Today I conclude my studies on the prophet Micah. I enjoy teaching and writing on Micah because his ministry reflects a deep concern for the poor and oppressed peasants who lived in the villages of Judah. If you want to read other studies on Micah, visit my Archive by clicking on the link below.
One of Micah’s concern was for the degeneration of the spiritual life of Judah and some of the syncretistic practices introduced by Ahaz, king of Judah.
During the Syro-Ephraimite war, contrary to the advice of Isaiah, Ahaz sought military help from Tiglath-pileser III, king of Assyria. Ahaz made his request for help with the following words: “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7).
The words “I am your servant and your son” mean that Ahaz became a vassal of Assyria and as such, he paid a tribute to Tiglath-pileser by taking silver and gold from the temple and from the palace to compensate the king of Assyria for the help he requested.
As John Bright wrote, “Thanks to Ahaz’ refusal to join the anti-Assyrian coalition, Judah escaped the calamity that overtook Israel. But not as a free nation! In appealing to Tiglath-pileser for aid, Ahaz had signed away his liberty . . . and made Judah a vassal state of the Assyrian empire” (1981:276).
As a sign of his vassalage, Ahaz had also to acknowledge the gods of Assyria. Although the Assyrians did not require its vassals to adopt Assyrian religion, Ahaz probably saw that it was good politics to do so.
As John Bright wrote: “But though the Assyrians may not have required worship of their gods, the vassal’s oath of loyalty involved his submission to them and acknowledgment of their overlordship. Moreover, the nation’s humiliating position must have given rise to a general loss of confidence in Yahweh’s power, which would have encouraged the proliferation of pagan cults, both native and foreign” (1981:276).
During his visit to Damascus to pay homage to Assyria, Ahaz was exposed to Assyrian religion:
When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. King Ahaz sent to the priest Uriah a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. The priest Uriah built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, just so did the priest Uriah build it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. When the king came from Damascus, the king viewed the altar. Then the king drew near to the altar, went up on it, and offered his burnt offering and his grain offering, poured his drink offering, and dashed the blood of his offerings of well-being against the altar. The bronze altar that was before the LORD he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the LORD, and put it on the north side of his altar (2 Kings 16:10-14).
Ahaz moved the bronze altar that was before the Lord and placed it on the north side of his altar, thus giving preference to the altar he had brought from Damascus. Then, Ahaz commanded Uriah the high priest to offer the daily blood and grain offerings on the new altar (2 Kings 16:14). In order to fulfil the king’s desire, “the priest Uriah did everything that King Ahaz commanded (2 King 16:16). The apostasy of the High Priest may have been forced on him, but the text is silent on the reason Uriah complied with the king’s request.
Ahaz’ commitment to the God of Israel was not very strong. As a result, he introduced some pagan practices into the religious life of Judah. According to the writer of the book of Kings, Ahaz “did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his ancestor David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:2-4).
In his book, Micah condemned several of these pagan practices. His condemnation of these idolatrous practices may be a reference to these religious innovations introduced by Ahaz. Micah proclaimed that Israel’s new ruler would act powerfully to destroy these pagan practices:
“I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more soothsayers; and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you and destroy your towns (Micah 5:11-14).
Micah also proclaimed that since Ahaz had been unfaithful to the demands of the covenant and had abandoned the laws of God and introduced sorceries, witchcraft, and the worship of pagan deities, the Lord would raise another ruler in Judah who would bring the nation back to God. Micah’s hope for the future was the coming of this new leader.
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
Most Christians who read this prophecy about the coming ruler do not grasp the full intent of Micah’s words. When Micah proclaimed the coming of a new king, the king of Judah was ruling from his throne in Jerusalem.
In fact, all the kings of Judah were the descendants of David and all of them ruled from Jerusalem because David had conquered the city and had established Jerusalem as the capital of his kingdom.
But, according to Micah, the new king would not be born in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem, the city where David was born. What Micah is proclaiming is a judgment on the king who lived in Jerusalem. God was bypassing the present king and going back to Bethlehem, to begin again.
Thus, the new king will be a new David. God was beginning the process all over again because the present king had failed to represent the true interests of God.
According to Micah, when the new king comes, he will accomplish several things.
First, he will reunite the nation: “then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel” (Micah 5:3). This oracle indicates that the people who were taken into exile will return and Israel will be united.
Second, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD” (Micah 5:4). Ahaz had failed to provide leadership to God’s people in times of crisis, but under the new leader, the people will live in peace and security.
Third, the new ruler will defeat those who threaten God’s people. In Micah’s day the enemy was Assyria, but in Micah’s vision, this ruler will destroy all nations who seek the destruction of God’s people.
Fourth, Israel will purify the religion of Israel by removing all kinds of pagan practices (Micah 5:12-14). These pagan practices had been introduced by the kings of Judah, but this new ruler will bring the people back to God.
When one reads Micah’s book, one realizes that Micah is critical of the religious and political life of Judah. To Micah, the immediate future is filled with gloom and distress, but, with the coming of the new ruler, the distant future will be bright and glorious.
Micah’s preaching is simple but compelling. As long as the people follow the ways of the Lord they receive God’s favor: “My words do only good to anyone living uprightly” (Micah 2:7). However, when they reject God’s words, they remain under God’s judgment.
Micah had high hopes for the future of Israel, but this hope rested on the coming of a new David. Under this new ruler, a remnant would be saved and God’s people would enjoy a life of permanent peace and prosperity.
Unfortunately, Micah did not live to see his vision become a reality. The time of peace and prosperity which Micah foresaw was in the distant future, beyond the ability of human eyes to see.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Bright, John. A History of Israel. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981.