Unlike Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Micah does not describe his initial call to ministry (cf. Is. 6; Je. 1; Ezk. 2). The book’s heading (1:1), however, claims that ‘the word of the Lord’ came to him in a ‘vision’ (i.e. supernatural sight and/or supernatural hearing), making him the Lord’s messenger (cf. Is. 21:10). In his book the invisible God becomes audible.
Micah came from Moresheth Gath (1:1, 14), modern Tell el-Judeidah, a rather imposing mound about 400 m (1,240 ft) above sea level in the foothills of south-western Judah. It overlooked the undulating coastal plain to the west, dotted with fortified cities. About 35 km (22 miles) south-west of Jerusalem it was connected with a network of ‘hedgehog’ fortifications along the eastern edge of the foothills. These fortifications protected Jerusalem (on the spine of Judah’s central ridge) from attacks mounted by invaders from the coastal highway connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia.
His name means ‘who is like Yah[weh]’. By this name his parents celebrated the incomparability of Israel’s God. Micah added to God’s lustre by associating this name with his incomparable forgiveness and fidelity (7:18–20), the theme of Micah’s book.
The book’s jerkiness of style is due to the binding together of formerly independent oracles into this coherent whole. These originally isolated prophecies vary in form, but broadly they can be classified as oracles of doom and of hope. Micah arranged them into three series (chs. 1–2, 3–5, 6–7), each beginning with the command rendered either ‘Hear’ (1:2) or ‘Listen’ (3:1; 6:1) and moving from doom to hope. The hope oracles, all of which refer in part to the remnant (cf. 2:12–13; 4:6–7; 5:6–7; 7:18), match the topics of doom and so resolve the crises. Micah’s austere messages of judgment rest on the lofty ethical laws of God’s covenant handed down at Sinai (6:1–8); his consoling messages of hope rest on God’s unchanging covenant with Israel’s ancestors (7:20).
In the first series, Israel is sent into exile and their holy land dislocated on account of their sin (1:2–2:11). The Lord, however, promises to gather his elect remnant into Jerusalem to survive the Assyrian siege and to become their king (2:12–13). In the second series, after dismantling Jerusalem for its failed leadership (3:1–12), the Lord will exalt Jerusalem high above the nations (4:1–5) and there reassemble the afflicted remnant, who will restore God’s dominion over the earth (4:6–8). That prophecy finds fulfilment today in Jesus Christ who rules human hearts from heavenly Mt Zion (Acts 2:32–36; Heb. 12:22). Moreover, in Micah’s time Israel was afflicted by invading nations and could not save itself (4:9–5:1), but God promised the birth and reign of the Messiah who would regather the purged remnant and lead them to victory (5:2–15). This too is fulfilled in Christ’s church (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14–16). In the third series, from the spiritually depraved (6:1–16) and disintegrating nation (7:1–7), an elect remnant of the chosen people will be forgiven and saved by God (7:8–20). That remnant now constitutes a part of Christ’s church (Rom. 11). No matter how stained and tattered the world becomes, God’s purposes to triumph over Satan and his minions through his elect people will prevail (Rom. 16:20).
In his doom oracles Micah did not flinch from delivering his ever unpopular message that the wages of sin is death. He felt fiercely for Judah’s middle-class who were oppressed by Jerusalem’s rich upper-class (2:1–5, 8–9). The rich landowners were defended by corrupt magistrates (3:1–4) and encouraged by self-serving prophets (2:6–11; 3:5–8) and priests (3:11). Micah, however, full of the Spirit for justice, could not be bought (3:8). He was no moralizing poet, but a dynamic reformer calling the nation back to its spiritual heritage (3:8; cf. Je. 26:18).
Many commentators attribute most of chs. 1–3 to Micah and the rest to anonymous successors spanning the exilic and post-exilic periods. The inspired heading (1:1), however, identifies Micah as the author of all the book’s prophecies. The editorial comment at 3:1 suggests that Micah himself edited the book. No linguistic or historical data refutes the Bible’s own assertion.
Micah prophesied from the time of Jotham (740–732 bc) to that of Hezekiah (715–686), a period when the Neo-Assyrian empire was rising to power (see the chart ‘The prophets’ in Song of Songs). The determined Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (744–727) launched Assyria on an ambitious policy of imperial expansion. He assaulted Israel’s coastal plain in 734 and annexed northern Israel in 733 (2 Ki. 16; 2 Ch. 28; Is. 7–8). Shalmaneser V (726–722) attacked Samaria from 725 to 722, and it fell to Sargon II (721–705; 1:2–7; cf. 2 Ki. 17). Periodic rebellions by the nations in Syria-Palestine against the tributes imperial Assyria exacted from them kept them in a constant dread of Assyria’s reprisals. The invincible and cruel Assyrians invaded the area in 721–720 and from 714 to 701. The last proved most devastating to Judah. Sennacherib (704–681) captured all of Judah’s foothill fortifications. Only Jerusalem miraculously survived (1:8–16; 2:12–13; 2 Ki. 18–20; 2 Ch. 32; Is. 36–39) because Hezekiah repented in response to Micah’s preaching (Je. 26:18).
Micah’s language, though drawn from this historical background, is poetic and abstract so that God’s people under similar circumstances can identify themselves with his messages.
J. M. Boice, The Minor Prophets, 2 vols. (Zondervan, 1983, 1986).
P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets, Vol. 2, DSB (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1984).
B. K. Waltke, Micah, in D. Baker, D. Alexander and B. K. Waltke, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, TOTC (IVP, 1988).
———, Micah, in T. McComiskey (ed.), The Minor Prophets, vol. 2 (Baker Book House, 1993).
T. McComiskey, Micah, EBC (Zondervan, 1985).
L. C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, NICOT (Eerdmans, 1976).
J. L. Mays, Micah, OTL (SCM/Westminster/John Knox Press, 1976).
DSB Daily Study Bible
TOTC Tyndale Old Testament Commentary
EBC Expositor’s Bible Commentary
NICOT The New International Commentary on the Old Testament
OTL Old Testament Library