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by Peter Pett
COMMENTARY ON THE PROPHECY OF MICAH.
by Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
"Micah" is a shortened form for "Micaiah," which means "Who is like YHWH?" He came from Moresheth, a small town south west of Jerusalem. This was probably the same as Moresheth-gath (Micah 1:14), in which case it must have been fairly close to the Philistine town of Gath, of which the exact location is uncertain. Moresheth-gath was also about six miles north-east of Lachish, the second largest city in Judah, which was on the Shephelah (lower hills leading down to the Coastal Plain).
‘The word of YHWH that came to Micah the Morashtite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.’
Micah came to the people of Judah with ‘the word (dbr) of YHWH’, a word which dealt with the situations of both Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah. The fact that his father’s name is not given, and that he came from a smallish town, may suggest that he came of common stock. While Isaiah was influencing the nobility, Micah was appealing to the common people. The destruction of his own home town by the Assyrians around the time that they captured Lachish must have been a great blow to him.
He prophesied during the reigns of Jotham (c.740-732 BC), Ahaz (c.732-715 BC), and Hezekiah (c.715-687/6 BC), kings of Judah. This indicates that he was a late eighth-century contemporary of Isaiah, who also prophesied around the same time in Judah (compare Isaiah 1:1). Amos and Hosea were similarly prophesying in the northern kingdom of Israel (see Amos 1:1; Hosea 1:1). These were initially times of economic wellbeing following the long and prosperous reign of Uzziah (Azariah), but with the looming presence of Assyria, danger threatened and eventually arrived, especially in the first instance for Israel.
During the time of Jotham (although not affecting Judah) Assyria, under Tiglath Pileser III (Pulu), coming from the north over the Euphrates in undreamt of power, captured some of Israel’s northern lands and incorporated them into the Assyrian empire, taking many Israelites into exile, and subjecting Israel to heavy tribute. Israel had meanwhile descended into a state of spiritual decadence and partial anarchy. Both economic and religious conditions were rapidly deteriorating.
We can understand how this new situation must have affected the thinking of men of God at the time. Here was an indication of God’s displeasure with His people. Things had never got quite as bad as this before.
When Israel, along with the Philistines and the countries north of Israel, including Syria, rebelled against Assyrian rule and withheld tribute, they sought to form an alliance in order to deal with the threat. This they invited first Jotham (who conveniently died), and then Ahaz to join. On the new king Ahaz refusing to do so preparations were made by Syria and Israel to bring him into submission and replace him as king. At this point Isaiah tried to persuade Ahaz to trust in YHWH and ignore everyone else, assuring him that the plot would come to nothing (Isaiah 7:0). Howevr, Ahaz chose rather to submit to the king of Assyria, against the pleadings of Isaiah, and pay the necessary tribute by using the gold in the Temple in order to obtain his protection, which was duly forthcoming. Ahaz seemingly had little interest in Yahwism and appears to have encouraged a resurgence of native religions. This naturally resulted in less notice being paid to covenant law. Society in general became more corrupt. Micah was partly inveighing against this.
Israel was only at that point saved from final destruction when Hoshea staged a coup and made peace with Assyria, paying very heavy tribute, but averting further disaster. Israel’s one time prosperity was on the point of collapse. But inevitably rebellion again raised its head, for the tribute was ruinous and national pride was hurt, and this time Shalmaneser V who had succeeded Tiglath Pileser III, held nothing back. He first destroyed the Philistines, and then moved against Israel and, although he died, eventually his son Sargon II captured Samaria. This was in 722 BC. Once this had been accomplished Sargon attacked Syria and besieged Damascus which was also destroyed. At this time large numbers of Israelites were deported and settled in countries beyond the Euphrates which were under Assyrian control. Judah were unaffected because they remained firm in their allegiance although they would no doubt have Assyrian troops stationed on their soil. They thus continued to maintain a certain level of prosperity.
But paying tribute also involved accepting Assyrian gods into the Temple so that they could be given due honour, and Ahaz seems to have actually encouraged this and also to have allowed idolatry to run wild. He had seemingly little concern for YHWH (see Isaiah 7:0) or for His laws. People not only worshipped in the heretical high places, but also worshipped in every high hill, and under every green tree, following every pagan practise. Ahaz even sacrificed his son to Moloch (Melech). The hold of Yahwism was being weakened, even though much of the worship was probably syncretistic. It was not difficult to align Baal (lord) with YHWH, to YHWH’s detriment.
Meanwhile the covenant law was losing its hold, morals were deteriorating, and the wealthy were beginning to misuse their situations to the detriment of the poor, while justice itself was becoming corrupted. The moral state of Judah was thus in jeopardy. The priests were also becoming corrupted, and prophets were using their positions in order to prophesy good things in return for the appropriate bribe. So religious life and standards were also rapidly deteriorating. These were situations that Micah came to address.
When Hezekiah came to the throne he began a religious reformation. Yahwism once again came into the ascendancy, while the teaching of Isaiah, supported by Micah, was raising hopes of the coming of the future Davidic king (the Messiah). Widespread idolatrous practises were stamped down on, and no doubt the moral situation improved. Even the more orthodox but heretical high places, which had been in place since the death of Solomon, were eventually removed, and the Temple purified. Attempts were also made to encourage those who remained in northern Israel to join in worshipping YHWH (2 Chronicles 30:1-12). But nothing could be done for the time being about the Assyrian gods safely ensconced in the Temple. To have removed them would have been an act of rebellion against Assyria.
So for a while Hezekiah remained submissive to Assyria, but when Assyrian attention was taken up elsewhere, he appears from Assyrian records to have considered joining in an alliance which was being fostered by the Philistines, with encouragement from Egypt. This was in the early years of his reign. Fortunately for Judah’s sake this did not for some reason come into fruition and they therefore escaped the wrath of Sargon II which was meted out on Philistia around 811 BC.
But on the death of Sargon II in 705 BC it was only a matter of time before Hezekiah withheld tribute. In alliance with the Philistines and encouraged by Egypt, their hope was probably that the new king would be too busy establishing himself to bother about far flung tributaries, especially in view of the ‘might’ of the new Egypt. No doubt at this stage the idolatrous images were also removed from the Temple. But the new king of Assyria, Sennacherib, arrived in order to stamp out the rebellion and Hezekiah appears eventually to have submitted paying heavy tribute (2 Kings 18:14-16). The result was that many Judeans would meanwhile have been taken into exile.
However, under circumstances that we do not know, it may even have been after a number of years, Sennacherib was dissatisfied with the situation and determined to deal with Hezekiah once and for all. He slowly subjugated the cities of Judah (‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took’) and that included Lachish, Judah’s second city. Pictures of the capture of Lachish have been found on Assyrian inscriptions, and during this period many Judeans would again have been carried off into exile. It was standard Assyrian practise. But while some Assyrian troops do appear to have hemmed in Jerusalem something happened which prevented its capture, and Jerusalem was never taken, as in fact Isaiah had promised. It seemed like a miracle. At this stage an indecisive battle with Egyptian forces, together with what is described as the remarkable destruction of Assyrian soldiers by the angel of YHWH (2 Kings 19:35), and urgent news from Assyria (2 Kings 19:7), caused Sennacherib to return home to Assyria. Hezekiah died before later repercussions could follow.
This is the brief background to the days of Jotham Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The Book of Micah may be seen as dividing up into three main sections:
1) Judgments on Jerusalem and Samaria (chapters 1-3).
2) The Hope That Lies Ahead (chapters 4-5).
3) Continuing Warnings of Judgment and Hope (chapters 6-7).
the First Week of Advent