The book of Micah (Micah 1)

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The author of this book, Micah, tells us that he was from Moresheth (Micah 1:1), a village in the Shephelah of Judah also known as Moresheth Gath (1:14). We know virtually nothing else about him, although he is one of the few Old Testament prophets to be cited by name in another’s writings (Jeremiah 26:18, citing Micah 3:12). This signifies that Micah’s book was recognized as canonical by the time of Jeremiah’s ministry (the nature of the citation suggests that there was consensus by that time that Micah had been a true prophet). In addition, Habakkuk 2:12 is a modification of Micah 3:10, and 4:2-3 is almost identical to Isaiah 2:2-4, although in this case we cannot be sure whether the oracle originated with Micah or with Isaiah.

Today some scholars believe that only a part of the book of Micah came from the prophet himself and that the rest is secondary (written by  someone else). The prophecies of judgement in particular are thought to be authentic, with the more optimistic predictions – those that promise salvation for Judah – coming from some other prophet. This approach to the text, which is founded on the premise that a given prophet had only a single, uncomplicated message, is misguided and simplistic.

Micah 1:1 informs the reader that Micah preached during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. This would place his ministry during the second half of the eighth century B.C, making him a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea.

Micah ministered primarily to the southern kingdom of Judah, but he also addressed the northern kingdom of Israel and predicted the fall of Samaria (1:6), which took place in 722 B.C. His message was aimed in particular at greedy and oppressive landowners (2:1-5) who supported Israel’s corrupt political and religious leaders who had led the nation into moral decay.

The background of this book is the same as that found in the earlier portions of Isaiah. Biblical passages covering this period are 2 Kings 15:32-20:21, 2 Chronicles 27-32 and Isaiah 7, 20, 36-39. Several significant historical events occurred during this period:

  • In 734-732 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria led a military campaign against Aram (Syria), Philistia and parts of Israel and Judah. The northern kingdom lost most of its territory, including all of Gilead and much of Galilee.
  • In 722-721 B.C. Samaria fell, and the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria.
  • In 701 B.C. Judah joined a revolt against Assyria but was overrun by king Sennacherib and his army. Jerusalem, however, was spared.

Micah condemned the sin of Judah and anticipated divine judgement against the nation (Micah 3:1-4, 4:10a) yet he also forecast her ultimate triumph over all the other nations on earth (4:10b-13). Even in this Micah was not simply a patriotic Jew looking forward to victory over the Gentiles; to the contrary, he expected Israel in the long term to be a blessing to all the nations (4:2-3). In short, Micah was advancing a theology to deal with the current dilemma of the chosen people of God and the house of David falling under judgement. Far from implying the failure of the covenant promises, this very judgement would be the means by which God would fulfil those covenants.

As you read, be aware of the alternating oracles of doom and hope in this prophetic book. Do you view such changes in perspective in this and the other prophetic works as “mood swings” on the part of the author or as a faithful representation of the messages given to the prophet by the God who is characterized by both “kindness and sternness” (cf. Romans 11:22)?

Did you know that going barefoot was a sign of mourning, as were wearing sackcloth? It is possible that Micah actually waqlked barefoot through Jerusalem, wearing only a loincloth of sackcloth (Micah 1:8). Did you know that the Hebrew for “parting giftes” is translated “wedding gift” in 1 Kings 9:16? Jerusalem would give up Moresheth Gath to Assyria as a father gives a “wedding gift” to his daughter when she marries (Micah 1:14). Did you know that “seers” is an older term for “prophets” (3:7)? Did you know that a plowshare (4:3) was an iron point mounted on a wooden beam (ancient plows did not include what we know as plowshare)? Did you know that to sit under one’s own vine and fig tree was a proverbial picture of peace, security and contentment (4:4)? Did you know that “Seven… even eight” is figurative for an infinite number (5:5)? Did you know that a hopeful element was actually quite common in laments (7:7)?


 

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