How to read Micah


  • Content: alternating oracles of doom on Israel and Judah for their idolatry and social injustices and of future hope because of Yahweh's mercies

  • Prophet: Micah, a Judean prophet from Moresheth, a town about twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem

  • Date of prophetic activity: some length of time between the accession of Jotham (740 B.C.) and the death of Hezekiah (686)

  • Emphases: the threat of divine judgment for breaking covenant with Yahweh; Yahweh as a God of justice and mercy who pleads the cause of the poor and requires his people to do the same; after judgment Yahweh will restore Jerusalem through the promised Davidic king; Yahweh as God of all the nations


The book of Micah, sixth in the Book of the Twelve, is a careful-and unique-collection and arrangement of oracles delivered by Micah over an apparently long period (1:6-7 was given well before the fall of Samaria in 722 B.c., while I : 10- 16 traces the march of Sennacherib, which took place in 701; see 2 Kgs 18:13-19:37; Isa 36-37). Its uniqueness lies in its (not necessarily chronological) arrangement, which alternates between oracles of judgment and of future hope (basically Mic 1-2;3-5; 6-7 , which are marked off by the call to "hear/listen" 1:2; 3:1; 6:1).

The oracles in l:2-2:ll are primarily pronouncements of divine judgment on Samaria and (especially) Jerusalem (the capitals representing the two kingdoms); they conclude with a brief promise of future restoration (2:12-13). The second set is introduced by a brief collection of three doom oracles (3 :1-4, 5-8, 9- 12); it concludes with a longer collection of oracles of hope (4: 1-5:15) that focus on the promised (messianic) Davidic king. The third set is more evenly divided between threat (6: 1- l6) and hope (7:8-20), which are held together by Micah,s lament over Israel's decadence (7:1-7).


Four matters ate crucial for a good reading of Micah. First, the arrangement itself not only offers you a handle for reading the text at but the same time says something about Micah's own theology, which mirrors Deuteronomy 28-30. At the heart of things, as in Hosea, is the dynamic tension between the necessity of divine judgment (curses) because of Israel's breaking covenant with Yahweh and Yahweh's own longing to bless his people because they are his and because of his own character (compassion, mercy, forgiveness; see Mic 7:lg-20). Micah himself is, as it were, both torn apart and held together by this twofold reality; the final composition of his book presents this tension in bold relief but concludes on the bright note of future hope.

Second as is true for most of the prophets of Israel, the political history of the period plays an especially important role in understanding the oracles themselves. Micah is the fourth of the eighth-century prophets, a generation after Hosea and Amos, and a younger contemporary of Isaiah' Gone now are the halcyon days that characterized, the reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah, and all of the seeds of decay and eventual destruction are settling in as the idolatry and social injustice condemned by Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah continued apace. At the same time Assyria is a constant threat on the international scene as she begins reasserting her power in the Near Eastern world. Thus Assyria looms large in Micah, but her role is ambivalent: Although she is God's agent of judgment on Samaria (1:6-7, 10- 16), she will fail against Judah (5:5-6) and will eventually experience God's judgment (5:15; 7:10). At the same time, as with Isaiah, the anticipation of Babylonian power is also prophesied (4:10).

Third note especially the reasons for judgment on Judah. As it is with Isaiah and Amos, the issues are two: idolatry ( 1:7; 5:12-14) and social injustice (2:1-2, 8- 1 1; 3:1-3, 8- 11; 6:10-12; 7:2-3). Especially important for Micah is the role of the promised land as inheritance, which here goes in two directions-(1) exile from the land as part of the curse for unfaithfulness to Yahweh (1:16; 2:10; 4:9--10; cf. Deut 28:25-42) and (2) the unfaithfulness itself as the leaders and land barons deprive the rural poor of their traditional inheritance (Mic 2:2, 9; 3:2-3, 9-1 1; 6:10-12, 16; 7:2).

Fourth, Micah takes Israel's promised role in blessing the nations (Gen 12:3) with full seriousness (Mic 4:1-4; 7:11- 13). This is the oath made to Abraham (7:20; the final word in the book), and this is the ultimate role of the messianic king, who will be God's agent for the peace of the nations (5:5). Note, therefore, that chapters 4-5, which express future hope in messianic terms, lie at the very center of the present arrangement. Thus, both the first and second oracles of hope center specifically on the coming messianic king (2:13; 5: 1-6), and Micah 5:2 is cited in Matthew 2:6, in a Gospel that is particularly concerned about the Messiah's role in behalf of the nations (Matt 28:19-20).

Finally, you should also note that one hundred years later the oracle in Mic ah 3:12 is cited by some elders against King Jehoiakim, who wanted to take Jeremiah's life (Jer 26:17 -19), a passage which also implies that Micah's preaching was in part responsible for Hezekiah's reforms (2 Kgs 18: 1-8).




Note here (1) the emphasis on this being Yahweh's word through the agency of Micah (from rural Moresheth, not Jerusalem), (2) its time, and (3) its subject matter.


First Series of Threats (against Samaria and Jerusalem)

Note how the first word (v. 2) sets the pace for the whole, by calling the whole earth to listen to Yahweh. This is followed by an oracle that begins with Yahweh as the Divine Warrior (vv. 3-4)-but now against his own people, whose sins center in the capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem (v. 5). The threat of doom in this case is especially directed against Samaria for her idolatry (w. 6-7).

The second threat (vv. 10-16), which begins with Micah's own response to it (w. 8-9), is against Jerusalem, expressed in marvelous wordplays (see the NIV text notes) on the cities that Sennacherib had destroyed in his coming "even to the gate of Jerusalem" (v. 12). Although not as the result of Sennacherib's invasion, nonetheless the final word of threat is exile (v. 16).


The Reasons for Judgment

Watch carefully for the change of speakers: Micah (w. 1-2), Yahweh (w. 3-4),Micah (v.5), false prophets (v.6), Micah (v.7a),Yahweh (w. 7b-13).Note how the word of doom and its reasons (social injustice on the part of the land barons) come first (vv. l-2), followed by Yahweh's threat, expressed in terms of the land being taken from them (w. 3-5). The next oracle is God's judgment against the false theology of the prophets who have sided with the land barons (vv. 6- 11 ).


The First Word of Hope

In direct response to verses 3-5 this first word of hope for the future is expressed in terms of regathering the people, with the messianic king in the lead.


Second Series of Threats and Reasons

With this collection of three oracles (w. 1-4, 5-7, 9-12), Micah now focuses on the role of the leaders and prophets, who promote social injustice by their policies and prophecies. Note that Micah's own prophetic role is Spirit-inspired (v. 8; cf. 2:7) and that the final word (3:12) is judgment against Zion (Jerusalem and its temple).


The Second Word of Hope: God's Messianic Kingdom and King

As the centerpiece of the book, and now in direct response to 3 :12, this series of oracles begins with the promised messianic restoration of Zion, where God's word will go forth and the nations gather to hear it (4:1-5; cf. Isa 2:1-4). This is followed in turn by (1) a long oracle promising return after exile, with the crushing of nations who oppose them (Mic 4:6- l3), (2) the central role of the messianic king in the restoration (5:1 -6), (3) the rest of the exiles triumphing over their enemies by bringing life and death (w. 7 -9), and 4) a final oracle in which Yahweh purges Judah (vv. 10-14) and punishes her enemies (v. 15).


God's Case against Jerusalem (the Third Word of Threat)

Here Yahweh takes Israel to court. He is the plaintiff-but also the judge! The mountains serve as jury (vv. 1-3).The plaintiff's case is made by rehearsing the essential moments in Israel's redemption-all Yahweh,s doing (vv. 4-5). using the language of temple liturgy (Pss 15:1 ;24:3), the defense responds with promises of increasingly more religion (Mic 6:6-7, note the gradual intensification of their offer), to which Yahweh responds by reminding them of what they already know about his character that they are to follow (v. 8). The judgment itself (v. 16) is based on Israel's failure precisely at this point (vv. 9-15).


Micah's Lament

Once again (cf. 1:8) Micah himself laments over Jerusalem's inevitable fall, but his final word is one of hope (v. 7) and serves as a transition to the conclusion of the book.


The Third Word of Hope

Hope for the future is Micah,s last word; it begins with an expression of Israel's returning from exile and now fulfilling her role for the nations (vv. 8-13) and concludes with Micah's prayer (v. 14) and Yahweh's response (w. 15-20). Note especially how the conclusion (vv. 18-20) is expressed in terms of Yahweh's character and prior promises to Abraham and Jacob: There is no God like Yahweh, who pardons sin and forgives transgression.

The book of Micah is a marvelous prophetic representation of the

essentials of the biblical story, both in its old Testament expression and

in its anticipation of the New, with the promised Messiah and the

restoration of his people.