God’s judgement was coming against false prophets, against Israel’s wayward leaders, and against the rich who oppressed the poor. God’s indictment resulted in ruin, but after the ruin would come restoration. Through Micah, God’s Spirit provided a strong word of hope for Israel’s future. The Lord promised to rescue the remnant of Israel. They would return to their land as God’s renewed people. Gods promised to subdue their enemies and send His ruler from Bethlehem. Micah exclaims simply but powerfully that there is no God like the Lord. Micah tells us he is from Moresheth, a village in Judah, but we know virtually nothing else about him other than when he served. He was a prophet during the reigns of the southern kings Jotham (750-732), Ahaz (743-715), and Hezekiah (728-686), all of whom had fairly long reigns. At this time both Israel and Judah were characterized by moral and religious corruption, social oppression, political intrigue, economic injustice, personal vice, deception, and treachery. Micah is one of a very few Old Testament prophets cited by name in another book of the Bible, in this case Jeremiah. This means there was consensus by Jeremiah’s time that Micah was a true prophet. He was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. Micah was a prophet during the time the northern Kingdom fell, and in 701 when Judah joined a revolt against Assyria but was over run by King Sennacherib and his army. Jerusalem however was spared.
Micah condemned the sins of Judah and anticipated divine judgement against the nation but he also promised her ultimate triumph over all the other nations on earth. It wasn’t because he was simply looking for a Jewish victory over the Gentiles. Micah expected Israel to be a blessing to others in the long term. Some things to look for in the Book of Micah include the alternating oracles of doom and hope. There is the theme of judgement against the oppressors. Micah predicted that God would judge the sins of the house of Israel he reminded the people of their sins. The landowners and religious and political leaders had abused their power and conspired to do evil. They had coveted and defrauded others of their property, stolen and plundered, hated good and loved evil and oppressed the poor. But there was more. The leaders had also despised justice and distorted truth, accepted bribes, used their religious positions for profit, and engaged in dishonest business practices. They had acted with violence and deceit, and murdered their own people. God would bring disaster down upon Samaria, Jerusalem, the greedy landowners, the corrupted leaders, and the false prophets. The theme of restoration can also be found in the Book of Micah. After God’s judgement, God would mercifully forgive and restore His people, bringing them back from exile in Babylon, and restoring Jerusalem’s dominion. Lastly there is the theme of justice. Micah asked the simple question…what does the Lord require of you? The answer is found in 6:8; “To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Israel had failed miserably in trying to live up to this divine expectation. As a result, the nation would suffer horrible consequences.
Micah means “who is like the Lord?”, and the city of Moresheth was a fortress city located a short distance southeast of Gath in the low lying hills of southwestern Judah. The reign of the three kings Micah served during was nearly 65 years; 750-685 B.C. God’s message to Micah came in visions and they pertained to both the northern and southern kingdoms. Today’s reading is a message of judgement that introduces some of the major concerns of Micah’s prophecies. They assert God’s determination to judge His people and put them into exile, but it also concludes with the Lord’s assurance that He will rescue a remnant from exile. Verses 2-7 are an Oracle that concerns Samaria prior to 722 and the Assyrian victory. This was when Samaria was destroyed and the people deported. The Sovereign Lord was coming to judge His people. Micah begins with the Hebrew word Shema! The word means listen, hear, or attention! All the earth was to know that God was witnessing against His people. The announcement of judgement was based on the people’s breach of the covenant. The people’s faithlessness prompted Him to enter into a judicial dispute with them. The Lord would speak from His holy temple. This is a reference to His heavenly abode, not the corrupt temple in Jerusalem. The Lord is coming. This is the language of epiphany, the dramatic coming of God to earth, this time for judgement. As He came, the Lord would trample the high places. This means first and foremost the cities of Jerusalem and Samaria, both cities set on a hill. But it can also mean the high places where God’s people went to worship idols. There was sin everywhere and the Lord was about to rid the land of all of it. The Canaanite god Baal was thought to be active in this manner as well so this type of description for the Lord emphasizes that Yahweh, not Baal is sovereign over all the earth and everything in it. Even the strong and seemingly unmovable mountains will melt at the Lord’s presence. Nothing will be able to stand against Him.
All this can be attributed to Israel’s sin and rebellion. Two questions get asked, who and where. The capital cities of God’s people should have been holy places but they are sources of corruption instead. Samaria was built by King Omri, who was an evil king. Thus his city was evil as well. Jerusalem was the city of king David and the place of the Lord’s earthly dwelling..the temple. Micah would not allow the people of Judah to be smug about the destruction of the northern kingdom. Judah’s beautiful temple was no different at this point than a Canaanite center of idolatry. God’s plan was to so thoroughly destroy Samaria that it would be a place fit only for growing grape vines among the rubble. Assyria virtually annihilated Samaria in a three year siege, and even though Samaria was built on a hill, the stones of her walls would crash into the valley below as they are violently dismantled. It was common for ancient armies to systematically shatter city walls down to their foundation stones. Both Jerusalem and Samaria were filled with carved images and sacred treasures out there by worshipers but taken as war booty. That Micah speaks of prostitution shows Israel’s persistent spiritual and physical waywardness. Elsewhere here refers to the exile of Samaria to Assyria and Jerusalem to Babylon.
In response to the Lord’s predicted judgement Micah walked around barefoot and naked to express mourning. Some suggest he may have worn a loincloth made of sackcloth as a sign of mourning. In either case, this would have been cause for great shame for him. Micah vividly depicted what would happen to Israel and Judah. They would be stripped of their wealth, power, and population. Both jackals and owls make forlorn sounds and live in forsaken wilderness areas. Perhaps there had been some hope that Judah would learn from Israel’s wayward ways and they would not suffer the same fate, but the same corruption that permeated the northern kingdom did the same to the south. In verses 10-15 the cities listed were in the lowlands of southwestern Judah’s costal areas. The sequence listed may represent the Assyrian army’s march down the coastal plain and from there into Judah’s heartland in 703-701 B.C. Exile was the ultimate, most devastating curse and it would finally affect every single person in Judah. Lachish was the second most important city in Judah, after Jerusalem. Lachish was Judah’s main center of defense against their enemies. Even today a massive tell, or raised mound, over 150 feet high remains there. Lachish fell in 701 B.C., having been besieged, terrified, starved, and demolished by Sennacherib’s war engines. He celebrated its fall as one of his greatest victories and featured the event on a wall carving hanging in his palace. The farewell gifts, sent to Micah’s hometown were a sign that it would soon be lost to the Assyrians. The leaders of Israel should have been their greatest glory by setting examples of moral excellence and wise caring leadership. But God’s shepherds corrupted their nation. Adullam, which was once a hiding place for king David, was destroyed by Assyria in 701 B.C. Judah would also be exiled and deported. Micah tells the residents of the southern kingdom to shave their heads as a sign of mourning for themselves. They were deported in three groups, in 605, 597, and 586 B.C. Babylon was nearly 1,000 miles from Jerusalem.
Chapter 2 deals with wealthy oppressors, true and false prophets, and a word of hope for restoration. Power had corrupted the wealthy who should have been ready and willing to help their fellow Israelites. Instead they spent their nights thinking up evil plans because they had the power to do so. This indicates a corrupt heart, mind, and character. They possessed the property of others in a way that amounted to stealing, and they broke God’s law that forbids coveting. To covet here is not just to have a passing thought. It is a determination to seize what is not one’s own. The ethical teaching of the prophets regularly included oracles of judgement against greed, theft, oppression, and actions of the powerful attacking the weak. A families inheritance was a sacred gift from the Lord, intended as a permanent possession. God looked for righteousness among His people, but instead He found oppression. The Lord, who is the judge, reads out the sentence. He would pay back His people’s evil hearts and actions with evil in kind. The prophet is engaging in wordplay here. The Hebrew word translated evil has a wide range of meanings. It can mean moral evil, as in the first instance. But it can also mean calamity or disaster as in the second instance. The Lord would bring calamity on His people in response to their wickedness. In other words, while the wicked devised iniquity, God made some plans of His own.
The power brokers would be ruined financially because their enemies would confiscate all their property. The land they had seized unjustly from the poor would be violently taken from them. The people made a pathetic attempt to stifle the words of the prophet. They were quite sure the things Micah was prophesying would and could never happen to them. But they were wrong. What the people didn’t realize, or perhaps even care about we find in Matthew 25:40-45 when Jesus told the people “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.” The mistreatment of the people’s fellow Israelites was like an attack against the Lord and His prophet. The fault lay with the people, not with Micah’s inspired and righteous message. The words of God were very different than the lying prophets, but the lying prophets told the people what they wanted to hear. These false prophets proclaimed that Israel and Judah could escape from the judgement the Lord’s prophets were proclaiming. But when judgement came, they had no comfort to give. These false prophets spoke of wine and drink at a time of disaster. It is also possible that the false prophets were willing to exchange good words for wine and beer.
As is often the case in Old Testament prophecy, there is a glimmer of hope for God’s people. God showed His love and care for His rebellious people by giving them a promise of hope even as He spoke of exile and despair. Israel would be scattered, but eventually they would be brought back to the land they had been promised. The verbs here are demonstrative and emphatic, showing God’s determination to bring to pass His good pleasure for His people. And we know that the Lord did lead Israel out of exile, foreshadowing the even greater freedom from slavery that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would later bring.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W