Micah — Woe to the World
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Micah—whose name means, “Who is like YHWH?”—was a contemporary of Hosea, Amos, Isaiah and Jonah, during the administrations of the Judean kings, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (c. 739-710 B.C.) [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, p. 261]. His name is mentioned, and one of his prophecies is repeated in Jeremiah 26:18. With the passion of Amos and the tenderness of Hosea, Micah was distressed about the mistreatment of the rural poor by the urbane rich. He also denounced the idolatry and immorality that was rampant in the land before Hezekiah’s sweeping reforms in the nation of Judah.
The book of Micah has three main themes: 1) the sins of his countrymen; 2) the judgment of God and 3) the restoration to follow. The prophet warns of Samaria’s impending destruction by Assyria and Judah’s captivity in Babylon. He exposes corruption among the political and religious leaders, in contrast to the coming Messiah who would lead them to victory and restore justice. Chapters 1-3 predict God’s judgment; 4-5 foretell the nation’s restoration, and 6-7 plead for the people to repent [Nelson’s p. 263]. The book also contains several Messianic prophecies, including the address of Jesus’ birth.
Micah Chapter 1
The first verse of this chapter tell us who Micah was, where he was from, when the Lord sent him his visions and whom his prophecies concerned: “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.” (Mic. 1:1) Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes that broke away from Judah and Benjamin during the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon. Jerusalem was the capital of Judea.
In the next verse, the prophet warned the people of the whole earth that YHWH Adonai was coming from His holy temple “to be a witness against you” (v. 2). Under the heat of His indignation, mountains would melt, valleys would split and molten rock would run like water down a steep hill (3-4). In verse 5, he spelled out the reason for God’s burning anger: the idolatry and corrupt worship practices of Israel and Judah.
God intended to “make Samaria a heap of ruins” and raze her to the very foundations (6). Her idols would be beaten to pieces and her wealth gained through spiritual harlotry would be “burned with fire” (7).
Anticipating what it would be like when news of Samaria’s fall reached Jerusalem, Micah reacted in horror, mourning in nakedness and despondency over the Northern Kingdom, “for her wounds are incurable” (8-9). In the next five verses, he launched into a series of puns on the names of several cities in and around Judah and Israel, imagining their reactions to the destruction that would extend from the north to the gates of Jerusalem during the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib:
- The first phrase of Micah’s litany, “Tell it not in Gath…” (Mic. 1:10a, NIV), calls to mind the words of David, when he learned of Saul’s demise (2 Sam. 1:20). In addition to being the capital of one of the most notorious enemies throughout the history of the Jews, the name of this prominent Philistine city sounds like the Hebrew word for “tell.”
- “In Beth Ophrah roll in the dust” (Mic. 1:10b)—The name of this Benjaminite town (mentioned in Josh. 18:23) means “house of dust.”
- Instead of pleasant/beautiful—the meaning of the next city’s name—the inhabitants of Shaphir would flee in nakedness and shame (Mic. 1:11a).
- The people of Zanaan, which means “going out” (a city of Judah mentioned in Josh 15:13), would be afraid to go out of their city (Mic. 1:11b).
- Beth Ezel, which means “house of nearness/proximity” would not be close enough to provide a refuge. Its people would mourn, unable to stand against their enemies (v. 11c).
- The Hebrew in the first part of verse 12 could be translated, “Those who live in Maroth [bitterness] writhe in pain, waiting for something sweet…” They were sorely disappointed, since “disaster came down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem.”
- Lachish, which means “obstinate,” was one of the walled cities of Judah (2 Chron. 11:5-12), and was well-known for its horses. According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary, the name actually sounds similar to the Hebrew word rekesh—here translated “swift steeds” or “the team [of horses].” Because this city was “the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion” (Micah 1:13) [perhaps introducing idolatry to Judah or compromising with the nations, like Israel], Lachish was actually attacked by Sennacherib, as described in 2 Chronicles 32:9.
- Moresheth Gath, Micah’s hometown, has a first name that means “possession.” The prophet foretold how it would be given as a dowry, or parting gift, to the king of Assyria (Mic. 1:14a).
- Achzib, a Judean town whose name means “deception,” “would be a lie to the kings of Israel,” once it was captured by Assyria (v. 14b).
- Mareshah, which means “inheritance,” was to be stolen from its rightful heirs by the Assyrians, as stated in verse 15a: “Moreover, I will bring on you the one who takes possession, O inhabitant of Mareshah” (NASB).
- As David escaped to the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1), so “The glory of Israel” would take refuge there (Mic. 1:15b).
The chapter closes with the Israelites shaving themselves bald as an expression of intense grief, because their “precious children” would be taken into captivity and exiled in a foreign land (v. 16).
Micah Chapter 2
In this chapter, the prophet recited a litany of crimes committed by the powerful in the land against the weak. He started out, “Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds!” (Micah 2:1a). Simply because they had the power to get away with it, these people would covet another person’s property and then deprive him of his inheritance (v. 2). Therefore, God warned He was going to snatch the inheritance of the strong from them (3-5).
Israel rejected the prophets of YHWH, referring to their message as “prattle” (6). Instead, they hired false prophets to ramble on about nothing for the price of a bottle of booze (11)!
The Lord lambasted the people for stripping one another of their clothing and evicting women and their children from their homes (8-9). In a veiled reference to Leviticus 18:24-28, the prophet foretold that the land they defiled with this injustice would not provide them any rest (Mic. 2:10). Unmistakably referring to what happened to Zedekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Micah predicted that YHWH would round the people up like sheep and drive them out, with their king leading the way through the gate (vv. 12-13; c.f.—2 Kings 25:1-11).
Micah Chapter 3
The tirade against Israel’s elite continues. In Micah 3:1-2, God confronted the leaders of the people, “who hate good and love evil.” Verses 2-3 provide a graphic description of how they devoured people under their authority, while verse 4 warns that the cries of these tyrants would be ignored in the near future when YHWH hid Himself from them.
Micah contrasted himself with the false prophets, saying, “…truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the LORD, and of justice and might, to declare…to Israel his sin” (8). The pretenders misled the people, telling them everything was fine, when a day was coming in which they would no longer be able to predict the future by divination (5-7).
Micah concluded the chapter by calling all the leaders of Judah and Israel, “who abhor justice and pervert all equity,” who built up their power with “bloodshed” and “iniquity,” to listen up (9-10). He accused the judges of accepting bribes, the priests of teaching for hire and the prophets of telling their fortunes for pay—all the while justifying their conduct by saying, “After all, the Lord is with us. Nothing bad will happen to us” (Micah 3:11, GW). Because of these wicked leaders, the holy city would be “plowed like a field,” reduced to “heaps of ruins” (v. 12).
Micah Chapter 4
In this chapter, we see the switch from bad news to mostly good news for Israel and Judah. The prophet told the Hebrews that, in the future, the temple mount will become the most important feature on the face of the earth (Mic. 4:1). People will be drawn to it from all over the world, out of a desire to learn God’s ways and walk in them (v. 2). As YHWH judges the people, rebukes mighty nations and brings peace to the earth, there will be no more need for weapons of war; they will be converted to farming implements, instead (3). Everyone will find rest, and “no one shall make them afraid” (4).
God promised to make the down-and-out mighty and to reign as their king (6-7). He will restore the former glory of the united kingdom of Israel (8).
But before all of this, Zion would have to suffer pain, like that of a woman in childbirth, and Judah would face deportation to Babylon (9-10). The holy city would be surrounded by armies from other nations, seeking to wipe her out (11-12). This, we know, was fulfilled by King Nebuchadnezzar’s invasions between 605 and 586 B.C (See 2 Kings 24-25 & 2 Chronicles).
Yet, even in captivity, the Jews were assured, “you shall be delivered; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies” (Mic. 4:10). God promised to strengthen the Hebrews, so that they would “beat in pieces many peoples”—perhaps referring to their defeat of their enemies during the time of Esther and Mordecai (c.f.—Mic. 4:13 & Esth. 9:1-5).
Micah Chapter 5
Nestled within a description of the siege of Jerusalem and the captivity and exile of its leaders (Mic. 5:1 & 7-15), the prophet makes a side comment foretelling the birth of the Messiah. This passage, quoted in Matthew 2:6 and often recited in churches during the Advent season, says:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times. (Micah 5:2, NIV)
Within these poetic lines we learn that God’s Anointed…
- would come from Bethlehem,
- would rule over Israel,
- had existed for millennia before He made His appearance.
Jesus, of course, was the fulfillment of the first and third characteristics during His time on earth, and will one day return to fulfill the second. Foreshadowing Christ’s role as the Good Shepherd, Micah added, “And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God…” (v. 4).
Before all of this, however, YHWH planned to give His people up, and then return Israel to their homeland (3). When Messiah’s reign is established in the strength and majesty of YHWH, “They will live securely, for then His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth. He will be their peace…” (Micah 5:4-5a, HCSB).
Although the Assyrians would invade Israel and Judah, God promised to rescue His people from them and destroy that kingdom and its capital (vv. 5-6). The fulfillment of this prophecy is recorded in part in 2 Kings 15:29, 17:3-6 & 18:9-19:37. We know that in 612 B.C., Ninevah fell when King Nabopolassar united the Babylonian army with an army of Medes and Scythians and besieged the city. An act of God (a flood) destroyed the city walls and enabled the Babylonian invaders to seize everything and raze the Assyrian capital.
Again, referring to the deliverance made possible by Esther and her uncle, Micah told how “the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples,” yet “Your hand shall be lifted against your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off” (Mic. 5:7-9). YHWH planned a purge of the nations—no doubt including Israel and Judah. God said He’d cut off the horses and chariots, cities and strongholds (vv. 10-11). He’d rid them of sorcery, fortune-telling, mediums and idols (12-14). Any nation refusing to obey Him risks experiencing God’s vengeance (15).
Micah Chapter 6
In this chapter, YHWH returns to His case against Israel, charging the hills and mountains of the Holy Land to listen and judge between the two parties (Mic. 6:1-2). Calling the Hebrew nation to offer their defense, He asks, “O My people, what have I done to you? And how have I wearied you? Testify against Me” (v. 3). The Lord serves as His own character witness, recalling how He delivered Israel from Egypt and kept them from falling under the curses of Balak and Balaam (4-5).
Not contesting Israel’s guilt, Micah assumes the role of the accused, asking, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?” (6a). He then proceeded to ask whether it would take an offering of cattle, sheep, olive oil, or even a first-born child to pay for their crimes (6b-7). [No doubt, that last remark is pure hyperbole, since Micah would’ve have known Leviticus 20:1-5, which forbids any kind of human sacrifice.]
YHWH’s reply is none of the above. Instead, Micah reminds the people:
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8).
That’s really all God has ever wanted—for people to do what’s right, treat each other with kindness and submit to Him.
The Lord confronts Israel for their “treasures of wickedness,” as well as their dishonest weights and measures (10-11). He condemns the violence of the rich and the lying among Israel’s inhabitants (12). Then God warns of coming sickness, desolations, famine and the sword (13-14). The righteous Judge decrees to Israel and Judah:
You will eat but not be satisfied…
You will plant but not harvest;
you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves,
you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. (Micah 6:14-15, NIV)
All their labors would be in vain, because the people had adopted the idolatrous practices of Omri, king of Israel and his wicked son Ahab (Compare Mic. 6:16; 1 Kings 16:15ff & 21:25-26; 2 Kings 16:1-4 & 2 Chr. 28:1-4). For that reason, they would bear the mockery of the nations who saw what God did to them.
Micah Chapter 7
The prophet bemoaned the fact that God-fearing people were as rare as the first-ripe fruits in late summer (Mic. 7:1). “The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains…” he complained (v. 2a). Especially among the rich and powerful, he found a bunch of blood-thirsty, greedy men, who were constantly scheming together (2b-3). “The best of them is like a brier”—a useless thorn bush good for little more than fuel for a fire (4). It’s dangerous to trust your closest friend or confide in a lover or close family member, since “a man’s enemies are the members of his own household” (Micah 7:5-6, NIV). This verse was quoted by Jesus in Matthew 10:35-36, warning of a future time when people would betray one another because of religious differences.
What is a person to do under such perilous circumstances? Micah says, “I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me” (Mic. 7:7). He advised his enemies not to get too cocky: “When I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (v. 8). Again taking on the role of the condemned, Micah accepted the Lord’s just punishment for sin and put himself at YHWH’s mercy, “Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me…” (9a). He also anticipated God eventually bringing about good for His people, while shaming those who ridiculed the faithful (9b-10).
The prophecy ends on a positive note. Even though the land would be made desolate because of Israel’s sin (11-13), God promised to be a Shepherd to His people again and to perform wonders like He did when He brought them out of Egypt. (14-15). The nations would be ashamed, humbled and fear YHWH (16-17). God’s anger won’t last forever, but He will pardon His people, “Because He delights in mercy” (18).
He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea. (19)
Once Israel’s sin was done away with, then God could remember His ancient covenant with Abraham and his descendants, to bring blessing on them once more (20).
God has set high standards for His people. When we fail to live up to them, we invoke severe penalties on ourselves. Being a God of integrity, who keeps His word—including judgment on those who break His laws—YHWH is obligated to uphold His own standards and punish those who flout Him with dishonest conduct. He wants His people to love and serve Him, to treat each other with honor and respect…or else.
The good news is that God is not only just, but He is also kind. He can’t stand to punish us to the extent our sins deserve. In Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem just as Micah prophesied, we have a Savior who took the penalty for our sins upon Himself, so we can be acquitted. Our greatest foe, sin itself, has been defeated. The record of our wrongs is drowned in the deepest sea. Now God can restore us and reveal His love to us again. Hallelujah!
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.