Bible (2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:36) regarding the capture of a number of the walled cities and towns of Judah and the unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem. If Micah lived to see it, his own town was probably incorporated into the Assyrian Empire at this time, to be returned to Judah later on. The price of independence for Jerusalem was again the payment of a heavy tribute to the Assyrians.

It is hardly to be doubted that Micah lived during the reigns of the three kings of Judah-Jotham (750-735 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-687 B.C.) — mentioned in the first verse of the book. That he actually prophesied during the reigns of all three kings has been questioned. Micah refers not to specific historical events but to conditions which existed for years, and therefore it is impossible to date his utterances exactly. Micah 1:6-7 seems to anticipate the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C., and may reasonably be placed before this event, but since the city was immediately resettled by the Assyrians, it may refer to a yet future destruction of the former Israelite capital. Micah 1:10-16 seems to belong to the period of the siege of Jerusalem and the devastation of Judah from 704-701 B.C., and it is to this period that Jeremiah’s friends referred (Jeremiah 26:17-19) when, years later, they quoted the words of Micah (Micah 3:12). In general it has appeared reasonable to many students to date the chief prophecies of Micah in the period of the reign of King Hezekiah and more particularly in the period of active danger to the Jewish state from 704 to 701 B.C. But this conclusion is not fixed by unmistakable evidence. It is certain, however, that much of Micah’s life was lived through a period of political crisis brought to focus periodically by the actual invasion of the Assyrian armies.

Equally significant for an understanding of Micah’s prophecies is a glimpse of the economic and social conditions of his times. The eighth century was largely a period of prosperity for both Israel and Judah. Israel was particularly prosperous under Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.), while Judah was also prosperous under Uzziah (approximately 783-742 B.C.). Foreign trade and international stability, together with the four decades of parallel reigns by Jeroboam and Uzziah, combined to ensure a marked increase in wealth for many of the people of both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms. As will be seen, the primary message of Micah is an indictment like that of Amos against the abuses associated with this increase in wealth. Micah’s message looks forward to the punishment of the people of Jerusalem and Judah, as Amos’s had anticipated the downfall of Samaria and Israel.

The Authorship of the Prophecies of Latter Days

As the first three chapters of the Book of Micah and possibly most of chapter 6 are concerned with the immediate future of Judah and Jerusalem at the end of the eighth century, so the remainder of the book, chapters 4 and 5 and 7, is concerned with an indefinite future "in the latter days" when Zion will be restored after suffering in Babylon. If these passages are properly to be taken together, they are all addressed to the sort of tragic situation from which the godly man seeks deliverance in chapter 7. It is possible that this is the condition of the righteous poor of Micah’s own time, but the reference to Babylon (Micah 4:10) looks too far into the future from the eighth century to be very helpful to Micah’s contemporaries. References to the reassembling of the Remnant (Micah 4:6-7), to victory over assembled enemies (Micah 4:11-13), and to the calling up of leadership for the deliverance of the Remnant (Micah 5:2-6) presuppose conditions and events somewhat later than Micah’s time, and sound like the anonymous prophecies found at the end of the Book of Zechariah (chs. 9-14). No clues as to the date of these prophecies can be relied upon, nor is it certain that they are all from one hand or from one point of view. In fact, two specific points of view may be detected in some of the material: on the one hand there are passages in which no human leader is evident, where it is the Lord himself who will accomplish the future blessing (as in Micah 4:1-4); on the other hand there are passages in which attention is centered on human leaders (as in Micah 5:2-9). The former generally reveal an interest in the triumph of God’s purposes, while the latter stress Jewish political aspirations. The interpretation of these chapters must be undertaken, therefore, without a definite decision regarding authorship, date, or original setting. Each section must be treated as a unit and analyzed on the basis of its own language.

The Form and Content of the Book

It should be recognized at the outset that the Book of Micah is written in poetic form, showing the parallelism of thought which is even more characteristic of Hebrew poetry than rhyme and meter are of English poetry. The second of a typical pair of lines generally repeats the thought of the first in different words, sometimes expressing a contrasted idea, as in the first two lines of 3:4. At times more than two lines are linked in a chain of declarations with cumulative force upon a single idea, as at 1:7.

As this basic structural feature of Hebrew poetry is recognized, it becomes possible for the reader to see many identifications which the prophet does not make explicit in his writing, but which he assumes will be understood. In 1:5, for example, the names Jacob, Israel, and Samaria are identified and together are contrasted with Judah and Jerusalem — Northern Kingdom against Southern Kingdom.

Beyond the basic two-line verse, strophes or stanzas may be recognized in the work of Micah, corresponding to paragraphs in prose. The Revised Standard Version has separated these from one another with extra spaces, and it is to these longer literary units that the reader must turn for a clear understanding of the composition of Hebrew prophecy.

With Micah, larger unity and coherence are difficult to define. Chapters 1-3 express a continuing indictment of the people of Judah, particularly of the rich and powerful, and promise the evils of conquest as punishment. Chapters 4-5 look beyond the eighth century to "the latter days," when restoration to the favor of God will be brought about; the strophes or stanzas composing this section set forth the means of this restoration in expressions which are not entirely compatible with one another. Chapter 6 returns to the indictment of God’s people, reviewing history in one stanza (Micah 6:3-5) and including the memorable definition of the requirements of the Lord (Micah 6:6-8). The final chapter is almost entirely a personal expression, like one of the individual laments of the Psalter, but it may be made up of fragments originally composed separately.

The Message of Micah

Micah stands as a perennial indictment of oppression and of leadership which makes itself strong at the expense of the poor and weak members of society. The book will never be popular with those who find it easy to take unfair advantage of their fellows, for it speaks of appropriate punishment for such behavior.

The Book of Micah, however, goes beyond the mere indictment of oppressive behavior to promise a future of blessedness and peace under God’s instruction and protection. This blessing is not only for a remnant of Jews, but for many nations, particularly those who respond to the opportunity to join in peaceful worship of God. This ideal is coupled with the familiar and loved statement of the Lord’s requirements of the individual, "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." In the Book of Micah, the key to future blessedness is divine intervention, seen in part in terms of military victory, but seen also in the willingness of God to associate with the common man, as Shepherd of the flock (Micah 4:6; Micah 7:14-20) as in the days of old. On the whole the emphasis is on the quality of steadfast loyalty or "kindness" (Micah 6:8; Micah 7:18-20) both of God and of men. If this quality of faithfulness to the obligations inherent in the relationship between God and his people or among the people themselves is lacking, only disaster can be expected; if it is found between God and man and among men, then blessing may be anticipated.

The real message of Micah for all time is the stress laid upon the quality of loyalty to the obligations inherent in the relationship between persons. The oppression of the poor is simply a case of the collapse of the essential quality of faithfulness to obligations among the people of a community. Seen in terms of the unifying conception of relationship between persons, the book takes on a unity which transcends any possible diversity of authorship. Relationship between God and man is a sensitive and delicate association, granted by God’s mercy and preserved through his instruction, but directly affected by the behavior of men, particularly their reciprocal behavior each with the other.


God’s Witness Against His People. (Micah 1:1 to Micah 3:12)

Title (Micah 1:1)

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

Common Sins and Their Punishment (Micah 2:1-13)

Sins of Leaders and Their Punishment (Micah 3:1-12)

God’s Promises to His People. (Micah 4:1 to Micah 5:15)

The Future of Zion (Micah 4:1 to Micah 5:1)

Promises of Leadership and Purifying Activity (Micah 5:2-15)

God’s Controversy with His People. (Micah 6:1-16)

The Summons (Micah 6:1-2)

A Review of the Case (Micah 6:3-5)

The Requirements of God (Micah 6:6-8)

Specific Indictment and Sentence (Micah 6:9-16)

The Distress and Hope of the Godly. (Micah 7:1-20)

The Momentary Triumph of Wickedness (Micah 7:1-7)

A Psalm Celebrating God’s Mercies (Micah 7:8-20)

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